On this nostalgic television show tonight, where the guest will be introduced to faces from his past for their and the audience's entertainment, is British scientist and all-round genius Sir Ernest Pease (James Robertson Justice), but he is not especially enjoying hearing about his schooldays and suchlike and is barely tolerating the experience. When an Army officer walks on with a tale from yesteryear, Sir Ernest has no idea who he is, but once the yarn begins to be spun it rings a bell. This is to do with the time when he was assisting the British war effort and got into a spot of bother...
By 1961, when Very Important Person was released, the public in the United Kingdom had been subjected to all sorts of big screen entertainment relating to the war years, and the film studios were trying hard to adapt to different styles. Either that public still could not get enough of reliving that time, which a lot of its audience would not have had first hand memories of, or they felt it was time to move on unless there was a good reason, although those studios were keen not to mess with their formula too drastically, hence the incidence of the war comedy.
Like this one, for example, a better instance of the form that showcased its nation's wealth of comedic talent by placing them in key roles. Justice was foremost here, playing his usual bluff, gruff authority figure who this time found himself trapped in a prisoner of war camp behind Nazi lines. He gets there through his own arrogance, thanks to a reconnaissance mission flight he is on getting hit by a missile which blows a hole in the bomber - Sir Ernest is sucked out through the hole thanks to not listening to his crew's advice. This turns out to be not entirely in character, for it's only this slip setting the plot rolling that marks a particular error.
Everywhere else in the film he may rub everyone up the wrong way by insisting that he is always right, but the fact remains that he pretty much is, testing not only his fellow prisoners but also the audience's sympathies to boot. Fortunately with a performer such as Justice the ruder he was to his fellow characters the more audiences appreciated him, so he was happy to dial up the stern snobbery and lack of respect for anyone but himself if it meant that it kept the box office tills ringing. Here he was assisted in that the central joke was not only did "Winston" want Sir Ernest sprung, but all those in the camp would be happy to see the back of him as well.
Among those light comic actors supporting the star was a bright turn by Leslie Phillips as a "tally-ho, chaps" military man sporting an impressive set of whiskers and offered some excellent humorous banter and quips, delivered in his inimitable fashion - he really does get good quality lines in this, so much so that you could believe he was the writer's favourite character. Also showing up were the likes of the similar, but not identical Jeremy Lloyd, Eric Sykes as a keep fit fanatic, and most memorably Stanley Baxter as a grim-visaged Scot who has been digging his own tunnel under his bunk which provides a hiding place for Sir Ernest when he puts his own plans into effect. Baxter played the camp commandant as well, for reasons which become clear by the last half hour. As far as the scheme goes, it's a neatly suspenseful item that would not be out of place in the daddy of all P.O.W. movies, The Great Escape, though it does mean the chuckles dry up to an extent. Well done, if nothing earth-shattering. Music by Reg Owen.