Thursday, 4 May 2017

Spotlight on St Trinians 2

Classic British cinema has long been the inspiration for my writing. Two of my short story collections have focussed on the audience for a specific film (‘A Canterbury Tale’ and ‘I Know Where I’m Going’). Another collection was peopled by a range of characters all affected in some way by the work of Joyce Grenfell.

My intention is that my next short story collection will be connected to Launder and Gilliat’s earlier St Trinians films. These are much loved and also, I think, quite important in their own little way. This time, I also hope to take a step closer to the films in the stories that I write. Rather than focussing on the audience, I’d like the films and their stars to take a bow in some way. How I will do this, I’m not quite sure yet. This proposal is more challenging to me as a writer and involves research into the making of the films, those involved in this and the contemporary scene.

So from this point onwards, The History Usherette will shine her torch on four St Trinians films in a series of posts, perhaps lasting for a year. I’ll share all my discoveries on here and hopefully bring us all a bit of classic film joy along the way.

The Link Between Ealing and Carry On
Coming just after the heyday of the Ealing Comedies and before the Carry On series, the early St Trinians films are a mixture of both. From the Ealing genre, they take a poke at the sheer daftness of the British Establishment. In films like ‘Passport to Pimlico’ and ‘Whisky Galore’, petty bureaucracy causes havoc; while in ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’ a commoner picks off a line of Dukes in order to claim the title for himself. In many of these films, you are encouraged to want the little man to triumph. What a disappointing ending to ‘The Lavender Hill Mob’, when we realise that the game’s up for Alec Guinness. In the St Trinians films, it is time for the little girl to triumph. Young girls have always been the underdog in traditional British society until very recent times. Here, they eschew prescribed, boring education for an early plunge into economic shortcuts. They outwit the law and the Ministry of Education. They are wicked beyond redemption but we so want them to succeed.

Dennis Price and Eric Barker in St Trinians...after Ealing, before Carry On. Thorley Walters on the left.
Unlike the Boulting Brothers’ films from the contemporary period, there is no underlying message though, this is all for fun. Like Carry On films, which launched a year after the second St Trinians film.  I believe that Carry On does owe a little to the St Trinians series. Not least sharing several cast members (I will explain more in my next post). Where St Trinians became a kind of brand name for a series…Carry On soon followed. I may be proved wrong, but I believe that St Trinians was the first film series with a name repetition in this manner. The difference is of course that each Carry On was a totally different story with the same actors playing different characters (though you could argue that Sid was always playing Sid!). But there is a direct line between the two – a series of brand name films populated by familiar faces playing memorable characters. ‘Flash Harry’ became almost as much a part of our national psyche as Matron (especially when he transformed into Arthur Daley…)

Have a look at my Beginner's Guide to British Cinema

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