Monday, 8 June 2015

Come Play with Francis Searle

Most of the films discussed here stand very little chance of turning up on television these days, so I thought I’d give a heads up to one such rare exception to the rule, as newbie TV channel ‘Talking Pictures TV’ are airing 1972’s A Couple of Beauties- previously written up here- next week. The last film by British B movie workhorse Francis Searle, and showcasing mancunian drag artiste Bunny Lewis, the film is on Friday 12 June at 21:30, and repeated on Saturday 13 June at 21:20.

Talking Pictures TV have also been screening another Francis Searle short of late, that like A Couple of Beauties was clearly made with its eye on the Eady Money rewards. Searle’s penultimate film, A HOLE LOT OF TROUBLE (1969) centres around three workmen (Victor Maddern, Bill Maynard and Brian Weske) whose attempt to dig a hole in a street in Watford is hindered by two incompetent electricity board officials (Arthur Lowe and Tim Barrett). Mainly attempting to elicit laughter from how petty bureaucracy obstructs even the most seemingly simple of tasks, the conflict over where to dig the hole quickly spills on over into a nearby café, the bedroom of a honeymooning couple and the studio of a camp girlie photographer (Ken Parry).

For a film that pits the workforce against bowler hat wearing, upper middle class management figures, A Hole Lot of Trouble is surprisingly neutral and apolitical in tone, with neither side coming up smelling of roses. The three working class road diggers are depicted as rude, lazy and unpleasant, but the film seems equally comfortable ridiculing the Arthur Lowe and Tim Barrett characters, constantly placing them in embarrassing situations that threaten to jeopardize their treasured respectably, mainly involving them bumping into the scantily clad models that populate Ken Parry’s studio.

The film seems to find its real mouthpiece and hero in an elderly, former military man (Neal Arden) who wins the public’s support and cheers by criticising the workmen’s shoddy attempts at digging the hole and belittles the Arthur Lowe character for adhering to the unhelpful regulations that the very Mainwaring esque Lowe character holds dear. Although a fairly minor- and unnamed- character, he does reflect a dissatisfaction with the modern world of the 1960s that is clearly at the heart of A Hole Lot of Trouble, the film seemingly arguing that the Britain of the time was being brought to its knees by laziness, class conflicts and red tape.

Previously given a big screen airing at the Renown Festival of Films back in February 2015, and now receiving small screen showings thanks to Talking Pictures TV, A Hole Lot of Trouble is one of a number of films from that late sixties/early seventies period that like ‘The Magnificent 7 Deadly Sins’, ‘Simon, Simon’, and ‘The Cherry Picker’ is filled to the rafters with famous faces, comedy actors and glamour girls, and whose cast lists raise expectations for British comedy gold that the films themselves struggle to live up too. Be warned, genuine laughs are very thin on the ground here, Bill Maynard ends up with the one laugh out loud moment when his numbskull character discovers a priceless roman relic only to then smash it up and complain “aint it marvellous you never find anything new”. There is also a ‘did they intend that to be funny’ moment in which ‘The End’ credit plays just as someone’s bottom comes into frame. I’m not so sure if ‘R.S. Kennedy and Co’ would have been pleased that their end credit ‘thanks’ acknowledgement was also in such close proximity to female derrière as well.

Such a sight though pointed the way forward for the career of many of A Hole Lot of Trouble’s personnel. Seven years later, the film’s composer Peter Jeffries, editor Peter Mayhew, director of photography Terry Maher, production manager Ernie Lewis, not to mention Ken Parry himself, would be reassembled to work on Come Play With Me, finding themselves in another hole lot of trouble in the process.


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