Fun At St.Fanny's

Saucy French schoolmistresses, cheeky brat schoolboys, incompetent teachers, bungling gangsters, and acres and acres of the oldest jokes known to civilisation

Fun at St. Fanny's

Director: Maurice Elvey
Cast: Cardew 'The Cad' Robinson, Fred Emney, Ronnie Corbett, Miriam Karlin, Claude Hulbert
Film rating: U
Distributor: BFI (UK)
UK Release date: 2011-08-22

Take the most unenlightened slacker comedy you can think of, and remove any ‘message’ that it might contain; about friendship, doing right by others, etc., and you might be close to Fun at St.Fanny’s. This is a 1956 British comedy, made by Adelphi Films and directed by Maurice Elvey. It's released as part of a series from the Adelphi Studios by the BFI.

It's only played for laughs, composed as it is of a series of music hall sketches, set pieces and ‘turns’ belonging to the lead cast members. These include Fred Emney (one of the co-writers) as Dr. Septimus Jankers, the boozy incompetent headmaster; Cardew ‘The Cad’ Robinson as the oldest schoolboy in the world, a young Ronnie Corbett, stalwart of British TV comedy, who recently presented a series on comedy legends: Ronnie Corbett’s Comedy Britain on ITV1. Alongside them is Gerald Campion, as ‘Fat Gilbert’, whose line in corpulent schoolboys did not end with this film. He played Billy Bunter on British television throughout the '50s and was a household name for many years.

This film contains saucy French schoolmistresses, cheeky brat schoolboys, incompetent teachers, bungling gangsters and acres and acres of the oldest jokes known to civilisation. Think the Marx Brothers with British accents. But with fewer laughs. Cheery and innocent as most of it is and with some admirable performances (such as the brief appearance by Stanley Unwin as the museum guide), you cannot help but feel how tired this is and how, for Robinson and Emney especially, this was a repetition of such a tried and tested act they no longer have to try very hard. The origins of this film in music hall and variety theatre are more in evidence when ‘The Singing Scholars’ launch into their close harmony repertoire in the final quarter. This musical interlude is only interrupted intermittently to wrap up what slim plotlines there are.

St. Fanny's is part of a tradition that, while without the narrative content of any sort of message, does have a satirical point to make. Music Hall comedians, screen writers, and authors had been sending up the British public school system for decades. The Will Hay comedies of the '30s and '40s had included schooldays films such as The Ghost of St.Michael’s (1941). Fun at St. Fanny’s shares some of the routines and jokes of this earlier comedy, as well as one of its stars. Claude Hulbert, who plays Mr. Winkle in St. Fanny’s appeared with Hay in The Ghost of St. Michael’s as Hilary Teasdale. Hulbert and Robinson were forever saddled with their schooldays comedy personae.

More well-known perhaps, and generally less dated now, were the St. Trinian’s films, based on the books by writer and cartoonist Ronald Searle. Different from St. Fanny’s in that St. Trinian’s was a girls’ school with all the accompanying risqué and slapstick that entailed. In my opinion the best schooldays’ comedy is the 1954 The Belles of St. Trinian’s starring Alastair Sim in the dual roles of Millicent and Clarence Fritton. Maybe get ahold of that on DVD, and give St. Fanny’s a wide berth.

There are no extras on the disc from the BFI, however the accompanying written material contains the usual good quality analysis and comments from scholars and interviewees. Ronnie Corbett reminisces about his time on the film, but has only hazy memories he admits, calling it an ‘off-the-wall’ production. Perhaps, take the advice of one of the film’s stars then, as it seems to be an effort for him to come up with even that as any sort of compliment.





How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?


The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.


'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.


​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.


Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.


Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.


Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.


Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.