[12 September 2011]
PopMatters Associate Books Editor
There’s always a dramatic and comic irony at work in popular culture when times are really tough and bleak. Tommy Trinder excellently epitomised this clownish and charming sense of optimistic morale-boosting entertainment in his career throughout the Second World War. He was famous for his variety act, stand-up comedy and personal appearances to entertain the troops. Radio made him more widely known and his catchphrase ‘You lucky people!’ was heard across the nation.
This film, as a release from the BFI archive, produced by Adelphi Studios in 1955 was an attempt to revive Trinder’s career and exploit the still familiar catchphrase. He plays Tommy Smart and, in an interesting twist, he is the cheeky chappy and lovable rogue who has made good. In the aftermath of the war Smart has become a millionaire by selling off army surplus goods; and even selling the army’s own surplus back to them when they realised they still needed it. There is a real sense of charm and innocence about this film, mostly encouraged by Trinder’s experience and the guileless performance of Dora Bryan, the brilliant Lancashire comedienne, as Sergeant Tipp. She is the lovesick girl helped by Trinder to find happiness.
That is his role throughout, in this sentimental comic piece, directed by Maurice Elvey. He is the fixer and planner, assisting his comrades’ romantic intrigues. In that he is the centre of a gentle farce that reflects British family humour of that period and earlier. Trinder’s ‘act’ is showcased, and it is a tried and tested formula that appealed to an audience of all ages and by this point in time evoked a welcome nostalgic element also. His music hall roots are demonstrated when he turns from banter and light humour to song as he serves drinks in the local pub, then circulates immediately back to banter. His ‘love song’ turns out to have been directed not towards the image of a sweetheart, as it seemed, but to a sign reading ‘Beer is Best’.
The supporting cast includes a young Rolf Harris, who went on to become a tea-time children’s TV favourite and well-known artist and cartoonist. He has recently painted a portrait of the Queen. Regimental Sergeant Major ‘Tibby’ Brittain appears ‘as himself’; having developed a popular turn as the rough training officer who knocks the veteran ‘Z men’ back into shape – or tries to. This role is repeated throughout cinema, from Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket to Private Benjamin; a standard experience in the armed forces as it is. The ‘fish-out-of-water’ comic appeal to this is tempered with a sense of the bleakness associated with armed service. The young lieutenant in command of the older recruits is discovered to be a heavy drinker: the prospect of duty and service in Korea getting to him. There is no small satirical edge to this.
That was the characteristic irony found in the work of comics like Trinder; along with the banter and the cheekiness, there could be a real bluntness about the human condition and the opportunity to take a moment to consider this was not shied away from. Sentiment, comment and a touch of philosophic contemplation punctuate the situations and the silliness.
This DVD contains no extras.