Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)



I never much cared for him as a kid. A messy dirty scarecrow didn't sound like something I wanted to even touch, so I certainly wasn't enthralled by a TV show that, quite patronisingly, had a talking one.

I remember one Christmas being given a Worzel Gummidge book, that didn't even have Jon Pertwee on the cover. The publisher obviously hadn't acquired the rights to the actor's likeness, so the resulting artwork looked even more condescending. Yes I knew the books came before the TV series, but no publisher in their right mind would choose to ignore their top selling point. Suffice to say, I never read it.

My late teens saw the age of the "TV revival" - when bringing back old shows started to get fashionable. Back in those days, this was done differently. Today the show will be "updated," which almost always means recasting everyone, and starting again from scratch. Why this happens is a mystery to me, as it always alienates the show's existing audience (surely the reason for reviving it) and leaves it no better equipped to survive than a completely new series would. But back in the late-eighties, things were different. It's hard to believe now, but back then, nigh on every revival tied-in to the original. But there were still compromises.

Compromise means that you give up something you want in order to get something you want. We got Jon Pertwee and Una Stubbs back as Worzel and Aunt Sally respectively. So what did we give up? What corporate apathy did we have to accept in order to get new canonical Worzel stories? As always, it was because of the money.

The money came from a rich fan here in New Zealand. Clearly this person was torn between their love of the original show and their patriotism. If they had really loved the show, it wouldn't have been retitled Worzel Gummidge Down Under and begun with Worzel and Aunt Sally moving to New Zealand.

Worzel may have had new backers, a new location, a new timeslot (Sunday morning) and now be on Channel 4, but I still had no love for him. Respect, yes, but I never once tuned in, especially at that time. But there was one big temptation I faced.

Over on BBC-1, a really really terrible series of Doctor Who was airing. Despite some 80,000 complaints (yes - eighty thousand), BBC-1 Controller Michael Grade had taken the show off the air for 17 months, slashed its series-length by half, sacked its star and dumbed the whole series so far down that it never recovered. Why he remained so commited to this, over a period of 3 years, is a painfully unanswerable question that I do not wish to relive here.

But by comparison, the reports of what was happening in the new Worzel series were tantalising.

"It's real Doctor Who!" people would enthuse to me. Every week it seemed that Jon Pertwee was battling an evil Travelling Scarecrow Maker, who controlled an army of zombies. The show now had cliffhangers. Parents were complaining that it was too frightening for children. At any moment I was hoping to hear of an episode in which the Australasian Intelligence Taskforce would construct a scientific head, and recruit Worzel to be their Unpaid Horticultural Advisor and save Earth each week in return for, say, maybe a cup o'tea and a slice o'cake.

Suffice to say, I never saw the new Worzel Gummidge, until 6th December last year when I dropped into the New Zealand Film Archive at 300 Karangahape Road. Here one can sit down and watch, for free, any one of hundreds of NZ-made films, including the first few episodes of Worzel spliced-down into a movie. I returned yesterday and today to complete it.

It was an odd feeling. Here I was whooping with joy at wonderful new episodes of a series that I had never seen. The writer made no excuses for featuring as many references to the original as possible. There was no attempt made to update it, or even to localise the new series. It may be set in Pewakawaka, but these episodes could easily have been set in England. (in fact many of them were originally written for the aborted Irish Adventures Of Worzel Gummidge a few years earlier) Nearly all the cast sound British, there are no NZ icons (like phone-boxes) and it's leafy English-looking fields and country lanes all the way. It ran for 2 seasons, totalling 22 epsodes. Pretty successful I'd say.

I loved this, and I look forward to one day watching the rest. In fact, I want to see the original series now, every episode, from the start, in order.

Now if a show's revival can work so well simply by remaining true to the original, it's no wonder that none of today's revamps catch-on. Watch the originals and learn.

8.75 out of 10.

Available to buy from Amazon here.

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2 comment(s):

At 7:48 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not a very positive person are you?? Worzel is one of the best comedy series ever!

At 8:47 am, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Glad you enjoyed it too!


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