People of a certain age have probably blocked Worzel Gummidge from their memories, and with good reason. The original TV show, based on Barbara Euphan Todd’s original prose, and starring John Pertwee, was a bizarre mix of comedy and abstract horror that did nothing to help build human-scarecrow relations, largely because the titular tatterdemalion had interchangeable heads. He took his head off, folks! As if a walking, talking scarecrow wasn’t reason enough to never sleep again. All of this made the BBC’s decision to revisit Scatterbrook Farm an odd one, but when we learned it was in the safe, nimble fingers of Mackenzie Crook our terror was replaced by curiosity after all this was the man who made metal detection interesting.
Worzel Gummidge sprang to life during World War 2 era Britain and tells the tale of a scatterbrained scarecrow who unwittingly exposes his magical and secretive world to a couple of human children after mistaking them for his own kind, on account of their unusual clothing. For Crook’s reimagining, though the story is transplanted to the modern-era with 2 Foster children finding themselves sent to stay out in the country with the Braithwaites on their farm. In short order, they quickly become firm friends with Worzel, a gangly, turnip headed creation played to perfection by Crook, and join him on his misadventures around Scatterbrook Farm. Along the way, they meet other scarecrows, not all of whom are nice, as well as helping Worzel save the harvest and ultimately the Braithwaites farm.
This modern spin on the classic story was presented as 2 one hour episodes, but could easily have been twice as long and we’d still have been left wanting more. Mackenzie Crook has time and again proved himself to be a true poet when it comes to his writing, and in fact, brings much of The Detectorists charm and poise (and a soundtrack courtesy of The Unthanks) to his latest project. Worzel Gummidge is just as much about preserving the environment as it is about making us laugh, but never forces its message down your throat. It is one of those shows that you can take as much or as little from as you want – it depends on how deep you like your tea-time television to be.
Whether we’ll see any more Worzel Gummidge on TV remains up in the air, but considering how many people tuned in to watch over the festive period (almost 7 million, not including iPlayer downloads) it would seem like the Beeb was leaving money on the table if a full series wasn’t in the pipeline for 2020, and we’d be willing to bet a “cup o’ tea an’ a slice o’ cake” that we’ll be seeing him again very soon.