A deeply disturbing, upsetting, and bizarre children's television programme about a scarecrow
that comes to life, which, for some reason, is loved by adults and children alike (including me). In the first episode, John and Sue have just moved to Scatterbrook Farm with their dad, and find a scarecrow in a nearby field. They borrow his umbrella to shelter from the rain, and the scarecrow (Worzel) comes back later to get it back, generally causing trouble and making a mess. And so the friendship between the kids and Worzel begins.
The TV show was based on the books by Barbara Euphan Todd, published between the 1940's and early 60's. There had been a radio series in the late 1940's, and a little-known 1953 television version. But it wasn't until the Jon Pertwee incarnation, written by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, that the character took off. It starred Pertwee as Worzel, Una Stubbs as Aunt Sally, and Geoffrey Bayldon as The Crowman. It was insanely popular, spawning a hit single, album and even a stage musical. There were four series in the UK, running from February 1979 until December 1981. Two series of Worzel Gummidge Down Under were filmed in New Zealand, and shown on Channel 4 in 1987 and 1989, but this was a bit of a flop, and the series was shelved.
The plots were the usual mishmash of A wants B, so convinces C to lend him D, which goes wrong, with hilarious/tragic consequences (which usually involved falling over, getting covered in cake, or being laughed at by Aunt Sally - or all three). But Pertwee's performance as Worzel lifts this show into the realms of classic TV. He is invisible in the part, giving it his all, bravely being selfish, annoying, and arrogant, yet making you love him when it all goes wrong and he ends up crying pathetically into his straw. His voice is a weird combination of gypsy, bumpkin, and corncrake, which nobody has ever successfully impersonated. Sure, Pertwee was a great Doctor Who, but this role was his apotheosis (ooh, hark at Lord La-Di-Da with his fancy word that he's not quite sure if he's used correctly). He is scary, frightening, lovable, and tragic all at once.
Worzel's creator, mentor, and guardian is The Crowman, played by Geoffrey Bayldon (Catweazle - yay to Heisenberg for noding this, go upvote him), a terrifying figure who is quite content to let Worzel get his heart broken again and again, to let him learn valuable lessons. When The Crowman is angry, everyone on screen is scared rigid, as are the viewers. For Christ's sake, he put Worzel on trial once for accidentally knocking his hat off! With a possible sentence of death! And he got Aunt Sally, who hated Worzel, to do the prosecution! I didn't like him. He frightened me.
A clever device in the series was the use of Worzel's various heads - he had many different heads for different things, like a clever head, a handsome head, a thinking head, etc etc. Worzel would select the lifeless head, with its dead eyes, and twist his current head off. When he snapped the new head into position, it was like there was a different actor underneath the makeup. Pertwee had a distinct personality for each head, again giving it real depth, and a slightly disturbing air. Interestingly, having different heads for different things was actually Pertwee's idea.
Have I mentioned that this show was disturbing? When I watched it as a kid, it scared the shit out of me - horrible things kept happening to Worzel, like his arm constantly getting ripped off. He was madly in love with a living Aunt Sally doll, all creaky and jerky, who was a complete nightmare bitch - always fucking him over, breaking his heart, and laughing at him. Worzel was always stealing, lying, being selfish, breaking things, and getting his friends into trouble. He was horrible to those kids, and they were the only ones who really liked him. Both Worzel and Aunt Sally were incredibly greedy, and were always stuffing their faces with cakes. At one point, Worzel is so humiliated and depressed, he tries to commit suicide. The very first episode, when we see him come to life, is like something out of a zombie movie. At the end of every episode, Worzel gets on his cross (a bloody cross, like!), which cracks, making him fall on his back. It was really quite unpleasant and scary, I used to get quite upset, wishing that for once Worzel could end up happy. But I never missed an episode. I really don't know why.
All series of Worzel Gummidge, including the Christmas special (Cup O' Tea An' A Slice O' Cake) and the Down Under series, are available on Video and DVD from most online shops, as are all of the original books. Or you could just dress up as a butler or something and try to steal them, fall over in some cake, and end up crying while getting laughed at publicly by the woman you love.
Air dates, and general info: www.worzelgummidge.currantbun.com - go there for bucketloads of trivia, background info, and piccies of Pertwee getting his Worzel makeup on.
Thank you to stupot for the suggestion to put the air dates etc into a normal paragraph, thus prettifying the top of the writeup. /me goes round to stupot's house while he's away, breaks stuff, and steals some cake, scattering straw everywhere and generally causing trouble. Oh, nice - he's just cooled this, as well. What a top bloke! Extremely attractive, popular with the laydeez, witty, debonair, and the world's fastest fly fisher.