Wednesday, 14 October 2015

No.76. British sitcom films: BLESS THIS HOUSE (1972)


The early 1970s saw a wave of successful British sitcoms come to the big screen, and in 1972 the highly popular BLESS THIS HOUSE joined them. The brainchild of Vince Powell and Harry Driver, creators of eleven shows including the other 70s monster hit LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR, this show about suburban familes lasted for six series on Thames TV.

For the cinema, they bolstered the comedy by bringing in the CARRY ON team of producer Peter Rogers and director Gerald Thomas. This influence is most obvious in the casting additions of the film series regulars like Peter Butterworth, Terry Scott and June Whitfield to support the much-love Sid James and most of the original sitcom family, but also the over-use of the duck whistle to unsubtly hammer home a sight gag. It’s colourful, pleasant enough and thankfully lacks the crass racism of LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR. The most obvious change to fans of the TV show was the replacement of Robin Stewart as Sid and Diana Coupland’s son Mike. He was unavailable due to a summer season booking. Instead we have the likeable bundle of energy  Robin Askwith, surely an icon of the 70s as readily identifiable and nostalgic as Spangles and the Bay City Rollers, and later to find infamy in the bawdy CONFESSIONS sex ‘comedies’.

Sid and Diane are the perfect TV suburban couple. She gets her way around her husband, he displays the sexist, sarcastic curmudgeon qualities which make an ideal foil to her needs and the idealism and foibles of his student children. Whilst Askwith creates a haphazard iron skeleton of art school awfulness in the garage, and drives around in a psychedelic smoke-belching literal old ‘banger’, the lovely Sally Geeson is also retained as his sister Sally. Her main role is to cause friction with her radical politics, which interestingly here foreshadows the environmental concerns we take for granted today about recycling – back then it served as a comedic device for creating a ‘crank’ opposition to staid older-generation reactionism. Sally also inadvertently gets on one’s nerves further by the way she delivers her lines. She explains them with such earnest, squeaky innocence, she seems to be in a school’s programme for teaching English to foreigners.

Rogers and Thomas cleverly recruited CARRY ON stars (and later TV’s ) ‘Terry and June’ as the new neighbours, an instant chemistry package which also allows Terry Scott to play well an aspirational snob angle. The wives in BLESS THIS HOUSE are without edge - it’s the husbands who are the endless schemers. Speaking of which, it’s nice to see Peter Butterworth dialling down the furtive chiseller he essays so well in CARRY ON movies to play Sid’s best mate Trevor. Other welcome supporting players include Janet Brown as neighbour Annie Hobbs, Bill Maynard as Oldham, the sleazy stall landlord who likes to hands-on with his female talents; a brief turn from Frank Thornton as a client of Sid’s, and Tommy LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR Godfrey as Murray the plasterer who leaves Sid high and nowhere near dry as he tries to cover a hole left from removing an over-mantle from the wall at his new neighbours’.

Another member of the Rogers/Thomas stable of co-opted talent for this film is Carol Hawkins as the neighbours’ daughter Katie. She was often labelled the posh crumpet in both their films and the PLEASE SIR series - before admirably avoiding the atrociously cheapjack CARRY ON ENGLAND due to its’ excessive nudity – surely only the most convenient reason!

After Sid and Trevor’s explosive attempt at a whisky distillery in the garden shed, it’s up to the young ones to provide the skulduggery as Mike and Katie covertly enjoy a Romeo and Juliet clandestine romance while their gently seeething Capulet and Montague-like fathers feud – until the cat is out of the bag and they are wed. This sub-plot from first meet-cute to marriage is rushed, the only breathing space given is when the parents uncover their children’s deception by going to the greasy spoon where both Katie and Mike work. This allows an amusing gag where Mike tries to perform short-order cooking on his knes so only his chef’s hat and hands are seen the work surface.

BLESS THIS HOUSE is inoffensive painting-by-numbers comedy played with energy. I’d like to have heard a better version of the jaunty theme tune from the TV show, but even so it harks back amiably to a more innocent time, especially in the lack of post-millenial modern cynicism by the student-age children!

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