Anyone who was a child in the late Seventies through to the late Eighties will remember Jon Pertwee in ‘Worzel Gummidge’ from the original screenings or endless repeats. The series depicted the shenanigans of a talking scarecrow with numerous heads and his unlikely entourage of friends and enemies in the English countryside. It was in turns charming and terrifying. We wrote about it in 2019 when the complete series including the New Zealand episodes ‘Worzel Down Under’ was released on DVD, noting that it was a nostalgic treat, but lamenting the washed-out colours and low-resolution quality of the picture.
Now Fabulous Films has released ‘Worzel Gummidge The Complete Restored Edition Series 1-4’ on Blu-ray, which presents restored prints of all of the episodes of the original four seasons (but not the later New Zealand reboot) plus a whole host of marvellous extra features. One of the extras (‘Barn Find’) is a glimpse into the restoration process, showing the rusty tins in which the original film prints had been archived. Understanding the water-damaged and decaying source material that they had to work with helps to appreciate what a magnificent job this restoration truly is. As ‘Worzel Gummidge’ continues to delight audiences and win new fans to this day, the extensive work to restore old episodes and present them in high definition will be hugely appreciated. That’s not to say that the thirty-odd episodes presented here look pin-sharp on modern television sets. They retain the slightly hazy quality of 16mm film stock, but they are a monumental improvement on the DVDs. The colours are vibrant, and the English countryside in the summertime has been brought vividly back to life.
As well as the careful restoration work, fans of this wonderful series will enjoy a whole host of extra features, many of which are new for this release. Our favourite was ‘A Visit to Scatterbrook Farm’ which sees Jeremy Austin (John) return to the place in Hampshire where the series had been shot, along with Wayne Norman who played Pickles Brambles. Forty years on, the farm has certainly been gentrified, but is readily recognisable. As the middle-aged men note, they are two of the last survivors from the original cast (along with Mike Berry who played Mr Peters, Jeremy’s father). By way of reflection, even since the 2019 DVD release, we’ve lost two ‘Worzel Gummidge’ legends: Una Stubbs (Aunt Sally) and Barbara Windsor (Saucy Nancy). As someone who loves finding old filming locations from shows close to my heart, this fifteen-minute segment was enthralling, though I did wish they’d returned to Ten Acre field where Jon Pertwee’s scarecrow stood. I hope it’s not now a Lidl car park or something.
Jeremy Austin is also on hand to provide commentary for nine episodes and he offers his insights into the making of the series. It’s moving how he has come full circle in his connection to the show and now embraces and passionately promotes it. Austin is reunited with Wayne Norman during a BFI restoration preview, which also features Jon Pertwee’s son Sean, who has made quite a name for himself in Hollywood but who will always champion his late father’s legacy.
Thoughtful consideration has also been given to sharing an audio interview with Jon Pertwee. It plays over silent 16mm footage of ‘Worzel on Location’, which shows Jon Pertwee and Mike Berry behind the scenes filming the episode ‘Worzel And The Saucy Nancy’. Pertwee was recorded almost contemporaneously talking about the making of the show, and explaining that the wheaten eyebrows weren’t used in the first episode, which I had never noticed before! You can also see Pertwee or other members of the cast giving daytime television interviews in which they recall the making of the series and well as Aunt Sally’s visit to No 10 Downing Street as part of a charity fundraiser for children with special educational needs and disabilities. Fabulous Films has truly thrown the kitchen sink at providing a mountain of extra features which are split across all five discs.
‘Worzel Gummidge’ centres around Jon Pertwee’s incredible central performance. He uses all of his considerable talent and music hall technique to vividly and convincingly bring the scarecrow to life. His rubbery, cartoonish facial expressions, comedic rasping voice and jaunty mannerisms combine with a brilliant physical performance to create a children’s TV legend. The quality of the talent in supporting parts is no less impressive. Una Stubbs is delightful as the coy object of Worzel’s affections, Aunt Sally. Geoffrey Bayldon, a close friend of Pertwee’s, is sometimes the stuff of nightmares as the mysterious Crowman, human creator of the scarecrows, and sometimes an avuncular sidekick. Other much-loved household names from yesteryear such as Joan Sims, Billy Connolly, Beryl Reid, Bill Maynard, John Le Mesurier and Bernard Cribbins crop up in one or more episodes, whilst established character actors including Talfryn Thomas, Patrick Newell, Connie Booth, Hilary Mason and Bill Pertwee also play supporting characters. Major British talent queued up to take any role in the show.
The first two seasons of ‘Worzel Gummidge’ are good, solid entertainment. The scripts by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall still crackle with warmth, wit and whimsy. In truth, the later seasons begin to repeat ideas that had already worked well as it becomes harder to keep the concept fresh and original. But it’s never anything other than delightful, nostalgic and magical. ‘Worzel Gummidge’ encapsulates English childhood summers of a bygone and more innocent time. Revisiting Ten Acre field and Scatterbrook Farm, and all of the crazy cartoon characters one meets along the way is never anything but TV heaven. This newly restored box set is an Aladdin’s Cave of wonders for nostalgics and those who grew up adoring the mad adventures of ‘Worzel Gummidge’. The love, care and attention given to this classic series is a joy to behold. Be bum-swizzled all over again!
Cast: Jon Pertwee, Una Stubbs, Geoffrey Bayldon, Mike Berry, Norman Bird, Joan Sims, Jeremy Austin, Barbara Windsor, Charlotte Coleman Director: James Hill Writer: Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall Certificate: PG Running time: 1005 mins Released by: Fabulous Films Release date: 26th December 2022 Buy ‘Worzel Gummidge’