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  Fun at St. Fanny's Let That Be A Lesson To You
Year: 1956
Director: Maurice Elvey
Stars: Fred Emney, Cardew Robinson, Vera Day, Johnny Brandon, Davy Kaye, Freddie Mills, Gerald Campion, Miriam Karlin, Claude Hulbert, Kynaston Reeves, Gabrielle Brune, Stanley Unwin, Dino Galvani, Peter Butterworth, Paul Daneman, Ronnie Corbett, Melvyn Hayes
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Of all the public schools in England, the most prestigious is probably Eton, although Harrow gives it a run for its money, but one which is assuredly not part of the higher echelons of the British education system is St. Fanny's. The headmaster is Dr Septimus Jankers (Fred Emney), who just about keeps it all together in between taking snifters of his preferred tipple, and the longest serving pupil is Cardew the Cad (Cardew Robinson), who has been a proud member of the school for the past sixteen years. But there is a threat to the establishment on the horizon...

That threat being the film would be lost for the best part of fifty years or more, with only its saucy title bringing any interest to it in the interim. Then it was among a number of Adelphi productions found by the BFI in the United Kingdom, and a whole new generation were able to see it, not to mention those who might actually remember who these performers were from first time around and could even have seen it on its initial cinema run - it was never shown on television in all that time. Once it had been watched, there were those naysayers who claimed it would be better lost, but plenty of people found it highly amusing.

Well, up to a point, because there were a number of topical references in the humour which you'd need some kind of specialist knowledge in British cultural history to be able to pick up on, so you could see why its mix of slapstick, schoolboy howlers, sub-Alastair Sim in St. Trinian's or Jimmy Edwards in Whacko! gags and a lot of space given over to a concert at the end could leave many cold. If, on the other hand, that was precisely your idea of entertainment for exactly those reasons then you'd find a wealth of interest here, from all those cast members who once famous had passed into obscurity to some jokes which may have been daft, but could be highly chucklesome.

Emney and Robinson may have been big stars in their day, but fast forward to the twenty-first century and it was more likely the supporting cast who would be more recognisable. Enduring comedian Ronnie Corbett was one of the pupils (and on viewing this again after all those decades was left bemused at how odd it looked), as was Melvyn Hayes who would make his name in Cliff Richard musicals and war sitcom It Ain't Half Hot Mum, as meanwhile Carry On star Peter Butterworth appeared in a very funny skit as the man who makes the pots on the television interludes. Although there's an example of the problem with watching this in its far future: explaining such things as the potter's wheel showing up on TV between programmes would likely prompt bafflement.

As to the plot, nobody seemed particularly bothered about it so maybe you shouldn't either, but essentially it took a three-pronged attack on the audience's sensibilities with a couple of dodgy bookies (Davy Kaye and boxer Freddie Mills) trying to get the headmaster to cough up the cash he owed them, a detective (Miriam Karlin) trying to secure Cardew's fortune for a bagpipe-playing Scotsman (Kynaston Reeves), and the school being investigated by the authorities to see if it was up to snuff. Packed with celebrities of the fifties such as Vera Day (Robinson's love interest), Gerald Campion (then famed for Billy Bunter on TV and essentially in the same role here, though simply named Fatty) and Stanley Unwin (a double-speaking museum guide, now best known for that Small Faces' album) this saw them all operating at somewhere near their best, so if the material was corny they were able to bring out some decent laughs. Until the bizarrely sincere concert at the end, that was, but even that had value of sorts. Music by Edwin Astley.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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