Tag Archives: British comedy

San Ferry Ann (1965)

San Ferry Ann, the title of a 1965 silent British comedy film, is a play on words and refers to the French phrase ça ne fait rien. If I’m translating it correctly–it means it doesn’t matter. The French phrase became bastardised by the British during WWI and ended up as San Fairy Ann–similar to murky buckets (merci beaucoup). San Ferry Ann is a further bastardisation and refers to the ferry that ships British holidaymakers over to France. My impression of French cinema that explores the behaviour of the French on holiday is that the films provide opportunities to the fictional characters to reshape their lives amidst philosophical discussion. At the same time I’ll admit this impression is drawn mainly from watching the films of Eric Rohmer. But when it comes to exploring the British on holiday, the emphasis seems to be on the worst sort of bad, boorish behaviour accompanied by an adverse reaction to foreign food–well a resistance to anything foreign. And of course the underlying question is why go abroad in the first place if you want everything to be the same?

The film follows the exploits, trials and tribulations of a handful of British holiday makers in France, and the plot taps into a number of British and French stereotypes, but it’s all great fun and the comic gem makes for a pleasant 55 minutes of nostalgia with a lot of familiar faces of British comedy.

The film begins with the British tourists in line to board the ferry to France. There’s a camper van with husband (David Lodge) and wife (Joan Sims). They bring along a set of parents, Grandad (Wilfred Brambell) and his Mrs. There’s an amorous honeymoon couple (Rodney Bewes and Catherine Feller) and a couple of hitchhikers (Barbara Windsor and Ronnie Stevens).

Since this is a silent film (apart from a few unintelligible phrases), the comedy is strictly visual. There’s boozing in the ferry’s duty-free pub, seasickness, driving on the wrong side of the street, and more than a few hassles with a French gendarme and a bicycle-riding Frenchman wearing the stereotypical onions around his neck. French toilets also come in for some ribbing. Grandad Wilfred Brambell is one of the best characters is the film–he strips off to sunbathe, finds every excuse to ditch his boring family, and strikes up a hilarious relationship with a former German soldier he meets in a war museum. 

Of course, since the subject is British tourists abroad, there’s more than one scene in a restaurant, and Joan Sims’s disgust at French cuisine had me in stitches. She’s only happy with a pint of beer and a plate full of chips. Keep an eye open for Warren Mitchell as the snotty maitre d’.

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Ladies Who Do (1963)

“The bourgeois and the proletariat blood will mingle in the Charing Cross Road before they get rid of us.”

Ladies Who Do is a wonderful British black and white classic comedy which features some of the era’s best-loved stars. This is a good-natured tale of the underdogs who fight back against corporate growth and gentrification.  

The film’s heroine is the formidable Peggy Mount who plays practical-minded char woman/office cleaner, Mrs. Cragg. Mrs. Cragg works in the offices of developer, James Ryder (Steptoe and Son‘s Harry H. Corbett), a slippery, insincere character whose accents shifts according to his company. Ryder’s flashy lifestyle, which covers his upbringing in the slums, has almost bankrupted him, but he still maintains a posh office, a large staff, and a flash car. Ryder and his business partner are desperate to seal a new deal that involves the purchase of the homes on Pitt Street. Ryder plans to demolish the homes and then construct new office buildings in their place.

The trouble begins when Mrs. Cragg inadvertently transports a stock market tip  from Ryder’s office to her other employer, Colonel Whitforth (Robert Morley). Using Mrs. Cragg’s information, Whitforth subsequently makes a large sum of money, but Mrs. Cragg’s working class sensibilities cannot accept the idea that the stock market is an honest mechanism. She intends to give Ryder her share of the profit, but this plan, however, is abandoned when she discovers Ryder’s plans for Pitt Street. Mrs. Cragg lives on Pitt Street and has no intention of moving.

At this point, Mrs Cragg mobilizes her fellow char-women to unite against Ryder and his plans. He sees the residents’ refusal to sell as “a couple of old bags being difficult.” The consequences are hilarious and culminate on Pitt Street with various monkey-wrenching activities. Ryder, his workers and even the British police are no match for the cleaners–working class women who know just how to deal with the men who want to seize Pitt Street for their own ends.

Harry H. Corbett is perfectly cast as the slightly slimy, conniving (but not devious enough) Ryder. He meets his match in the charwomen, and of course the underlying message is that these women are invisible to their employers and so they can get away with a great deal more than the average person. The charwomen are hilarious and include Miriam Karlin as Mrs Higgins–a woman who’s tired of waiting for the Revolution, gormless Mrs. Merryweather (played by Dandy Nichols from Till Death Do Us Part), and nervous Emily Parish (Avril Elgar) who lives with her elderly mother. Elderly Mrs. Parish becomes a useful tool in the Battle for Pitt Street. Fans of British classic comedy, don’t miss this one. From director C.M. Pennington-Richards

Quotes:

“Would you close in a bit brothers. We have a spy on the outskirts of our little community.” (Workmen)

Take more than a bulldozer to put that old battleax under the ground.” (Ryder talking about Mrs. Parish)

“What do they want a teabreak for? They haven’t done anything yet.” (Ryder about workmen)

“Oh she loved the Blitz. She was very happy when the bombs were falling. She’d look out the window and shake her fist.” (Emily Parish discussing her mother to Ryder)

“You couldn’t have a derogatory effect on her heart if you ran her over with a bulldozer.” (Ryder talking about Mrs. Parish.

“I’ll have them out of there before you can say bulldozer.” (Ryder)

“You know the British workman. Loses every battle except the last.”

“What’s legal can’t be dishonest.”

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The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950)

“A woman’s bookshelf is an infallible guide to her character.”

The title of the film The Happiest days of Your Life refers, of course, to the nonsense that is told to children who are unhappy about attending school for a range of reasons. What the teachers don’t say is the happy part is not the school–but perhaps the innocence of childhood, and even that’s arguable depending on the sort of childhood you had. This classic British comedy is directed by Frank Launder of the marvellously funny St Trinian’s films, and you can see the same hand at work in The Happiest Days of Your Life. Launder started his career as a scriptwriter, but it was with Sidney Gilliat that the highly successful St Trinians films were created. For The Happiest Days of Your Life, Launder teamed with playwright John Dighton to adapt his play for the big screen.

The Happiest Days of Your Life is set during WWII. During the Blitz, children from the city were evacuated to the countryside, and in the film, an all-girls school, St Swithin’s, is evacuated by the Ministry of Education to the village of Nutbourne with the expectation that St Swithin’s will ‘share’ with the all-boys boarding school, Nutbourne College. Wetherby Pond (played by the wonderful actor Alastair Sim) is headmaster of Nutborough College. The film begins with the arrival of a weary professor, Arnold Billings (played by Richard Wattis, who later appeared in the St Trinian’s films) and the brand new English professor, Richard Tassell (John Bentley). Billings notices that the college looks a bit tidier than usual, and as it turns out, this is due to the fact that Wetherby Pond is hoping to win a new, better position as headmaster at a much more prestigious, Harlingham School.

Just as the term seems on the verge of beginning as usual, all hell breaks loose with the arrival of an entire girl’s school, their headmistress, Muriel Whitchurch (Margaret Rutherford) and her complete entourage of mistresses. A battle begins over resources, and the females, led by the cunning, strategic planning of Muriel Whitchurch soon dominate. Under the insufferable conditions, Wetherby Pond tries his best to get the Ministry of Education to correct this error, and Whitchurch resorts to blackmail in order to gain an uneasy truce.

The fun really begins when a passel of St Swithin’s parents descend upon the Nutbourne College to witness the new environment for themselves. As bad luck would have it on the very same day, a team of inspectors from Harlingham School arrive to witness Wetherby Pond’s school management. It’s in the vested interest of both Pond and Whitchurch to cooperate with each other to create an atmosphere of normalcy at the school, and that means that the girls and the boy’s school both pretend that there are no members of the opposite sex on the premises.

Alastair Sim is, as always, pure joy to watch–from his long-suffering submission, to his moral outrage, his performance is perfect. Margaret Rutherford, as his administrative opposite is equally excellent. She plays an indomitable force–she sees men as superfluous and contaminants. The battle (and attraction) of the sexes plays throughout the film. Of course, the boys cannot concentrate on lessons when the older girls wiggle by in their PE outfits, and the male English master falls in love with his female counterpart. And then there’s the outrageously wonderful Joyce Grenfell (who also later appeared in St Trinian’s). Here she plays the gauche Miss Gossage (“call me Sausage“) and she rather incongruously sets her cap at the suave wolfish games master, Victor Hyde-Brown (Guy Middleton), who’s also known as “Whizzo.” Hyde-Brown does his best to avoid Miss Gossage–he’s much more interested in the 17 year-olds and their botany lesson. George Cole also appears in a miniscule but memorable role as a caretaker in the Ministry of Education.

Quotes:

Wetherby Pond (when asked how he will vote): “You can tell your lady that if there is a male candidate whether he is conservative, socialist, communist or anarchist, or for that matter, liberal, he may have my vote.”

“There appear to be no depths to which you will not sink.”

“I don’t want your sympathy, man, I want action. I want these women removed, bag and baggage.”

“There are only two types of schoolmistress, chum, the battle-ax and the amazon.”

“Cards, the race horse,gaming, nicotine, fisticuffs…we’re moving in a descending spiral of inequity.”

“I once won thirty bob. It’s led me astray ever since

 

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Are You Being Served? The Movie (1977)

“You were beckoning and waving your y-fronts.”

Jonathan at Ruthless Culture recently popped over here for a few minutes and took the trouble to recommend a film based on the popular comedy series Are You Being Served? I haven’t seen all the episodes in the series, but when I heard that there was a film version of the series set in the Costa Plonka, well I knew I had to see it. Films that show the British abroad often make good comedies (Carry on Abroad), and then there’s that idea that the British go a little mad when set loose on a beach under a baking sun (Shirley Valentine).

Are You Being Served? The Movie  begins in the familiar environment of the Grace Brothers department store. With renovations about to take place that will necessitate the closing of the business, Young Mr. Grace decides that all employees will be given the incentive to take their holidays during the shop’s closing, and the incentive underwriting this whole deal is an all-expenses paid package tour to various exotic destinations. While the departments are selected for different destinations, the Ladies Wear and the Men’s Wear departments are collectively slated for the Costa Plonka and the Don Bernardo Palace Hotel.

The film starts off a bit slowly as the back ground for the Costa Plonka adventure develops. Mrs Slocombe (Mollie Sugden) doesn’t want the necessary vaccinations, Captain Peacock (Frank Thornton) stalks Miss Brahms (Wendy Richard), and Dick Lucas (Trevor Bannister) hopes the holiday will yield sexual opportunities. The fact that Mrs. Peacock won’t be accompanying her stuffy husband, opens up perceived opportunities to both Captain Peacock and Mrs. Slocombe, but unfortunately not towards each other.

The only person who seems to really enter into the spirit of things is Mr Humphries (John Inman) and his liberation from the Men’s Wear Dept. allows him to reveal a colourful, imaginative wardrobe. His eye-catching pink leisure suit and matching hat are worn for the plane trip.

The arrival at the Don Bernando Palace hotel begins the holiday-from-hell scenario. The film was made during a period when many British holidaymakers were adventuring abroad for the first time, and returning home with nightmare stories of unfinished hotels that lacked plumbing. A similar sort of situation awaits the Grace Bros. staff when they arrive and are greeted by Don Carlos Bernardo (Andrew Sachs, who played the role of Manuel in Fawlty Towers). Difficulties with the language and a handy mispronunciation leave the Grace Bros. staff in their individual ‘Pent-a-houses.’ And they’re not what you’d expect.

During dinner, the shenanigans take place with a love note addressed to “Dear Sexy Knickers,” and this is where the misunderstandings begin. As the night arrives and the moon rises, assignations and unexpected interruptions begin to take place between the Pent-a-houses. Part bedroom farce and part Shakespearean Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, bed-hopping takes place at a furious rate. Whipped into a frenzy by an outhouse toilet, a randy revolutionary and the promise of Mrs. Slocombe’s knickers, the Grace Bros staff spend a restless night in the torrid Costa Plonka

Are You Being Served? The Movie is not subtle humour. It’s lowbrow and crude at times, and the humour doesn’t really take off until the Costa Plonka. The script is full of double entendres–some really funny and some a bit tired and worn, but overall there were certainly enough laughs for me. Part of the film’s success can be found in showing how the holiday in the Costa Plonka liberates some of the characters from their usual Grace-Bros-bound behaviour, while others still try to assert the hierarchy so firmly established within the workplace. The opportunistic union man Mr Harman (Arthur English) ever harking on about the rights of working man, masquerades as a lord to get the best room. And this brings up the general inadvisability of going on holiday with people you also work with….

And then of course, there’s even a drag scene and a fake drag queen.

Some quotes from the film:

Oh don’t they get bold in the tropics?

I hardly think that 2 mussels and a shrivelled up prawn will effect my libido.

She needed a father figure.

You’ll give the British a bad name.

Here have you been showing  ’em your knickers again?

Just tell them we’re British and they’re spoiling our holiday.

Look at that crumpet around the pool!

Those are false booby-doos.

I object to being ravaged.

What are you going on about? Bet that’s not the first time you’ve lost your knickers in the tube?

You’ve got no authority over me, so get stuffed.

I’d be halfway to Paris by now if the electric blanket hadn’t caught fire.

Ride off into the sunset and try to forget you ever met me.

So thanks for the recommendation, Jonathan!

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Carry On Abroad (1972)

“I say, hold on old chap, we’re British.”

During the 1970s, British holidaymakers returning from abroad often had horror stories to tell of miserable holidays spent in half-finished hotels, so it’s no wonder that the Carry On team decided to take their unique brand of humour to a cheap package tour on the Spanish resort of Elsbels.

The film begins one evening in a pub owned by Vic (Sid James) and Cora (Joan Sims) Flange. Vic is scheduled to take his annual holiday, leaving the pub in the hands of his very capable Missus. While the married couple find separate holidays the most practical choice, Vic can’t wait for his holiday to begin because he’s planned to spend it with local dolly bird, Sadie Tompkins (Barbara Windsor). When Cora sniffs that Vic plans a romantic getaway with the petite, busty blonde, she decides to crash the party and makes Vic take her along on the package tour of four days and five nights to Elsbels. Vic and Cora are just part of a motley assortment of holiday makers led by tour guide Stuart Farquhar (Carry On favourite Kenneth Williams). There’s another married couple, Stanley and Evelyn Blunt (Kenneth Connor and June Whitfield), mummy’s boy Eustace Tuttle (Charles Hawtrey), swinging bachelor Bert Conway (Jimmy Logan) who’s on the lookout for loose crumpet, two young single girls Marge & Lily  (Carol Hawkins & Sally Geeson), two single men Robin & Nicholas (John Clive & David Kernan) who have a rather vague relationship, and a horde of monks (including Bernard Bresslaw) who are on the trip to visit the tomb of St Celicia.

Things begin to go wrong immediately, and the not-so-happy holidaymakers have a miserable time. Of course some of the holidaymakers are miserable to begin with, and staying in a hotel that’s only partly finished doesn’t thrill the guests. The hotel is run by the overworked and pathetically eager to please Pepe (Peter Butterworth), his ferocious wife Floella (Hatti Jacques) and their son Georgio (Ray Brooks). Obviously a hotel of this size needs more staff, but what the hotel lacks in staff, Pepe makes up for in ingenuity, serving beans for dinner accompanied by cheap wine, “Spanish-type Australian-French Burgundy, product of Hong Kong.”

A great deal of the humour comes from suggestive double entendre (“Have you got a large one?”) and there are some visual laughs too generated from the shabbily constructed hotel. But in addition to the laughs, there’s some interesting parallels right beneath the plot’s surface. The two married couples are about the same age and their marriages are both textbook cases of different sorts of misery. While lothario Vic would love to dump the wife and run off for a dirty weekend with Sadie, he doesn’t appreciate what he has in his long-suffering companion Cora. Circumstances force the Flanges into the company of the Blunts and their sexless marriage. There’s one scene when Cora struggles with a chair until Stanley comes to her rescue. He’s just settled his nagging, peevish, uptight wife down in the shade when he sees that Cora needs his help, and he’s happy, more than happy to offer his services.

Peter Butterworth’s role of Pepe adds a great deal of fun to the film. When he’s not running around trying to please the unhappy guests, he’s creating lots of laughs with his broken English. For one meal,  for example, the holiday makers are served Brown Bristols soup, and Pepe calls Farquhar, “Farqiarse.” Although he’s continually corrected, Pepe can never get it right. Barbara Windsor, an extremely popular Carry On regular seems walled off and minimized by her role in the film, and that’s a shame.

Carry On Abroad isn’t perfect, and it’s not my favourite in the series, but it’s still a wonderful return to the Carry On gang and the many, many laughs they gave their fans. For those who aren’t familiar with Carry On films, Carry On films were made over the course of two decades and featured Carry On regulars who formed the core team.

From director Gerald Thomas.

Quotes:

“Come on, we’re having a leak.”

“You filthy beast. Be off with you before I call the police.”

“Oh shove off. Go rescue somebody else.”

“I want to bloody well assert my manhood.”

“If you take that little strumpet to the party, I’ll take my ankle bracelet back.”

“Havings good times and lettings hairs down.”

“Better watch it. He’ll be pinching your bottom next.”

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Your Past is Showing AKA The Naked Truth (1957)

naked truth“I’ve always considered murder to be rather un-English. I mean, one’s got to draw the line somewhere, hasn’t one?”

In Your Past is Showing, a seedy blackmailing journalist Nigel Dennis (Dennis Price) uncovers the deep, dark dirty secrets of various VIPs and then threatens to expose the nasty details in his potboiler tabloid called The Naked Truth (the film’s alternate title).

The film begins with slimy Nigel Dennis approaching his latest victim. Dennis Price is perfect for this role with his unique, unusual and almost impossible blend of obsequious, respectful insolence. While the film makes it clear that Dennis has many victims, for the purposes of the story, the plot concentrates on four victims: philanderer and shady insurance racketeer Lord Henry Mayley (Terry-Thomas), comedian and slum landlord Wee Sonny MacGregor (Peter Sellers), author and unwed mother Flora Ransom (Peggy Mount), and model Melissa Right (Shirley Eaton). Dennis approaches each of his victims individually and the film shows the characters in their unblemished lives and then Dennis exposes the ugly truth to each victim by showing  the tacky Naked Truth magazine featuring an expose on the victims unless they pay 10,000 pounds.

Wee Sonny MacGregor, for example, is a well-loved television personality, and in his programme, which caters to seniors, he brings on stage various frail elderly guests who then perform some amateur act–one elderly man plays a penny whistle for example. MacGregor publicly acts very generously to his guests, showing tolerance and patience, but in reality, he’s a slum landlord who keeps his elderly tenants in the most hideous conditions. The scenes depicting MacGregor’s show are brilliant as MacGregor frequently comes on stage dressed identically to his ancient guests, and he even mimics their mannerisms. The patronage involved in MacGregor’s behaviour seems to escape his adoring audience, but the plot shows the hard rather vicious man just beneath the surface of the benevolent Wee Sonny MacGregor act.

The late, great Terry-Thomas delivers a tour-de-force performance as the beleaguered Lord Mayley, a man who poses in costume to have his portrait painted just before Dennis presents him with The Naked Truth‘s slimy edition of the facts behind the life of this married, respectable peer of the realm. Lady Lucy Mayley (Georgina Cookson) has no illusions about her husband’s behaviour, but she is curious, and her curiosity leads to some of the film’s funniest scenes as Lord Mayley goes to great lengths to try and deceive her.

Indomitable author, Flora Ransom (Peggy Mount) is a bombastic woman who intends to marry her dotty fiance, the Reverend Cedric Bastable (Milles Malleson). The toast of literary circles and adored by her insipid, nervous daughter Ethel (played brilliantly by the talented Joan Sims) , Flora Ransom doesn’t want the truth about her past to make the cover of The Naked Truth.

Shirley Eaton as model Melissa Right doesn’t get much of the story, and the film’s comic elements rest on the considerable talents of the rest of the cast. The film is a showcase for the talents of Peter Sellers as he slips effortlessly into multiple characters donning disguises and a variety of accents along the way.

While the victims contemplate paying the blackmailer…or the alternatives, fate brings them together. And collectively, they come up with a solution. Your Past is Showing, from director Mario Zampi, is a delightful, good natured British comedy and is certain to please fans of the cast.

A few lines from the film:

“Rely on that stupid idiot? No thank you. I’ll rely on my bomb. And now for the gunpowder….”

“I fell by the wayside.”

“My wife spends a lot of money. If there’s any left over, I spend it.”

“So-called policemen masquerading as ordinary citizens.”

“We’ve run right out of the Geli.”

“Murder by a figment of the imagination.”

“Push him under a bus. That’s the only way to get rid of pests like that.”

“Mumsy, oh mumsy darling. Are you alright?”

 

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Make Mine Mink (1960)

“Oh I’m so thrilled to be in the shock troops again.”

An affectionate tale of bungling amateur thieves, Make Mine Mink is one of the great must-see British comedy classics. Set in Kensington, the action centers around a boarding house owned, with fading gentility, by Dame Beatrice (Athene Seyler). Her tenants are a motley lot: there’s the mannish Nanette Parry (Hattie Jacques), who makes her living coaching would-be debutantes on issues of etiquette, the frazzled, nervous Pinkie (Elspeth Duxbury), a spinster who mends chipped china, and Major Rayne (Terry-Thomas), a man whose glory days remain in WWII.

When the film begins, the tenants’ lives are fraught with petty arguments with one another. Forced to share amenities, their relationships are mired in dislike and irritation, but there’s an exception to this–all of the tenants worship their kindly landlady, the eccentric Dame Beatrice. Even the maid, Lily (Billie Whitelaw), a reformed thief adores her employer, and the household agrees that Dame Beatrice is a wonderful woman who devotes her life to charitable pursuits.

But Dame Beatrice’s charitable pursuits aren’t yielding much in the way of results, and she notes that whatever profit they make goes “down the throat of the organizing committee.” A chain of events leads the tenants, and Dame Beatrice to pursue a life of crime in order to fund Dame Beatrice’s favourite charities. And as in usual in the case of thieves who operate out of boredom and the need for excitement, this ad-hoc gang develops an alarming taste for a life of crime.

Operating with the campaign strategy of the Major, the newly formed gang conducts a rash of daring fur robberies. For the first time in years, the Major is in his element, feeling useful and productive, as he marshals the women into various robberies. With experience, they become more practiced, and they also become more creative, but a couple of close calls cause them to reconsider. Unfortunately, they are now addicted to the excitement and the thrill of their criminal lives. The Major used to bemoan the fact that he ended “holed up here with a lot of dotty women,” but now the women rely on him to direct operations with a military flare.

Directed by Robert Asher and based on a play by Peter Coke, this gentle comedy pokes fun at the foibles of human nature and the dangers of boredom. Keep your eyes open for Kenneth Williams as sneaky fence Freddie Warrington.

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