The attitudes of the British are the subject of this collection of vintage shorts; certainly these films reveal the worst of the gammon/roast beef sentiment that many fear. But laughter is a universal language, and these near wordless films have a reputation as comedy gold. Newly minted on blu-ray for the first time, they’re a must-have for collectors and a mixed bag for everyone else.
The authorial voice behind these shorts comes from Bob Kellett, a writer, producer and director who seemed to take inspiration from silent comedies and his best work recalls the sophisticated visual humour of Jacques Tati. The presence of many British comics and Carry On regulars (Ronnie Barker, Richard Briers, Bernard Cribbins, Barbara Windsor, Joan Sims) suggests a certain amount of Donald McGill seaside post-card naughtiness, but it works in favour of these films that the pre-permissive period requires suggestion rather than the rough-and-ready blue humour of the 70’s.
Although it’s the biggest draw here, Futtocks End has arguably dated the worst of the four, with endless sexist jokes about dolly-birds, leering voyeurism and attitudes to women that seem tiresome to today’s eyes. Michael Horden plays a country house butler, Ronnie Barker the wayward patriarch, and a car-load of guests arrivefor a weekend of shenanigans. Leaving aside the groaningly sexist interludes, and there are many, Kellett’s film also features some brilliant and genuinely ingenious sight gags that make the effort worthwhile; Roger Livesey’s bit as a painter is beautifully achieved as he struggles with abruptly moving topiary, and a surreal, well-timed scene featuring Richard O’Sullivan about kitchen noise would be a highlight of any comic opus.
Fortunately the other films don’t lean so heavily into of-their-day male attitudes. In fact, Kellett’s other productions each have a more welcome satirical edge; Jeremy Summers’ San Ferry Ann sees Joan Sims amongst a group of British tourists heading for Calais on the cross-channel ferry, and Jay Lewis’ A Home of Your Own details the difficulties a group of workmen have constructing a house on a new estate. Filmed in a sharp black and white, these films are endlessly inventive, with A Home of Your Own offering a scathing critique of burocracy and San Ferry Ann managing to observe proceedings with a wry eye for the foliables of diverse holidaymakers. A fourth, Terry Green’s Vive Le Sport is rather more of interest to car owners, specifically the classic Mini, as two girls get involved with some sinister men who pursue them around Europe in their Mini Cooper. As an advert for Dunlop tyres, it’s harmless enough.
This collection from Network Distribution is a timely selection of Kellett’s work; he went on to a wealth of 70’s comic work with the likes of Frankie Howerd, but these films have an ambition and a cinematic vision that sets them out from the anything-for-a-laugh crowd. There’s a repository of great visual gags here, delivered by pros who know exactly how to get the best from them. Whether the dated sexism of Futtocks End bothers or amuses you, this set of rarities shouldn’t be undervalued because of our changing attitudes.
Special Features include: • Brand-new 2021 interviews with Annie Kellett and cinematographer Billy Williams • Archive commentary on Futtocks End with producer/director Bob Kellett • 8mm cutdown version of Futtocks End • Limited edition booklet written by Melanie Williams
Network Distribution’s The British Film presents Futtocks End and other stories on Blu-ray, DVD + Digital from 5th July 2021. Thanks to Blue Dolphin PR for access. Link below.