Saturday, 27 November 2021

The Non-Real Vicars of Holmfirth

Got me wondering, this did. When Justin Welby commented on vicars on TV being fools or rogues, and Bryony Taylor did her piece on the subject on Jeremy Vine.

Now, I don't have the breadth of knowledge that Bryony does on this subject. But I do have one bit of depth - my specialist subject, Magnus, being "vicars in Last of the Summer Wine, 1973-2010".

Now, there's a lot of vicars in Summer Wine. Partly I suppose because there's a lot of funerals (they're old blokes, whose mates keep dying), and a fair number of weddings. But, intriguingly, as far as I can remember, no baptisms. Roy Clark don't write about Kids.

So.... here we go.... 

1973 "Of Funerals and Fish" Michael Stainton

5* Definite favourite. Stainton's vicar is superbly written and played. With a regional accent - appropriate to the much more "kitchen sink" nature of the early episodes. Witty and pastorally concerned for Clegg, who tells him, "Me bowel's playing up. God moves in mysterious ways." Having a crafty fag before a funeral, he reflects to Clegg: "I'm supposed to be giving them up. But I can hardly be seen trying to live forever." Then he sweeps off in what Clegg calls his "heavenly commissionaire's outfit".  Which is an appropriate one for the occasion - cassock, surplice and black stole. 

Clarke really started with the best.

1976 "Going to Gordon's Wedding"  John Dunbar

3* Posh as you like. Properly vested for a wedding in cassock and white stole. Uses the archetypal vicar words, "Dear me". But in control of the situation, demanding a replacement best man even as the original best man goes off to hospital.

1977 "Green Fingers" - Uncredited

2* Just says "Bless you, my son" in response to Clegg's lie that the old boys are rescuing a wounded chaffinch (they're actually stealing a giant plastic carrot, obviously). Hopefully, given the colour of stole, it's in a festal season.

1977 "Jubilee" John Horsley / Gwyneth Owen

4* First of 2 from Horsley. Posh as only a bloke who's been playing stiff-upper-lip types in war films for 100 years can be. He's trying to put on a good show for the Queen's Silver Jubilee. His wife - Lydia  - haunted by the interminable production of tea and buns - will be replaced for Horsley's next outing by Dilys Hamlett. We don't know whether Lydia died of a surfeit of buns, or a divorce and remarriage happened (unlikely in 1970s  Yorkshire vicar-land) or whether it's meant to be the same Lydia. This Lydia certainly shows great versatility- not just making tea and buns but also driving a tractor.

1978 "Small Tune on a Penny Wassail" John Dunbar

3* Dunbar's Back! This time getting on the wrong end of Foggy's comically mishandled walking stick. No wonder he looks stern. Right colour stole for Christmas. Extra star.

1979  "Deep in the Heart of Yorkshire" - Uncredited

3* Vicar has a great time meeting the old boys who are dressed - in a manner that would now be regarded as dubious - as Native Americans. As well as Big Chief Corporal Singwriter, the tribe includes "Little Gaping Fly".  Extra star for the official "casual vicar" straw hat.

1983  "The Three Astaires " John Horsley / Gwyneth Hamlett

5* The rating is for Hamlett, brilliant as a vicaress on the edge, ranting about tea and buns through the glass of the vicarage door. While Horsley has moved on from Jubilee celebrations to organising the grand show. His nerves are in shreds as he grasps for shreds of "pizazz" while the scenery collapses.

1985 "Woollenmills of Your Mind" Steve Collins

3* Just a tiny cameo here. All the vicar has to do is walk towards the church in a very upright manner, hear Ivy's yell of "exposing his [Crusher's] foreign bodies in a catering establishment," look inquiring and also judgemental, and move on leaving a chastened Ivy. This vicar clearly had moral clout around town. 

1987 "A Short Introduction to Cooper's Rules" Nicholas Smith

4* In a transfer from "Are You Being Served", Smith plays a brilliantly feisty retired priest, who hates going for days out, and survives being kidnapped by the police and locked in a car boot.

1987 "Go with the Flow" Richard Vernon / Ann Way

4* Yet another church putting on a show - "The Tales of Beatrix Potter". This time it's Richard Vernon, who really just wants to be left alone to play with trains - a proper male-vicar stereotype- while Ann Way is his put-upon wife, worried that they've started having "poor people" (Compo and Clegg) delivered. Sharp stuff from Ann Way, pointing out that the vicar's pursuit of Christian perfection is meant to be for himself, not her.

1988 "Dancing Feet" Dennis Mawn

3* A very odd tradition at the church tea. Ever saucer has a raffle ticket attached to the bottom. That's all the vicar has to do, just read out the number - before Compo's wellies start smoking and the vicar goes from jolly master of revels to mild alarm. Gets the third star because in the service beforehand, he's correctly vested - surplice and black scarf.

1989  "Happy Anniversary, Gough and Jessie" James Beattie

3* A very upright vicar. Clearly one of those ESTP ones, as he passes around tea and buns with the best of them, and takes Gough's sudden disappearance in his stride.

1991 "Pole Star" Tony Nelson (wife uncredited)

2* "Probably the most stereotypical of stereotypical vicars, this. Gazing on a tranquil scene, he remarks upon the perfect Englishness of the view. Then tries to avert his wife's gaze as she gawps at Howard and Marina, dressed in deep sea fishing gear, leap into each other's arms.

His wife being uncredited seems a terrible injustice, as her reaction to the fishy frolics unfolding before her, while wordless, speaks volumes.

1992 "Phantom of the Graveyard" Uncredited

2* Very young clergyman looks very baffled after Howard has confused him with Marina.

1995 "Brushes at Dawn" Keith Smith

3* Lots of shouting "chop chop!" and general middle-class pushiness as he tries to - would you believe - put on a show. Again. Do these people ever do any real work? Do they never wander round church to rearrange hymn books randomly, like the vicars of Midsomer? Good to see a vicar in a cassock during the working day though, gaining the extra star.

1998 "The Only Diesel Powered Saxophone in Captivity" Martin Benson

2* Posh, with a slip-in collar.As the vicars are increasingly not in worship-related situations, you can't help but feel their standards are slipping.

2000 "Last Post and Pigeon" Gerard Hayling

3* Being a Summer Wine vicar, he wouldn't be doing anything actually religious or pastoral, would he? Instead he's organising a filmed history of the area - including roping Billy Hardcastle in as a woad-daubed Ancient Briton. But Gerard did well enough to get the gig for more episodes than any other Summer Wine vicar. He's certainly got the inoffensive pluminess off to a T.

2001 "Hey Big Vendor" Gerard Hayling 

3* Does a good job of opening the fete while Wesley's coffee machine makes farting noises. 

2002 "A Musical Passing for a Miserable Muscroft" Sean Robertshaw 

3* Plucky young vicar continues with the interment despite Billy Ingleton's steam organ kicking off halfway through.

2005 "Who's that Mouse in the Poetry Group?" Gerard Hayling  

3* Nice bit of work from the vicar as he assumes that, if Marina is in front of him, Howard is probably hiding in the hedge.


So what, if anything, have we learnt?

All the vicars are white. All but one are pretty middle-class. There is a range of ages. And all are male. Just the type of vicars you would expect from a series that, although it continued till 2010, was always stuck in a world that was suspended somewhere between in the time between the Goons and the Sex Pistols. And while the maleness was written by Roy Clark, I expect the casting decisions were ultimately with the producers.

There are, as far as I can remember, no noncomformist or Catholic ministers in the series at all. Which is odd, as Clegg is formerly chapel. But, in an ecumenical vein, Martin Benson ("Last Diesel-powered Saxophone" was Jewish, and played Fr Spiletto in "The Omen".

None of the ministers seem to be idiots - though Clegg hints that the one in "Green Fingers" is more gullible than Baptist ministers. None of them are rogues. So maybe Justin Welby ought to watch Last of the Summer Wine.

In a very real sense.

All pictures from the BBC Situation Comedy, Last of the Summer Wine. Believed to be fair use as small, low-res screenshot images to illustrate the text.


  1. If you watch Midsomer Murders you get your fill of dodgy Vicar's. Even a woman in some episodes ranging from having affairs to murderous behaviour. The best series for Vicars and Murder are the Miss Marple series, where Miss Marple is friends with innumerable Vicar's wives. And of course Only Fools and Horses has one or two gormless Vicars. If you spread your net wider, you could justify the ABC's suggestion that Vicar's are portrayed in dubious roles.

  2. Contrast "Heartbeat", where the only vicar I can remember was tied in with a gang of burglars . . .


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