Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Hug a Huggett

‘Here come the Huggetts’ (1948) is the second of four films featuring this ordinary London family. We first met them in ‘Holiday Camp’, where they proved popular, and the three eponymous follow ups soon appeared.  They also got their own radio show. When I explain the plot, it will sound pretty run of the mill.  But this is a hugely funny film and I would urge anyone to seek it out and have a good old belly laugh at the Huggetts’ antics.

Although the cast is led by Jack Warner, and it features other male acting luminaries such as David Tomlinson, this film belongs to the women.  Kathleen Harrison delivers comedy platinum as Ma Huggett – her conversation over the garden fence with her neighbour is funny enough to make you cry – and it just puts you in the best of moods for the rest of the film. Diana Dors shows a lesser known comedic talent as the flighty niece and an angelic teenage Petula Clark plays the cheery younger daughter.

Kathleen Harrison by @aitchteee

I would summarise the plot as follows: the Huggetts have a telephone installed; the flighty niece turns up and causes trouble at Pa Huggett’s workplace; some of the family go and watch the royal wedding procession then the eldest daughter gets married. Hardly nail-biting stuff, but it tells us a fair bit about British society at the time. It looks to me like it was a forerunner to the television soap operas that we have today and so it inevitably uses contemporary concerns to attract an audience.

The war is not long finished and it is by no means forgotten – rationing and food shortages are alluded to. This is possibly the one thing that still affected everybody so it would have seemed strange to ignore it.  But the other themes thread a solid seam of optimism through the film. This comes from both official and personal actions.  For example, the Huggetts having a telephone installed shows that some people were now beginning to benefit from a growing affluence which would develop more fully in the 1950s as the shortage of materials was eased.  At an official level, the powers that be rolled out a royal wedding to cheer everyone up and oil the wheels of industry.  The film shows how the marriage of the future Queen Elizabeth became a topic of conversation; perhaps now and again taking the place of a conversation about housing or queues. It also gives us a record of what it might have been like to be present in London on the wedding day, including the sleeping on pavements and the cardboard periscopes.  It captures an excitement that might only ever be found in London. This storyline neatly dovetails with that of the eldest Huggett daughter, herself a jittery bride-to-be. Her eventual capitulation to the institution of marriage leads to confirmation that it is time to begin to move away from troubles and doubts, and to take a step forward into a new beginning.

But what of these doubts about the future?  The invasion of the flighty niece represents the modern world of fast cars and loose morals. This may have been a worry to family-orientated types at the time.  This is an early sign of the conflicts that will come along with the new affluence in the next decade.  It shows that there were worries about the divorce rates and the collapse of the family unit in the post war period.  But the errant girl gets her commuppance alright and she singularly fails to undermine the foundations of the Huggett’s marriage. By having unshakable faith in each other, this trouble is combated.    It shows viewers how to conduct themselves in order to share in the optimism delivered in the other storylines.

‘Here Come The Huggetts’ is a wonderful and cosy view of a shaky nation finding its feet.  It is a call for hope.

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