Mackenzie Crook says Worzel Gummidge Christmas remake is a fitting tribute to Barbara Windsor

WHEN Worzel Gummidge returns to our screens this Christmas, actor Mackenzie Crook will be thinking of the legendary Dame Barbara Windsor.

The latest instalment of ­Mackenzie’s remake, following successful episodes last year, features foul-mouthed Saucy Nancy — the role that Babs played in the 1980s original.

She died just weeks before ­viewers get to see the new show, in which Shirley Henderson takes on the part played by the Carry On star. 

When asked if he thinks the hour-long programme is a fitting tribute to Dame Barbara, Mackenzie told The Sun: “Absolutely, yes. She played the original version and a lot of people will remember that fondly.

“It’s so sad that she died just weeks before our new one went out.”

Actress Shirley, best known for her role as Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter films, plays ship figurehead Nancy, who scarecrow Worzel and his pals Susan and John find abandoned and unloved in a scrapyard.

Determined to get her back to the sea, the four set off on a heart-warming journey.

But Nancy frequently turns the air blue with made-up insults such as “scabby duck flaps” and “filthy pipe scrape”.

Mackenzie, who penned the script, dreamed up Nancy’s naughty phrases — and some sounded so rude that he decided to leave them out.

He revealed: “That’s life as a writer. I winced a little bit. 

“There were a couple that even got filmed and we had to cut them out later. I don’t think we realised how close they were to being offensive.

“They sound like they might be rude but they’re not.

“You should try it. Try writing a list of good swear words. They have to sound right. ‘Pipe scrape, you filthy pipe scrape’. Something about that sounds almost rude, something vaguely anatomical.”

Good-natured Worzel was originally played by Jon Pertwee, who died aged 76 in 1996 — and Mackenzie felt daunted taking over the character before last year’s two new episodes were aired.

But he says the nervous feeling must have been one Jon also felt when he first pulled on the scarecrow’s straw-filled boots in 1979.

Before that, a radio series and two telly ­outings had already been made.

Mackenzie said: “It was already a remake of an earlier BBC series that nobody even remembers now. 

“I imagine when the Jon Pertwee version came out there were people up in arms, like, ‘How could you mess with the classic?’

“As I was ­making the first two episodes it became clear to me how important the Jon Pertwee series was.

“A lot of people held that to their hearts, and I suddenly realised this responsibility on my shoulders. 

“It wasn’t really a feature in my childhood so I didn’t really understand how much people loved that version. 

“Then there were a lot of online chats in anticipation of it, and some people were ­complaining. It was more daunting in the days leading up to when it was broadcast. 

“But my feelings were put to rest because it got such a lovely reception.”

Like Jon, Mackenzie is an ­acting icon in his own right.

He first become  a household name as Gareth Keenan in The Office before winning two Baftas for BBC4 comedy Detectorists and featuring in the Pirates Of The Caribbean films. But when I ask what his viewing habits will be over the festive season, his answer is not what you might imagine.

Talking from his garden shed, where he does all of his writing, he said: “This is a bit of a shameful admission but I hardly watch ­anything. I don’t really watch TV or films, and that’s quite a bad ­admission for somebody who claims to work in that industry.

“I can’t concentrate on anything for longer than half an hour. I’m restless and I find myself not being able to commit to a box set or a series.”

Thankfully, Mackenzie won’t have to sit still for too long when his show airs because filming of a second ­episode that was meant to follow it did not go ahead due to Covid-19.

He explained: “I’m happy that we’ve got at least one episode out there. The plan was originally to make two this year but we just didn’t have the time. 

“We were about to start pre-production when it closed down. During the first lockdown I was able to keep writing and keep preparing, so when we were finally able to make an episode we were ready to go.”

‘WE GOT THROUGH FILMING BEING STRICT WITH RULES’

Filming telly during a pandemic is difficult for any show, but one that requires hours of make-up and prosthetics, like Mackenzie’s role as Worzel does, is even trickier.

He said: “The restrictions make it a very different process.

“I had to be in a bubble with the two prosthetic make-up artists, and they’ve got full PPE, masks and visors. They’re the only people who are allowed to approach me. 

“We were in close proximity for up to four hours every day. But it’s a meditative time — I quite enjoy it.”

Other filming sets are not quite so serene, of course.

The Sun told last week how Hollywood star Tom Cruise lost his rag on the new Mission: Impossible film after he spotted crew members flouting social distancing rules, putting the production at risk. 

Mackenzie reckons there are ways to keep the industry safe but Tom’s approach was not ideal.

He said: “We got through filming Worzel because we were so strict with the rules. 

“When people were drifting together and getting complacent, our producer would go and say to them, ‘Come on, keep your distance’.

“I just think being shouted at by Tom Cruise, that’s just gonna be the most belittling experience of anyone’s life. That will stay with them for ever, that time that he humiliated them.”

When it comes to manners, the scarecrow star is in a field of his own.

  • Worzel Gummidge: Saucy Nancy airs on Christmas Eve on BBC1 at 5.55pm.

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