My notes on the British pop musical.A 53-minute feature, directed by Douglas Hickox (Theatre of Blood), scripted by Stewart Farrar and star Lance Percival, with additional material by Willie Rushton. While Frankie Vaughan (top-billed) does his weirdly smarmy hit ‘Give Me the Moonlight’, with an Astaire-style top hat and cane and and about a ton of hair product glistening under the arc-lights — unbelievably getting a screaming reaction to rival the Beatles –, electrician Richard Abel (Percival) takes tea and falls asleep up in the rigging, then dreams the rest of the film, which follows his night out on the town with a ‘fat friend’ (Willie Rushton) as an excuse to get in a ton of musical number from acts like Dusty Springfield, Mr Acker Bilk, the Bachelors, Cloda Rogers, Jan and Kelly and the Hollies. It’s an amazing range … from genius to embarrassing to cult to nostalgia to fluff to who-the-hell-are-Jan-and-Kelly?), though as often in these thrown-together-to-take-advantage-of-passing-celebrity pop musical anthologies, the rights to the acts’ proper hits were tied up and so they have to do unmemorable B-side material. Though it takes place, as they say, all over town, the whole thing is shot in the studio with painted flats representing Covent Garden, the West End, etc. It’s almost a parody of those ‘London in the Raw’ mock-docs, with an acid Scots-accented voice-over (Stephen Jack) putting down the English, a bunny club where people ‘can feel naughty without actually being naughty’ and generally getting in snide remarks when he can.
It’s mildly saucy for its genre, with a striptease (from Ingrid Anthofer) that gets joke reactions from a sweaty Salvation army officer (poet Ivor Cutler) and a mannish cigar-smoking woman in cutaways before it’s played in reverse as the dancer seems magically to pull on her clothes – with a final peek-a-boo nipple shot I’ll wager wasn’t in the UK release version in 1964. Paul Raymond appears as himself, apparently, and graciously lent Miss Anthofer (furs by Deanfield London-Paris) to the production. Thanks, Paul. The Springfields go through a hideous Mexican-themed number (‘Maracabamba’) which does Dusty few favours – though her robotic dance movements are New Wave avant la lettre. Acker does a Volga Boatman jazz, with a (real) muzzled bear and a dancer (April Olrich) gyrating in fake snow – then there’s Rushton in a tache as a comedy union spokesman complaining about the use of a Russian bear as the band run about sped-up in silent film style. Acker does a double entendre song on a pub set, ‘I’ve Been Sippin’ Cider Beside ‘Er’. Frankie sings ‘The Trouble With Man is Woman’, which confirms his macho obnoxiousness – in a ‘20s themed number, he seems to have knocked up one of the dancers – but two finger-snapping barmaids (yes, they’re Jan and Kelly) respond with ‘The Trouble With Woman is Man’. Somehow Dean Martin could get away with singing while chugging a cocktail, but Frankie and Acker both try the same act while hoisting pints and just look like prats. Dusty belts out ‘If I Was Down and Out Would You Be There?’ with the Springfields in a mock-up of Covent Garden fruit and veg market, which is on the all-over-town course because of the early morning opening hours in the pubs.
The Hollies turn up on unthreatening motorbikes, sporting black leathers, and rock through ‘Now’s the Time’ – their heads bob like car ornaments and the song sounds like three Beatles hits thrown in a blender (down to the ‘ooo-ooo-ooo’s) and doled out backwards — as Lance n’ Willie try to fix a blonde’s natty red sportscar. Lance sings ‘If You Like Beetroot, I’ll Be True to You’, which has more terrible fruit-and-veg puns and rhymes than the mind can stand and results in a traditional pelting with rotten produce. Down by the river, the Bachelors – who are so weedy they make the Hollies look like the Sex Pistols – croon ‘The Stars Will Remember – So Will I’. Standing with his arms crossed and looking about as hard as he can, Frankie Vaughan does a rocking swinging arrangement of ‘The Big Ship Sails on the Alley-Alley-O’, which suggests early Britpop evolved out of nursery rhymes and children’s novelty records the way American rock came out of blues, jazz and swing. Girls in tight sailor outfits pose like widnmill girls as Frankie really does his best to twist (I think the coolest blonde is the lovely Juliet Harmer, later of Adam Adamant). In portentous tones, the narrator states ‘unlike the folly of man, all dreams – and all films, thank goodness, must come to an end’ and Richard is woken up by an alarm clock and goes outside with Willie for a gruesome gag in which they leer at two pretty girls only to notice they’re both pushing prams containing babies who are played by Rushton and Percival poking their heads up through swaddling clothes (‘there are eight million unmarried fathers in the big city, and these are just two of them’).