Friday, 16 August 2013

Match of the Year

You Tube suggested another Arthur Askey film to me after I had watched him in ‘Miss London Limited’.  More Arthur and more steam trains beckoned, this time with the added bonus of Thora Hird (such an underrated film actress) in fine fettle as Arthur’s wife.  The only downside of this 1955 film, entitled ‘The Love Match’, is Shirley Eaton’s dodgy Lancashire accent.  The rest is a giddy trot through a storyline which plays second fiddle to pure slapstick and some hilarious lines.  In particular, Danny Ross’ turn as gauche youth Alf Hall made me shed tears of joy.  This film is an absolute gem that deserves to be much better known.

I think that the story is rather too longwinded for me to go into here.  As I said earlier, it is, strangely, not that important either.  It is the characters and their interactions that make this film for me.  But much of the plot involves football matches and this gives us a little mid-century glimpse of the game and how it used to be.  The earliest scenes show Askey as an engine driver, who, along with his fireman, is desperate to get back home in time to see the City game.  Finding the ground full when they arrive, they climb over a fence into the kop.  Once in, not only do they stand and watch the game, the loco fireman lights a cigarette.  Neither of these two actions are permitted today due to health and safety concerns.  Another change is that the spectators are absolutely male.  Although the modern terraces are still dominated by men, women and families are much more visible now.  This 1950s game is like an outdoor working men’s club, where you get the impression that a female would be seen as spoiling the men’s freedom to swear at the referee and to expect their tea on the table when they get home.

In order to keep the working lads going until that evening meal that they feel entitled to, they may well indulge in a meat pie; one of these features heavily in the first match shown in this film.  As far as I’m aware, a meat pie is still a vital part of the experience for many supporters today.  This is one of the few aspects that does remain the same, along with wearing scarves in team colours, and the mid Saturday afternoon kick off time – presumably a hang over from the days when most men’s jobs involved a Saturday morning shift.  Another important role that football plays in this film is as a source of partisanship. Growing up in a northern city, this is something that I am very familiar with.  It seems that with one or two southern exceptions (London and Bristol spring to mind), it is mainly the old industrial centres of the midlands and the north that are prone to this situation.  I’m not sure why this should be the case – perhaps it was something to do with the need for more than one sports club to meet demand for respite from the suffocating furnaces and mines.  My city is firmly divided between two teams, your team is chosen for you by family tradition and it forms the basis for many a good playground punch-up, and also which colour wrapper that you choose when offered a Penguin biscuit.  If both teams are in the same league, the city is faced with a couple of derbies a season.  The playground punch-up urge bubbles up into grown men and the evening following the match can be a policing nightmare.  ‘The Love Match’ shows no scenes of violence, but it is clear that it is frowned upon for sons to stray from the father’s team, and that even a potential son-in-law from the other side is a major disappointment.   It also helps if close workmates are on the same side.  This film is over 50 years old, this partisanship is therefore shown to be deep-rooted and will never go away.  It also gently highlights the futility and reminds us that family is more important than the team…just.
Askey by @aitchteee

Finally, you can’t talk about 1950s football without mentioning gambling.  Even the Magistrate in ‘The Love Match’ has his pools coupon, while Askey’s character runs a book on which team will win the local derby.  The few pence on predicting which team will win adds to the fun of a Saturday afternoon and was also taken quite seriously.  The Magistrate is shown asking advice on how Liverpool will do and this was the subject in pubs and around kitchen tables across the land.  Huge amounts of people played the pools back then.  I think that it’s a shame that it seems to be dying out – I still have a go and enjoy the ritual of watching the results come in of a winter Saturday tea time.  The lottery has taken over now.  Where’s the skill in that?  And it’s all over in a minute.  At least people got involved with the pools and interacted with each other over the selections.

I’d select ‘The Love Match’ as a home win.  I just wish there had been a bit of extra time for the injury that I nearly did myself while laughing.

Monday, 5 August 2013

On Form With Carry On

‘Carry on Nurse’ (1959), the second film in the series, is perhaps most well known for that final scene with the daffodil thermometer.  I’ve always particularly enjoyed it for Charles Hawtrey’s performance as the headphone- wearing radio addict.  And the priceless expression on his face as he slides himself into the role of an illicit night nurse.

I revisited ‘Carry on Nurse’ earlier this year in order to remind myself of some references for a more in depth essay that I am preparing.  Quite unexpectedly, I found myself wholly identifying with a small, quite inconsequential scene that has recently taken on relevance.  Mr Hickson (Bill Owen) is laid up in traction with a broken leg, after an accident at work.  When visiting time comes around, we find Mrs Hickson is pleasingly played by Irene Handl.  Those little tastes of Irene that we find in the 1950s are always delicious.  I think that she was at her best in these small pieces, which leave us more satisfied than a whole film of her might have done.  Anyway she dutifully visits her husband, and brings along with her a form that needs to be completed in order for him to claim compensation.  Although he has merely broken a leg, it is Mrs Hickson that has to fill the form in – despite Mr Hickson holding all the answers to many of the questions.

I found the scene funnier than I ever had before, and not just because of Irene’s portrayal of her character.  A close friend of mine had only recently been telling me of a similar situation she had found herself in twice over. The first time round her OH had broken his arm and so quite naturally it was her that had had to fill in the insurance forms. But now he had hit a spell of unemployment, and despite him being able bodied and at a loose end, there was still an expectation that she should be the one who completed the necessary forms!  She's a working mum, she came home from work and carried out many of her household chores  (the washing machine being as unfathomable as a female’s temperament...apparently) and did general mum stuff, and yet it was still the assumption it was her job to fill in the claim and job application forms! It became quite a contentious issue, and they could easily have ended up as another divorce statistic.

So I found Mrs Hickson’s plight very funny – as my friend said, quoting Morrissey, “I can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible.” But with it came a realisation that it wasn’t just her that had taken up with a big girls’ blouse where holding a pen is concerned.  It would appear from my own little straw poll that quite often, once a man has a woman in his life, anything that involves writing is automatically allocated to her.  It can be forms, cheques or greetings cards.  This may be more of a traditional working classes thing.  Those men who earn a living by manual work are, I suppose, just not confident in their abilities where literacy is concerned.

I wonder how much 20th century education has been to blame for this.  Back in the days when it was assumed that boys would go and work in the coal mine, steel works or foundry, literacy just wasn’t top of the list of concerns.  Not that long ago, a job in the pit was for life.  There would never be any need to fill in another job application form.  Girls meanwhile would be the ones to work as secretaries; to write the invites and thank you notes and letters to family.  I hope that this is therefore a phenomenon that is dying out under increasing educational expectations and changes to our employment patterns.  Or the realisation that these days, everyone needs to know how to fill in a JSA form.
Matron! By @aitchteee