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Not Now, Darling

**
1973

‘…guilty of reflecting sexist, out-of-date tropes, Not Now, Darling has gained in scholarly interest over the decades by becoming a museum piece of what audiences once found funny, but seems now more peculiar than ha-ha…’

Without fail, the least popular films I write about are withered 1970’s sexless British sex comedies; my readership can be reduced to a trickle by my self-sabotaging desire to write 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 a prequel to 2022’s Don’t Worry, Darling, although that title does suggest a link, Not Now, Darling was adapted by playwright Ray Cooney from his own popular farce, and must have been something of a sure-fire hit. Co-written by John Chapman, another graduate of the ‘whoops vicar, where’s my trousers?’ school of comic confusion, Not Now Darling is primarily a vehicle for the robust talents of the late, great British icon Leslie ‘ding-dong’ 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 modern perfume advert than in 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 British 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 only for extreme 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, Not Now, Darling has gained in scholarly interest over the decades by becoming a museum piece of what audiences once found funny, but seems now more peculiar than ha-ha. Ding-dong indeed, darling….

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  1. It’s interesting how a certain type of seaside entertainment survived well into the Seventies. Also the overlap between stage and TV (ventriloquists, conjurers et al) with neither being regarded as more prestigious than the other (Trevor Bannister left halfway through Are You Being Served to perform in Dick Whittington). AYBS series is a classic example of how humour is a matter of context. Double-entendres really only make sense as a form of code and when that code is necessary. When everybody’s in on the joke, it’s not a joke anymore.

    • I do recall Bannister leaving AYBS, and still find it easy to tap into that well of disappointment. I think you are right, it was once edgy to make innuendo, but once sex was out in the open, such double entendres lost their point. End of the pier stuff for sure.

  2. Can be quite let down when writing some thing “for the audience”. I do not know if this is your day job or your hobby, if its the latter I am sure you write these as much for yourself as you do for your following. If its the former and you get payed per view of your articles you at least know that a few cents will still be rolling in. I like reading up on older films when i have the time and being able to read it through your penmanship is always a pleasure. Hats of to you

    • It’s both. Paid for this for several decades and now making more by having my own blog. Thanks for the kind words, sometimes it feels like shouting into a vacuum, particular when reviewing films you’d have to be mad to care about. Or watch. Or both.

  3. I too know the pain of sometimes writing about films no on else is interested in!

    This isn’t for me, but I like how you called it a “museum” piece. That’s how I feel about a lot of films – if nothing else, they teach us something about the time they were made.

    • What this one tells us in the 1973 was awful. It’s not hard getting hits writing about Star Wars, it’s a lot harder writing about British comedies from 1973. But we press on, boats bobbing against the tide of disinterest…

  4. No relation I suppose to Luan Peters epic, Not Tonight Darling. Julie Ege completist that I am I’ve seen this, but English farce just passes me by. Two Guv’nors on stage was a hoot but I’ve never seen a movie farce that delivered what it promised. Worth seeing only for Ding-Dong Philips.

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