281. Please Sir! (GB 1971)

Director: Mark Stuart

Starring: John Alderton, Joan Sanderson, Noel Howlett, Peter Cleall, Richard Davies, Carol Hawkins, Deryck Guyler; many more

Music: Harry Rabinowitz

Cinematography: Wikie Cooper

Story/Screenplay: John Esmonde, Bob Larbey

Bit Parts: Todd Carty (as 'Boy Waiting to be Excused); Jack Smethurst (as 'Bus Driver')

 In one line: Some East London kids spend two weeks in the country

Summary

Class 5c have been misbehaving. Headmaster Mr Cromwell (Howlett) suggests that a fortnight long trip to the local authority's outdoor education centre in the Kent countryside would be good for morale. Eternal optimist Bernard 'Privet' Hedges agrees to take them. Hedges finds romance and 5c learn self-discipline as they compete with a posh school (who are also sharing the facilities) and others to see who is the best performing school during that week. 5c adopt a gypsy boy called 'Nobbler'.  Some other things happen.

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Besides writing Please Sir!, John Esmonde and Bob Larbey wrote Britain's raunchiest, nearest-the-knuckle sitcom, The Good Life and a load of other non-earth shattering sitcoms that were neither offensive (quite a feat in the seventies, believe me) nor particularly memorable.

Please Sir! was essentially a comic version of To Sir With Love. As has been pointed out many times, many of the pupils in 5c looked like they were in their mid twenties (at least) and like most sitcoms of its era (and indeed any era) laughs were few and far between.

At one stage, John Alderton was Britain's biggest TV star, but then he just seemed to fade from view as his wife Pauline Collins's star began its ascendancy. Alderton was a fine, light comedy actor in the Hugh Grant mould. In Please Sir the movie, he cops off  with air hostess Penny Wheeler (Jill Kerman - aka Maggie Dunlop, one of Ken Barlow's many conquests) and uses his PC skills to inveigle himself into the local Romany community: "I come in peace; can I speak to your head chieftain?"

Peter Cleall as 'Duffy': first-class. ("To Dottinghab!") Shame on you if you understand this joke.

The plot, as such, is nicked from Carry on Sergeant. After a poor early performance at the outdoor ed. camp, 5c mix self-discipline with naughty sabotaging pranks to earn maximum points for the the Best School of the Fortnight Award. (Something like that, anyway).

Richard Davies plays curmudgeonly Welsh teacher Mr Price as only he knows how, and Joan Sanderson plays a Joan Sanderson-type role as the strict but caring Doris Ewell. Sanderson will always be remembered for the greatest guest performance on Fawlty Towers.

There's a weird sub-plot concerning low IQ but vaguely spiritual pupil Dennis Dunstable evading his abusive alcoholic father ( a typically strange and unsettling performance from the strange and unsettling, Michael Elphick-alike actor Peter Bayliss), and there's an equally weird 'adoption' theme involving local gypsy boy 'Nobbler'.

Overall, though, it's undemanding but thankfully, inoffensive fare.

 "Fuck off! Boyo." Richard Davies in action.

The 'situation' of this comedy film (the countryside - miles from anywhere) precludes the usual comedy dynamics of the series, but it's fondly remembered by those of a certain age and it will almost certainly be shown in the early hours of Christmas morning by BBC programme planners who've forgotten or remembered that they've scheduled this film on this day and this time for five of the last ten years.

 

On a more serious note, it was sad to see that several of the actors who played 'the kids' had died, unheralded over the past decade or so. I was only aware that Liz Gebhardt who played the drippy, religious Maureen had died when I was researching* this page. I remember seeing her giving a fine performance in a long forgotten play at the Liverpool Playhouse. Malcolm McPhee who played the vaguely 'Mod' Craven died in the early nineties and Peter Denyer who played Dennis Dunstable died last year.

Of the staff, only Alderton and Davies are 'still with us'. Mind you, if Eric Chitty (who played mild-mannered Mr Smith) were still alive, he'd be 122 by my reckoning.

So it's probably for the best that he's no longer 'with us'.

 5/10

*Research = idly flicking through the internet while scratching my fat arse.