Without fail, the least poplar items on this blog are the assessments of withered 1970’s sexless British sex comedies; no matter how many customers show on the previous day, my readership can be reduced to a trickle by writing about some tatty, end-of-the-pier innuendo-laden sexist tat, from That’s My Funeral to The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins. What can I say in my defence? These films used to be part of the BBC’s film package when I was growing up, and were as much a part of a daily diet of cinema as Truffaut or Peckinpah. And now, viewed from the opposite end of the time-telescope, they still exert a certain power to horrify and yet amuse by their wrong-headed presumption.
Not Now, Darling was adapted by playwright Ray Cooney from his own hugely popular farce, and must have seemed like something of a sure-fire hit. Co-written by John Champman, another graduate of the august ‘Whoops Vicar, where’s my trousers?’ school of comic confusion, Not Now Darling is primarily a vehicle for the robust talents of Leslie Phillips, who went on to co-star with Angelina Jolie in the Tomb Raider films. Phillips plays Gilbert Bodley, a lothario-about-town who concocts a confusing scheme in which he sells a fur coat to his mistress’s husband Harry (Derren Nisbet) to make some easy cash. The story unfolds almost entirely on one stagey-set, the shop of Arnold Crouch (Cooney himself), where moll Janine (Julie Ege) is caught in various stages of undress.
Sex is an odd thing in British comedies; to be desired, certainly, but also a prospect which makes men go weak at the knees and generally collapse into some kind of moral panic. There’s more nudity in a perfume advert that 90 minutes of Not Now Darling, but there are occasional glimpses of the quick-fire verbal gags which must have wowed stage audiences. Barbara Windsor appears to double-down on the ditz, while old stagers Cicely Courtneidge and Jack Hulbert wander around the set in a reasonably spry fashion. They were pretty much the Kardashians ie celebrity couple of the 1930’s, and at least are treated with some dignity here.
As a sex-comedy, Not Now Darling is something of a farce, remarkable for it’s tameness and a dry, interior quality. A sequel, Not Now Comrade, followed in 1976, but by then, sex had found more direct routes onto the screen, and the idea of a woman hiding in a closet wearing nothing but a fur coat was no longer considered the ultimate in outre behaviour. Guilty of reflecting sexist, out-of-date tropes, films like Not Now Darling have gained in interest over the decades by becoming museum pieces of what audiences once found funny, but is now more peculiar than ha-ha.