‘The best British comedy in years’ was how The Observer described Cliff Owen’s comedy on release; it’s probably fair to say that the shadow thrown over popular culture by this vehicle for comedian Dick Emery is not one which has endured. Known in the U.S. as Get Charlie Tully, but not by many, this venture comes from the esteemed Lauder and Gillat production team, and was once thought to be prime time BBC Xmas entertainment. It’s status is now beyond obscure, and yet, while there’s not much BDE from big Dick Emery, it’s a cut above many similar movies of its type.
Emery was a catchphrase comedian, and the title comes from one of his best knows; dressed as a woman, Emery would say “Ooh, you are awful….but I like you.’ This was always followed by a gale of studio laughter, and the phrase was repeated around the school-playground the next morning to great effect, but what was funny about it has slipped into the mists of time. The catchphrase appears not only in the title, but is also used in the first few seconds of Owen’s con-man story, presumably to let the audience know they’d get what they came for. In the interests of historical veracity, a link to this pivotal scene is included below, 59 seconds in if you’re in a hurry to get to it.
Otherwise, Ooh…You Are Awful sees Emery play Charlie Tully, the con-man partner of lothario Reggie Peek (Ronald Fraser). They’re introduced conning a couple of ‘funny foreigners’ into thinking they can buy their way into marrying Princess Anne. When Reggie is killed by a falling house, Charlie Tully has to uncover the location of their missing money, the location of which happens to be tattooed on the backside of several of Reggie’s old conquests. This is an excuse for Emery/Tully to disguise himself as a vicar/woman/battleaxe and find some excuse to ogle various bottoms; mild comic complications ensue.
While that’s an undeniably crude and misogynist premise for a comedy, this British Lion film is more sophisticated than might be expected; Charlie is forced through various indignities in his quest, and male fantasy is not the right label for any film in which the central character’s reward is to elope with veteran character actress Pat Coombs. Emery’s brand of comedy coarsened in his regular tv shows, but Ooh…You Are Awful is probably the high-water mark of his work, a time-capsule of a kind of silly pre-Python childishness that pretty much died with Dick Emery circa 1983.