Monday 12 March 2018

Carry On Faces in Different Places: The Belles of St Trinian's

Here we go with another in my series of blogs looking at some of the cream of British comedy film making from the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Although this blog is all about the Carry Ons, believe it or not, there were some other joyous comedy films made away from Peter Rogers Productions. However, given the quality of the actors Peter employed to make his series, it's no wonder that most of them popped up elsewhere.

So far I've looked at the wonderful 1959 crime caper Too Many Crooks , the 1954 domestic comedy starring Dirk Bogarde, For Better For Worse , the big screen spin off Please Sir! and the wonderful Up Pompeii and the brilliant John Gregson and Diana Dors vehicle, Value for Money.
More recently I blogged about the Sid James and Kenneth Connor comedy horror What A Carve Up! and the the Gordon Jackson drama, Floodtide. 

I have also looked at the Carry On links with the wonderful film I'm All Right Jack and the Diana Dors' prison drama, Yield to the Night

Today I'm going to blog about the classic 1954 comedy, The Belles of St Trinian's.


What's it about?

The Sultan of Makyad wants to send his daughter Fatima to a school in England, and asks her governess Miss Anderson to recommend one: she recommends St Trinian's in the county of Barchester. This suits the sultan perfectly: as his racehorses are trained there, he will be able to visit Fatima and his horses at the same time.

At St Trinian's, Miss Holland the accountant, explains to headmistress Millicent Fritton that they need cash, not cheques. Then Fritton's twin brother, bookmaker Clarence, arrives with his previously expelled sixth form daughter Arabella. He gets his sister to re-enroll her so she can befriend Fatima and get information on Arab Boy, the Sultan's horse that will run in the upcoming Cheltenham Gold Cup against Blue Prince, the horse he and his associates have backed. Assistant headmistress/physics mistress Buckland enters the office to introduce Fatima and two other new girls to Fritton, and Fatima meets Arabella. Fritton explains St Trinian's to the new girls: "At most schools, girls are sent out quite unprepared for a merciless world but, when our girls leave here, it is the merciless world which has to be prepared." Fritton takes the new girls to meet the staff: Miss Brimmer  arts and handicrafts mistress; Miss Wilson maths mistress; Mlle. de St Emilion French mistress; Miss Drownder geography mistress; Miss Gale English literature mistress; Miss Waters the scripture and needlework mistress; and Miss Dawn.

Barchester Police Superintendent Kemp Bird, in the hope of getting help to stop the crime wave that has occurred in his area since the new term started at St Trinian's, goes to London and meets with Ministry of Education official Manton Bassett. Bassett refuses to help: the two inspectors he has sent there have both disappeared. Kemp Bird arranges to send his girlfriend, Sgt. Ruby Gates, to St Trinian's, undercover, as games mistress Chloe Crawley.

Who's in it?

The film boasts a staggering array of post-war British film talent. Alastair Sim stars in the dual role of headmistress Miss Fritton and her dodgy brother Clarence. George Cole, already a film veteran, plays his most famous screen role (until a certain Arthur Daley) as Flash Harry while one of my favourite comediennes, Joyce Grenfell, plays the hapless Sergeant Ruby Gates.

Carry On Faces?

Future Carry On leading lady Joan Sims takes on one of her earliest film roles playing Miss Dawn. Other teachers at the school are played by familiar comic actresses in Irene Handl (Nurse, Constable), Beryl Reid (Emmannuelle) and Renee Houston (Cabby, Spying, At Your Convenience).

Sykes and Carry On Spying actor Richard Wattis also co-stars as Manton Bassett, a civil servant at the Ministry of Education. Carry On Regardless and Carry On Spying supporting actor Eric Pohlmann appears in the role of the Sultan of Makyad while no film of the era would be complete without a cameo from the man himself, Sidney James, here playing Benny, one of Clarence Fritton's racing associates.

Also watch out for Barbara Windsor in her first ever film role. Keep your eyes peeled for an uncredited appearance as a schoolgirl. 

Did you know?

The film and its sequels were inspired by the work of British cartoonist Ronald Searle. Searle also filmed a cameo role as a visiting parent.

Belles was the first in a sequence of St Trinian's films which included "Blue Murder...", "The Pure Hell...", "The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery" and finally, "The Wildcats of St Trinian's". 

The series was later revived in the late 2000s for two further films which bore little resemblance to the charm of the originals.

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