We’re going through a period in unrest, not least in America, where protests and demonstrations continue to promote the BlackLivesMatter cause. But who is to blame for individual and institutional racism aside from, obviously, statues? Based on the media reaction, you might feel that specific episodes of Fawlty Towers, 30 Rock, Little Britain and Brooklyn 99 were the obvious source of racial discrimination, as well as the availability of Gone With The Wind on streaming. Hide these programmes from public view and racism would be cancelled, right? Well, not really, for this critic, such knee-jerk reactions do nothing but side-line genuinely important issues, letting the real problems fester unheeded. Cinema, and culture represent a broad church, and many opinions are included; what people choose to watch is their own business, for good or bad.
A lengthy global lockdown found me drawn like a moth to the flame of these extraordinarily tatty British films, a counter-series to the Confessions Of a .. sex comedies which were box-office successes in the UK. Adventures of a Taxi Driver made enough coin to generate two sequels, which the same actors playing different roles in producer Stanley Long’s franchise; a hate-watch, to be sure, but scattered with revealing moments for hardy viewers. Future scholars should note with some concern; Adventures of a Taxi Driver was more popular than Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver at the British box-office in the year of release.
Each of the films offer a crude, episodic work that really amounts to a series of dirty jokes or humble-brag anecdotes about getting birds and getting into trouble; being seduced by a voracious woman, then accidentally handcuffed to a bed as her gangster husband gets home is a typical escapade. Regular players include William Rushton, Stephen Lewis, Diana Dors, Irene Handl and Adrianne Posta, plus up-and-coming Brit stars include Robert Lindsay and Elaine Paige, shortly before her elevation to musical queen. There’s even BFF roles for Ian Lavender, whose son Sam bestrode British film like a colossus at Film 4; you’ll find his name on everything from Slumdog Millionaire to The Favourite. In this way, one might see the Adventures series forming a bridge between the Carry On films and the later, high-seriousness of Film 4’s output.
Christopher Neil is the lead in the first and third; Barry Evans in the second, but they’re all the same cheeky chappie who can’t knock on a suburban door without a lingerie-clad housewife inviting him to sample her wares. The format is rank and tiresome, and yet there’s always uber-dated cameos from cultural mavens like Christopher Biggins and Jon Pertwee to keep you watching, But it’s the assumptions, of male superiority, of racism, sexism, any kind of ism, that are so shocking; these films have not been not widely seen for some time until the boffins at Amazon Prime decided to re-issue them a few weeks ago, and there’s several good reasons why they have remained hidden. It’s truly bizarre to think we’re censoring an episode of Fawlty Towers while adding material like this to the streaming pile.
The Adventures of…series are awful films, to be sure, but they accidentally let slip precious information about how the 70’s really were a decade that taste forgot. “It’s all to do with sex, isn’t it?’ asks one character vaguely; another uses pin-ups of women as a dartboard. Voyeurs will be frustrated; there’s more sexual activity in an episode of True Detective than in all three films put together, and yet the attitudes to race and sex shown are closed-minded and repellent. Aiming for the bawdy humour of a seaside postcard, these films are like a dance-of-the-seven veils, permanently caught between the third and fourth dance; a rampant record of what happens when men call the shots without responsibility.
Tina Fey noted that her intent did not excuse the blackface gags in 30 Rock, even if her target was white complacence and insensitivity about racism. But if we are to weed out every film and television show that depict out-dated racial and sexual attitudes, we’ll waste our time pulling down most of our past culture. Streaming gives the viewer choice; rather than censor such monuments to wayward thinking and pretend they don’t exist, we surely have to accept the bad things in the past and learn from our mistakes. Certainly, watching these films was an error on my part, but sometimes we all have to suffer for our art.