Commentary by Judy Harris
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I never saw any of the St. Trinian films in theatres near the time of their release. I was 7 years old when the first film, BELLES OF ST. TRINIAN'S, was initially released. However, I was lucky enough to see the first three films on TV when I was a child. I had always liked and admired British accents and British eccentrics, at least the type that appear in films. Although ultimately 5 films were made, I consider the first three classics; I saw the fourth on video many years after it was released and didn't think much of it (I've recently tracked it down again and my low opinion is confirmed), and finally, in 2001, was able to see the fifth one, which makes the fourth look like a masterpiece by comparison.
The films were inspired by the illustrations of Ronald Searle, who created the cartoons to amuse his friend Cecile Johnston who attended St. Trinnean's School in Edinburgh. Before being compiled in book form, these cartoons were published approximately one a month from 1941 through 1953, when Searle announced their demise in SOULS IN TORMENT. The humor of these books is so universal that 50 years after their creation, they are still much sought-after collectors items. All of these comedies were:
|BELLES OF ST. TRINIAN'S (1954)|
|Clarence Fritton/Millicent Fritton||Alastair Sim|
|Sergeant Ruby Gates||Joyce Grenfell|
|Flash Harry||George Cole|
|Superintendent Kemp-Bird||Lloyd Lamble|
|Manton Bassett||Richard Wattis|
|Albert Fanning||Michael Ripper|
|Miss Drownder||Hermione Baddeley|
|Miss Gale||Irene Handl|
|Miss Wilson||Beryl Reid|
|Miss Buckland||Mary Merrall|
|Miss Holland||Jane Henderson|
|Miss Brimmer||Renee Houston|
|Miss Dawn||Joan Sims|
|Miss Waters||Betty Ann Davies|
|Mlle. de St. Emilion||Balbina|
|Princess Fatima||Lorna Henderson|
|Wilfred Woodley||Arthur Howard|
|Eric Rowbottom Smith||Guy Middleton|
|Sultan of Makyad||Eric Pohlmann|
|Bilstom School Mistress||Noel Hood|
|Miss Anderson||Vivienne Wood|
|Sultan's Secretary||Cara Stevens|
|Alf the Bookmaker||Jerry Verno|
In a pre-opening sequence, we see being riddled with bullets a sign, hand lettered St. Trinian's School for Young Girls.
The opening credit sequence is drawn by Ronald Searle and includes a wonderful caricature of Alastair Sim in his dual role as Millicent Fritton, headmistress of St. Trinian's and her ne'er-do-well bookmaker brother, Clarence.
The plot is introduced early when the Sultan of Makyad sends for the governess of his children to ask for her recommendation of where to "finish" his eldest daughter, Fatima and, coincidentally, get her away from the nearby American airbase. The governess recommends a school run by an old schoolmate, St. Trinian's. By a happy coincidence, the school is in Barchester where the Sultan keeps his race horses, so he agrees. Roger Delgado, the first Master on DOCTOR WHO, plays an employee of the Sultan who drops Princess Fatima off at the train station.
It is here we get our first inkling of what the school body of St. Trinian is like. We hear in the background a constant din of girlish shouts, and observe the fate of a railway employee who, in an early example of a St. Trin's prank, is tied to a luggage cart and hauled away.
As the train pulls into Little Twinings, the railroad employees run for cover. The fire alarm goes off, alerting the shopkeepers to board up their shops and restaurants; hens rush back to their coop; the bank padlocks its doors; a policeman locks himself in his cell. Superintendent Kemp-Bird (Sammy to his long-time girlfriend, policewoman Ruby Gates) helps himself to a stiff drink.
As the bus pulls into the grounds, we get our first look at the Belles of the title. Wardrobe mistress Bridget Sellers has done a wonderful job of outfitting them to look exactly like the Searle illustrations. The girls all wear hats with wide striped hatbands. The older girls wear theirs with the brims down; the younger girls with the brims up. All the girls wear a uniform with a large "T" emblem over their hearts. The hemlines for the older girls are quite short, making the uniforms into early minidresses. The younger girls seem to have an enormous amount of unruly hair.
The girls emerge from the bus, some of them climbing out of the window, brandishing hockey sticks and tennis rackets; the stressed driver has been de-pantsed.
Clarence Fritton, brother to the headmistress, drives up with his teenaged daughter, the cigarette-smoking Arabella. Clarence is dressed in a checked suit as befits his calling as a bookmaker. As they enter the school, they pass a teacher, Miss Waters, resembling a Charles Addams drawing of Morticia, who totally ignores them. Bella tells her father Miss Waters teaches scripture and needlework.
Inside, St. Trinian's is full of armor and bric-a-brac including tusks and a gong. There is a police helmet on one of the statues.
Clarence goes to meet his sister, Millicent. Alastair Sim is so wonderful in this role; he went bald early in life and always looked elderly, even when he was quite young. (He was 54 at the time this was filmed.) He had a hangdog look (perfectly captured in the Searle caricature in the opening credits) and appeared to be a large, shambling man. Here, in drag, he puts on small, dainty gestures and a feminine voice and is just so adorable. Again, the costume created by Bridget Sellers is perfection: A long skirt, ruffled blouse, dangling necklace and earrings, several rings and a bracelet, topped off by a marceled wig and pince-nez glasses.
We learn that Arabella has been expelled for burning down the sports pavilion. Clarence has come to request Millie take her back. After all, Monica Drew was not expelled for burning down the gymnasium. Millicent points out that the gymnasium was insured. She had to make an example of someone to stem the incidents of arson. (In the novel, TERROR OF ST. TRINIAN'S (1954), the school is burned down for once and all).
Clarence has heard that the Sultan of Makyad is sending his daughter to St. Trinian's. He wants Arabella to find out anything she can about the Sultan's race horses. He blackmails Millicent into taking Arabella back by threatening to tell their mother (represented by a portrait of Sim as an older version of Millie) that Millicent has mortgaged the family home.
Fatima arrives and is introduced to Clarence and Arabella. As Clarence leaves, we learn the race course is only a half hour away by car.
Millicent gives her welcome speech to Fatima and two other new girls. Explaining the unorthodox approach taken by St. Trinian's, she says when most girls leave school they are quite unprepared to cope with the "merciless world" but when the St. Trinian's girls leave, it is "the merciless world which has to be prepared."
Miss Holland enters Miss Fritton's office, bearing the post and reporting there is not an ounce of food in the school and, unless the tradespeople are paid something at once, there won't be. We learn the school is also mortgaged, even the school challenge cups have been pawned. The post contains a letter from the Sultan mentioning he has given Fatima £100 pocket money.
Miss Fritton makes a cautious exit from her office while three hopeful schoolgirls wait for a bucket of paint they have poised atop her door to fall, but she hasn't been at St. Trin's since 1926 for nothing and squeezes out without disturbing the bucket, which falls (off screen) on the unsuspecting Miss Holland.
Fatima is getting a tour of the school, including the mistresses' common room, a smoke filled den which reminds Miss Fritton of the ladies loo in Port Said. The arts and handicrafts mistress is having a stiff belt; a monocle-wearing teacher of maths (the very butch Beryl Reid) is practicing her golf swing; the geography mistress is passed out; the English Lit mistress (Irene Handl) speaks in a heavy Cockney accent. As Fatima leaves, the mistresses gripe; they haven't been paid since Easter; we learn one is wanted by the police for an offense that carries a 5-year prison term; one has no teaching qualifications at all.
Miss Fritton arrives to tell the mistresses the Ministry of Education is threatening to close the school, and asks them to pull together this term to muster "the odd school certificate". Miss Fritton lets slip the news of Fatima's pocket money and is soon speaking to an empty room, but it's too late, she has already given Fatima an IOU for this cash.
A gong signals bed time, setting off a pillow fight of such ferocity that the ceiling plaster starts to fall; this is how Millicent nostalgically knows the term has officially started.
At the Ministry of Education, Superintendent Kemp-Bird visits Manton Bassett (the wonderfully dry Richard Wattis). Bassett is all smiles until the Superintendent mentions St. Trinian's. Then he has to take a precautionary painkiller; his "T" files take up 9 volumes because of problems with this school. He sent an inspector there but he never returned; he sent a second inspector and he disappeared as well. Bassett then went to see a psychiatrist who recommended he put the school out of his mind, and that's what he's done.
The Superintendent tells him of a crime wave that occurs only when school is in session: arson, forged fivers, poison pen letters. He suggests putting a woman police office at the school, undercover, posing as a member of the teaching staff. Bassett agrees.
Back in his Barchester constabulary office, Kemp-Bird summons Sergeant Ruby Gates to his office. When he tells her he has an important assignment, she is thrilled: "Good-o, Sammy!" she says. Words cannot describe how fabulous Joyce Grenfell is in this role. She was quite modest about her contribution to these films, calling Ruby Gates a "galumphing school girl" but the fact is that she is just hilarious as the beset Ruby. She and the Superintendent have had a long time (but low key) romance and now Sammy sweet talks her into taking this odious undercover job, as games mistress Chloe Crawley. Ruby is horrified at the false name he's chosen for her, the girls will call her "Creepy Crawley" but it's too late, Kemp-Bird has already applied to the school for her under that name. Blowing her nose, Ruby caves in and agrees.
At her interview, Ruby (her hair now in plaits twined around her head) asks about the school hockey record. Miss Fritton tells her that owing to the "spirit of defeatism" even the littlest girl has instilled in opponents, the school has won every cup in the county. Miss Fritton warns Ruby not to trip a wire that would bring down an axe-like medieval instrument next to a suit of armor. Gamely, Ruby leaps over the wire, to the disappointment of the watching girls. They pass by the spot where the school cups are meant to be. Beneath the stand is the school motto: IN FLAGRANTI DELICTO. Miss Fritton tells Ruby the cups have been sent out to be polished.
Alerted by one of the girls whistling out the window, Ruby spots a man (the side-splitting George Cole), who always seems to emerge from behind a bush. He wears a hat at a raked angle and an oversized overcoat, and walks with a rolling gate. Not in this scene, but in subsequent appearances, a rollicking happy go lucky musical theme accompanies his appearances. When Ruby points him out, Miss Fritton is not sure, but thinks this is Harry, a bootboy she engaged in 1940 when he was 12 before he grew up and grew a mustache.
Miss Fritton takes Ruby to see what the fourth form are up to in their chemistry lab. Smoke billows out as she opens the door. Bessie is busily pounding a considerable amount of nitro glycerine. Miss Fritton tells her to be careful. The girls have a large working still where they produce gin which they lower in cases out the window. "Flash" Harry completes the product by applying St. Trinian's labels to the bottles. Miss Fritton has a taste and asks that a few bottles be sent to her room. As she and Ruby leave, there's an explosion. "Poor little Bessie," says Miss Fritton, "I warned her to be careful of that nitro glycerine."
In geography the girls are learning about wine vintages. Arabella is summoned to the phone where her father tells her that he has a horse entered in the Gold Cup and the Sultan has a horse, Arab Boy, in the same race. Arab Boy has a trial scheduled for the next morning and Clarence wants his daughter to find out his running time, distance and weight he carries. Ruby overhears Arabella saying to her father "We'll get the dope".
A fourth former overhears as well and is tortured for this knowledge by her fellow fourth formers; soon the whole student body is determined to find out about Arab Boy and make money on him.
At the trial, Arab Boy is timed by all the girls. One of the sixth form girls flirts with the stable boy (Michael Ripper looking unbelievably young) and discovers the weight he carries. As a result, it is revealed he can run the Gold Cup 10 seconds faster than the horse who won last year. The girls decide to pool their money and bet on Arab Boy.
Harry is summoned by another whistle and is followed by Ruby to a room where she listens at the keyhole. He tells the fourth form girls that the £20 they have is hardly worth betting, so they put Fatima up to asking for her £100 pocket money back from Miss Fritton.
Miss Fritton meanwhile is getting some sad economic facts from Miss Holland, as her parting duty before she quits. She has £400 in the bank and owes £4,000. Fatima arrives with some other girls to ask for her pocket money; Miss Fritton has no intention of returning it, but when she finds out it is to bet on a horse race, even a "stone cold certainty" of 10-to 1, she is appalled and sends the girls away.
Miss Fritton has twice observed the girls summoning Flash Harry and now puts her dainty fingers in her mouth and lets out a whistle. When Harry isn't sure who it is that's called him, Miss Fritton gestures to him through her window. Ruby tries to follow but Miss Fritton seems to sense her outside her door and sends her away.
Arabella reports Arab Boy's form to Clarence, who is distraught. He's bet all his money on his own horse to win and now it looks as if Arab Boy is sure to win. Arabella suggests nobbling (kidnaping) Arab Boy. Clarence is appalled and sends her away. As she leaves, Bella says if he changes his mind to come to the school tomorrow; some parents are expected for a hockey match.
Next day Ruby, in a coat and scarf, gallumphs onto the field leading some reluctant scantily clad sixth form girls. Ruby notices that one goal is two feel smaller than the other one. One of the girls tells her this is St. Trinian's goal. As the goal is chosen by the flip of a coin, Ruby doesn't see how they know which goal will be theirs, but they show her a two-headed coin. Ruby is incensed at this cheating. She says what about the second half when the teams change over? One of the girls tells here there never is a second half. Ruby tries to get the girls to put up the hockey net, but they skive off. Ruby dashes after them and discovers them having a French meal in the summer house with two men.
Ruby rushes to tell Miss Fritton of this scandal, but Miss Fritton already knows. These are the two missing school inspectors. They are now the school gardener and fencing master. The girls adore them; they meet to discuss things under the name the Lotus Eaters. Out the window we once again hear the din of girlish shouts. Armed with tennis rackets, hockey sticks and lacrosse nets, the girls storm the bus of the opposing team, breaking a window. Miss Fritton sends Ruby off to oversee the hockey game. As she leaves Miss Fritton's office, Harry emerges from behind a suit of armor and enters.
He has opened an outgoing letter from one of the mistresses. It is from Ruby to the Superintendent. Her cover is blown; Miss Fritton and Harry now know she is a "copper's narc in skirts". She has reported the illicit still, the gambling, etc. Miss Fritton tells Harry to tear up the letter, get rid of the still and take a holiday.
At the hockey game, Clarence arrives and Arabella explains the plan to "borrow" Arab Boy and keep him just long enough for him to miss the race with the help of the stable boy who they will bribe with £100 in advance and £100 after the race.
St. Trinian's win the toss to choose the goal. The fourth form are taking bets on the outcome of the game. Ruby tries to referee but is almost immediately knocked on the head with a mallet and carried off the field on a stretcher. The mistress representing the opposing team demands a replacement referee and we see quick cuts of a stack of stretchers becoming fewer, and more bodies carried to the First Aid tent. St. Trinian's wins, to the delight of Miss Fritton and the girls. Miss Fritton awards a trophy but the cup goes immediately back to the pawn shop.
Under stretching torture this time, one of the fourth form girls spills the beans about the fate Bella intends for Arab Boy. The fourth form realize that if he doesn't compete, they will lose the money they bet.
Ruby calls Sammy from the sanatorium. He has had no report from her and tells her Arab Boy has been stolen. St. Trinian's girls were spotted nearby and he wants Ruby to find out their names. Ruby wonders if she pulls this off if it could be wedding bells. Brusquely, Sammy tells her if she doesn't it will be curtains.
Miss Fritton calls her bookie and tries to get her money back, but he tells her the facts of life and hangs up on her. As she emerges from her office, she sees one of the girls riding Arab Boy up the main stairs. Ruby asks Miss Fritton for the names of the girls who went riding but Miss Fritton sends her back to the sanatorium.
Miss Fritton tracks down the horse and admonishes the girls: "pets are not allowed in dormitories." When she hears about Bella's plan to steal the horse (so the fourth form stole him first), she says the horse has to get back to the stable first thing in the morning and the girls must clean up signs the horse has been there because it's Parent's Day tomorrow.
Next morning, the school snitch tells Bella there's a horse in the fourth form dormitory. Bella calls her father and tells him the sixth form has barricaded the fourth form dormitory so the horse can't get out. Harry overhears.
Miss Fritton calls together the staff and tells them the sixth form has imprisoned the fourth form in their dormitory with a race horse. She says they must all storm the barricades because she's bet the school money on this horse and they won't get paid unless the horse can get to the race on time. With the use of smoke bombs and the usual dirty fighting, however, the sixth form quickly defeats Miss Fritton and her staff, who are sadly bedraggled.
Clarence and some of his friends arrive to make sure the horse stays barricaded in. Ruby tries to reason with the sixth form and is once again knocked cold. Miss Fritton reveals to the staff that Ruby is a police officer and has her locked in the headmistress' bathroom.
Clarence and Miss Fritton have a testy conversation about the horse which the recently revived Ruby overhears. She writes down ever word on the linoleum in Miss Fritton's bathroom and rolls it up as evidence. She discovers she's locked in and tries to chip her way out with a toothbrush.
Manton Bassett arrives from the Ministry of Education for a surprise inspection. Harry, who has been directing parents to a Brownie's camp fire as if it were a sideshow attraction, "Roll up for the bloomin' Brownies camp fire", sends Bassett off to be reunited with the missing school inspectors.
The Old Girls (graduates) of the school arrive, properly lubricated with liquor. As they enter the school, trampling Flash Harry underfoot, they make an adult version of the din of the present school girls. The fourth form send a message to Miss Fritton asking for a diversion, so the Old Girls gear up with spears and shields from the wall decorations and storm the barricades. Meanwhile, the fourth form lowers Arab Boy on blankets out the window (shown in shadow as Ruby tries to escape Miss Fritton's bathroom) and hitch him to a milk cart.
Arab Boy appears at the stables in time for the race. Bassett and the two ex-inspectors watch the race on TV, with Bassett sorely tempted to join his ex-Ministry colleagues permanently at St. Trinian's. Arab Boy wins the race.
Miss Fritton is in full stiff upper lip mode as she faces the wrath of some parents who witnessed the storming of the barricades, when Harry breaks in to announce that Arab Boy has won. Miss Fritton regally rises, with a polite putdown to the parents and goes off arm and arm with Harry to collect her lolly and redeem the cups from the pawn shop.
The Sultan, after acknowledging his debt to the fourth form, is about to present the annual school awards. The award for good conduct has not been given out since 1927. Just as he names the winner, however, the lights go out and when they are turned back on the award is missing. Miss Fritton says she will turn the lights out again for 30 seconds so that the guilty party can replace the cup unseen, but when the lights come on again, all the cups have been stolen. As a final prank, some of the fourth form girls topple the table and platform. Miss Fritton just regally sits alone amid the chaos.
Click here for the BFI webpage on BELLES OF ST. TRINIAN.
|BLUE MURDER AT ST. TRINIAN'S (1958)|
|Flash Harry Edwards||George Cole|
|Sergeant Ruby Gates||Joyce Grenfell|
|Joe Mangan||Lionel Jeffries|
|Miss Amelia Fritton||Alastair Sim|
|Miss Brenner||Lisa Lee|
|Eric, the Liftman||Michael Ripper|
|Superintendent Kemp-Bird||Lloyd Lamble|
|Dame Maude Hackshaw||Judith Furse|
|Major Whitehart||Thorley Walters|
|Italian Police Inspector||Ferdy Mayne|
|Prison Governor||Charles Lloyd Pack|
|Chief Constable||Raymond Rollett|
|Police Sergeant||Terry Scott|
|Prince Bruno||Guido Lorraine|
|Prince's Mother||Alma Taylor|
|Charlie Bull||Kenneth Griffith|
Once again the opening credits are shown over illustrations by Ronald Searle. This time they are complimented by the St. Trinian's theme song, whose lyrics were written by Sidney Gilliat:
|Maidens of St. Trinian's
Gird your armour on.
Grab the nearest weapon
Never mind which one!
The battle's to the strongest
Might is always right.
Trample on the weakest
Glory in their plight!
|Stride towards your fortune,
Boldly on your way.
Never once forgetting
There's one born every day.
Let our motto be broadcast
"Get your blow in first",
She who draws the sword last
Always comes off worst.
St. Trinian's! St. Trinian's
Once again the plot is set in motion on foreign shores. This time it is Italy, where Flash Harry Edwards, as a representative (and sole proprietor) of the St. Trinian's marriage bureau, is showing a scrapbook of photographs of candidates from the sixth form to Europe's foremost bachelor prince, Prince Bruno.
Meantime, we cut to a brief glimpse of Alastair Sim, again in drag, this time as Miss Amelia Fritton, former headmistress of St. Trinian's, now behind bars for crimes unknown.
At the Ministry of Education, entries for the Unesco competition are received. The school with the best scores will win a free tour of Europe. Prestwick has his headaches with St. Trinian's. The whole teaching staff resigned when Miss Fritton was sentenced. ("Sisters in crime" is Mr. Prestwick's opinion.) He's had to call in the Army to deal with the 200 girl student body until the new headmistress, Dame Maude Hackshaw, can arrive from her last post at a borstal (reformatory) institution in New South Wales. "Kill or Cure" Hackshaw is how she's known.
The Army has set up sandbags around the perimeter of St. Trin's. A whole radar unit has disappeared, as well as a Bren gun and its crew. Major Whitehart (Thorley Walters) calls his C.O. to request reinforcements due to the heavy casualties and low morale suffered by his men, but his C.O. refuses.
Amid gunfire from the Bren gun, Harry drives up in a 3-wheeled car. The door opens in front. He heads for the sixth form dormitory where the girls are dancing to rock and roll music with some of the missing soldiers.
He tells the girls the prince is anxious to meet them, but they have to get to Europe quickly because a film star is scheduled to meet the prince in June. If only they could win the Unesco competition; the papers were due today and they've already gone. There's no hope the school's answers are correct. Harry has a friend who could provide the correct answers. The papers won't be marked until Monday; they hatch a plot to break into the Ministry of Education over the weekend and plant the revised tests.
At the Ministry, the fourth form drills through the floor above where the papers are stored; Myrna, from the sixth form, cracks the safe. Police drive by and think they spot a light in the Ministry of Education but, luckily, before they can investigate, they are called away by news of a diamond robbery on their radio.
The girls plaster the ceiling, relay the carpet over it, pick up their cigarette butts. The next day when the papers are marked, St. Trinian's has won the competition. Culpepper-Brown (Eric Barker) paces the floor in consternation, eventually falling through the spot where the girls had hastily replastered.
On a train heading to Barchester, Joe Mangan (Lionel Jeffries), Gelignite Joe, who specialized in diamond robberies and was considered incorrigible, runs into his old prison governor. Hastily, he exits the train, and minutes afterwards, the Governor reads in the paper that gelignite has been used in a daring diamond robbery. He stops the train and alerts the police.
Disoriented in the dark, Mangan stops to ask a spooning couple the way to St. Trinian's but when he sees the couple are police officers, he asks for the time instead. The couple turn out to be Superintendent Kemp-Bird and Sergeant Ruby Gates. Ruby reminds Sammy he promised as soon as things are under control at St. Trin's, they'll have a white wedding. She urges him to ask for June off so they can get married as soon as Dame Maude Hackshaw takes over the school, but the Superintendent is reluctant to commit. As they head back to the constabulary to return the police car to the night shift, they hear a description on the police radio of Mangan as a possible diamond thief.
Mangan has climbed over the wall to St. Trinian's, where his daughter, Myrna, is a student.
Meantime, Culpepper-Brown has sent a cable to Dame Maude requesting that she withdraw the school from the Unesco competition so as not to cause potential trouble in Europe. The cable is intercepted by the sixth form who bring it to Harry. Dame Maude is expected at any minute, so Major Whitehart musters his troops to withdraw, just as the Superintendent arrives to search the premises for Mangan. Kemp-Bird is alarmed the Army is leaving them alone with the 200 school girls and warns his officers to stay in pairs. The police spread out in a music hall kind of step as they perform their search, rather more of them than necessary searching the bedroom of Virginia, the scantily clad luscious blonde "school swot" (brain).
As the Army prepares to depart, it is noted that 34 men are in hospital, 32 are absent without leave and 7 are drunk and incapable. The remainder are shown bandaged and on crutches. Hearing the girls have gathered for a protest meeting over the cable from Culpepper-Brown, Major Whitehart unwisely decides to give a piece of his mind to them before he leaves. He is shortly ejected from the building dressed in a St. Trinian's hat and uniform.
At the protest meeting, many of the angry girls brandish swords. Harry proposes a ringer replace Dame Maude. As a diversion, the fourth form tell the police they've seen a man in the clocktower. While the police are searching there, the sixth form spirit Mangan away and dress him in drag.
Meantime the real Dame Maude Hackshaw arrives; the fourth form lull her by once again singing the school song and when her attention is distracted, thrust her through a sliding panel in the wall. A beat later, Mangan appears in drag. Harry chats up the Superintendent and discovers he intends to leave a cordon of policemen around the school.
Mangan says he would rather go to jail then be caught in drag, but the sixth form blackmails him into continuing his impersonation of Dame Maude in order to chaperone them on their trip to Europe, to which Mangan wishes to escape in any case. A fourth former forges Dame Maude's signature on a reply to Culpepper-Brown in which she refuses to withdraw the school from the Unesco competition. Prestwick puts Bassett in charge of the St. Trinian's travel arrangements.
Given St. Trinian's reputation, no transport agency is willing to take their business. Bassett calls Superintendent Kemp-Bird who manages to find a down on his luck bankrupt proprietor of a bus line, Captain Carlton Ricketts (the amusingly venal Terry-Thomas).
The Superintendent, meanwhile, has been chewed out by his Chief for bungling the investigation into Mangan and apparently letting him get away. He feels his job is on the line and sweet talks the reluctant Ruby into going to Europe with the St. Trinian's girls as an interpreter.
Because Ricketts' telephone has been disconnected, Bassett is forced to visit in person. He finds Ricketts living in a double decker bus with a goat. He commissions Ricketts to supply a couple of buses to take a party of school children on a continental tour. When he asks to see the buses, Ricketts shows him two dilapidated old heaps without any tires. Well, Ricketts did warn him they were not in "tip top shape". In fact, a pig is living in one.
Ruby reports to Sammy in her interpreter disguise; she is dressed for a walking tour with pots and pans hanging off her backpack, clanging as she moves. Sammy recognizes her, to Ruby's disappointment; she is further depressed that he disapproves of her disguise as inappropriate but he bucks her up with talk of a £10,000 reward for the return of the diamonds Mangan stole, holding out the promise of a honeymoon on the Isle of Capri. He reminds her of her undercover identity of Ursula Bluette, interpreter.
On the day of departure, the buses are still in such bad repair that one has to tow the other. Mangan hides the jewels in a water polo ball. Cynthia, peeking through a keyhole, observes this.
The Ministry has blackmailed Eric, their liftman (elevator operator), to be one of the chaperones of the tour. This is the wonderful Michael Ripper again, looking considerably older than the stable boy he played in the earlier film. The girls, all 200 of them, are packed like sardines into the buses. Harry has seen through Ruby's disguise and tells the sixth form she is a police officer.
Meantime, the real Dame Maude is trying to saw through her manacles in the clocktower, as huge bells peal overhead.
After their sea journey, the first stop is Paris where the St. Trin's girls win a game of la crosse, leaving the bodies of their opponents crawling off the field. The headline in the Paris newspaper screams: ALARMING THREAT TO ENTENTE CORDIALE.
By now Captain Ricketts has asked Ruby to call him Romney. She has rashly mentioned her hopes of visiting the Isle of Capri, but quickly covered up by saying she has expectations from her grandmother, rather than let slip about the £10,000 reward. While dancing with Romney in a Parisian cafe, Ruby is overcome with longing for Sammy. When she confesses she is engaged to be married, Romney (with an eye on the money he believes Ruby will inherit from her granny) says "Well, I'm blowed." Pressed for details, Ruby has to admit she's been engaged for 14 years.
One of the buses breaks down in Germany. At the Mozart Music Festival in Vienna, the fourth form is a sensation playing jazz.
In Florence, Ruby is serenaded by a violinist to the tune of SANTA LUCIA, as Romney flirts with her. Once again, Ruby breaks down, this time confessing her true identity to Romney, who is appalled to find he's been chasing a policewoman. When Ruby tries to get out of telling all, Romney presses her, saying "One second we're swapping sweet nothings to a Neapolitan love song, the next moment we're up to our nostrils in Agatha Christie."
Suddenly Ruby is distracted by seeing Mangan out of drag; she makes a clumsy effort to see him up close; he pretends to be Italian, and since Ruby has no command of the language, she is not sure whether or not it is really "Dame Maude". She tells Romney of the £10,000 reward and telegraphs Sammy that Mangan is Dame Maude. The Superintendent gets the cable just as the real Dame Maude manages to release herself from the manacles and shows up at the constabulary to lodge a complaint. The Superintendent misinterprets Ruby's telegram; we hear the screams of the outraged real Dame Maude as we imagine Kemp-Bird examining her behind his closed door.
Cut to the real Dame Maude at the Ministry of Education tendering her resignation to Culpepper-Brown. Prestwick immediately sends the appalled Bassett to Rome to bring home the St. Trinian's tour.
The school has finally reached Rome; their hotel is a shambles. Ruby and Romney wait for "Dame Maude" to leave his room and then enter with a pass key to search for the jewels. Meantime, Mangan goes to a nearby room to get the water polo ball with the jewels inside. Ruby and Romney hear Mangan returning; Ruby hides under the bed; and Romney in the wardrobe. Mangan goes into the bathroom and removes his wig; he comes out of the room and spots Ruby under the bed so quickly returns to the bathroom. Ruby and Romney try to exit as quickly as possible, but the fourth form arrives and blurts out their names, as they pick up the ball for the water polo game about to start before Mangan can prevent them. Cynthia finally tells Harry about seeing Mangan stash the jewels in the ball.
At the water polo match, the Prince is there to see the sixth form girls play. "Dame Maude" arrives and, getting the ball from them, suggests it would be nicer to let the Italians use their ball. The game is furious and during it, the ball gets tossed to Harry who runs out of the building, passing the newly arrived Bassett en route. One of the fourth formers gets the remaining ball from Mangan before he can stop her. Bassett arrives and demands the referee stop the game, but no one is paying any attention to him.
Harry brings the wrong ball to the Italian police (Ferdy Mayne). Reading from a book of Italian phrases, he tries to explain the situation. After using several wrong phrases, he realizes the policeman can speak English. He tells him about the jewels (the "real mazooma") in the ball, but when he cuts it open, it's empty.
Back at the game, the fourth formers drain the pool; one of the St. Trinian's girls gets the bathing suit off of one of the opposing team. Bassett and the Italian referee are carried off in stretchers.
In the melee, the ball is shot into the audience, and Mangan leaps up and grabs it. He rushes out of the building, down the Spanish Steps, through the Forum and into the Coliseum, chased by the entire fourth form. Hiding inside the Coliseum, exhausted, he has a momentary blackout during which he imagines himself emperor of ancient Rome, with the fourth form facing gladiators many times their size. However, not only do the gladiators run from the fourth form, but so do the lions. When he comes to, Mangan faces the wrath of the fourth form. He's nicked.
At a party to celebrate the engagement of the Prince to Myrna, the Prince is hit by a tomato to the face by one of the fourth form.
Upon their homecoming to the school, the girls are greeted by the return of Miss Fritton, surrounded by a new teaching staff of men in drag "recruited from the resort where I've been spending my vacation", Miss Fritton announces. Moreover, she has a check for the £10,000 reward money. Harry negotiates with her for his 10%, but she beats him down to 7 1/2%. "See ya later, educator," he tells her.
Meantime, it looks as if Ruby has decided to throw in her lot with Romney. She goes to tell Sammy but she can't find him. Riding along in Romney's bus, they discover him walking the beat, demoted in rank. Ruby realizes she "must stand by Sammy in his hour of trial. It's the only decent thing to do." Romney takes this with his usual poor grace: "Well, I'm blowed." Ruby kisses Romney goodbye, mentioning how foolish she feels. Romney retorts, "I feel an absolute Charlie."
As Ruby leaves the bus and goes to Sammy, the soundtrack plays "A policeman's lot is not a happy one."
|Professor Marcus Canford||Cecil Parker|
|Sergeant Ruby Gates||Joyce Grenfell|
|Flash Harry Edwards||George Cole|
|Matilda Harker-Packer||Irene Handl|
|Superintendent Kemp-Bird||Lloyd Lamble|
|Major Hargraves||Nicholas Phipps|
|Pritchard the Liftman||Michael Ripper|
|Judge, Mr. Justice Slender||Raymond Huntley|
|Policewoman Susan Partridge||Liz Frazer|
|Defense Counsel||George Benson|
|Captain Thompson||Cyril Chamberlain|
|Chief Constable||Wensley Pithey|
|V.I.P. (Whitehall)||Clive Morton|
|Charles Gore-Blackwood||Dennis Price|
|Alphonse O'Reilly||Sidney James|
|Prosecuting Counsel||Mark Dignam|
|British Consul||Harold Berens|
|Daphne Brenner||Lisa Lee|
|Clerk of the Court||John Deeny|
|Madame Myrtle||Rosalind Knight|
|Tailor's Assistant||Duncan Burns|
|Madame Myrtle's Assistant||Daphne Foreman|
|Uncle Gates||Howard Douglas|
|Police Sergeant||Clive Baxter|
|Police Sergeant||Jack Taylor|
|Yacht Captain||John Dunbar|
|Art Mistress||Margaret Lacey|
|Lolita Chatterley||Ann Wain|
|Minnie Hen||Gilda Emmanuelli|
|Maud Birdhanger||Sally Bulloch|
The third film opens with the burning down of the school. The fourth form are enjoying the fire hugely and several of them creep away to hook up one of the fire hoses to a handy oil truck, Mobilgas, parked nearby. One little girl fiddles, like Nero, as the conflagration flares up to become a Searle cartoon. Once again we hear the theme song with words by Sidney Gilliat over the opening credits.
Then we cut to the trial at the old Bailey. All 200 girls are crowded into the dock, accused of the crime of arson. The prosecuting attorney informs the court that not one single girl revealed the names of the culprits responsible. The girls all cheer, while one of the sixth form girls, Rosalie Dawn, makes doe eyes at the uncomfortable judge (Raymond Huntley), Mr. Justice Slender.
The prosecuting attorney further informs the court that no teacher was present on the premises on the night of the fire. In fact, the only adult about was Harry Cuthbert Edwards, who occupies the school lodge. Harry is summoned to give evidence with his usual rollicking musical theme. He explains about the marriage bureau he runs at the school, how it is so respectable, he even "runs advertisements in the 'orse and 'ound and has proper printed notepaper". Harry calls it a public service for the girls interested in a career. Leaning confidingly over the witness stand, Harry explains that he provides "top introductions to eligible geezers, no rubbish."
The next witness is too small to be seen over the rail of the witness stand, so she waves her hat overhead to signal she's there. The judge orders something for her to stand on. She gives her name as Lolita Chatterley Peyton Place Brighton. Before he hears her testimony, the judge asks if she knows what morals are. Morals is "not going out with boys after dark", in Lolita's opinion; the other St. Trin's girls nod their agreement. She gives evidence as to the time of the fire; she is sure of the time because she was on her way home from the race track.
As the defense attorney finishes his questions, he notices two of the fourth form girls peering over his papers; he shoos them away only to find a third, even tinier girl, sitting between him and his colleague at their bench; he lifts her away.
Next on the stand is Maud Birdhanger. She reported the fire to the police and the next day offered to "give them the griff for 200 nicker." The other girls boo from the dock, as Maud hangs her head in shame.
Now it's Rosalie's turn to give evidence; she asks if she might abstain from giving her name, and the judge allows it if she will write her name on a piece of paper. She does this, adding her phone numbers, the regular one and her holiday one. The judge puts this away for further use.
As the prosecuting attorney sums up, he is hit in the face with a tomato. The jury finds the prisoners guilty and the foreman is also struck in the face by a tomato. The judge decides to adjourn the proceedings to consider the punishment.
Back in Barchester, newspaper in hand, Ruby runs to tell Sammy the good news. She finds the Superintendent in a compromising position, leaning over his lovely young secretary, Policewoman Partridge (the delightful Liz Frazer). Ruby reminds Sammy his promise made on the cliffs at Ventnor that "when the bell tolls for St. Trinian's, that means a merry peal for us." Ruby intends to shop for her wedding dress tomorrow. When Sammy suggests they not rush into things, Ruby says, "Rush, after 16 years engagement!"
Next day before the judge can deliver his punishment, he reveals that he's been asked to hear a plea from Professor Marcus Canford (the dandified, tremulous-voiced Cecil Parker). The judge is not inclined to allow this intrusion, but Rosalie mouths "please" in such a delightful way, that he gives in.
Canford is a doctor of philosophy from the University of Bagdad. He has made his life work the study of the child mind. He announces he has adequate funds to establish a new school. "'e got lolly!" Harry exclaims. The Professor has engaged the services of one of the world's great headmistresses, Matilda Harker-Packer (Irene Handl), also a doctor of philosophy. As Canford makes a heartrending plea for leniency for the girls, the little girl who fiddled at the fire once again plays a sad lament on her violin.
There is not a dry eye in the court. The judge, moved perhaps more by Rosalie than by Canford, agrees, subject to investigation of his statements, to grant Canford custody of the students for a probationary period of 12 months. The judge prepares to lecture the girls, but this is cut short in another rain of tomatoes, as we see the statue of Justice high atop the Old Bailey wears a St. Trinian's hat and uniform.
At the Ministry of Education, Butters (Thorley Walters) gleefully sends the St. Trinian's files to the vaults. However, Pritchard, the lift operator (Michael Ripper) comes in with the newspaper to announce the dreadful news of the judge's verdict. Butters immediately puts on the record player, which plays a pastoral measure, and begins to dance, rather gracefully, miming the plucking and smelling of a flower. Culpepper-Brown and Pritchard look on in bafflement. When the music ends, Butters sits down as if nothing odd has occurred. Culpepper-Brown asks him what is going on. Butters explains that his psychiatrist sent him for a course of instruction in dance movement so that whenever he heard about St. Trinian's he can relax. Butters starts to take all his medications out of the trash and put them back into his desk. Culpepper-Brown asks for the name of Butters' psychiatrist.
Sammy is at the tailor's, being measured for a new uniform for his wedding to Ruby the following week, when the Chief Constable calls with the news about St. Trinian's. He cancels all leave and wants the Superintendent to draft extra men because the school is taking over Hannington Manor, under police supervision. The Chief says Sammy can get married but he can't go on a honeymoon. Sammy, greatly relieved, offers to postpone the wedding. Still wearing the try-on suit full of pins, he dashes off to tell Ruby, as the tailor orders his shop assistant to put the cash in the safe, put up the shutters and hide the Harris tweed. He contemplates getting a dog for the shop to protect him from the St. Trinian's girls.
At the dressmaker, Ruby is blissfully having her wedding dress fitted. Sammy calls through the door, but Ruby won't let him see her, as it's bad luck before the wedding. Sammy tells her that St. Trinian's is coming back and lies, saying the Chief insisted they postpone their wedding. Ruby faints.
At the Ministry of Education, Culpepper-Brown and Butters have been summoned to meet with a parliamentary undersecretary, Mr. Gore-Blackwood (Dennis Price). Gore-Blackwood is under the mistaken impression that they have a vested interest in keeping St. Trinian's in existence and, refusing to let them get a word in edgewise, warns them that theirs will be the first heads to fall. As he prepares to leave in the lift, Gore-Blackwood hears music coming from Butters' office; opening the door, he is shocked to see both Culpepper-Brown and Butters doing the flower dance.
At Hannington Manor, the Superintendent and his men hide in the surrounding bushes as Canford, Miss Harker-Packer and the mistresses lead the girls onto the new school grounds. The girls brandish la crosse and tennis rackets and hockey sticks as they once again sing the St. Trinian's song. Some of the fourth form girls, armed with slingshots, shoot darts into the police, knocking them out of the trees.
A car drives up to the school, as Harry and the sixth form observe a man (Sidney James) emerge wearing a Stetson hat. In order to give the older girls culture, Canford suggests to Miss Harker-Packer taking the sixth form to Greece. She points out they are on probation and will need to curry favor to get permission. She suggests Canford "shove on a slap-up festival of culture". She asks Canford to call her Tilly. "All the patients used to call me Tilly at my other place," she says. When Canford asks what other place, gleefully, Tilly says soon she'll be the only one who can "produce a certificate to prove [her] sanity."
The Ministry of Education receives an invitation to the festival of culture from the new St. Trinian's. Gore-Blackwood tells Culpepper-Brown and Butters to go, take careful notes and after that, he should be able to persuade the Minister to take immediate action.
At the festival, Tilly introduces a collection of school dresses designed by the girls themselves. She hopes the guests like these fashions because the girls have "all worked like stink." Two of the items, designed and worn by sixth formers, are a skimpy outfit made out of leaves and feathers and another outfit made chiefly out of playing cards with a roulette wheel on the girl's behind. Butters can hardly tear his eyes away to take notes.
At the art exhibit, Tilly exhorts the guests to seat themselves: "squattez-vous!" ["Squattez-vous" is actually a cod French phrase invented by Joyce Grenfell for her monologue HEAD GIRL in Herbert Farjeon's LITTLE REVUE, 1939.] The fourth form is dressed in smocks, but it's more like a race, starting "ready, steady, go". It turns into a fight when there is a disagreement over paint and the guests wind up spattered.
Later Rosalie declaims the "To be or not to be" soliloquy from HAMLET while stripping.
Gore-Blackwood is delighted with the report turned in by Butters and Culpepper-Brown. But the Minister (the wonderful John LeMesurier) rejects their findings, saying in this day and age an unorthodox approach to education is essential. The St. Trinian's dress design and artwork are to be exhibited in London and the theatre at Stratford is making an offer for their version of HAMLET. Furthermore, the Minister has OKed their request for a cultural cruise to the isles of Greece.
Ruby once again breaks in on Sammy and Policewoman Partridge in a compromising position, on the floor, looking at the plans of the St. Trinian's yacht. Sammy wants Ruby to stow away on board, reminding Ruby that he's always been faithful to her ever since they met at the carpark attendants ball. Ruby, as usual, refuses: "Not on your nelly!" but also as usual, Sammy prevails.
Harry and the sixth form notice that the Stetson hat man is on board. This is Alphonse O'Reilly, Canfield's secret funder. He had approached Canfield in a bar in Beirut with a proposition: £500 to take over the school and another £500 "on delivery". Canfield has not inquired too closely what exactly Alphonse wants with the girls, but the ship seems to be taking a very convoluted route, around Africa, heading toward Arabia. Alphonse doesn't need Canfield any more and tells him to jump overboard.
Ruby (who has stowed away) checks the log book and realizes they are off course for Greece; she employs a ruse to get the radio operator out of the way so she can send a signal to Sammy.
Canford tries to confide the situation to Harry, but they are interrupted and arrange to meet on deck later. When they meet up they smell cooking and discover Ruby stowed away in a covered life boat. Hearing someone approach, they jump into the life boat with her. Ruby tells Harry they are off the coast of East Africa. O'Reilly also discovers Ruby because of her cooking and, seeing Harry and Canfield also in the boat, orders the captain to set the life boat adrift. Unaware of this, Harry suggests mutiny. He decides to slip back to tip off the girls but instead falls into the ocean. Canfield, taking a life preserver to help, also falls in.
Back in Barchester, as Ruby feared, things have progressed between the Superintendent and Policewoman Partridge. He now calls her "Susan, my love" and she calls him "Samuel, darling". When he receives the cable from Ruby, he contacts the Ministry of Education to report the St. Trinian's sixth form have been kidnapped.
On the lifeboat, Canford and Harry row, with laundry strung out drying above them. Canford wears a knotted handkerchief on his head, like a Gumby, and one of Ruby's dressing gowns. Harry is bare chested, revealing a St. Trinian's tattoo. They are adrift on the Indian Ocean but luckily Ruby has packed enough food and drink for six months.
Saying "we cannot afford another Suez," the government meet to decide how to rescue the St. Trinian's girls with diplomacy, urgency and secrecy. Meantime the fourth form have found out about the kidnapping by torturing a classmate whose father is postmaster general and so learn the contents of Ruby's wire to Sammy.
Ruby spots a deserted island and soon the trio have landed and set up camp. Canford asks Ruby her name and asks her to call him Marcus.
The Army has tracked the yacht with the kidnapped girls to Baraca. Their nearest installation is an RASC Mobile Bath Unit. They send a signal to alert them that two civilians will be arriving shortly to negotiate for the release of the girls. Major Hargraves (Nicholas Phipps) is none too pleased to receive the wire announcing the hush-hush Operation Gym Slip, lamenting the waste of their "training at enormous expense" as a "unit of first class ablutionists".
At their campsite, Ruby wears a flower behind one ear. Marcus tells Ruby of his first teaching job, where he fell in love with the headmaster's daughter and got the sack. At his next school, he fell in love with the headmaster's wife. Then he joined the Army and served with Lawrence of Arabia. ("Unusual chap; he used to call me Tiger Canford.") After the war, he got a job with the Emir of Afroda teaching his wives English. "Oh, Marcus, where was your self control?" Ruby asks.
As Marcus asks Ruby to play her recorder (which she is only just learning), Harry manages to get Desert Island Disks on Ruby's radio. Ruby strikes up an Elizabethan lament, "Woe is My Bosom Friend, Lack a Day". [In a June 13, 1960 letter to her best friend Virginia Graham, Joyce Grenfell wrote: "I am, obviously, trying really hard to play it right and that is what is so funny. Cecil Parker's look of rapt attention slowly fading is pretty funny too."] Harry breaks into this romantic interlude as the radio plays "Knees Up, Mother Brown." "Shut up," the distraught Ruby tells Harry, turning off the radio, "You've no soul."
Gore-Blackwood tells Culpepper-Brown and Butters they have been chosen for this secret rescue mission because they're the only ones who can recognize the kidnapped girls. Their instructions will be on rice paper which they must read and immediately swallow. Butters is allergic to rice and requests tapioca paper, if there is such a thing.
The fourth form have infiltrated the Ministry of Education and overhear these secret plans, including the location where the plane will take off. When Culpepper-Brown and Butters board the plane, the girls are already on board and quickly overwhelm them.
Back on the island, Harry spots a ship and signals with Ruby's service bloomers, but it's only Culpepper-Brown and Butters, who have been chucked out of the plane by the fourth form and are adrift in a rubber raft.
In preparation for the civilians, the Mobile Bath Unit is on parade, tin tubs, towels and loofahs at the ready. But when the plane lands, the fourth form swarm out and overrun the place. Eventually, however, they are rounded up and put under armed guard behind barbed wire.
Culpepper-Brown and Butters tell Ruby and company that the southern coast of Arabia is quite near, so they pack the life boat and set sail for Makrab. Meantime, the sixth form has been spotted near Makrab, 50 miles away from the Mobile Bath Unit, who set out, disguised in Arab kit.
In a market in Makrab, Culpepper-Brown and Butters are spotted by the disguised Mobile Bath Unit officers. They make contact and introduce themselves, pretending to be selling something. "I don't want a carpet, thank you," Ruby says loudly, playing along.
Harry spots the radio operator from the yacht and runs after him to the nearby Club Mohammed where he sees a photo of Rosalie billed as "Farida". Major Hargraves, Captain Thompson, Ruby, Marcus and Harry attend the show, at which the radio operator is the master of ceremonies. He introduces Rosalie as Farida and she does a striptease, much to the discomfort of Ruby. Rosalie throws her bra at Marcus; there's a note inside saying "see me behind" which causes Ruby to faint, but Harry explains this means to meet Rosalie backstage.
Her dressing room is so crowded, it's like the stateroom scene from a Marx Brothers film. [In a June 24, 1960 letter Joyce Grenfell tells her best friend Virginia Graham: "We also did a pure Marx Bros. sequence that felt terribly funny, tho' whether it will be - who knows. Into a tiny back stage dressing room, about 3 feet wide, came crowding Cecil, George Cole, Nike P. Cyril Chamberlain, Monte Lairds, a girl dancer and a very fat lady being an Arab dresser -- and me. We all kept moving as we came in, in a sort of circular dance. They say it looked wonderful and it felt so funny we were hard put to it not to giggle."] Rosalie tells Harry the sixth form girls have been taken to the Emir of Afroda, the very Emir whose wives Marcus previously taught English. Major Hargraves points out the Emir has 35 sons. "Cripes, we're outnumbered", Harry exclaims.
Knowing her duty, Ruby takes off in a laundry delivery van, dressed as a veiled Arab woman carrying laundry on her head; the Army take off in jeeps; and Harry and Canford take off on a bus with a goat. Ruby arrives first, then Harry and Canford who bribes the houseman, Yosef, to let them in. Ruby tells them the girls are OK, having barricaded themselves upstairs. She also reports the eunuchs have gone on strike for danger money.
Meantime, Culpepper-Brown and Butters locate the British consulate in a shop. He's also the ICA and Hotpoint washing machine representative. When they tell the consulate they're looking for girls, he misunderstands and brings out two scantily clad Arabian beauties who get them quite drunk.
Back at the Mobile Bath Unit the fourth form tempt their guards with booze. They get them drunk and then raise the St. Trinian's flag. Then they load weapons and ammo into a tank and set off.
Canford and Harry are taken to see the Emir who is surrounded by beautiful women and not pleased to see Canford again. Harry ticks him off as well. Seeing the negotiations are not going well, Ruby presents herself and admits to being a police sergeant. Canford asks for time to speak to the girls and the Emir gives him, Harry and Ruby five minutes.
The Army prepares to advance but are easily overcome. When the five minutes are up, the Emir's 35 sons storm the barricades but the girls manage to fend them off by bashing them in the head, as Harry and Marcus cower nearby. Just then the St. Trinian's fourth form arrives, in tanks, singing the school march. The Emir breaks up the fight saying he cannot risk another Suez.
Back in Barchester, Policewoman Partridge shows the Superintendent the newspaper report of Ruby's triumph in rescuing St. Trinian's sixth form. Susan wants to know when Samuel will tell Ruby about them. Kemp-Bird is his usual evasive self. The Chief Constable arrives, saying what luck that Sammy's fiance is a national heroine; it will mean promotion for both the Superintendent and Ruby.
On the ship home, Marcus asks Ruby to marry him. He admits he's been married twice before; he is a Muslim; the other two are in a caravan on Canby island, but it has four berths. In tears, Ruby rushes away, as Canford congratulates himself on telling her such a convincing lie.
Newspaper headlines announce Ruby's imminent wedding to Sammy. Dressed as a bride, she starts down the aisle, but before she can reach him, a messenger shows up to say there's another fire at St. Trinian's. Relieved to have evaded marriage once again, Kemp-Bird leaves Ruby at the altar, dashing off in a car with a JUST MARRIED sign on the back.
Under the end credits we see one last dance for Culpepper-Brown and Butters, this time with real flowers. Also, for the first time, we see others whose lives have been blighted by St. Trinian's do the same therapeutic dance; first Pritchard the liftman with Miss Brenner; then Major Hargraves and Captain Thompson; and finally the Minister and Gore-Blackwood.
|The entire student body of St. Trin's standing in the dock at the Old Bailey||The 4th Form with their tennis rackets and hockey sticks in full fury|
|Unsuspecting Harry and the 6th form on the white slave ship||Canford, Ruby, Harry and Major Hargraves watch Rosalie do the dance of the 7 veils as Farida|
|Ruby under cover as a local washer woman and her new paramour, Tiger Canford||Culpepper-Brown and Butters with the local British consulate whose Arab girls will ply them with drink|
|Harry and the 6th form plot their strategy with sports equipment as they await the attack of the Emir's 35 sons||Ruby and Sammy at the altar - so close and yet so far!|
The plot of this film is also more surreal than the previous ones: the entire student body of 200 girls is made to stand in the dock at the Old Bailey, the recently-released from the loony bin headmistress is cheerfully vulgar and down to earth (compared to the refined Miss Fritton), mime and dancing is used by supposedly dull civil servants to relieve stress caused by dealings with the school, the sending of untrained bureaucrats on a rescue mission to Arabia, the Army unit of "first class ablutionists" on parade with their loofahs, the eunuchs on strike for danger money - I find all these bizarre twists delightful.
Flash Harry is simply a wonderful character; with his constant spouting of Cockney and other slang: china plate for mate; pen and ink for stink, plus his mangling of such polysyllabic words as "archy pellago" and "curry-culum".
Sergeant Gates is likewise a jewel; so long suffering in her stymied romance with a superior police officer, so incompetent in her job, yet so gung-ho and resourceful. So gawky and plain, yet a magnet for unsuitable men, first Sammy, then Romney, then Marcus. So much dismay or censure conveyed by such a few trademark phrases: "Oh, Sammy!" or "Oh, Romney" or "Oh, Tiger". Such amusing body language and gestures.
THE GREAT ST. TRINIAN'S TRAIN ROBBERY (1966)
|Alphonse (Alf) Askett||Frankie Howerd|
|Amber Spottiswood||Dora Bryan|
|Flash Harry Hackett||George Cole|
|Horace Bedford, the Minister||Raymond Huntley|
|Leonard Edwards||Desmond Walter-Ellis|
|Big Jim||Arthur Mullard|
|Pakistani Porter||Leon Thau|
|Mabel Radnage||Barbara Couper|
|Veronica Bledlow||Elspeth Duxbury|
|Albertine||Carole Ann Ford|
|Susie Naphill||Margaret Nolan|
|Magsa O'Riley||Maggie McGrath|
|Drunken Dolly||Jean St. Clair|
|Miss Brenner||Lisa Lee|
|Gore Blackwood||George Benson|
|The Voice||Stratford Johns|
The fourth film in the series boasts only George Cole as Flash Harry (although he was Harry Edwards in the previous films; now he is Harry Hackett), Richard Wattis as Bassett, Michael Ripper as the Liftman and Lisa Lee as Miss Brenner from the original cast. Gone are the wonderful police characters, Ruby and Sammy. The terrific Eric Barker is back as Culpepper-Brown, but he appears for only a minute and is given nothing to do. Peter Gilmore replaces Thorley Walters as Butters. George Benson replaces Dennis Price as Gore-Blackwood and he is given nothing to do as well. What are we given to replace them, and Alastair Sim from the first film? Frankie Howerd as a train robber masquerading as a hairdresser, and Dora Bryan as the St. Trinian headmistress who tangos with a Grenadier guardsman.
The film opens with the train robbery of the title, 2 1/2 million pounds, planned by an unseen "Voice" (Stratford Johns) who ticks off each step of the plan. The money is stashed somewhere to be retrieved later. Then comes the opening credits, once again accompanied by some Searle drawings which are animated in a limited way, and an awful song about the train robbery.
Then we cut to the Ministry of Schools; the department heads are watching the election on TV, in a festive mood, wearing paper party hats. They are hoping for a Labor win, which they expect to mean an end of public schools. Their highest hope is for the end of St. Trinian's.
Labor does win, the new Minister of Schools is Horace Bedford (Raymond Huntley). He meets with the ministry staff and they discover that not only is St. Trinian's not due to be closed, despite it having experienced 3 fires in the last 4 years, but also the Minister is issuing them a grant of 80,000 British pounds for rehousing.
Then we cut to St. Trinian's headmistress, Amber Spottiswood (Dora Bryan), having a tryst with one of the Queen's grenadier guards. The Minister arrives, so the guard bolts out the window, and Horace tells Amber about the 80,000 pounds she's getting for the school.
Amber quickly reassembles the teachers: Mabel, the deputy headmistress, is released from Holloway Prison where she's done time for running an illegal charity; the math's mistress (the wonderful Elspeth Duxbury) leaves a poker game when she hears about the school reopening, trailing aces behind her. The French mistress (Carole Ann Ford, the first companion on DOCTOR WHO back in the William Hartnell days) gives up her job as an artist's model. The games mistress bolts from a women's wrestling match. The arts mistress gives up her job as a stripper and the music mistress rolls out of a pub somewhat the worse for drink. The Chairman of the Board of Governors, Flash Harry, has been selling vegetables from a pushcart.
Hamingwell Grange is sold to St. Trinian's. The locals picket the site. For sale signs go up on nearby homes. A protest meeting is held which the teachers penetrate and manage to steal the "fighting fund". The residents would prefer an open prison rather than St. Trinian's, such is the reputation of the girls.
Alf Askett, going by the name Alphonse (Frankie Howerd), has accidentally dyed a customer's (Aubrey Morris) hair lavender. He is summoned to his home behind the shop and we learn that the whole place is wired with transmitters. He gets instructions from the TV from the Voice, and we discover he is one of the participants in the train robbery. Now the Voice instructs him to round up the gang for further instructions about retrieving the loot from where it has been stashed.
Just as the teachers were introduced one by one, we are now introduced to Willy the Jelly-Man, Len the Lender (a bank officer) and Gilbert the Wheel (a driving instructor who abandons his student mid-lesson). They meet at the hairdressers where Alf helps them put on disguises. They get further instructions from the Voice through a hairdryer and the faucet sprayer (the one bit of bizarre humor in the entire film).
One of the Fourth Formers, Rose, raids the fridge at St. Trinian's. The girls are having a weenie roast over an open fire. The crooks arrive to retrieve the loot, and the girls and the teachers drive them off by pelting them with free range eggs, tomatoes, lacrosse rackets, hockey sticks, water from a hose and mustard.
When the Voice learns that the location of the loot is now occupied, he tells Alf they need detailed inside reconnaissance. Alf will have to send his two daughters, Lavinia and Marcia Mary, to the school.
Harry has set up a turf accounting operation on the grounds, ready to take bets on greyhound races. The school supplies arrive, and they include slot machines and some dubious literature such as LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOVER.
Lavinia and Marcia Mary sneak into the headmistress' office and discover that Parents Day is coming up. Traditionally activities are held outside, leaving the school empty for the crooks to retrieve the loot.
Pickles the dog has gotten into the hiding place of the loot and Rose follows him and discovers the bags of money. She puts a 50 pound bid down on a race, raising Harry's suspicions.
Bassett and Butters see the Minister with copies of invoices for the supplies St. Trinian's has ordered; they question the slot machines, but the Minister refuses to listen. The Liftman suggests they need photographic evidence and offers to take the photos himself.
Amber dallies at the school , tangoing with her grenadier guardsman. Harry follows Rose into the hiding place and discovers the bags of loot. He finds a newspaper article offering a measly 10,000 pounds for return of the 2 1/2 million.
Butters, Bassett and the Liftman arrive as the Sixth Form are dancing in their short nighties with male interlopers. They also see the slot machines and a machine which dispenses pep pills. They manage to take some photos and march to the headmistress' office to confront her. The Minister opens the door and they hear the headmistress call him an endearment; he is now ruined and will be forced to resign. However, Amber has the girls kidnap Butters, Bassett and the Liftman. She plans to have compromising photos taken of them so they won't be able to accuse the Minister of unethical behavior with Amber.
The caterers arrive and turn out to be the crooks, who put in a low bid in order to assure they would get the job on Parents Day.
Harry phones the number in the paper about the reward for the train loot and arranges to meet Noakes, the insurance adjuster (Colin Gordon) in a nearby pub.
Amber gouges more money out of the parents at Parents Day, forcing them to cough up back fees and also raking in the lolly through Bingo, Fortune Telling and other booths.
At the pub, Harry asks Noakes for 10% of the loot, but Noakes refuses. Harry decides to stay anonymous and keep the loot, but he is recognized by a friend in the pub and Noakes get his real name.
The Voice is somehow aware of what is going on; he communicates with Alf, who is attending Parents Day as a parent, through a transmitter in a Polaroid camera, telling him to eliminate Noakes. Nothing ever comes of this plot point and Noakes is never seen or mentioned again.
The parents have lunch during which pounding can be heard in the cellar, where the girls have stashed Bassett, Butters and the Liftman. As soon as lunch is over, everyone goes outside for the Parents Day events, so the crooks are free to pull up the floorboards and get hold of the bags of money.
The Minister tries to give a speech to the parents but is drowned out by the racing results being transmitted from Harry's establishment, as well as the loud singing of the music mistress who is drunk again. Then the rains come down, forcing everyone to go inside.
Harry calls the police to claim the reward, but the police are not interested because a dozen people have already tried to claim the reward for the train loot.
Alf has had his transmitter/camera lifted by the Fourth Form who bring it to Harry. The Voice, thinking Harry is Alf, gives instructions that the person Noakes met at the pub is to be eliminated, meaning Harry himself.
Morris dancing begins, making enough noise to mask the racket the crooks are making to get the loot.
From what the Voice has said over the transmitter, Harry works out that the crooks must be at the school. One of the Fourth Formers has recognized one of the "waiters" and tells Harry the caterers are the train robbers.
Meantime, one of the Morris dancers notices what the crooks are doing, so he is spirited away and Alf takes his place.
Harry rallies the Fourth and Sixth Forms into a pincer movement but they are too late, and the van with the crooks and the loot drives off. Harry and the girls follow in several cars and many bicycles. The headmistress asks one of the girls what is going on and finds out about the train loot having been stashed on the premises. She calls the police to alert them and claim the reward. She and the teachers set off in cars after Harry and the girls.
Bassett, Butters and the Liftman escape from the cellar but are immediately nabbed as train robbers by the police who have miraculously shown up virtually instantaneously. The Ministry employees appeal to the Minister to explain who they are, but he tells the police he doesn't know them.
The crooks arrive at a train and transfer the loot to it. Harry and the girls arrive at the signal box, knock out the trainman and pull the switches which delays the crooks' train long enough for some of the girls to uncouple the car with the loot. The crooks' train drives off without their noticing this.
One of the Fourth Formers, Mona, knows how to drive a train, so all the girls and Harry hop onto a train, get to the car with the loot, and couple it to their engine.
There is a long and boring sequence while these two trains chase each other, sometimes joined by the teachers in a small inspection train, and two of the Fourth Formers on a hand-pumped car. The police eventually arrive, just as the St. Trinian's girls are about to escape with the loot, but the police just compliment them on getting it away from the crooks and offer them the reward. All the crooks are nabbed except Alf who disguises himself in blackface and puts on a railroad uniform.
The newspaper headline proclaims: 300 MBEs FOR ST. TRINIAN. THOUSANDS RETURN THEIR MEDALS. "A DIABOLICAL LIBERTY" SAYS RINGO. A reference to all the people who supposedly turned in their MBEs when the Beatles got theirs.
Back at Amber's house, she is dallying with Horace when there is a knock at the door. She warns him it is the police and he bolts out the window, but it is just her grenadier guard, an extremely unfunny and non sequitur ending.
WILDCATS OF ST TRINIAN'S (1980)
|Olga Vandemeer||Sheila Hancock|
|Sir Charles Hackforth||Michael Hordern|
|Flash Harry||Joe Melia|
|Hugo Culpepper Brown||Thorley Walters|
|Miss Brenner||Deborah Norton|
|Miss Katie Higgs||Maureen Lipman|
|Miss Dormancott||Julie McKenzie|
|Miss Mowbray||Abrosine Phillpotts|
|Miss Martingale||Rose Hill|
|Miss MacTavish||Diana King|
|Miss Adams||Luan Peters|
|Miss Coke||Barbara Hicks|
|Miss Walsh||Rosalind Knight|
|Miss Warmold||Patsy Smart|
|Miss Carfax||Bernadette O'Farrell|
|Miss Taylor||Sandra Payne|
|Angela Hall/Princess Roxanne||Frances Ruffelle|
|Miss Summers||Hilda Braid|
|Mayfield Headmistress||Mary Manson|
|Big Frieda||Sandra Hall|
|Matilda Harcourt||Suzanna Hamilton|
|Eva Potts||Danielle Corgan|
|Police Sergeant||Nicholas McArdle|
|Man in Phone Booth||Eric Kent|
|Humphry Wills||Ballard Berkeley|
|Air Hostess||Melita Clarke|
|Chinese Girl||Sarah Lam|
|Prince Narowz||Tony Wredden|
|Evan Williams||Jeremy Pearce|
|Taxi Driver||Alfie Curtis|
Thanks to the kindness of Glenn Collett in Scotland, I was finally able to see WILDCATS in 2001. I had low expectations and I'm afraid they were justified, as I found this film was very poor in virtually all aspects, the writing, the sound, the musical score, the editing. Its main failure is that the plot is neither interesting nor believable and it lacks for the most part the wonderful performances of the first three films.
Under the opening credits we see the girls of St. Trinian's dancing. A sign on the gates outside the school reads Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.
The headmistress is the Teutonic Olga Vandemeer. She has only one eye, the other covered by a patch, and eats chocolates obsessively. This time around Flash Harry is played by Joe Melia. He works at a nearby Chinese takeaway, where he passes himself off as a Chinese by the clever disguise of a false mustache.
The upper forms of St Trinian's have decided to unionize and form the Union of British School Girls. Harry, who is a union man himself, tells them they need to infiltrate other schools because only if there is solidarity across all girls' schools will they have any clout.
Meantime, there is an explosion in the chemistry lab, disabling the already bandaged chemistry teacher.
In order to infiltrate other schools, Aggie, one of the St. Trinian's girls who knows typing and shorthand, gets a job in Baron & Rose, the agency that matches up students with schools. Through this ploy, the St. Trinian's girls are able to contact girls in other schools, but no really posh ones. To get into a posh school, one of the St. Trinian's girls goes to a music audition with an audio tape of Yehudi Menuin inside her violin. Through this trick, they find out that Angela Hall is about to go to the creme of the British schools, Hidown Ladies College. Angela is placed on the train to the school by her elderly aunt, Miss Mowbray, but as soon as the train leaves the station, she is nabbed by the waiting St. Trinian's girls and Matilda switches clothes and passes herself off as Angela.
Meantime, the St. Trinian's headmistress can't help noticing that 42 of the student body have gone missing. Hoping to find out what's going on, the young athletics teacher takes the girls out for a swim meet, but they challenge her to a nude swimming contest, steal her clothes and then abandon her, driving off in the school van.
Miss Dormancott, the headmistress of Hidown, calls in Miss Mowbray to complain about Angela's appalling rudeness and graffiti. Miss Mowbray says this doesn't sound like her niece, who is in reality Princess Roxanne, the daughter of an oil sheik, Prince Narowz. When Angela is fetched she is revealed to be Matilda and is promptly expelled. This is exactly what the St. Trinian's girls had hoped for, and when they hear this while playing roulette during history class, they immediately go on strike, barricading themselves with barb wire and furniture upstairs at the school.
Miss Dormancott tries to contact the Minister of Female Education but he's in Monte Carlo on a fact finding mission, so she gets the deputy head of the department, Hugo Culpepper Brown. In the previous films, this role had been played by Eric Barker, but now is played by Thorley Walters (who previously played Butters). A typical buck passer, when he finds out about the kidnapped princess, he dumps the problem onto Butters, who starts to dance, part of the therapy his psychiatrist prescribed. (This was done so much more humorously and charmingly in the third TRINIAN's film; here it makes almost no impact.)
Butters and Miss Brenner from the Ministry of Education climb the walls to get onto the grounds of St. Trinian's, although why they can't walk through the front door is not shown, as the girls are barricaded inside, not at the front gate. They are instantly captured by the girls, depantsed and otherwise abused and released; they rush to the police who give them ugly striped soccer sweaters to replace their torn clothing.
Flash Harry finds out about the kidnapped princess and sees an opportunity to negotiate with the Headmistress some lolly for himself, based on a percentage of the annual fees the parents pay for the girls to attend the school. Reluctantly, as she uses this money for her own vacation, the head agrees.
Meantime, the Ministry of Education has decided to hire a detective, Miss Katie Higgs (Maureen Lipman in a delightful turn), whose previous experience has mostly been providing evidence in divorce cases. The Ministry has arranged to pass Miss Higgs off as the new chemistry mistress replacing the one who was blown up earlier.
Harry now tries to negotiate £2,000 in "readies" directly with the Ministry for the return of the Princess. Meanwhile, the upper form girls are photographed in bikinis with union slogans, including a topless photo "for the Sun".
Michael Hordern finally enters the film, as Sir. Charles Hackforth, the Minster of Education. He sees the photo of the nude St. Trinian's girls with their union slogan in the Sun as he flies back from Monte Carlo. He phones Miss Dormancott and blackmails her into agreeing to reinstate Matilda at Hidown by hinting he will make the place "go comprehensive" if she does not agree.
Miss Higgs vamps Flash Harry and agrees to the £2,000 he requires, but not from the Ministry. If he turns over the Princess, she says her father the sheik will pay.
The St. Trinian's girls refuse the Ministry's offer to return Matilda to Hidown and instead present them with a thick document full of their demands, causing a now bandaged Butters to dance one again. Among the demands are that the girls get holidays with pay, Miss Brenner will become the school cleaning lady, Mr. Butters will become the matron, and Sir Charles himself will be the nude model for the life painting class.
Enraged, Sir Charles calls up the Leftist Democratic Union, the LADS, and asks them to take over the school. Eager for new union members, they agree.
Meanwhile, Flash Harry has provided Miss Higgs with a map to the location of the Princess and a key to the room where she is being kept. While he sets off in a train and a cab on the wild goose chase Miss Higgs has sent him, she rescues Princess Roxanne, bringing her to the Ministry where she is reunited with her aunt, but Roxanne has succumbed to the allure of St. Trinian's and wants to return.
When Harry realizes Miss Higgs has fooled him, he rushes to the Ministry where he sees a letter to the LADS union and realizes the girls have been sold out. The LADS meanwhile have wooed the 6th form girls and invited them to a dance to be held on the Sea Queen, a large boat. The 4th and 5th form girls, who are not yet of the age to find boys appealing, are now at war with the 6th form. Armed with lacrosse and hockey sticks, cricket bats and metal pots and pans, the lower forms storm the Sea Queen. They arrive just as the head of LADS is getting the 6th form to sign a Declaration of Solidarity. The St. Trinian's girls overwhelm the unprepared LADS and soon the St. Trinian's flag is flying on the Sea Queen.
Just as the St. Trinian's girls are thinking of disbanding their union to form an even more powerful non-union, the Ministry gives in on their demands. Miss Brenner has become the school cleaning lady, cleaning the toilets. Prince Narowz returns not only Roxanne, but her 17 sisters to the school. Culpepper-Brown is reduced to washing the windows, wearing a knotted handkerchief on his head, like a PYTHON Gumby. Butters hangs up the girls' laundry, as the chemistry lab blows up again, covering everything with black soot.
The Minister is behind a screen, preparing to strip for his first nude posing chore before the St. Trinian's girls, but he can't face up to it, and runs off in his undies, as the end credits come up and the four Ministry of Education civil servants dance away from the school. A sad ending to a series that began so wonderfully and reached its heights at the third, PURE HELL (1960), edition