Tag 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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