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.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.