THE HAPPIEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE

PrintE-mail Written by John Knott

We know that there are many of you who only read STARBURST for our second-to-none coverage of post-war British comedy [You what? – Ed]. So with that in mind, we’re delighted to get our hands on the Blu-ray of The Happiest Days of Your Life. It’s not an Ealing but it’s still one of the best and a fascinating glimpse into middle-class Britain shortly after the bombs stopped falling.

It’s 1949 and the wonderfully named Wetherby Pond (Alastair Sim) is headmaster of the not-so-great boys’ school, Nutbourne College. He and his staff (including no less than Richard Wattis) gather for the new term, but Pond wants them to buck up their ideas so that he can increase his chances of getting a job at another school. But there’s been a cock-up at the Ministry (there’s always a cock-up at the Ministry - bureaucratic blunders were a bit of an obsession in 1949 Britain) and St Swithin's School for Girls are being merged with them on the same day. A girls’ school? Merged with a boys’ school? This was comedy gold back then, especially if the headmistress of the girls’ school happened to be Margaret Rutherford. Actually it still is comedy gold. This is a funny film on many levels.

For a start you have British comedy demigods of Sim and Rutherford locking horns and desperately trying to upstage each other. That’s probably worth the admission price alone as it’s pretty much the only time they appeared together, but there’s also the very witty script that still stands up today. The plot is pretty tight and the gals’ parents visiting at the same time as Pond’s potential employers carry out an inspection (obviously they can’t meet and each group can only be aware of the boys or the girls) ensure a suitably farcical climax. When the inspection team once more spot a girl (or, more accurately, a class-load in Greek dance attire) and Pond has run out of plausible excuses, he responds to their demands for an explanation with “I’m trying to think of one”.

But there’s also the fascination of watching these frozen moments in time. Sim and Rutherford’s battle of the sexes is very much something from another age but no less amusing for that. But there are a few wince-inducing moments as the games teacher Whizzo (Guy Middleton) disturbingly flirts with the older girls and no-one bats an eyelid. The past was most definitely a foreign country. This was a sort of St Trinian’s pre-cursor: as well as Sim there’s even Joyce Grenfell doing a slightly more sexually-frustrated version of her character from those later films. But while we could do a whole article on the complex cultural history of St Trinian’s, you can’t help but notice that these children from four years earlier are a darn sight better behaved than the ones in the more anarchic follow-up. But for our money, the reason you need this movie is because when asked by a canvasser if he can rely on Pond’s vote in the coming election, Pond responds: “If there is a male candidate – be he Conservative, socialist, communist, anarchist or, for that matter, Liberal – he will have my vote.” Priceless.

Special Features: Interviews with Any Merriman, Martin Rowson and Michael Brooke.

THE HAPPIEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE (1950) / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: FRANK LAUNDER / SCREENPLAY: JOHN DIGHTOM, FRANK LAUNDER / STARRING: ALASTAIR SIM, MARGARET RUTHERFORD, GUY MIDDLETON, JOYCE GRENFELL, RICHARD WATTIS / RELEASED: OCTOBER 5TH

 

We
know that there are many of you who only read STARBURST for our second-to-none
coverage of post-war British comedy [You what? – Ed]. So with that in mind, we’re delighted to get our hands on the Blu-ray of
The Happiest Days of Your Life. It’s not an Ealing but it’s still one of the best and a fascinating glimpse into middle-class Britain shortly after the bombs stopped falling.

It’s 1949 and the wonderfully named Wetherby Pond (Alastair Sim) is headmaster of the not-so-great boys’ school, Nutbourne College. He and his staff (including no less than Richard Wattis) gather for the new term, but Pond wants them to buck up their ideas so that he can increase his chances of getting a job at another school. But there’s been a cock-up at the Ministry (there’s always a cock-up at the Ministry - bureaucratic blunders were a bit of an obsession in 1949 Britain) and St Swithin's School for Girls are being merged with them on the same day. A girls’ school? Merged with a boys’ school? This was comedy gold back then, especially if the headmistress of the girls’ school happened to be Margaret Rutherford. Actually it still is comedy gold. This is a funny film on many levels.

For a start you have British comedy demigods of Sim and Rutherford locking horns and desperately trying to upstage each other. That’s probably worth the admission price alone as it’s pretty much the only time they appeared together, but there’s also the very witty script that still stands up today. The plot is pretty tight and the gals’ parents visiting at the same time as Pond’s potential employers carry out an inspection (obviously they can’t meet and each group can only be aware of the boys or the girls) ensure a suitably farcical climax. When the inspection team once more spot a girl (or, more accurately, a class-load in Greek dance attire) and Pond has run out of plausible excuses, he responds to their demands for an explanation with “I’m trying to think of one”.

But there’s also the fascination of watching these frozen moments in time. Sim and Rutherford’s battle of the sexes is very much something from another age but no less amusing for that. But there are a few wince-inducing moments as the games teacher Whizzo (Guy Middleton) disturbingly flirts with the older girls and no-one bats an eyelid. The past was most definitely a foreign country. This was a sort of St Trinian’s pre-cursor: as well as Sim there’s even Joyce Grenfell doing a slightly more sexually-frustrated version of her character from those later films. But while we could do a whole article on the complex cultural history of St Trinian’s, you can’t help but notice that these children from four years earlier are a darn sight better behaved than the ones in the more anarchic follow-up. But for our money, the reason you need this movie is because when asked by a canvasser if he can rely on Pond’s vote in the coming election, Pond responds: “If there is a male candidate – be he Conservative, socialist, communist, anarchist or, for that matter, Liberal – he will have my vote.” Priceless.

Special Features: Interviews with Any Merriman, Martin Rowson and Michael Brooke.

THE HAPPIEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE (1950) / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: FRANK LAUNDER / SCREENPLAY: JOHN DIGHTOM, FRANK LAUNDER / STARRING: ALASTAIR SIM, MARGARET RUTHERFORD, GUY MIDDLETON, JOYCE GRENFELL, RICHARD WATTIS / RELEASED: OCTOBER 5TH


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