Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Funny Men and Fast Cars

While on the subject of Will Hay, I was compelled to return to 'Ask a Policeman' - an old favourite of mine.  Along with 'Where's that Fire' and 'Oh, Mr Porter', it is, in my opinion, one third of Hay's top triumvirate of film.

This time, Hay and his sidekicks (the old one - Moore Marriott and the fat lad - Graham Moffatt) are useless thieving policemen in a sleepy village.  After they get mixed up with a smuggling ring the film finishes in a magnificent chase through the southern English countryside into London. It is really only during this chase that any potential history appears.  Obviously, Hay and friends don't depict what it was really like to be in the police force in the 1930s.  Having said that though, the famous speed trap scene does encourage you to think about how traffic crime was managed before speed cameras.

The chase begins in the depths of the Home Counties, in the middle of the night.  The most notable thing about these scenes is the sheer darkness.  I have never seen a road as dark as those depicted in this film.  At one point the smugglers turn off the lights on their lorry in an attempt to shake the policemen off.  Sure enough, the lorry disappears from sight.  It's so hard to imagine this.  I'm sure that there are still pockets of total darkness in the UK - but I can't say that I've ever seen one.  Although I'm not a one for getting out and camping in the wilds.  Center Parcs is the closest I get to the great outdoors.  But you can see that there are no street lights and no glow from neighbouring towns.  I'll bet that this is not the case at this location now - there will probably be a permanent orange glow in the sky from the direction of London.

When the chase reaches suburban London, Hay commandeers a Routemaster bus and pursues the villains along busy streets.  Here we do get some old street views - but tantalisingly few.  The finale takes place at Brooklands race track in the middle of a race.  I'm guessing that this must be a golden scene for vintage racing car aficionados   The cars certainly look very different to F1 versions.  Not that I take much notice so I'm not really qualified to comment.  I find motor racing the height of stupidity - all those resources wasted in driving round in circles - barmy!  Why should I struggle back from the local shops on a Saturday morning trying to be 'green' by shopping locally and leaving my car at home when F1 is allowed to happen?  But I suppose I feel a little bit affectionate towards Brooklands as a lost symbol of early 20th century leisure architecture.  Well, here, again just a tantalising glimpse is offered of early modern life.

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