Worzel Gummidge returns to TV

A modern adaptation of Worzel Gummidge is coming to BBC One in two hour long films, inspired by the classic books of Barbara Euphan Todd.

Mackenzie Crook as Worzel Gummidge. Image: BBC

Mackenzie Crook as Worzel Gummidge. Image: BBC

Mackenzie Crook writes, directs and stars as Worzel Gummidge. He’s best known for playing Gareth Keenan in The Office, Ragetti in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, and Orell in the HBO series Game of Thrones, and is the creator and star of BBC Four’s hugely-popular Detectorists.

Frank Atkinson as Worzel Gummidge in

Frank Atkinson as Worzel Gummidge in “Worzel Gummidge Turns Detective”, the character’s first TV appearance in 1953, pictured with Mabel Constanduros as Earthy Mangold

The living scarecrow first appeared on television in 1953 in a four-episode series, Worzel Gummidge Turns Detective, written for TV by Barbara Euphan Todd.

It starred Blackpool-born film actor Frank Atkinson as Worzel, a departure, with Mabel Constanduros as Earthy Mangold, reprising her rol from the BBC’s Children’s Hour radio show, alongside Philip Roy and Margaret Boyd and  as Mr Braithwaite and Mrs Braithwaite.

Perhaps the best-loved adaptation of the books to date was Southern Television’s Worzel Gummidge production for ITV, written by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, and starred Jon Pertwee as Worzel, with Una Stubbs as Aunt Sally, a life-size fairground doll and Worzel’s femme fatale.

The series, comprising 31 episodes made in the UK and 22 episodes made in New Zealand as Worzel Gummidge Down Under as was a great success, spawning numerous comic versions, including one for the weekly Look-In.

Keith Waterhouse, Willis Hall and Denis King also wrote a stage musical of the story of Worzel Gummidge. Brought to life by the Crowman, Worzel creates havoc and farce wherever he goes in his frenzied efforts to win Aunt Sally’s unwilling hand until he finds himself before the scarecrow court on a very serious charge. But the final resolution is a happy one with a birthday cake enormous enough to satisfy even Worzel’s appetite! This version enjoyed a very successful run in the West End of London at the Cambridge Theatre, starring Jon Pertwee and Una Stubbs.

Sadly, the show failed to sell in the United States where, according to Pertwee, speaking at the Chicago Visions convention in the 1990s, TV executives feared the character’s voice would prove impossible for audiences to understand.

Jon Pertwee as Worzel Gummidge on the cover of Look-In Issue 2 - cover dated 5th January 1980

Jon Pertwee as Worzel Gummidge on the cover of Look-In Issue 2 – cover dated 5th January 1980

Worzel Gummidge dreams of a new life in the Wild West in this episode of the eponymous strip for Look-In (Issue 26, 1979), drawn by Mike Noble. Things don't go too well when he tries to impress his new boss.

Worzel Gummidge dreams of a new life in the Wild West in this episode of the eponymous strip for Look-In (Issue 26, 1979), drawn by Mike Noble. Things don’t go too well when he tries to impress his new boss.

A page from a Worzel Gummidge Annual - Art by John Cooper (with thanks to Richard Sheaf)

A page from a Worzel Gummidge Annual – Art by John Cooper (with thanks to Richard Sheaf)

Earlier this year, BBC producer Richard Latto discovered a Corporation commissioned pilot episode of an animated Worzel Gummidge series, voiced by Jon Pertwee, mixed in with some ITV Gummidge ephemera in possession of the son of animator Maurice Pooley. He’d also kept the full script and storyboard for the production used by his late father. The BBC project, which also featured Una Stubbs as the voice of Aunt Sally, was abandoned after Jon died.

A scene from the animated Worzel Gummidge pilot, created by Maurice Pooley in the 1990s

A scene from the animated Worzel Gummidge pilot, created by Maurice Pooley in the 1990s

Leopard Pictures, part of Argonon Group, are partnering with Treasure Trove Productions and Lola Entertainment to bring these glorious stories to life for an audience of all ages.

The films have been commissioned by Shane Allen, Controller Comedy Commissioning for the BBC, and Charlotte Moore, Director of Content for the BBC.

The first 60 minute episode, The Scarecrow Of Scatterbrook, sees two young strangers arrive in the village of Scatterbrook. It’s not long before Susan and John encounter Worzel Gummidge, the Scarecrow of Ten Acre Field. Their world is sent spinning into confusion when they realise Gummidge comes to life.

The only person more shocked is Worzel, when he discovers that the children are not in fact fellow scarecrows but humans.

Their worlds should never commune but fate has conspired to create an extraordinary union. The seasons have stopped and the harvest hasn’t arrived. The rhythm of the natural world is out of kilter and this unlikely trio must try to put it right. Magic, mystery and mayhem unfurl.

The second episode, The Green Man, welcomes another mysterious arrival to Scatterbrook. The Green Man is the creator of scarecrows and keeper of scarecrow lore. He isn’t at all happy that Worzel is consorting with humans. Elsewhere, local aristocrat Lady Bloomsbury Barton is holding a fete, with a Scarecrow competition that Worzel is determined to win. What will Worzel’s most competitive rival, Soggy Bogart, and The Green Man make of it all?

Worzel Gummidge - 1953 Puffin Books edition

Worzel Gummidge – 1953 Puffin Books edition

Mackenzie Crook says: “I’m thrilled to be back working with the BBC and many members of the Detectorists team to bring Worzel Gummidge to a new generation of viewers and reintroduce him to old friends.

“Adapting Barbara Euphan Todd’s books into these two films has been a joy and I’ve completely fallen for her charming, irreverent scarecrow. Fingers crossed for a glorious English summer as we head out to Scatterbrook Farm and Worzel’s Ten Acre Field.”

Shane Allen, Controller Comedy Commissioning at the BBC, says: “Mackenzie’s widely adored and multi-Bafta award winning Detectorists was a grown up love letter to bucolic England and with Worzel he takes a similar approach to English folklore, rural rites and the magic of childhood. His visionary and fundamental reinterpretation of this classic is that rare and special achievement – a BBC One family friendly comedy.”

Kristian Smith, Executive Producer for Leopard Pictures, says: “These two specials are real treat pieces for a family audience. There was nobody other than Mackenzie that I wanted to work with on this. The vision and creativity of this man is awesome. He has written two beautiful scripts that are clever, warm and funny. And once again he has attracted a formidable cast of tremendous actors.

“We are so excited to be able to bring these new Worzel Gummidge stories to everybody.”

Worzel Gummidge is written and directed by Mackenzie Crook and is a Leopard Pictures, Treasure Trove Productions and Lola Entertainment production for BBC One. It is Executive Produced by Kristian Smith for Leopard Pictures, Lisa Thomas for Lola Entertainment and Mackenzie Crook for Treasure Trove Productions, and produced by Georgie Fallon. Alex Moody is the Commissioning Editor for the BBC.

Further casting announcements will be made in due course.

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1 reply

  1. That’s a pretty scary-looking scarecrow. He looks more like Jason Woodrue, the Floronic Man.

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