"For a comedy now 50 years old, with a dose of Carry On elements thrown in, Bless This House stands up surprisingly well to the oft-criticised political correctness scrutiny"
What would happen if you let the producers of the Carry On films loose on a feature length movie of a popular domestic sitcom? The answer was essentially what fans were treated to in 1972 when Rank released a movie version of Bless This House.
Bless This House was already a huge success for Thames TV when after two series, it was given the Carry On treatment in a feature length story. It tells the story of Sid Abbot (Sid James) and his wife Jean (Diana Coupland). Sid is a salesman of stationery. Sid wants a simple life, but is highly unlikely to get it. He has a nice home, beautiful garden and at the bottom of that garden he buys a shed where he hopes to get away from the stresses of the world by turning rhubarb wine into brandy, with the loyal assistance of pal Trevor (Peter Butterworth). Just like the rest of his plans though, things don’t turn out as he’d hoped.
While his best friend Trevor lives next door with wife Betty (Patsy Rowlands), to Sid’s horror, the neighbours on the other side are moving away. That in itself is not an issue, but the incoming neighbours are more of a concern. Neighbour Annie Hobbs (Janet Brown) can only reassure the Abbots by constantly repeating, ‘he’s alright’, thereby implying that the surface version of the incoming residents is of concern.
When they do arrive, the neighbours are exactly as promised – well, he is. Enter Ronald and Vera Baines, played by Terry Scott and June Whitfield. When describing Ronald (he’s most particular that his name is not shortened to Ron), the most critical Annie could be was to describe him as pompous and a bit of a big head…both of which are true.
Within Sid’s suburban life are two children, now on the cusp of adulthood. Son Mike (Robin Askwith) is an art student, but as for most students, money is hard to come by. To supplement his studies Mike takes a job in the kitchen of the local greasy spoon café. It is here that over orders of egg and chips, his eyes and heart are caught by Kate (Carol Hawkins), a new starter in the café and unfortunately, the daughter of Ronald and Vera.
Meantime, Sid must also deal with daughter Sally (Sally Gleeson), who even in the 1970s has realised that man’s over-consumption and reckless polluting is sending the natural world into a death spiral. A member of the Junior Anti-pollution League, she causes havoc putting out the bonfire of her departing neighbours and exacerbates her father’s frustrations when she attends a protest against non-re-useable packaging at the same company where Sid is trying to close a sales deal.
Inevitably, Sid and Ronald do not get along while their wives retain a more reasonable reconciliatory tone across the garden fence. By the time the Baineses move in, the pair have already clashed on a number of occasions. Sally has drenched Ronald with her fire quenching skills with the hosepipe and Mike has further antagonised by blocking the removal van when his flowery Morris Minor convertible, an apparent steal for £12, breaks down in the street. All the while, Sid and Jean are trying to repair a large hole in the plaster of the vacant home that the Baineses are buying, but merely end up making things worse.
There are plenty of other incidents that further contribute to the leading men’s mistrust of one another, not least of which is the fact that Sid and Trevor’s home brewing skills risk the wrath of the profession of Ronald – an officer at the Customs and Excise.
When Mike and Kate decide to get engaged, Sid and Ronald are forced to consider the possibility that they will have to get along, but it takes an old fashioned pie-throwing scene at the café to throw them together as they are taken to the local police station for their involvement.
The movie wraps up with the untimely failure of the brandy-making enterprise causing havoc with the wedding plans and threatening Mike and Kate’s union, or at the very least Sid and Ronald’s involvement in the festivities.
For a comedy now 50 years old, with a dose of Carry On elements thrown in, Bless This House stands up surprisingly well to the oft-criticised political correctness scrutiny. The closest to unacceptable jokes is Sid’s disgust at Jean and Betty opening an antiques unit at the indoor market. Sid is appalled. He doesn’t think she should be working – in his eyes, it’s degrading and he further vents his concern that nobody will be there to do the cooking. Old fashioned beliefs indeed, but Sid doesn’t get his way and the stall becomes a source of better relations among the female lead characters.
Sally’s environmental concerns are well ahead of their time, if struggling for scientific fact. She is reading a book called ‘Mankind is Doomed’ when we first meet her, and when protesting they empty a sack full of tin cans as an example of single use packaging.
The influence of the Carry On producer Peter Rogers and director Gerald Thomas is all around, from the very first seconds when a typically upbeat Eric Rogers soundtrack welcomes the movie in Carry On style. Indeed, Coupland aside, most of the cast are Carry On regulars. Gleeson and Hawkins were just months before to be found as pals going away to Hell’s Bells holiday resort in Carry On Abroad, and Butterworth was of course one of the most reliable of the Carry On stable of actors, here bumbling his way into a floor of wet concrete in the kind of slapstick scene that he was always so adept.
That level of Carry On casting meant some absentees from the TV series. Askwith’s turn as Mike took over from Robin Stewart, while Butterworth took the role of Trevor played by Anthony Jackson on the small screen.
There are some minor cameos from stars in the making. Frank Thornton appears as a disapproving potential client of Sid’s who witnesses the chaos of Sally’s packaging protest, sneering in the manner that we would soon come to love from Captain Peacock. There is also a glimpse of another future Are You Being Served? stalwart in the form of Wendy Richard, whose angry resignation from the café creates the staff opening for Kate to fill. Roll this in with the appearance of Terry Scott and June Whitfield as a married couple, something television would see for many years to come, and it’s safe to say that the movies version of Bless This House was in good hands.
The basic storyline of Bless This House is that of feuding and rather pig-headed neighbours, brought begrudgingly into line by circumstances as well as their wives. The Carry On feel is always there, but isn’t heavy handed and while the story is fairly skimpy, the film is enjoyable stuff. Scott is pompous but more understated than his Terry and June incarnation, Butterworth is simple and supportive and it’s nice to see him perform alongside real life wife Brown. And then Sid James is…well, he’s Sid, as always. And who can be disappointed with that?
Review by Brian Slade:
Born and raised in Dorset, Brian Slade turned his back on a twenty-five-year career in IT in order to satisfy his writing passions. After success with magazine articles and smaller biographical pieces, he published his first full-length work, `Simon Cadell: The Authorised Biography'.
Brian is a devoted fan of the comedy stars of yesteryear, citing Eric Morecambe, Ken Dodd, Harpo Marx and Dudley Moore amongst his personal favourites. He was drawn to the story of Simon Cadell through not only `Hi-de-hi!' but also `Life Without George', a programme he identified with having grown up in the Thatcher era.
Published on January 27th, 2022. Written by Brian Slade for Television Heaven.