I was wondering when they would ever get round to issuing this long-forgotten - but truly delightful - series on DVD. As far as I can recall it was never even issued on VHS when plentiful opportunities arose. Happily, and at long last, here it is, some 24 years after the initial pilot of this prequel was first aired on BBC1.
Now, before I continue, I have to admit that I never really cared much for the original "Last Of The Summer Wine" series at all.... that is, until I first chanced upon the pilot film of this series - shown in 1988, preceding the first series of six episodes which aired later that same year - and was completely taken in. It was a total revelation - following the lives of Compo, Clegg and Foggy, together with Norah and Wally, as youngsters during 1930s Britain - produced with meticulous attention to period detail, augmented by some truly gorgeously evocative soundtracks.
When the series was first shown, I recorded all of the dozen episodes on VHS video and would repeatedly watch them over and over again, so enthralled was I with the sense of nostalgic abandon as we followed the antics of the young protagonists in their daily conquests.
The date for the first six episodes was set at May 1939, with four months to go before the onset of WWII ..... Obviously, despite the tomfoolery on display, there were lots of poignant little reminders and asides that Britain was, after all, on the threshold of heading into war with the enemy, and the sporadic interludes featuring crackly radio news bulletins juxtaposed with big band swing numbers brought about a sense of foreboding that only those who were living during this period could truly identify with. Brilliantly executed: casting Peter Sallis as the young Norman Clegg's father was a bit of a masterstroke. The rest of the mostly young cast were largely a mix of previously unknown actors and actresses who went on to appear in other programmes in the years immediately following (Paul Oldham who played Sherbert made cameos in "Making Out" and "Coronation Street" for example, whilst Paul McLain (Seymour) appeared in a couple of episodes of "All Creatures Great and Small").
The second series of six episodes which followed in 1989 basically picked up where the first left off - this time with the hazy days of summer now having passed, moving into September 1939, with the country on the cusp of war - and how the youngsters all had to prepare themselves for the inevitable. Despite the constant battle-ready bravado coming from young Foggy Dewhurst throughout the series, the scriptwriters cleverly avoid any obviously hackneyed attempts at showing the boys actually heading off into combat - instead opting to end the final scenes with a panoramic shot of the canal (actually the Huddersfield Canal taken near Diggle) with the wireless broadcast declaring Britain having entered into war with Germany....
Although very well conceived, filmed and soundtracked, the programme only lasted 12 episodes (together with the initial pilot making 13), and the reasons for this have never been made clear. As it was, despite some obvious continuity errors and other blips [most noticeable being the badly-edited/looped canned laughter in places], this is a thoroughly enjoyable series, and it made me finally appreciate its parent series for the first time - venturing out as I did, more out of curiosity than anything, to visit Holmfirth to locate all the filming locations and the rest - both in this lovely prequel series and the long-established 'Last of..' series. As it turned out, this was the first of many annual visits I would make to Holmfirth to this very day - not for the Summer Wine pilgrimages, but to its annual Folk Festival weekend held every May!
If, like me, you love anything to do with 1930s (or 1940s) nostalgia - then get hold of this DVD, it's a delight from start to finish. And probably very underrated too because it's always existed in the shadow of its more celebrated sequel for the best part of the last 20-30 odd years.