Monday, 16 June 2014

Going Round in Circles

It often happens when I’m considering films for this blog.  A real life observation co-incides with a cinema-oldie in a most fortunate manner.  It happened again the other week. The film in question was ‘Once a Jolly Swagman’ (1948) starring Dirk Bogarde. If you haven’t seen this one before, it’s worth seeking it out. If only to see Thora Hird playing Dirk’s downtrodden Mum. There was only ten years between her and Dirk but through the power of hair and make-up styling – and of course the talent of a damn fine actress – she is entirely believable in her aged role.  It is also fascinating to see Bill Owen in a serious part if you’re more used to seeing him in a Carry On film or in a wheeled bathtub rolling down a hill towards Holmfirth. And on the subject of Carry on films, Sid James puts in an appearance here too.

The film’s storyline follows ten years in the life of speedway star Bill Fox (Bogarde). We first meet him as a novice, dreaming his job away in a factory and upsetting his parents. He finds success and all the trimmings that come with it – until war interrupts, that is.  I found the portrayal of this success the most fascinating aspect of the tale. Because this is where it co-incided with my real life observation. Just the day before I watched this film I had been attending to some business in Manchester.  I didn’t mind this because a train ride along the Hope Valley line is always a pleasure. Also, a spare hour or two while I was over there allowed me to visit the Peoples’ History Museum, which I had been wanting to do for some time.  I wasn’t disappointed – this is a fascinating museum and I hope to return to it sometime in the future. One of the exhibits was concerned with football, where you can watch a film of Stanley Matthews or find out a snippet of information that may be previously unknown to you.  Like the fact that it was Jimmy Hill who got the limit on how much footballers could earn removed while he was Chairman of the PFA.  This caused me some consternation – that it was in fact the be-chinned butt of our childhood jokes who is to blame for the conspicuous excess of present day footballers. What a poor decision that was, Jimmy. Where footballers’ pay is concerned, the world has gone quite mad.  Wasn’t it better when they all had to do proper jobs in the week?
Dirk by @aitchteee
Anyway, at this point in time, I thought that all the excess to be seen in those blessed with the special skill of being able to kick a ball was a modern phenomenon. Watching ‘Once a Jolly Swagman’ the following day immediately proved me wrong. The film depicts Bill Fox winning race after race, and these scenes are interspersed with images of his team manager (Sid James) handing him increasing sums of money.  It is not long before we are presented with a very changed Bill Fox. First come the designer clothes and moustache.  Then the flashy car. Then – and this bit I really loved – he gets the girlfriend.  She has a daft name, a need for fancy clothes and an obsession with throwing parties for her equally daft friends.  She’s a true wag! It all rang so many bells concerning the behaviour of modern day sporting “heroes”, yet these scenes were set in 1937!  Even if footballers were the poor relations back then, they have only caught up with the less well regulated sports rather than invented a phenomenon.  I presume that in the 1930s, speedway was would have been viewed as the new sport.  An individualistic showpiece where the participants were necessarily out only for themselves. We are shown what this led to.  Pity Jimmy Hill didn’t watch this film and have a bit of think.

Sarah's short story collection, 'Athene and Other Stories', is available to download from the Amazon Kindle store for 77p. Howard Taylor's art prints are available for purchase from his Etsy shop, TayloredArtPrints.

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