Thursday, 26 September 2013

Withering Heights

I recently purchased a box set of six Anna Neagle films, one of which is the 1952 drama ‘Derby Day’.  This is a more than adequate way to spend an hour and a half, but really I think that they got the star names in the wrong order.  Googie Withers is the supporting headline name.  But she is the reason to watch this film, if you needed one.  I like Googie – a lot.  She never seemed to quite reach the top, to achieve that one defining role that put her on the highest shelf.  But she was an extremely fine actress.  I wonder if it was merely a case of the starring roles never being offered because she didn’t quite fit a required mould – or if she deliberately kept stardom at arm’s length.   Either way, I admire her for what she managed to achieve in the face of it.  She also achieved that rarity – a long marriage to a fellow actor.  Her husband, John McCullum, stars alongside her in Derby Day.  They were separated only by his death more than half a century after this film was made.
Googie by @aitchteee
I think that her best role was in ‘Miranda’.  In this very witty comedy film she is mistress of the raised eyebrow.  Her delightfully expressive face is one the unsung highlights of a female-centric film where she faces stiff competition from Margaret Rutherford and Glynis Johns.  But her role in ‘Miranda’ – a well-heeled doctor’s wife – is probably not that far off her real background, as she was empire-reared and privately educated.  Her role in ‘Derby Day’ however was probably much more of an acting challenge for Googie.  She plays a poor housewife, whose husband works at Battersea Power Station and who has to take in lodgers to help make ends meet.  Quite possibly a natural born Londoner might take issue with her accent, but it sounded fine to me.  I thought that she tackled the role well and was wholly believable in the role.

I was also interested to see the post-war working class household as depicted by Googie and her screen husband and lodger.  Some aspects of this have gone forever.  Waiting in for the Tuesday coal delivery, to be tipped into a purpose built outhouse is most definitely a thing of the past.  The Clean Air Act has seen to that.  Changes in society have meant that Googie’s character could have got a decent full time job rather than spend her days drudging away for two men.  I wonder if there has been a rise in the number of lodgers again in recent years, as homes have become so unaffordable in many parts of the country.  If this is the case though, it will not be on the same footing, where they have their meals cooked for them and all household jobs done.  It will be more a case of the spare room being rented out and cooking/cleaning facilities shared.

There was one other small scene which stood out for me.  This was the keeping of savings in the house.  I was brought up – along with most of my generation I presume – to believe that all savings were safest in the bank.  Not only could nobody pinch it, you might get some interest too.  We had a mini Yorkshire Bank branch at school and I had a Post Office savings account from very early on.  This film not only harks back to the days when banks were not for the working class, but also reminds us of what could happen if people do lose faith in them.  Over the past few years, banks have lost much of their respectability, people no longer trust them as they did and to make matters worse, interest rates have plummeted.  I have heard it said many times that “you would be better keeping it under the mattress.”  Just where unsavoury visitors to your home – or intruders – can get to it.  Googie’s lodger goes off with her savings after murdering her husband – let that be a lesson to us all!

The way forward out of this situation is to join your local Credit Union, a community savings bank and lender.  I have carried out work alongside my local one in my professional life and I really believe that everyone should invest in their local union.  But whether you take this advice or not, don’t put it all on a horse in the Derby!

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