Sunday 21 October 2018

Carrying On with … The Belles of St Trinian's!

I've recently written a great deal about some of the other great series of British comedy films, such as the Norman Wisdom comedies and the Doctor films, and how the Carry Ons made an impression in these lovely films. I've now decided to write about another legendary set of films, the St Trinian's films. Set in the fictional unruly all girls private school somewhere in England, the films followed their adventures and those of both the staff of the school, the law enforcers chasing after them and the education department who frequently despaired of what they got up to!

The films featured countless wonderful performances and will always be synonymous with a handful of timeless actors. So without further ado, let's look at the very first in the series, The Belles of St Trinian's from way back in 1954, a whopping 64 years ago.

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 (Balbina Gutierrez) 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 the 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?

Belles sees a central performance of vigour and gusto from that wonderful actor Alastair Sim. Sim plays a dual role with skill and flair - both as headmistress of St Trinian's Miss Millicent Fritton and her rather conniving bookmaker brother Clarence. 

Also starring are the superb Joyce Grenfell as the soppy, love struck police sergeant Ruby Gates and the wonderful George Cole as Flash Harry.

Carry On faces?

Lots of actors who would go on to shine in the Carry Ons made appearances large and small in The Belles of St Trinian's. Four future Carry On actresses played St Trinian's teachers and  chief amongst them is future Carry On stalwart Joan Sims playing the seductive Miss Dawn. Carry On Nurse and Constable cameo player Irene Handl appears as geography mistress Miss Gale while Emmannuelle guest star Beryl Reid takes the role of Miss Wilson, the maths mistress. And the wonderful Scottish actress Renee Houston, who would go on to star in Carry On Cabby, Spying and Convenience, plays Miss Brimmer.

Carry On Spying star Richard Wattis makes his debut in the series as Education department bureaucrat Manton Bassett  while future Spying actor Eric Pohlmann plays The Sultan of Makyad. Eric also appeared in Carry On Regardless. And future Carry On leading man Sidney James takes on the small role of Benny.

But that's not all. According to the internet there are several other Carry On actors in small, uncredited roles as school girls in the film. Watch out for brief appearances from the likes of Shirley Eaton, Sandra Caron, Dilys Laye, Ann Way, Carol White and an early screen appearance from the legendary Dame Barbara Windsor.

Did you know? 

Ronald Searle, who of course provided the legendary animations for the film's titles, played a cameo role as a visiting parent in the film.

The film was the third most popular film at the British Box Office in 1954.

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