Tuesday 8 January 2019

Carrying On with … The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery!

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 continue on today with a look at the fourth film in the series, The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery from 1966. It was the last of the original run of films, although they would return fourteen years later! 

What's it about?

"Alphonse" Askett is a hairdresser who is also the operational leader of a gang of crooks who are led behind the scenes by an invisible mastermind (voiced by Stratford Johns). He gives instructions to Askett about the robbery, Operation Windfall, using a variety of James Bond-like communications devices—including a converted showerhead.
The crooks hide the loot in Hamingwell Grange, a deserted country mansion, and after waiting for the hue and cry to die down they return to collect the numerous mailbags which contain £2.5 million (the same amount as in the real robbery). However, following a Labour Party election victory, the house has been converted into a new home for St Trinian's School for Girls. The crooks decide to infiltrate the school by sending Askett's delinquent daughters, Lavinia and Marcia Mary, to St Trinian's as pupils, with instructions to case the joint to find a means of recovering the money, secretly, from its hiding place. The crooks' subsequent attempt to retrieve the mailbags on Parents' Day, disguised as caterers, results in a climactic train chase between the robbers and the girls.
A sub-plot is the affair between the headmistress of St Trinian's and the Minister, who uses his influence to corruptly obtain a large government grant for re-housing the school, following the latest fire, thus enabling it to move into the mansion. This angers his staff who are normally Conservatives but who, early in the film, are seen excitedly watching Labour win the election, as they believe St Trinians will be shut down by a Labour government.

Who's in it?

One of the very few original cast members to return for this 1966 series entry was George Cole who once again reprises his role as Flash Harry. Boosting the cast this time around are reliable comedy stars Reg Varney, Dora Bryan and a certain Mr Francis Howerd! 

Carry On faces?

As always, the quality of the extended Carry On cast meant that many were called upon to spruce up other films. Leading the pack here is Frankie Howerd who is top billed a Alphonse. Frankie would appear in Carry On Doctor the following year before returning in 1969 for Up The Jungle and a guest starring role in the TV Carry On Christmas special. Also starring is Carry On original Dora Bryan, in the role of headmistress Amber Spottiswood. Dora played Norah in Carry On Sergeant back in 1958.

Carry On Spying supporting player Richard Wattis reprises his role as Manton Bassett while Spying co-star Eric Barker again plays Culpepper-Brown. Another face from a previous St Trinian's adventure also makes an appearance - future Carry On regular Terry Scott playing yet another policeman.

A whole host of recognisable Carry On faces also appear in smaller, supporting roles. Norman Mitchell (Cabby, Spying, Cleo, Screaming) plays William while Cyril Chamberlain (the first seven Carry Ons) turns up as Maxie. Carry On guest actor Larry Martyn (Convenience & Behind) plays Chips and familiar face Peter Gilmore (a total of eleven Carry On roles) is Butters.  

Two final actors definitely worth a mention. Jean St Clair has a small role as Drunken Dolly (!) - the following year she would play Mrs Smith, Peter Butterworth's grape scoffing wife in Carry On Doctor. And look out for the gorgeous Margaret Nolan as Susie Naphill! Maggie had made her Carry On debut the previous year in Cowboy and would return four years later for a run of films starting with Carry On Henry. 

Did you know? 

Future Carry On Abroad and Bless This House actress Sally Geeson has a small uncredited role in the film as a schoolgirl.

With a career in films dating back to 1936, this film saw Cyril Chamberlain's last credited performance. He did make an uncredited 'bit' appearance in The Yellow Hat released later in 1966 but after that Cyril retired from acting and spent his final years restoring antique furniture.

Several attempts were made to woo Joyce Grenfell back to play Sergeant Ruby Gates one more time but she refused all offers. 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

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