Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Spotlight on Brief Encounter 7

The Tealady & Albert

If Laura and Alec wear the tragedy masks, Albert Godby (Stanley Holloway) and Myrtle Bagot (Joyce Carey) wear the comedy ones. But is the thing that makes them so amusing the idea that they are “at it” at their age?

If a young sailor came into the refreshment room and tried to goose young Beryl; that would be a matter of course in those days. But when old Albert gets frisky with the middle aged Myrtle, it gives us all a good laugh (although of course some of this is down to the excellent comedy talents of the actors behind the characters). I wonder what the age difference is meant to be between the two couples? It was more difficult to say in those days because everyone seemed to look old after a certain point. I recently read a family memoir by one of my favourite authors, Margaret Forster. She compares her own life to that of her mother and grandmother in “Hidden Lives” and it is fascinating. She includes a photograph of her mother at the age I am now – 45 – and she looks like a tired, wrinkly old granny! These days we try harder to cling on to our youth and embrace diversity in hairstyles and clothes rather than sink gracefully into a pinny and perm. Back in the 1940s, it seems that once you had turned 30 you accepted old age and surgical stockings and that was that. Also, life was harsher and this showed in the face.

How old are Alec and Laura meant to be? They have young children and Laura’s appear on screen and look to be under 10 years old. Women tended to have children earlier in their twenties back then so I think that this puts her a little above 30. Alec also speaks of young children, he must be in his thirties too. There’s not a lot to go on in terms of aging Myrtle Bagot. She’s been married, divorced and seen off a gentleman ‘business partner’. Perhaps she is meant to be 10-15 years older than Laura.

The ages of the actors involved when the film was released are as follows:
Celia 37, Trevor 32, Joyce 47, Stanley 55. At 45 I certainly feel more of a Myrtle than a Laura. If a young doctor started paying me attentions I’d tell him to push off and leave me alone to drink tea and eat buns in peace. Myrtle holds no doe-eyed romantic thoughts about Albert either. She’s going to make him work hard to prove himself worthy of her and that’s where we get our fun.
The sugar's in the spoon...
But it wasn’t all fun being older and single back in the 1930s and 40s. Myrtle’s life has obviously been unsettled while it emerges that Albert lives in lodgings with a mad animal menagerie. A life in lodgings for a gentleman is something that I looked at in my ‘Lavender Hill Mob’ post a few years back. I mused:

  "The Lavender Hill Mob" shows the two main characters each having rooms in a lodging house (or 'private hotel') which is shared by several people.  This is how they meet and formulate the robbery. This gives us a peep at how some single men of the lower middle class lived then.  I wonder how much of this situation was due to the housing shortage, and how much was due to these men never having learned to look after themselves?  It would have been assumed in their upbringing that there would always be a female in their life to see to domestic matters.  Neither of these characters are married so they have placed themselves in the care of a landlady.  In modern times, they would most likely live alone in a small flat each (if not even still be at home with parents!)

To be growing old and not have a home of your own must have been awfully depressing. No wonder Albert was so persistent in his pursuit of the hand that baked those delightful Bath Buns. We can laugh, but old Albert and Myrtle seem to get their happy ending after he saves her from the lippy soldiers – and they will appreciate each other much more than Laura or Alec ever would.

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