THE ORIGINAL TRIO
While it became more of a sprawling ensemble comedy in its later years, Last of the Summer Wine is usually remembered as the story of three wrinkly rascals getting into silly scrapes, slapstick tomfoolery, and generally behaving like born-again schoolboys. There's the cheeky and roguish Compo, the wry and sensible Clegg, and as for the third man... well, the third man changed a fair few times over the years. Foggy, the one with the glasses, green coat and walking stick, is probably the chap we remember most.
But watch it from the start, and you get to see the ORIGINAL trio, and chances are you'll never have come across this particular line-up before. We still have Compo and Clegg of course, but the third man - the very first third man - is a certain Cyril Blamire. Cutting a rather suave figure (at least compared to Compo, anyway), he's a pompous know-it-all who always felt he was above the other two, and was fond of showing off his wide knowledge of the world. As you can imagine, Compo liked nothing more than to wind him up, as you'll see for yourself.
It's not just Blamire who's a bit of a revelation. Even veteran Summer Wine fans may be surprised at the other characters to be discovered in the first few series of the show. How about Compo's nephew Chip? He and his wife whisk the original trio off for a spot of culture in a country house, and you can well imagine how that little excursion turns out. Compo and culture, not an ideal combination.
Look out as well for Big Malcolm, another distant relative of Compo's, a vast and terrifying fellow who looks a bit like one of the epic-bellied British wrestlers of the 70s and 80s. Poor Foggy runs afoul of Big Malcolm during his very first day in the village, when Malcolm challenges him to a fight over a stripy scarf (don't ask). Fortunately, Malcolm doesn't become a regular character in the show, so Foggy is able to breathe easy after that unfortunate moment. Keep your eyes peeled though, because there are plenty of other eccentric and memorable characters to take you by surprise from the show's early years.
THE LIBRARY MOB
Did you know Last of the Summer Wine was originally going to be called The Library Mob? You wouldn't know why, unless you go right back to the start. That's when you'll discover how the village library was once one of the main locations for the series. In fact, it was where the trio originally spent much of their time, flicking through newspapers, bickering about random things, and winding up the librarians.
Naturally enough, the library regulars include some long-suffering women, much like the more familiar battleaxes Nora and Ivy. Saying that, one of the librarians is a sweet and timid sort who deeply regrets having left the children's library where "Puss in Boots means just that and not like that awful magazine." Hmm, libraries must have been very risqué places in the 1970s...
MEMORABLE CELEBRITY CAMEOS
Another reason to watch Last of the Summer Wine properly, all the way through? The star spotting, of course. While most quiet Yorkshire villages aren't renowned for their celebrity counts, you might be surprised at who pops up amid the swaying trees and winding lanes of the Summer Wine world. Comedy legend Sir Norman Wisdom makes several appearances, and we really can't imagine a better fit for the show than the spry, twinkly-eyed Wisdom, who even shows off his singing skills as the buffoonish Billy Ingleton.
Another British comedy icon, Eric Sykes, makes a major one-off appearance as a chap called Doggy, who decides to get married in his twilight years, the one small snag being that he can't quite remember the name of his bride-to-be. Look out as well for the likes of Ron Moody - better known as Fagin from Oliver! - and even John Cleese, who makes a very sudden appearance when you least expect it.
THE SURPRISING YOUTHFULNESS
The thing about Last of the Summer Wine is that it started so long ago, and lasted for so many years, that it's almost shocking to watch the first few series and realise how (relatively) young the cast looked. Compo might look a right old state, and Clegg might dress in his usual flat-capped OAP camouflage, but they're far from being the old men most of us think of when we imagine Last of the Summer Wine. And just wait till you clap eyes on early Nora Batty - you might just understand what Compo saw in her. (Well, maybe.)