This is Albert Hall (Bruce Lacey) and he's a one man band, standing on street corners and making his living busking for coins, regaling the passersby with his tunes delivered on his cornet, accordion, bass drum strapped to his back and cymbals tied to his knees. His piece de resistance is Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay, but what he dreams of is being a proper orchestra conductor like his idol, Sir Lance Corporal (Valentine Dyall). A dream a million miles away from getting his hat knocked off on the streets of London...
Director Bob Godfrey was more used to utilising animation for his short films, and though an Australian it was the United Kingdom where he made his mark with endlessly innovative cartoons, often scripted by Stan Hayward, as The One Man Band was here. But for this tale, he evidently felt live action was the way forward, if only for a short while, thus it consisted of ten minutes of comedy acted out mostly by Bruce Lacey, that Zelig figure of British sixties entertainment. With his exaggerated expressions it was clear the aim was to revive the classic silent comedy fashion.
So there was a nostalgic sheen to this which was reflected in much of the British pop culture which went out of its way to identify itself with that nation during the sixties, whether you were The Kinks recording The Village Green Appreciation Society or Patrick Macnee dressed in his Englishman's uniform of three piece suit and bowler hat in The Avengers on the world's television screens. There was even an actual one man band, Don Partridge, having hit records in this decade. Here the traditional, but not exactly highbrow, musical choice of Albert, reflected both his background and what turns out to be populist enough to appeal to the masses - for a while, at any rate.
The ten minute film could be divided into three sections: first up, Albert plays on the rain slicked streets of the capital and is menaced by policemen and exploited by those who have no respect for his art. He returns home to his bedsit to pretend to conduct an orchestra just like Sir Lance courtesy of a scratchy record - in a very Godfreyesque moment, his fantasy strikes a hitch when it gets stuck, leading the dream to get stuck too - but as luck would have it he's passing a concert rehearsal when Sir Lance suffers a heart attack and our man steps in to save the day.
But this still lends him no respect, until a rich record producer (much-respected comedy producer and director Joseph McGrath) speeds by in his sports car, surrounded by women and signs Albert, which promises fame and fortune, represented in a montage featuring the most recognisable Godfrey cartooning, though most of it is in a succession of stills. That Albert cannot quite escape his roots is very a British take on success, even in something as eccentric as this, yet he's not so much brought back down to earth with a bump as made to accept his limitations, again very British though remaining charming and amusing thanks to a wry tone mixed in with the loopier qualities. Maybe not the most typical Bob Godfrey work in approach, but a reminder of his engaging talent.
[This is available in The Lacey Rituals, the BFI's double disc collection of short films connected to Bruce Lacey, whether as performer, designer, director or otherwise.]