Friday, 23 January 2015

The Boulting & Hackney analysis

When "Private's Progress" was shown on BBC-2 recently, I thought it a shame that it was not followed by its sequel "I'm all right, Jack", either on that Saturday or the following one. The films were based on novels by Alan Hackney, who also co-wrote the screenplays. With two exceptions, the major players of the second, set in industry, had moved seamlessly from the first, which featured the army of the fag-end of the second world war. The fiddles of the other ranks were matched by the criminal exploits of officers - incidentally, it may have been the first movie to use that now-familiar plot of "liberating" Nazi-looted art. The collusion of crooked officers and crooked NCOs continued in civvy street as they moved into boardroom and factory management respectively. Even the army psychiatrist (a twitching John le Mesurier) found a new calling as a time-and-motion man. There were just two new major characters in the sequel: the iconic Marxist shop-steward Sidney Kite (Peter Sellers) and his blonde bombshell daughter Cynthia (Liz Fraser).

Lo and behold, yesterday's Film Programme not only announced that a new print of "I'm all right, Jack" was to be released on DVD and Blu-Ray, but also included an interview with Liz Fraser. (Fraser confirmed Sellers' reputation as a self-obsessed villain in personal affairs and the extent of restrictive practices in the film industry. She also cast new light on the sad end of Joan Sims, who died in dire financial straits, in spite of being a stalwart of the "Carry on" series. Fraser revealed that "Carry on" producer Peter Rogers had refused a financial helping hand when requested by Sims and Fraser.)

My view of the films has always been that they were even-handed in their treatment of corruption at the top and bottom of society. Although Hackney and the film-making Boulting brothers ended as the driest of Thatcher supporters, the Boultings at least were more radical and idealistic in their younger days (John even served in the International Brigade in Spain). It was Sellers' performance as Kite which sealed the reputation of "I'm all right, Jack" as purely an attack on the unions.

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