Firstly, the programmes.Series 21 (DVD) is up there with the best, and is definitely worth five stars - especially for the intoduction of 'Billy Hardcastle'(the character who was [effectively] to ensure the longevity of LOTSW - Keith Clifford's departure marked the beginning of the end...).However, we then come to Series 22 (DVD).Bill Owen's illness, and death, were always going to be extremely difficult for Roy Clarke - he subsequently stated that keeping the series going, after the demise of such a significant character, was his greatest challenge during the whole of LOTSW.Inevitably,all does not go smoothly.Bill Owen insisted that his final scenes should be included in the programme, even though he clearly looks as ill as he was - accomodating those scenes affected the writing of those episodes.Unlike many, I do not think that Roy Clarke handled Compo's death particularly well - the episodes look like a writer struggling to come to terms with the loss of a major character, so we get characters and scenarios (such as 'Throstlenest')which did not go onto be developed.The decision to try and bring in Tom Owen as part of the 'threesome' was clearly misguided - he did not become settled until his focus was shifted to be part of the 'Smiler / Auntie Wainwright' strand.Even worse was the introduction of the 'Mrs Avery' and daughter characters - clearly a misguided attempt to make the programme appeal to a younger audience.That Roy Clarke turned things around (by the development of 'Billy' as one of the threesome, and the introduction of 'Alvin' [name chosen to appeal to US viewers?])is testament to his undoubted skill as a writer, and to why LOTSW sustained for so long.
Now for the inevitable technicals.We are still in 14:9 (see my previous reviews) - as with the previous 'widescreen' series,this issue appears to have been dealt with by slight zooming of the picture to fill the 16:9 screen, so there are the usual framing issues.We are also still in the era of very dubious colour balance and over saturation (you'll get used to vivid lime green grass....) - however, this is as the episodes were broadcast,and so is a mastering, rather than a DVD, issue. The 'grain' in the picture is also as broadcast, and is also not a DVD issue - there are no 'upscaling' issues, as LOTSW did not go HD until 2007.My best guess for the poor quality of the master tapes is that analogue tape / mastering was used, even though by 1999 we were well into the digital TV era.
As an absolute devotee of tthe programme, I already have the next set on pre-order, despite all of the technical issues - LOTSW is still the greatest ever TV comedy.HOWEVER - as I write, my copy of this set is being returned - 'Who's Thrown Away...' refuses to play properly.Has anyone else experienced this problem?