The series has been officially declared the world's longest-running television sitcom, airing continuously between Wednesday 4th January 1973 to Sunday 29th August 2010. Peter Sallis was the sole cast member to appear (as Norman Clegg) throughout the whole 31 seasons. He also appeared (as Clegg's father) in the spin-off prequel series First of the Summer Wine (1988).
By 1976 it was clear that Michael Bates was ill. The cancer which was to eventually kill him meant the strenuous walking through the hills became impossible. He was written out of the series and his noticeable gap was filled by Brian Wilde, who had already become known as Mr. Barrowclough in Porridge (1974). Michael Bates did continue to appear in his other success, It Ain't Half Hot Mum (1974), but died soon after.
Holmfirth was chosen as the setting for Last of the Summer Wine after Barry Took made a programme about Working Men's Clubs at nearby Burnlee WMC. When producer James Gilbert was looking for a location for an episode of Comedy Playhouse (1961), Barry Took recommended Holmfirth. That episode was developed into the series "Last of the Summer Wine".
The long-running series generated such a devout worldwide following, a special tour operation evolved over the years affording fans and visitors the opportunity to explore the actual series locations and enjoy the picturesque surroundings.
In May 2009, Peter Sallis (Clegg) revealed that the programme was nearly cancelled before it had even started, when Bill Owen (Compo) who was very left-wing and Michael Bates who was very right-wing started having a heated and vigorous argument about their different political affiliations, over dinner when they first met. Producer James Gilbert read them the riot act and told them that unless they agreed to differ, and not to argue about politics, he was going to cancel the project. Owen and Bates meekly agreed and never discussed politics again.
Brian Wilde much preferred working with Director Sydney Lotterby ( who had directed Wilde in Porridge) rather than Alan J.W. Bell due to the difference in directing and visual styles of the two men. Bell liked to shoot in a more cinematic way often using long distance wide shots of the Yorkshire landscape and hills with the actors walking through them playing the scene. Inevitably this meant scenes took a lot longer to set-up ,co-ordinate and shoot much to Wilde's and some other cast member's frustration whereas Lotterby tended to keep things much tighter visually, like a traditional sitcom and worked more quickly.