Category Archives: St Trinian’s

The Pure Hell of St Trinian’s (1960)

“This is the final outrage. A soliloquy to striptease. What would the Bard have said?”

The Pure Hell of St Trinian’s is the third St Trinian’s film in the series of four, and out of the four films, this one and the first film, The Belles of St Trinian’s are my two favourites.pure hell

For those of you who don’t know, St Trinian’s is a notorious British boarding school for girls, and its pupils are out-of-control deliquents and hellraisers who run amok–much to the alarm of local residents, the police department and the Ministry of Education. The cartoonist Ronald Searle was the original creator of the idea, and four films were made based on his cartoons. Admittedly, there have been a couple of newer films to cash in on the St Trinian’s claim to shame, but since I’m not interested in them, they are not included here.

 St Trinian’s has an evil reputation, and both the Ministry of Education and the local police department long for the closure of the school, and in the beginning of the film, it does indeed look as though St Trinian’s days are finally numbered.

In The Pure Hell of St Trinian’s the girls are accused of setting fire to the school, and in an attempt to close St Trinian’s forever, the prosecuting counsel puts the entire school on trial–over 200 girls spill over the docks at the Old Bailey. With witnesses such as Lolita Chatterley Peyton Place Brighton and the rat who proposes to reveal the identities of the guilty girls for “knicker and a safe passage to Ostend,” the trial rapidly degenerates into a lot of rotten tomato throwing and several passes made at the judge.

Just as the judge is about to announce the sentence, a rather rum figure who calls himself ‘Professor Canford’ (Cecil Parker) proposes an “unorthodox approach” to punishment, and soon Canford and his potty headmistress–Miss Harker-Parker (played by the adorably cuddly Irene Handl) are given custody of the girls. Harker-Parker, by the way is the only one “who can produce a certificate to prove” her sanity. Canford plans to take the sixth form girls out of the country on a cruise to Greece, and to impress the Ministry he hosts a St Trinian’s Culture festival–and this includes such events as a paint battle, a fashion show that consists of tattily dressed urchins parading around, and then the “final outrage,” a version of Hamlet–complete with a striptease.

Canford leaves for Greece with the sixth form, and Policewoman Ruby Gates (Joyce Grenfell) succumbs to pressure from her fiance of 14 years–Sgt Sammy– to stow away on the ship packrat fashion–along with her recorder–and report back on the actions of the somewhat fishy Canford.

Soon “Operation Gymslip” is launched after the entire sixth form disappears. The British government decides the kidnapped sixth form must be saved as “after all, they are British,” but to avoid an international incident, the operation is secret. A mobile bath unit of the British Army (awaiting supplies of gin) is activated, and 2 school inspectors are dispatched with edible instructions. Serious help is on the way as the rest of the vicious St Trinians mob dash to the rescue.

This is yet another wonderful addition to the St Trinian’s series. Old favourites are here–the liftman from the Ministry of Education, George Cole as Flash Harry (and we see his tattoo in this film) has a much bigger role, and the 2 school inspectors, Culpepper-Brown and Butters return, and of course, the forever engaged “local copper’s moll” Ruby Gates (Joyce Grenfell) is back in a much-expanded role as the lovelorn, long-suffering policewoman, Ruby Gates.. Newcomers in this film include Cecil Parker and Irene Handl, but also Dennis Price as the marvelously snobby MP, Gore Blackwood, and Sid James–a truly great comedian–has a small role as Alphonse O’Reilly. One of the funniest sub-plots in the film shows the vicious hierarchy within the Ministry of Education, but even this hierarchy crumbles before The Pure Hell of St Trinian’s. From director Frank Launder and written by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder.

Some quotes:

“You’ve got hold of the dirty end of the stick there, gov.”

“Morals is not going out with boys after dark.”

“I will give you the grift for 200 knicker and a safe passage to Ostend.”

“The outbursts of hooliganism are really intolerable.”

“Stands to reason they couldn’t be anything other than round the bend.”

“Interpol will take care of you.”

“Bitterness does not become you, my dear.”

Where was your self-control?”

“There’s only one thing for it…mutiny.”

“Play for me, gyspy.”

“I understand you’re partly responsible for providing me with these hellcats.”

“Well instead of calling me Flash Harry, they’re going to call me Flesh Harry. What will my mum think?”

“Girls! Girls! It’s the fourth form!”

“After all the things you said in the back of the police car.”

“It’s getting rough out there.”

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The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery (1966)

“It’s an orgy!”

The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery is the fourth and final film in the extremely popular St Trinian’s comedy series. For those who don’t know, St Trinian’s School for Girls was first created by cartoonist Ronald Searle, and the cartoons became the basis for the films.

When the film begins, St Trinian’s School for Girls is homeless once again–this is the result of three arson fires in four years. Currently camped out in an army barracks and “living like refugees,” the school is on the brink of collapse.

Meanwhile, it’s Election Night in Britain. With the advent of a new Labour Party Government, officials at the Ministry of Education (normally Tories) anticipate broad cuts in private schools, so a celebration is underway with the employees at the ministry partying the night away as they predict the closure of St Trinian’s, the notorious all-girls school. But it seems that the celebration is a little premature–little do they know that the headmistress, Amber Spottiswood (Dora Bryan) counts the new Labour Minister of Education as one of her many lovers.

With 80,000 pounds in hand (a grant from the very friendly Minister), Miss Spottiswood is able to revive St Trinian’s yet again. Miss Spottiswood purchases a new home, the abandoned Hamingwell Grange for her ‘progessive education’ school and summons her merry band of mistresses to join her. The Mathematics Mistress leaves her card-sharp life, the French Mistress creeps away from “modelling,” the Arts Mistress gives up stripping, the Games Mistress abandons the professional wrestling ring, and the Deputy Headmistress is released just in time from Holloway jail to join the rest of the crew.

As the St Trinian’s girls settle in their new home, they are blissfully unaware that 2.5 million pounds is secreted away in the cellar by a gang of thieves led by hairdresser Alphonse of Monte Carlo (Frankie Howerd). And it becomes Alphonse’s mission–guided by Mr. Big who sends messages through the salon’s sterilizer–to recoup the money. Meanwhile disgruntled school inspectors–convinced that orgies commence nightly at St Trinian’s–bravely volunteer for a secret mission…

This is the fourth–and unfortunately–the last film in the original St Trinian’s series, and the only colourized film in the bunch. Made in the 60s, it has a very different feel to the other St Trinian’s films, and as fans of British 60s comedies know, The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery stars many of the great talents from that period–comedienne Dora Bryan as the dotty headmistress Amber Spottiswood is a joy to watch as she slips from her upper class accent (when she placates and manipulates the minister) to her working class voice as she empties the wallets of parents on Parents’ Day. Some of the best scenes involve Dora Bryan (her bedroom is decorated like a brothel) and her “mad Machiavellian minister.” Parents’ Day is an incredible event with the St Trinian’s girls at their worst as they fleece any parent they can. Lecherous Frankie Howerd is perfect as the obsequious, slimy hairdresser, Alphonse, who takes a turn as a Morris dancer and comedian Reg Varney appears in a small role as a crook. George Cole returns as Flash Harry, and this time he builds a bookie’s office with a special children’s entrance–and the office includes counters set at different heights so the smaller third form girls can bet their pocket money on the gee-gees too.

The film is a thinly veiled reference to the real Great Train Robbery that took place in 1963. One of the best things about the film is that it illustrates the girls’ resourcefulness and independence, so in the ‘bigger’ scheme of things, the ‘education in life’ that they receive at St Trinian’s is valuable. At no point in the film do the girls contact the ‘authorities’ for help, and the headmistress doesn’t hesitate to direct the girls in her schemes against anyone who threatens “our happy days.” The film also creates parallel scenes of the crooks gathering and the girls gathering, and the implication is that the girls of St Trinian’s form a larger, formidable gang. Check out the book titles for the school library; The Perfumed Garden, The Carpetbaggers, Fanny Hill and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Great stuff–a classic–and a must-see for fans of 60s British comedy. Directed and written by the team Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder.

Some quotes:

“Lovely untamed egghead!”
“Just some young bucks visiting the sixth form, I expect.”
“They’re only a bunch of schoolkids.”
“10,000? That’s not a reward, that’s a deterrent .”

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Blue Murder at St Trinian’s (1957)

 “This is a girls’ school. Men ain’t safe here.”

blue-murderBlue Murder at St Trinian’s is the second film in the extremely popular St Trinian’s series. St Trinian’s is an all-girls school that is the bane of the local police force, the dread of the townspeople, and the thorn in the side of everyone at the Ministry of Education. The St Trinian’s films echo the theme of the original cartoons created by Ronald Searle, and chronicle the madness and mayhem of the totally out-of-control girls’ school. While the prim and proper students of elite boarding schools learn such valuable social skills as deportment and dancing, the girls of St Trinian’s learn how to make explosives and bootleg gin. If you are interested in the St. Trinian’s films, and haven’t seen any yet, then I recommend beginning with The Belles of St Trinian’s and watching the films in the order they were made:

The Belles of St Trinian’s (1954)
Blue Murder at St Trinian’s (1957)
The Pure Hell of St Trinian’s (1960)
The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery (1966)

Blue Murder at St Trinian’s begins with Miss Fritton (Alastair Sim) in prison. Meanwhile, the school’s resident fixer–Flash Harry (George Cole) is in control. Flash Harry has a number of business interests with the school–illegal gin, bookmaker for the 200 plus pupils, and now he also runs the St Trinian’s marriage bureau. Compiling albums of sexy photos featuring shapely 6th form St Trinian’s girls, Flash Harry then treks the globe to meet wealthy clients and arrange meetings. These arranged marriages work well for the girls as the unsuspecting foreigners have no clue about St Trinian’s stinky reputation, and so wealthy European males imagine that they are marrying the cream of delicate British womanhood while in reality, the wealthy families of Europe are slowly being seeded with delinquents.

Flash Harry’s latest customer is a wealthy Arab prince. The prince, while poring over photos of the long-legged lovelies, cannot decide which flower of British maidenhood to select as his bride, so he convinces Flash to agree to bring the girls over so that he can see them in the flesh. But how to pay for the trip? Flash Harry has a brainstorm. There’s a UNESCO essay competition that will send the winning school on a goodwill tour of Europe with stops at Paris, Florence and Rome. It would be a perfect opportunity to get The Ministry of Education to finance the trip, but there’s just one drawback, there’s no way that St Trinian’s will ever win that competition fair and square. They’ll have to resort to other means….

Meanwhile, St Trinian’s is without a headmistress. It seems that Miss Fritton is inexplicably detained at a ‘resort,’ and so the Ministry of Education employs a Dame Maud Hackshaw–otherwise–known as ‘Kill ’em or Cure ’em Hackshaw’–to replace Miss Fritton. But battleaxe Dame Maud (Judith Furse), who runs a Borstal-type institution has to sail from Australia (no one in England is daft enough to take the job). In the meantime, a state of siege has taken place at St Trinian’s with troops surrounding the school to maintain some sort of order. The troops are supposed to hold the fort until the headmistress arrives, but “the fiends in human form” test even the British Army’s mettle.

Dame Maud may be a dragon, but even years of experience with the delinquents of Australia find her woefully unprepared for the Girls of St Trinian’s. Luckily, or unluckily depending on your perspective, one of the girl’s fathers, Joe Mangan (played by Lionel Jefferies), a notorious jewel thief, hides out in St Trinian’s, and he finds himself enlisted as the new headmistress. Soon Mangan is on his way to Europe in drag while Dame Hackshaw is suitably…errr…retired.

One thing about St Trinian’s films: you only ever see fourth form and sixth form St Trinian’s girls. The fourth form mirror the original image created by Searle, messy, disheveled beasties who use violence to achieve their ends–whereas the sixth form are leggy, shapely beauties who use their sexuality to get their way. But where is the fifth form–the in-between stage of transformation when the fourth begin to morph into the sixth? The fifth is glaringly absent. Wisely, the films absent the fifth form and leave that transformation to the imagination.

Many of the familiar characters from The Belles of St Trinian’s appear in this film–Ruby Gates (Joyce Grenfell) is still engaged to Sgt. Sammy, Miss Fritton (Alastair Sim) sadly makes only a very brief appearance, and Flash Harry (George Cole) is still the shiftless, much-loved spectre who haunts the school grounds. This film, however, also showcases Terry-Thomas as the fortune-hunting, slightly seedy, bankrupt Dreadnought bus company owner, Romney. Romney is somewhat daunted by the prospect of driving the girls across Europe, but since he’s faced Rommel and the “Japs in Burma,” Romney accepts the job. Terry-Thomas, who was stricken later with Parkinson’s disease, is such a marvelous comedian, and this role is perfect for him. Romney sniffs that Ruby may be an heiress, and the scenes of Romney’s crafty romancing of poor Ruby Gates are priceless. The indomitable St Trinian’s school trip across Europe is hilarious, and their antics including hijacking a Mozart festival, the hospitalization of several dozen French schoolgirls, and the tour-de-force is the “liquid massacre” that takes place in Rome. I think the St Trinian’s Girls could give British football fans a run for their money.

From director Frank Launder, Blue Murder at St Trinian’s is written Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat.

Jolly Hockeysticks!!

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The Belles of St Trinian’s (1954)

 “I’ve been lenient with her to the point of imbecility.”

“The natives have risen, old sport.”
“I propose to storm the barricades.”
“I thought hockey was a game, but with you girls it’s more like jungle warfare.”
“You’ve no idea what’s going on in the summerhouse. It’s practically an orgy.”
“I’ve never seen such an exhibition of savagery.”

The Belles of St Trinian’s is the first of four British comedy films centered on the infamous girls boarding school, St Trinian’s. Cartoonist Ronald Searle created the idea of St. Trinian’s, and this first film appeared in 1954. These immensely popular films quickly earned cult status, and they remain some of my all-time favourite comedy films. The films appeared in this order:

The Belles of St Trinian’s (1954)
Blue Murder at St Trinian’s (1957)
The Pure Hell of St Trinian’s (1960)
The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery (1966)

belles1There have been some cheesy knock-off St Trinian’s films over the years, but in my mind, these films don’t ‘count,’ so they are not included here.

St Trinian’s is the antithesis of the snotty, private school for ‘young ladies.’ We tend to think of British schoolgirls as demure, obedient and well behaved. Well leave that idea behind and enter the World of St Trinian’s and see a very different sort of intrepid British schoolgirl. Indeed as Miss Millicent Fritton (Alistair Sim in drag) is fond of saying:

“In other schools girls are sent out quite unprepared into a merciless world, but when our girls leave here, it is the merciless world which has to be prepared.”

The Belles of St Trinian’s begins with a wealthy Arab sheik (Eric Pohlmann) deciding to send his precious daughter, Princess Fatima (Lorna Henderson) to a proper British boarding school, and the Princess’s current governess, dressed in modest tweeds, suggests sending the Princess to St Trinian’s–a school run by a former chum. The Sheik, blissfully unaware of the school’s awful reputation but impressed with the school’s proximity to the racetrack, agrees and little Fatima embarks for the boarding school.

Meanwhile back in England, it’s the start of a new school year with the return of the girls. Pandemonium reigns at the train station and locals who live in the nearby village board up their shop windows when news breaks of the girls’ imminent arrival. From the local police constabulary all the way to the Ministry of Education, St Trinian’s school is perceived as a blot on the British educational system. Indeed Superintendent Samuel ‘Sammy’ Kemp-Bird (Lloyd Lamble) would love to shut the place down, and Manton Bassett (Richard Wattis) at the Ministry of Education has sent a number of inspectors to the school, but attempts to reign in this out-of-control school for delinquents has led to the mysterious disappearance of several school inspectors, and the subsequent formation of a club known as ‘The Lotus Eaters’ in the school’s greenhouse. So the region suffers from an unchecked crime wave involving: “arson, forged fivers, poison pen letters.” Bassett and the police superintendent join forces and decide to send policewoman Ruby Gates (Joyce Grenfell) undercover into the school posing as games mistress, Chloe Crawley (she rapidly becomes known as Creepy Crawley).

St. Trinian’s is beleaguered by financial problems, and the headmistress, Miss Fritton, has been forced to pawn the school trophies, so it is with delight that the teachers and headmistress receive the wealthy Princess Fatima and her allowance of one hundred pounds. Clarence, Miss Fritton’s evil twin brother is an avid gambler, and he is also delighted that Fatima is attending the school. He intends–along with his daughter (another St Trinian’s pupil)–to nobble the Sheik’s horse, Arab Boy in the upcoming races and thereby win a bundle. To complicate matters, Miss Fritton also bets on Arab Boy to win.

Things turn ugly when the fourth form (who put aside their gin-making temporarily) battle against the sixth form, and it’s every man for himself on Parent’s Day when war wages between the besieged fourth formers and the aggressive sixth. Fortunately, a bus full of ‘old girls’ comes to the rescue armed with Zulu spears and shields.

Alastair Sim doubles for both the delightfully distracted Miss Fritton and her twin brother, the conniving Clarence. Miss Fritton has a marvelous way of ignoring the unpleasant aspects of the girls’ behaviour, chalking it up to ‘high spirits,’ and she positively encourages the St Trinian’s girls in their violent behavior during the hockey match. Joyce Grenfell is extremely funny as the besotted, long-suffering, lovelorn police woman Ruby Gates–persuaded against her better judgment to operate undercover as Creepy Crawlie, St Trinian’s Games Mistress. And George Cole is marvelous as Flash Harry–the odd character who haunts the bushes of St Trinian’s–and who imagines that he is the soul of discretion. I think he’s my favourite character in the entire film.

Keep your eyes open for comediennes Beryl Reid (Miss Wilson), Irene Handl (Miss Gale), and Joan Sims (Miss Dawn). Sid James also stars as Clarence’s side kick, Benny, and very young Barbara Windsor and Shirley Eaton appear as St Trinian’s girls. Directed by Frank Launder and with the script co-written by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder.

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