IT AIN’T HALF HOT, MUM. (1974-1981) A CLASSIC COMEDY SERIES REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

IT AIN’T HALF HOT, MUM. (TELEVISION SERIES: 1974-1981.)

WRITTEN AND CREATED BY JIMMY PERRY AND DAVID CROFT.

STARRING WINDSOR DAVIES, DONALD HEWLETT, MICHAEL KNOWLES, MICHAEL BATES, DINO SHAFEEK, BABAR BHATTI, MELVYN HAYES, DON ESTELLE, GEORGE LAYTON, CHRISTOPHER MITCHELL, JOHN CLEGG, STUART MACGUGAN, KENNETH MACDONALD AND MIKE KINSEY.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Shuuuuuuuuuuuuut up!’

‘Don’t be such a silly arse!’

‘Oh dear. How sad. Never mind.’

‘Move yourselves, move yourselves!’

‘Land of hope and glory, mother of the free…’

‘Meet the gang ‘cause the boys are here, the boys to entertain you…!’

I bloody love this television series, one of the best and funniest I’ve ever watched and certainly the one with the biggest heart. The camaraderie, affection and even love between the characters and the actors who play them is just wonderful to witness, and the laughs and ridiculous shenanigans helped my kids and I through the rather grim months of April and May of 2021, the last uncertain days of Ireland’s third – and hopefully last- coronavirus lockdown.

The series will no longer be shown on television, as it doesn’t conform to modern standards of political correctness. It’s racist, sexist and homophobic, according to these modern standards, but it was the way people talked back then and we can’t pretend they didn’t.

My kids and I simply looked at each other and remarked, you couldn’t get away with that nowadays, whenever a character said or did anything outrageous by today’s standards, and then simply went back to enjoying the genuine laughs, jokes and witticisms with which the show is chock-a-block.

The show is set in Deolali, India, and then Burma, in 1945. The characters are soldiers in the British Army, but they’re soldiers with a difference. ‘They is a bunch of bloody poofs,’ as their largely intolerant Sergeant Major Williams would say, or, if you prefer, they are artistes in the concert party, putting on shows for their fellow soldiers to keep up morale and whatnot. Courtesy of ENSA, or the Entertainments National Service Association, or even ‘Every Night Something Awful,’ as screenwriter Michael Armstrong once rather wittily put it…!

The theme of Imperialism runs through the show, as the British are still occupying India for the first half of the series, and then the action moves to Burma after the war in Europe is technically over, but the Japanese seemingly never read the memo and are still fighting away until a certain bomb, lightly handled in the show, puts a definite stop to all that.

The concert party are somewhat privileged in that they are excused the usual duties of soldiers- fighting the enemy, being killed and sent home to Blighty in a box, etc.- in order to dress up as women and dance and perform variety acts and sing all the old show-tunes for the benefit of the demoralised British troops still in India and Burma.

Sergeant Major ‘Shut up!’ Williams, magnificently played by the barrel-chested Windsor Davies, is always bawling and screaming at them and trying to turn them into proper soldiers by means of rigid army discipline, drills, inspections and PT, but mostly he just despairs of them and their unseemly transvestism and ‘parading around dressed as tarts,’ as he so sensitively puts it.

 He loves ‘em too, though, deep down- very deep down- especially Gunner Parkins whom he suspects of being his son from a dalliance with an English bird twenty-something years ago. Gunner Parkins- ‘Parky’- is the concert party ventriloquist and resident comedian (not a very good one, mind) and has a fine pair of shoulders, bless him, and will really make summat of himself one day, what wiv ‘im being so good-looking an’ all.

Gunner- later Bombadier when ‘Solly’ Solomons gets demobbed back to England- Gloria Beaumont is the concert party’s producer and resident diva. He is effeminate and highly prone to ‘getting historical’ (‘I can’t take it anymore! Is there no end to this green hell?’), but apparently not a homosexual, despite the Sergeant Major’s frequent assertions, merely a transvestite who adores to dress up as Ginger Rogers…!

Lofty Sugden is the smallest and feeblest of the concert party, and is therefore the one who hilariously gets stuck with all the worst and most dangerous jobs. (‘Well, ta-ra then!’) He has a beautiful tenor singing voice, and is the pride of the concert party, next to Gloria’s show-stopping razzle-dazzle Busby Berkeley-style full costume numbers.

Gunner ‘Atlas’ Mackintosh is aggressively Scottish, and ‘a big butch hairy haggis,’ according to Gloria. He’s the concert party’s resident ‘strong man’ and tears telephone directories in half on stage. His funniest moment on the show is when he’s dressed as Marlene Dietrich and singing ‘Falling in Love Again’ in the most Scottish accent imaginable. ‘I cannae help it…’

Gunner ‘Nobby’ Clark does lovely bird impersonations and has a great face for comedy, especially when he’s pissed off or taking gentle(!) abuse from the Sergeant Major. Gunner ‘Nosher’ Evans does a paper-tearing act and his main hobby is eating.

‘Mr. La-di-dah Gunner ‘Paderewski’ Graham is ribbed and imitated mercilessly by the Sergeant Major for having a bald head and a super-posh voice due to his ‘university heducation,’ but sometimes he has good ideas that get the gang out of the crazy scrapes they find themselves in in every episode. If his ideas fail, well then, ‘bang goes that theory!’

The ‘hofficers’ next. Colonel Reynolds and Captain ‘Tiffy’ Ashwood are English toffs, basically kind-hearted but they consider themselves a cut above the soldiers and the Indian and Burmese ‘hoi-polloi’ and end each day with cocktails on the veranda.

When there’s a food shortage and they have to break into the maraschino cherries and olives to escape starvation, Captain Ashwood hilariously remarks, in the middle of the jungle, in a horrified voice, ‘what if someone pops round for drinks?’

Colonel Evans is splendidly embroiled in an extra-marital affair with the wife of a fellow officer who’s away in the Punjab. Tiffy, with a brilliantly affected posh voice to rival Gunner Graham’s, is a supposedly uxorious hubby who wouldn’t dream of being unfaithful to his wife Fiona, that is, until a particularly juicy ‘Chinese bit,’ as the Sergeant Major calls her, happens along…

The ‘hofficers’ are humorously portrayed as being work-shy, selfish, idle and cowardly. They go out of their way to avoid confrontations with the war-like Japanese, and they unashamedly pass all the dirty work onto the Sergeant Major, who lives for the Army and wouldn’t dream of shirking any duty, however unpleasant.

The English are definitely as much figures of fun as the Indian characters they look down on. In fact, the three constant Indian characters are constantly taking the piss out of ‘we British,’ and they get a good few clever little digs in about their imperialistic overlords. People only seem to see the racism directed against the ‘damned natives,’ but I’m telling you the so-called ‘coolies’ get their own back neatly at times. Racism is a two-way street, you know.

For the first five series, an Anglo-Indian actor, Michael Bates, portrays Bearer Rangi Ram, the Indian narrator of the series who ends each show on a piece of native wisdom. He was chosen for the part because he spoke fluent Urdu and had been a captain in the Gurkhas, and in any case the producers were unable to find a suitable Asian actor for the role.

Muhammad is the lovely, cuddly char wallah, which means he’s in charge of the tea, and Rumzan, the punka wallah, is responsible for pulling a string all day which turns a fan which keeps the officers cool in their quarters.

Yes, it’s a horribly demeaning job, and people often feel entitled to kick him as they pass by to gee him up a bit work-wise, but he’s dryly sarcastic and sees more and knows more than his dopey British overlords give him credit for.

His ‘thing’ is to speak fluent passages of Hindu ending with a pithy epithet in English that exactly sums up the situation ongoing in the army camp at the time. Who’s laughing at whom, exactly? I tell you, it’s a two-way street, this.

June Whitfield from the CARRY ON movies and ‘Nineties sitcom ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS plays the spicy little Captain Tollemache, the visiting welfare officer for the soldiers, in one very funny episode. It’s funny because she’s more interested in the welfare of a certain Captain Ashwood’s than in anyone else’s, lol, but the- mostly- faithful Captain Ashwood is horrified by her close attentions.

Apart from Daphne Waddilove-Evans, the pipe-chomping Colonel’s occasional love interest, and Ling Soo, the ‘Chinese bit’ – not my words!- that’s pretty much it for the women, except for the odd mention of Gunner Parkins’s ma, who was once the Sergeant Major’s sweetheart. Once being the operative word, if you know what I mean…

I’m glad I decided not to let feelings of political correctness stop me from enjoying this lovely, big-hearted comedy series. It was a different time, that’s all. They were men of the ‘Seventies making a show about men in the British Army stationed in India during the war. You’d have to expect some wildly colourful and even racist, sexist or homophobic cracks. Remember, the term ‘woke’ back then still referred to the time you got up. Don’t let it ruin your enjoyment of this excellent show.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS. E.VERY N.IGHT S.OMETHING A.WFUL. (1972) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

michael armstrong younger

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.

‘E.VERY N.IGHT S.OMETHING A.WFUL.’ (1972)

PUBLISHED IN 2019 BY PAPER DRAGON PRODUCTIONS.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Michael Armstrong is creating history by being the first film-maker to publish his entire screenwriting output. With the original uncut screenplays in print for the first time ever and peppered with a mixture of wildly entertaining anecdotes, astounding behind-the-scenes revelations, creative and educational insights and brutal ‘no holds barred’ honesty, these books are guaranteed to provide a completely new kind of reading experience while offering a unique insight into the movie industry. Starting from his first professional screenplay written in 1960 when he was only fifteen and which he subsequently directed in 1968, the books will ultimately encompass a career that has spanned over fifty years. The books will include not only those screenplays which made it onto a cinema screen but, for the first time ever, all those that didn’t- and the reasons why…’

http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk/publications

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

You may have heard me mention this up-and-coming young fella before, this Michael Armstrong fella whose career as a film director and screenwriter is currently being immortalised in the form of some of the most beautiful books I’ve ever owned, books of all the screenplays he’s ever written, and he’s written a lot of screenplays. His productivity over the years puts most other writers to shame, and writers hate being put to shame, you can take that from me…! It makes us edgy, and we’re on edge enough of the time as it is.

Whether they were made into films or not, the screenplays are all being transformed into gorgeous books by Michael’s publishers, Paper Dragon Productions, and they really are the perfect present for film buffs of all ages. Well, not exactly all ages, lol. Some of ’em are a little blue…! Here are the films for which he’s penned the screenplays:

THE DARK- 1960.

THE IMAGE- 1964. Starring David Bowie in his first screen appearance.

THE HUNT- 1965.

MARK OF THE DEVIL- 1970.

THE SEX THIEF- 1973.

ESKIMO NELL- 1974. A riotous sex comedy starring beloved English actor Roy Kinnear and a young and handsome Michael Armstrong himself.

IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU- 1975.

THREE FOR ALL- 1975.

ADVENTURES OF A TAXI DRIVER #2- 1975.

ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE EYE- 1976.

THE BLACK PANTHER- 1976. The story of Donald Neilson, the British armed robber, kidnapper and murderer who abducted wealthy British teenager Lesley Whittle in 1975.

HOME BEFORE MIDNIGHT- 1979.

SCREAMTIME- 1981.

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS- 1982. The only film in the history of cinema to star horror legends Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and John Carradine all together.

LIFEFORCE- 1983.

Impressed much…? Thought so, heh-heh-heh. Now to E.VERY N.IGHT S.OMETHING A.WFUL, the title of which you’ll see contains the acronym ENSA. What was ENSA? There’s a definition in the book’s Glossary Of References which will do perfectly nicely for our purposes, and here it is:

ENTERTAINMENTS NATIONAL SERVICE ASSOCIATION: Popularly known as ENSA; it was an organisation set up in 1939 by Basil Dean and Leslie Henson to provide entertainment for British Armed Forces personnel during World War Two. Infamously, quality of the shows varied considerably due to an insufficient number of good professional artistes to accommodate the number of shows required by the troops spread out fighting across Europe. As a consequence, ENSA became inundated by substandard acts and eager untalented amateur performers to such an extent that the troops created the acronym E.N.S.A. as ”Every Night Something Awful…!”

In other words, you’d be praying for a Bob Hope, a Marlene Dietrich, a Vera Lynn or a Glenn Miller, but you’d end up with some bozo playing the spoons. Still, I’m sure every act, no matter how amateur, gave it their very best shot and I’d personally maintain that any entertainment, however dodgy, is better than none at all. There was a bloody war on, after all. What right did anyone have to be picky…?

‘E.VERY N.IGHT S.OMETHING A.WFUL’ (1972) is the hilarious story of one such company of wartime entertainers. Headed by flaming queen Ivor Short, they’re putting on a variety show for the lads called ‘Red, White And Blue,’ whether the troops want them to or not, and it’s bound to be Fab. U. Lous, darling. (Channelled my best Craig Revel Horwood from Strictly there…!) Or is it…? I think you already know the answer to that, readers.

There’s a really funny bit in the beginning where someone’s travelling to a top secret army camp in the New Forest and needs to ask directions from a local farmer and the farmer says: ‘But if it be the secret army camp you’re after?- That’s along there- about half a mile. You can’t miss it. You’ll see their sentries hiding behind the trees.’ So much for army confidentiality, anyway.

French heart-throb and international singing star Pierre Lamorisse, the main attraction of Red, White And Blue, is aghast to find that the English soldiers in this ‘top secret’ army camp don’t even have real weapons. I just have to include here the genuinely funny exchange between Pierre and one of the soldiers:

Soldier: Sorry, sir, I didn’t recognise you. I wouldn’t wander too far away, if I was you- just in case one of us mistakes you for an invasion force in the darkness.

Pierre: Oh yes… thank you. I wouldn’t want to get shot.

Soldier: Oh, no fear of that, sir. We ‘aven’t got real rifles- and even if we had, we ‘aven’t any bullets for ’em. No, all the real stuff’s over with our boys abroad. (He holds up his ‘rifle’ to show Pierre.) Not bad, is it? Looks like the real thing from a distance. Yeah, they’re makin’ ’em at Pinewood Studios; churnin’ ’em out, they are- tanks an’ all.

(Pierre stares at him in complete amazement.)

Pierre: Tanks?

Soldier: Only the outsides, mind you. Yeah. Make ’em out of hardboard, they do… spot of paint- looks all right from a long way off. Get a few ‘undred of ’em wheelin’ about on the cliffs makes old Jerry think twice about invadin’.

Pierre: But if they do invade, what will you fight them with?

Soldier: Well… we could always bash ’em over the ‘ead with one of these. They’re good and solid. You feel that. (He hands Pierre the ‘rifle’ to feel the weight.)

Pierre: It’s just wood.

Soldier: Yeah, but feel the quality. That’s good quality wood, that is. Jerry gets one of them round his mush, he’ll soon give up, I can tell you. Anyway, best be gettin’ back to my rounds. Can’t be too careful, you know. There’s spies everywhere, so we’re told. Been a right pleasure talking to you, sir. Have a nice night.

(And moves off as Pierre quickly calls after him:)

Pierre: Excuse me-?

(The soldier returns, so that Pierre can hand him back his ‘rifle.’ The soldier gives a rueful grin.)

Soldier: I’m always forgetting where I put it.

Talk about a Carry On…! However did England win this war anyway…?

Anyway, the company of entertainers includes the above-mentioned Pierre; Ginger, an attractive singer and femme fatale with a string of broken relationships behind her who just might be the perfect woman for Pierre, if they both but knew it; Bertie Rich, a jaded comedian who feels more dead than alive; Marilyn, a faded blonde bombshell whom Michael Armstrong envisoned being played by Diana Dors if the script had been made into a film (excellent choice, by the way); Constance, an older married lady with a theatrical repertoire, who never realises when she’s boring people (she also never uses the Horne when she’s performing); and Madam Merlin, aka Priscilla Clipthorpe, a lady magician (or should that be magicienne?) who never travels without her two bunny wabbits. It’s a motley crew but a good one.

Here’s what happens when French Pierre questions why he has to wear an Arabian Nights costume:

Pierre: Ivor, this is stupid. Why do I have to wear this?

Ivor: It’s part of a themed medley, sweetie: an exotic Arabian Nights fantasy… Ginger’s Scheherazade, I’m the cruel Sultan, the girls are my wives, Jack’s the Golden Slave and you’re a singing eunuch.

Pierre: Eunuch? What is that? I don’t get it.

Ivor: Neither did they, petal.

Bah-dum-tish, lol. This company of elite entertainers must travel abroad to a top secret destination (so secret not even the ship’s crew know where they’re going!) to dazzle their fighting boys abroad with their expertise and chutzpah. I love when Ivor says to Sally: Take it from the top again- and Sally dear, do try to make her sound more like an innocent young virgin and less like Gracie Fields? Heh-heh-heh. Lovely woman, Gracie Fields. Immensely talented.

Here’s what Bertie tells Madam Merlin to describe his feelings of jadedness and ennui:

Forgive me, dear girl, but after you’ve died in front of as many audiences as I have, you eventually cease to regard yourself as a living being anymore. Then: Actually, it was on the eve of my fiftieth birthday that I realised I was dead. Had been for some time, in fact. Just never really noticed it before.

Poor Bertie. And they say that showbusiness is glamorous… The main thing is that the show must go on, as the old showbiz motto goes. But can the show really go on when the troupe is in Rome but their band and props have somehow ended up in Norway? And why does everyone burst out laughing when Constance bursts forth with the song, O, for the wings of a dove?

What prompts Ivor the director to say: I know, to most people, I’m just a funny old queen but even funny old queens have feelings? There are some really touching moments amongst the comedy and quickfire one-liners which Michael Armstrong fires off with the ease of someone doing something they find really easy, lol. Good metaphors are not always readily available, even to a quicksilver brain like mine own. Michael Armstrong would probably have found a good one.

The troupe at least have each other, but what about the troops? Note the rather clever play on words there. Here’s the exchange between a sergeant and a young lieutenant when the ENSA party bus hoves into view of a little European village, where a garrison of soldiers is stationed like a sitting duck:

Sergeant: Think it could be some kind of enemy trick, sir?

Young Lieutenant: Worse, Sergeant. I think it’s ENSA…!

Sergeant: Oh, my God! Better warn the men, sir.

Young Lieutenant: Quite. Carry on, Sergeant.

Carry On, indeed…! All joking aside, folks, on page 192, you’ll find a scene that’ll show you the true worth of ENSA (popular as it may be to poke fun at them) to exhausted, demoralised soldiers far from home who just want to see their families again. I cried buckets at this scene, and you will too.

Can Pierre get to the root of Ginger’s commitment phobia and seeming inability to be faithful to one man? On page 236, he finally nails it. Will Marilyn get her man, or will she retreat gracefully from the arena so that the dreamily swoonsome Fabio can be with the woman he really loves? No woman’s that generous and big-hearted, surely? By the way, do you guys know what the words MINAS TERRESTRAS mean, because ENSA sure don’t…! And finally:

‘And here we have it!… A spectacular musical revue called Red, White & Blue… Ivor Short and Company: Jack Adair, Ginger Lawrence, Sally Meadows, Bertie Rich, Marilyn Turner, Constance Blythe with Speciality Madam Merlin and special guest star, Pierre Lamorisse. Acting understudy and ASM, Edith Nightingale. Band: Billy Rainbow & His Big Band. Touring Company- Category B.’

E.VERY N.IGHT S.OMETHING A.WFUL, in addition to THE MAZE and ROBIN HOOD, is available to buy now from Michael Armstrong’s website and his publishers, Paper Dragon Productions. Don’t waste any time. Go get ’em!

http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk/publications

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

By the way, Sherlock Holmes had his Irene Adler and Mr. Spode from Bertie Wooster his ‘Eulalie.’ If you ever want to see a grown man cry like a little girl, you have but to whisper one word into Michael Armstrong’s shell-like… Ryman…

See you guys next time!

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor