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The series of Worzel Gummidge which brought Barbara Euphan Todd’s popular talking scarecrow to television had actually been suggested by former Doctor Who star Jon Pertwee.
Pertwee then starred in the series as the turnip headed scarecrow from Ten Acre Field at Scatterbrook Farm.
The mischievous scarecrow in the straggly straw hat, with a unique line in yokelese, was the friend of young John and Sue Peters who had just moved to the countryside with their dad (having recently lost their mum). Worzel transformed their lives with his clumsy antics and good-natured humour.
The Crowman, Worzel’s creator, was played by former Catweazle star Geoffrey Bayldon, while Una Stubbs played the worst bitch who’s ever been on television – Worzel’s reluctant skittle doll girlfriend Aunt Sally.
She was horrid, she was rude and she was consistently beastly to Worzel who loved her dearly. Worzel also fell for Barbara Windsor’s Saucy Nancy (a ship’s figurehead) and flirted with a tailor’s dummy called Dolly Clothes-Peg (Lorraine Chase).
In marked contrast to his role as Doctor Who, the part of Worzel Gummidge gave Pertwee the chance to show off his comedy skills and the funny voices he had used on many BBC radio shows including The Navy Lark. In 1980 Jon Pertwee even released a novelty single called Worzel’s Song which became a minor chart hit.
The 1979 ITV blackout stopped filming, and only eight of the planned 13 episodes were filmed. The Christmas edition – made in October in Lymington, Hampshire – snowed more trouble for the production.
The fake snow was a white powder used for making toothpaste. Unfortunately it blew everywhere and clung to the food in shops as well as to furniture and clothes on people’s washing lines. Restaurants had to throw out the dish of the day and dress shops had to get rid of ruined items.
But the worst was yet to come – Southern Television lost the franchise, and the new company (TVS) declined to continue with Worzel.
A saviour appeared in the form of Harlech Television, but eleven days before they were due to start filming more episodes, the project was cancelled because of a dispute with technicians.
Channel 4 repeated the series in 1986 but Worzel and Jon remained bumswizzled until an independent New Zealand company came to the rescue and purchased the rights to make Worzel Gummidge Down Under with Worzel taking up residence in the Antipodes (the series was actually filmed in New Zealand) in 1987.
Jon Pertwee made Worzel’s warts from Sugar Puffs cut in half, and his wispy beard from carrot roots.
Television’s first Worzel Gummidge was Frank Atkinson, who played the part in the 1953 series Worzel Gummidge Turns Detective.