The bucolic pleasures of Worzel Gummidge

A new take on the sulking scarecrow is funny and contemporary.

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As you pass sad, wilted Christmas trees left by the bins on your dimly-lit commute (did the working day always begin so brutally early?), those long, cosy days on the sofa – surrounded by baubles and Quality Street wrappers, bingeing on dark new versions of classic wintry stories – might seem like a cruel and taunting memory. Far be it from me to remind you of them. But to ease you back into reality, might I recommend one of the BBC’s Christmas shows that may have passed you by?

On a list of retro children’s TV shows ripe for a right-on BBC remake, it’s unlikely that Worzel Gummidge would rank highly: Jon Pertwee’s dirt-smeared sulking scarecrow feels like a bizarre and even creepy Seventies relic. Set in the warm final days of an eerily long summer, it isn’t particularly festive, either. But Barbara Euphan Todd’s stories have now been reworked into a poignant and genuinely funny tale that hints at looming ecological disaster without ever becoming po-faced.

Much of the charm of this version (broadcast in two, one-hour episodes) is thanks to its writer/director Mackenzie Crook, also cast as Gummidge. Crook has played a mix of minor oddball fantasy characters (Pirates of the Caribbean, Game of Thrones) and brilliantly, painfully realised ordinary Brits (The Office, Detectorists). These two strains meld together wonderfully in a bumbling yet strident Gummidge who gets into petty arguments with crows, complains about the “boring” names of his new human friends, cringes under the chastisements of his Aunt Sally, and forgets why he tied a knot in his handkerchief. Indeed, fans of Crook’s show Detectorists (of which there are many, all extremely devoted) will find much to love here: a bucolic tonic for these depressing, grey days. 

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Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 10 January 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Trump vs Iran