Flashbacking to join Una Stubbs as Aunt Sally for a cup o’ tea an’ a slice o’ cake…
Worzel Gummidge breaks a scarecrow Christmas tradition to Aunt Sally for a Christmas Day Date in this Children’s TV favourite.
Aunt Sally Sings Is It To Much To Ask, iSuRRendeReDuK
I was sad to learn that Una Stubbs had passed away, an actress who I always remember singing and dancing in Summer Holiday (1963) with Cliff Richard and the Shadows. She joined them the following year for Wonderful Life (1964) for another film musical. And they also reunited for a pantomime in Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp in 1964 which had a tie-in LP.
Una Stubbs was also more recently remembered in an EastEnders (1985-) role as Honey Mitchell’s Aunt Caroline (Bishop). Therefore, Caroline was Billy Mitchell’s aunt in law and a therefore kinda a relation of Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor). Una Stubbs was in the series for only six episodes but I do remember that she made an impression on me. I thought she looked like Emma Barton who played Honey. In her short but sweet role, Stubbs may or may not have been inveigled into singing for them for Children in Need (1980-), I really can’t remember.
I didn’t realise – until I researched for this post – was that Stubbs had starred with Barbara Windsor long before she had her stint in EastEnders. This was in a children’s television series I watched as a kid. The series was Worzel Gummidge (1979-81). The original series was written by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall and this pair of writers wrote a play I loved at school, Billy Liar.
Stubbs continued this role in Worzel Gummidge Down Under (1987-89) and later on stage with another future Eastenders actress, Lucy Benjamin. Benjamin – then Baker – bizarrely also played a character with a Mitchell connection. This show has recently been remade, and the least said about that remake the better.
In Worzel Gummidge the one time Doctor Who (1963-), Jon Pertwee took the titular role as Worzel Gummidge, as a scarecrow who spoke with a West Country accent. This scarecrow comes to life and gets up to all sorts of adventures. Pertwee is quoted on BFI Screenonline as saying about his character;
“He says and does the things that all of us would like to do, but are too shy, self-conscious and respectful to. Being rude to those in authority, being selfish… there is something of Worzel in all of us.”
Gummidge is friends with two kids Sue (Charlotte Coleman, who much later starred in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) as Hugh Grant’s flatmate) and John Peters (Jeremy Austin). The kids and their dad (Mike Berry) – and Gummidge – live on the Braithwaites (Megs Jenkins and Norman Bird) farm. This kids’ show was not for the faint of heart, as Gummidge had a collection of heads that he would unscrew and then change – much more than his socks – depending on the storyline.
Gummidge was madly in love with Aunt Sally (Una Stubbs). Aunt Sally was a pretty – and she knew it – life-sized fairground doll. After she comes to life, she’s quite a cruel character as she constantly belittles and criticises Worzel. She is snobby and feels much too good for this scarecrow and can also be a bit manipulative with him.
This review is about the 1980s Christmas double bill episode, A Cup O’ Tea An’ A Slice O’ Cake, found at series 3 episode 9. The episode an all-singing dancing affair has a few familiar faces from British film and telly. The plot starts on Christmas Eve and this is seen in the OTT Christmas themed – and “comic” – montage with crackers, carols, Christmas food and “hilarious” Christmas themed disasters (which I am sure I found funnier as a wee girl) over the opening credits.
Worzel is feeling miserable and a bit sorry for himself as he is stuck in a field, and it’s snowing. He complains in his Zummerset dialect Worzelese accent – created for the show – to his pet robin (and the audience) about his sad predicament. Then he makes a bid for freedom to listen to the kids sing some Christmas carols. Mr Crowman (Geoffrey Bayldon) – a tramp like man – who created this scarecrow – passes by and stops Worzel in his tracks.
The Crowman gives Worzel a bollocking for leaving his post (literally). She tells him that Christmas Eve is an important date for scarecrows. Worzel tells the Crowman he wants to try and find Aunt Sally, as he planned to ask Aunt Sally to the Christmas Scarecrow Ball. He is gently reminded by a mansplanation that it is the Christmas Eve tradition for scarecrows to show Santa the way north as he flies home.
Crowman warns Worzel that if he moves from his post that he won’t be allowed to go to the ball. Cue Pertwee in song… Needless to say the kids – or “titty humans” – as Worzel calls them – come and see him and decide to untie him. Sue and Peter tell him that he can spend Christmas with them on the farm. Cue a change of head for Worzel and then Worzel tries to hunt down Aunt Sally. He gets into a few scrapes along the way.
First, he tries to find Aunt Sally at a manor house. After he falls down the chimney, the Colonel who lives there thinks he’s a tramp and sends Worzel on his way with a gunshot. Then Worzel spots a ship – on a lorry – and a familiar friend discovered as a figurehead on this boat. Cue Barbara Windsor as Saucy Nancy, who is the “panto” ship’s figurehead and the pair sing and dance with some pirates.
The song ends with a cannonball explosion, and the cannonball gets lodged in a policeman’s helmet. Then Worzel runs to escape the cop and sees her… As we see Aunt Sally (Stubbs) pushing a wheelbarrow containing firewood. She is pushing it up a hill for 50p in 1980s money (about 5 quid), while the owner does to the pub. But she denies she is, even though it’s pretty obvious she is if that makes sense.
Worzel asks Aunt Sally to be his date for the ball and it’s a definite no. She simply wouldn’t demean herself to go to a scarecrow’s ball. She claims that she has more worthy men in her life and to plans spend Christmas with a titled Bulgarian. Cue Stubbs in song as she sings of the love she wants and yearns for and it definitely doesn’t mean this scarecrow.
As she sings a song, the lyrics indicate Aunt Sally is a bit of a hopeful romantic too… but not for him. The man in her life has to be dashing and brave.. and it’s an incredibly soppy song. After she offers him 4p (!) to push the firewood up the hill for her with her sitting on top of it, Worzel does he’s still that besotted.
Then Worzel spots the Crowman and drops the barrel to the ground, then he makes for home before the Crowman sees he is missing. On his way, he bumps into an over the top Scottish scarecrow with ginger hair and bagpipes, Bogle McNeep was played with a full tilt Scottish brogue by Billy Connolly… And as usual, there’s more to come from this sterling cast.
Una Stubbs gave a wonderfully catty performance in this role and I’d forgotten what a horrible character she played. Her put down lines that aimed to hurt poor Worzel were however wonderfully conveyed by Stubbs. I can’t really fault her performance. However, the highlights were her song and dance numbers. She was fantastic in both and kept to her character in both her singing and acting performances.
The lyrics of the song showed her as a bit high maintenance, but vulnerable and yearning for love from a heroic type of man. Worzel’s unrequited love for Aunt Sally persisted throughout the series, even though she treated him like crap on numerous occasions. But perhaps Worzel spotted this side to her himself, showing that he had much more than straw between his ears.