Chiselbury Boys' School is not exactly prestigious, in fact it's regarded as one of the worst in the country, mostly thanks to the machinations of its headmaster, Professor Jim Edwards (Jimmy Edwards), who when he is not caning the pupils in his care is scheming the best method to make a profit or get a bottle of booze. Arriving for the new term, the car Edwards is driving breaks down, leaving it to be pushed to its destination by the assistant headmaster Pettigrew (Arthur Howard) - the vehicle belonged to him anyway – or it is until it ends up in a pond. Starting as he means to go on, Edwards is furious but refuses to take responsibility, though this school year is about to provide him with more of a headache than he ever thought possible...
The humour of corporal punishment in schools is something lost to the ages since it was abolished in the British educational system, but for a while, if you were a child at least, you would see it everywhere in the humour aimed at your younger generation. The image of the mortar board and gown-sporting schoolmaster bending a cane in anticipation of unleashing its sting on the backsides of the schoolboy characters was one that proved surprisingly enduring, as even in the comics for kids characters like The Jocks and the Geordies in The Dandy or The Bash Street Kids in The Beano would end up on the receiving end of a "thrashing" - Buster even had a science fiction variation, Tin Teacher, which could administer the cane with robotic ingenuity.
Bottoms Up! was part of that tradition, and if there was one comedian who was the chief exponent for mean-minded tutors it was "Professor" Jimmy Edwards, an ex-RAF man with an extravagant handlebar moustache (insured for £10,000!) who essentially lifted Will Hay's musical hall act as an incompetent teacher whose pupils know more than he does and gave it a sadistic twist. He did so first on radio, and then on the television adaptation, of Whack-O! which ran for a remarkable near-twenty years, lasting until around the point where his stock in trade was raising serious questions about precisely how beneficial it was to deliver pain to young children if they did not do as they were instructed, and even if they had committed relatively minor transgressions or mistakes. Thus the comedy of Edwards was consigned to the past.
Though it lasted in those comics into the nineteen-eighties, possibly because Edwards had made such an indelible image of the bad-tempered schoolteacher on the cultural consciousness. In this film spin-off of the television show, there was a script by Michael Pertwee which constructed a fairly solid plot featuring fake Middle Eastern royalty (cue overage Melvyn Hayes in brownface) which delivered a decent enough pay-off, though the production's main coup was securing Denis Norden and Frank Muir to punch up the dialogue and quips, some of which are genuinely funny, even witty. What was interesting from a cult movie perspective was that it built up to a mutiny of the pupils, including explosives and pistols (water), that seemed to be the blueprint for Lindsay Anderson's anti-establishment classic If.... - there was even a dolly bird matron (French pin-up Vanda Hudson) sashaying around echoed in Anderson's imagery later on. For music fans, there was the sight of future Jimi Hendrix drummer Mitch Mitchell leading the righteous charge against Edwards' corruption; Richard Briers was there too. A curio, given its subject, and no boy actually gets caned, but the sight of Edwards trampled by an elephant is up there with all-time Britflick absurdity.
[Network's Blu-ray in The British Film line has a trailer and image gallery as extras.]