The below editorial features the opinions and views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of #escYOUnited as a whole, Eurovision or the EBU.
Over the past two years, as the world descended into chaos, millions of people sought refuge in “cozy games,” video games that were gentle, focused more on slower character and environment interaction over platformers and first person shooters.
Games such as Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Stardew Valley, where you could build your village or your farm at whatever pace you choose, with the most pressure being cajoling a dog to sing in your town square or finding a multi-colored shard to turn your kids into doves (calm doesn’t mean they can’t get weird, especially Stardew Valley).
After stepping away from the game for a day, the biggest moment of relief always comes right after launching your game, and you’re hit with the sweet, soothing sounds of the introduction to Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Stardew Valley. Those sounds don’t just sell the calm, immersive experience you’re going to get, they go beyond that to evoke childhood nostalgia, pastoral imagery, and lull you into a feeling of calm.
Ronnie Hazlehurst, the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) composer and Light Entertainment Musical Director, essentially pulled the same trick with the theme tunes for many of the British sitcoms and shows he composed for during the 1960s through the 1990s. The show where he arguably pulled it off best was Last of the Summer Wine, which at 295 episodes and 31 seasons from 1973 to 2010, is one of the world’s longest running sitcom.
And as we’re currently discussing Eurovision 1982, we thought we’d discuss its Musical Director and the United Kingdom’s conductor, Ronnie Hazlehurst, and as we’re talking about the contest’s location of Yorkshire, we thought we’d talk about Hazlehurst’s legacy, which is primarily defined by the work he did on a show about Yorkshire, to the point where the show turned its setting into a tourist shrine.
Born in Dukenfield, Cheshire on March 13, 1928, Ronnie Hazlehurst left school at age 14, and after a series of odd jobs, joined the Army and became a bandsman in the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards. After that, Hazlehurst switched from casual work to being a session musician in Manchester until he was offered a position as a musician at a nightclub in London.
In 1961, Hazlehurst was hired as an arranger by the BBC. He worked his way up from performing to conducting incidental music for 1960s BBC shows such as The Likely Lads. In 1968, Hazlehurst was made Light Entertainment Musical Director, and this is where his career began to take off.
In 1974, Hazlehurst was hired as the Musical Director for Eurovision 1974, which was being hosted by the United Kingdom in Brighton. You might have heard of the little Swedish band who won that one. Hazlehurst returned in 1977 when the United Kingdom hosted again, this time in London. Hazlehurst also conducted the United Kingdom and Germany entries, but it was in conducting the host nation’s entry – Lynsey de Paul and Mike Moran’s “Rock Bottom” – that Hazlehurst made his mark as the most memorable conductor the contest has had by wearing a bowler hat and conducting the orchestra with a rolled-up umbrella instead of a baton.
Hazlehurst was Musical Director for Eurovision 1982 in Harrogate, and when the United Kingdom did not host, Hazlehurst was the conductor for his country at the 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991 and 1992 contests.
In many articles about Hazlehurst, two constants stand out that are relevant to his work as conductor and composer through the years: his sense of humor and his attention to detail.
For instance, the theme for the Michael Crawford sitcom Some Mothers Do ‘Ave em at first seems like a goofily simple theme to match the shenanigans of the show’s bumbling main protagonist. However, Hazlehurst pulled off quite the trick in that the theme tune is “Some Mothers Do Ave Em” spelled out in Morse code and played on a piccolo.
Hazlehurst said he tried to make the tune fit the show’s title, but he achieved that literally. As he said at the time, “I wouldn’t prostitute a tune, to bend it every which way to fit the title, but if I can make it so, I do.”
Other famous shows whose themes were done by Hazlehurst include BBC favorites like Are You Being Served?, The Two Ronnies, Yes, Minister, To The Manor Born, and The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin.
Arguably his most famous and critically acclaimed music came with Last of the Summer Wine, a sitcom focused on the antics of three retired men in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, and its surroundings. The show was both vaudevillian and philosophical, and the blend of bawdy humor and musings of rural folk in their golden years made it a hit with the BBC’s older viewers.
Written by Roy Clarke, Last of the Summer Wine debuted as an episode of BBC’s Comedy Playhouse on January 4, 1973. It received enough positive response that a full season was commissioned and aired before the end of the year.
Focused on three elderly bachelors – initially William “Compo” Simmonite (Bill Owen), Norman Clegg (Peter Sallis), and Cyril Blamire (Michael Bates) in Seasons 1 and 2 – and their antics out and about in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, Last of the Summer Wine was initially not a hit, but it managed to gain momentum. By the time Season 3 rolled around and Bates was replaced by Brian Wilde as Foggy Dewhurst (due to reasons of illness, but also allegedly due to political and personal differences between Owen and Bates), the show picked up a large, loyal following.
As with Star Trek, the main dynamic is between three disparate individuals. Clegg, who is the only actor to have appeared in all seasons of the show from 1973 to 2010, is the quiet one and the “voice of reason,” whereas Compo is care free, flirtatious, and rowdy, and Foggy (as well as the others before and after) tended to be uptight, bossy and full of schemes he expected Compo to do.
The show also contains a roster of memorable supporting characters, including the excellent Kathy Staff as Nora Batty, Jane Freeman as Olive, and Joe Gladwin as Norma’s hapless pigeon fancier husband Wally Batty.
The incidental music, all written by Hazlehurst, was detailed. Producer Alan JW Bell said “His music captured the mood immediately. If a character was walking, all the footsteps would be in time with the music and if there was a little hand gesture, there would be a little figure that would accompany that. He was very precise with it. The musicians said they didn’t know how he did it – it was so painstaking. Musically, he was the king.”
On a side note, you could make a great movie and TV marathon out of horror classics featuring the cast of Last of the Summer Wine. Bill Owen was in the 1978 slasher flick The Comeback, about an American singer who is stalked by a masked lunatic when he retreats to an English country manor. Peter Sallis was a Hammer Horror veteran, with small roles in films such as the hilarious Scream and Scream Again and Taste the Blood of Dracula. Despite being known for comedy, Brian Wilde’s big television break came as infamous Tower of London executioner Richard Topliffe in the series Elizabeth R (the one with Glenda Jackson as Queen Elizabeth).
And of course, who can forget Kathy Staff as Mrs. Kent in the infamous Hollywood horror flop Mary Reilly, known for Julia Robert’s ropey Irish accent? Staff plays Mrs. Kent about the same as Nora Batty, and it is a shame to see her not wielding a mop in John Malkovich’s face as she famously did in Last of the Summer Wine.
Anyway, the show at its peak got 11 million views an episode, though over the years it earned a reputation for outdated humor and for it being “your grandparents’ show.” But its being a fixture on Sunday evening also earned it plaudits for it being a nostalgic and serene way to end the week.
As Den of Geek’s Andrew Mickel wrote in 2007, “Meandering around the dales, in their lush green glory, and taking in Yorkshire village life is just what’s needed before you get stuck on the Central Line on Monday morning.”
But the clear star of the show was Bill Owen as Compo (a nickname given to him by other characters as he was on government “compensation” all the time they’ve known him). And the best part of his iconic Yorkshireman act – he is actually a Londoner, born in the working class Acton Green on March 14, 1914.
According to my grandfather, from the Holmfirth area, and of similar age, Owen liked to frequent pubs in the Holmfirth area and converse with locals like my grandfather, plying them with beer as they discussed politics (Owen was famously left wing and the locals would be a mixed bag of left wing miners and right wing farmers, so I imagine the conversations were lively). Primarily, Owen was trying to get the local accent down, and conversations about politics would turn to one about local matters, World War 2 (Owen was an injured veteran), and bawdy humor.
But before Owen became Compo, a role that would define him for the rest of his life, he had an interesting career. He had roles in television and film during the 1950s, but nothing career defining or major. He had made enough contacts in theater and earned work as a playright.
In the late ’50s and early ’60s, Owen obtained work as a comedy actor, starring in several of the early Carry On movies. Owen would also earn critical acclaim in another Yorkshire accented role, starring as patriarch of a dysfunctional mining family in David Shorey’s In Celebration.
In the 1960s, Owen also found some success as a songwriter. He wrote several tracks for Tony Russell’s The Matchgirls, a musical about the 1888 matchgirls strike (girls who worked at a match factory). He also wrote lyrics for the Engelbert Humperdinck track “Love for Love (Ciao, my Love),” as well as for Anita Sims, Anita Harris, and Ken Dodd.
However, Bill Owen also has a Eurovision connection – Owen took Italy’s Eurovision 1968 entry “Marianne,”by Sergio Endrigo, and translated it into English for Cliff Richard (who came in 2nd at Eurovision with “Congratulations”). Owen’s translation and Richard’s version of “Marianne” peaked at Number 22 on the UK Singles chart later that year.
In 1983, Bill Owen collaborated with Hazlehurst and Clarke on the novelty record “Nora Batty’s Stockings.”
But it wasn’t just the BBC who benefited from the success of Last of the Summer Wine. The town of Holmfirth became a domestic tourist hotspot. While the show’s interiors were filmed at BBC’s studios in London, the show utilized real outdoor locations in Holmfirth.
The exterior for Sid’s Cafe is an actual functioning cafe, and though some of the residents over the years became irritated at tourists knocking on their doors over the years, real house exteriors were used. The most famous were Nora Batty’s house and Norman Clegg’s house, with residents who allowed the BBC to film exterior shots also coming home to see tourists posing.
Indeed, if you want to stay at Nora Batty’s house it is available to rent. And if you want to have fish and chips at a cafe endorsed by Owen himself, the recently refurbished Compo’s Cafe is still open, 42 years after being established.
As Eurovision brought the masses to Harrogate, Hazlehurst and Owen and others brought the masses to Holmfirth. An old mill town and, for a brief while, a film studio hub during the early 1900s, Holmfirth was helped out by the draw of tourists, even today, 12 years after the show’s cancellation.
Owen passed away in 1999 (a funeral episode was filed in 2000 for his character, and the baton was passed on to Owen’s son Tom Owen, who fittingly played Compo’s son on the show).
Hazlehurst passed away in 2007, only shortly after retiring. He was responsible for many British television fans’ favorite memories, and a fair few at Eurovision, and as one of many from this part of the world, I do have to thank him and Owen and the other cast members for shining a positive light on an area that is often slighted by the media.
What did #YOU think of Hazlehurst’s legacy as a musical director of three Eurovision contests? Do #YOU remember Last of the Summer Wine fondly, or is it a little too dodgy Grandad for your liking? Let us know in the comments below, on social media, or in our forum.
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