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 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.
Britain in the Time of St Trinians 1
‘The Belles of St Trinians’ was released in September 1954. Winston Churchill was Prime Minister again, representing the Conservative Party. But change was in the air. Coincidentally, in the same month as the film was released, Britain’s first purpose-built comprehensive school was opened. Modernist architecture fans will be interested to know that the Smithsons’ Hunstanton School also opened at this time.
In the same month, The Wolfenden Committee sat for the first time, looking at the issues of homosexuality and prostitution. It was a long road, but legalisation of homosexuality over a decade later had its roots here.
However, earlier on in 1954, while the film was in production notable events included the final end of rationing and the Donald McGill trial (July). Donald McGill is the man behind those iconic saucy seaside postcards. They are Carry On films in one innuendo-laden cartoon. We all love them now but back then, McGill was actually accused of pedalling obscene publications, tried and fined £50. Many postcards were sadly destroyed. Both of these events serve to illustrate what a different place 1954 was. Despite the baby steps towards a more liberal society, Britain was a place where you still couldn’t just go to the shops and buy whatever you wanted. A place where certain members of society thought us lower echelons would be corrupted by seeing postcards like the one below.
Yet people went to the pictures and watched a cross-dressing man run a girl’s school full of delinquents while illegally gambling on the horses….