Anthony Marriott and Alistair Foot’s farce ran forever in London – Michael Crawford originated the role of clot Brian Runnicles, played here by a slightly miscast Ronnie Corbett (you can’t believe co-worker Cheryl Hall has a crush on Corbett) – and eventually got turned into a film that was predictably slaughtered by critics. In the opening slapstick montage, part of the ‘opening-out’ process wrought by the authors (and John Gale), Brian jogs through Windsor on his way to work in a bank and leaves havoc behind him – significantly, he slams a cake into the face of a baker’s delivery boy played by Robin Askwith, doing a face-splat cameo that suggests this is out to one-up the Confessions series Askwith starred in.
This is, as the title suggests, a very British comedy of embarassment in which an inept pornography wholesaler (Stefan Grief) mixes up addresses and keeps sending obscene material not to the sex shop (run by John Bindon) but a branch of Barclays Bank, where assistant manager David Hunter (Ian Ogilvy), his new wife Penny (Susan Penhaligon) and the hapless Brian struggle to get rid of it before it comes to the attention of anti-smut campaigner manager Mr Bromley (Arthur Lowe). Possibly because of its stage origins, it’s not attracted the recent attention bestowed on the Confessions films and British sex comedies like Come Play With Me and also is less well-remembered than even the worst and weakest of the Carry Ons (Eric Rogers does the score) – but it’s probably more entertaining, even with quite a few dire stretches as characters totter around the screen with huge stacks of a coffee table book entitled 1001 Perversions. The stage-honed business in the flat above the bank where doors open and close and people tumble out of them in stages of delirium and undress offers innuendoes and absurdities delivered to perfection by Lowe and (woman of the match) Beryl Reid (redeeming the eccentric mother-in-law stereotype) … when the vegetarian Reid promises a ‘herb omelet’, Lowe deadpans ‘is that the Tijuana Brass fellow?’
Penhaligon and Ogilvy, it should be noted, are less comfortable, and their strained mugging and posing can’t make the material work. Away from the flat, we get chases through Windsor and environs, though they at least mean we get some nice views of the town in 1973 (the castle visible from almost everywhere) – this features the sort of sped-up action, face-pulling, incidental damage and humiliation (anglers tipped into the Thames) that still gets passed off as officially comical without ever really raising so much as a titter. However, amid the tiresome twaddle are quite a few good lines and some sterling British character acting. Gerald Sim really goes for it as a furious vicar struck with Stendhal Syndrome by the accidental projection of a blue film, Jack and Jill … Forgot the Pill (other titles in the consignment – Teazy Rider and Winnie the Poof) and a lot of other familiar faces (David Swift, Michael Robbins, Frank Thornton, Michael Ripper, Brian Wilde, Sydney Bromley) show up. Valerie Leon and Margaret Nolan appear as cheery call girls in fetish underwear, but offer a Benny Hill level of titillation that separates this from sexploitation … aside from the odd decision to afford glimpses of Penhaligon’s nipples in a bath scene and Michael Bates’ arse when his pajama bottoms slide down. Oh, and god bless Cheryl Hall for injecting one tiny moment of actual feeling and pathos into the hectic finale.
Directed by Cliff Owen, who was en route from interesting crime (Offbeat, A Prize of Arms) to The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones via Morecambe and Wise and The Vengeance of She.