Last Night Of The Summer Wine Saved My Life

The outside world was a scary place in the 1980’s.

The Cold War was still in full swing, which kept the very real threat of total mutual assured destruction by nuclear war alive. Aids had reared its ugly, killing huge swathes of people across the world and society. And to my young eyes everyone over the age of 12 seemed to be addicted (whatever that was) to something called heroine, there was also a strike every week, the evil of Margaret Thatcher and her greasy bully boys and the ever present volatility in the Middle East.

It was so dark, miserable and depressing, that even at the time my sister and I referred to it as ‘the bad period’ I would look her and shake my wobbly, oversized, light bulb shaped head at the ridiculous actions of our elders and so called betters.

I avoided the news and anything realistic choosing instead to hide from the outside world in an attempt to shield myself from the despair outside and lost myself in the world of fiction and fantasy.

Thankfully, I was not alone in sticking my head in the sand and the airwaves were crammed full of action men and the odd woman (it was the 80’s) saving the world.

There were so many to look up to; ‘The A Team’ and ‘Knight Rider’ who wandered the States as warriors of fortune, but usually standing up against the Man on behalf of the little guy or gal for free.

There was ‘MacGyver’ the living Swiss Army knife and ‘Street Hawk’, ‘Knight Rider’ on a motorbike. ‘Manimal’ the man who could turn into any animal on the planet; though more likely it would be the same re-used shots of a panther and an eagle. Not to mention, ‘The Fall Guy’, ‘Dukes of Hazard’, ‘Magnum’, ‘Auto Man’, ‘Tales of the Golden Monkey’, ‘Blue Thunder’ and ‘Miami Vice’.

In addition to the contemporary stuff, I discovered that BBC2 at six o clock was gold mine of adventure; there were cowboy movies repeats of ‘Star Trek’, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’, ‘Battle Star Galactica’, ‘Monkey Magic’ and Charlie Chan and the war time Sherlock Holmes of Basil Rathbone.

The British very sadly could not compete with any of these. In the 60’s and 70’s Lou Grade’s ITC had churned action like ‘The Prisoner’, ‘Department S’, ‘Man with a Suitcase’ and the magnificent ‘Persuaders’. However, ITC went bust in 1980 and Apart from ‘Dempsey and Makepeace’, which lacked the idiosyncrasies of a proper British production and was essentially a generic American cop show.

As good as all these programmes were to my young mind, I actually did never aspire to be like them – despite the obvious glamour and excitement.
In my back garden it was like a mini Hollywood, acting out their adventures and imagining sequels and prequels and incorporating one hero into another’s story line. But outside of ‘Bond’ I didn’t want be them. The person I most admired was cut from an entirely different cloth.

I am not sure why I latched onto Compo from ‘Last of the Summer Wine’. My leisure time was all about heroics, adventuring and myths and legends and if there was a more stark contrast to these muscle bound adventurers than Compo, I have not seen one.

Heroes have obvious admirable qualities. They are brave, strong, resourceful and handsome. They could unite and inspire people to stand up for what is right – Compo had none of these virtues.

First of all Compo was, dishevelled and unkempt with a permanent stubble of white whiskers (the white shadow of the mature gent always looks far scummier than the ‘sexy’ shadow etched by the still living follicle). He always wore the same outfit. This consisted of Rubber boots, threadbare trousers which he held up with a bit of dirty old rope, a moth eaten tank top and a shabby tweed jacket, all topped off with a thick green woolly hat.

Basically, though he had a house, Compo was a tramp.

In addition to his sartorial failings, he was also cheap, lazy and on the scrounge. Everything about him yelled dropout, even his name Compo, short for compensation, was a badge reflecting his philosophy and modus operandi.

However, don’t think that Compo was a failure. Far from it, he had seen through the lies and illusions of the modern world and decided that the simple life was the best life and he fought for hard for it.

Compo had the strength of character to ignore society and plough on with what he knew to be the only true and righteous path.

He saw it wasn’t wealth, power or material goods that made one happy but instead; a good pint of ale with friends in a pub, a win at the bookies and the magnificent sight of a pair of wrinkled stockings on a lusty wench.

And don’t think Compo’s choice was the easy option. It’s harder than you think to be what we might call a “bum”, to ignore the calls to work hard and knuckle down and make something of your life.

How many times must have Compo seen the dull sigh of disappointment in the eyes of friends and family as he told them yet again he still had no job. How many times must he have suffered smiles of condescension when he explained that to live free from ambition and avarice are the keys to happiness.

He must have must have yearned to help them see the truth but Compo was no preacher man and could only teach by example. So like the grown up child that he was, he played with his ferrets and whiled away his life contented. And then with the shadow of death upon them, his friends would join him on his walks to hear his words of wisdom and participate in his pranks and tomfoolery.

I can only aspire, like the rest of us, to be like Compo but I still have my insecurities and worries that necessitate I try and succeed at what is ultimately pointless endeavour. Hats off to Compo, a man of integrity and vision who stuck to his guns and died content, happy and very much a hero.