Monday, 19 June 2017

Spotlight on St Trinians 9

Locating St Trinians

I’ve been looking at places where ‘Belles’ was filmed, thanks to websites such as the excellent Reel Streets. There are three stand out locations:

All Nations College, Easneye, Stanstead Abbots, Herts
Littleton Park House (Shepperton Studios), Middlesex
Great Dunmow, Essex

The first two locations stood in for the school itself, while Great Dunmow provided the location of the unfortunate nearby village.

All Nations College was previously known as Easneye mansion, and was built in the mid 19th century to a design by Alfred Waterhouse (also responsible for the Natural History Museum and the magnificent Manchester Town Hall). The mansion was commissioned by a brewing family called Buxton – one of whom was responsible for pushing the Emancipation of Slaves Bill through Parliament.
To me, the best bit is that the Buxtons popularised beer as a healthier alternative to gin…and then we see the St Trinians girls using the place to make their own moonshine!
 A familiar looking Lodge House - remember Ruby Gates galloping by?

Littleton Park House has a lengthier early history, being the home of local nobility dating back to the 17th Century. It is an integral part of Shepperton Studios and was therefore not a stranger to the camera back then – and it remains a photogenic backdrop today. The house was first involved in the embryonic industry in the 1930s, having being bought by a businessman for the sole purpose of making films. As an interesting aside, during World War Two the studio’s expertise in prop building was put to excellent use when it was commissioned to build dummy aircraft to baffle the Luftwaffe. These days, you can get married there, probably if you have lots of money…I bet Flash Harry’s behind that idea…an extension to his marriage bureau?

 Great Dunmow has a long and very British history. In the mid 20th Century there was a nearby airbase, used by both the RAF and the US Airforce. Seems rather a fitting location for Flash Harry and the Six Formers…

Back to school preparations...

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Thursday, 8 June 2017

Spotlight on St Trinians 8

The History of Miss Fritton

Alastair Sim was born in 1900, and so was 54 years old when headmistress Miss Fritton was gifted to the world in ‘The Belles of St Trinians.’ He also played her brother, Clarence Fritton and made a much reduced return in the 1957 sequel ‘Blue Murder at St Trinians’.  As Miss Fritton – and Clarence - Sim brings a wonderful air of genteel crookedness to delight us throughout the film. In terms of drag roles, nothing could ever surpass this one, in my opinion. Sim doesn’t pile on fake femininity, he remains the character actor that we love except with a string of pearls and a softer voice. We believe wholly in Miss Fritton as a female character, which is tribute to the talent behind her.

Sim began making films in the mid 1930s – a stalwart of the quota quickies. In 1936 he appeared in six films! As war broke out he was appearing in the ‘Inspector Hornleigh’ films, where he first came into contact with Launder and Gilliat. He was also a stage success – here’s a programme from the wartime play ‘Cottage to Let’ from my own collection. Note fellow St Trinians actors in the cast – George Cole and Thorley Walters.

Sim made his most memorable films in the post war years including the first of the Ealing comedies ‘Hue and Cry’ (1946). I recommend ‘The Green Man’, ‘The Happiest Days of Your Life’ and ‘Scrooge’. In 1954, the year of ‘Belles’, Sim also starred in the film of the fantastic JB Priestley play ‘An Inspector Calls’. Compare the two roles and marvel at his versatility.