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Friday, 14 August 2009

Ooh it is awful... but I quite like it...

The other night I spent the good part of 2 hours watching the Dick Emery feature from 1972, Ooh You Are Awful. This was made in what could be classed as a ‘golden era’ for films based on popular British TV comedy shows. It was in fact probably the only era that this was happening, but calling it golden makes it sound so much more exciting. Pretty much any sitcom from the late sixties to the late seventies had a feature version made, and they generally did surprisingly well, with the three ‘Buses’ films (On The, Mutiny On The, and Holiday On The) all being in the top ten money making releases for the years that they came out. On those successes nearly every sitcom made the jump to feature from more obscure offerings such as For The Love Of Ada and Father Dear Father to popular fare such as The Likely Lads, Porridge and Man about The House. This sequence ended in 1980, with what many consider to be the nadir of this genre, or even British comedy films in general, George and Mildred. The League of Gentlemen recently tried to revive the genre with a feature spin off of their BBC show, but it remains the only recent attempt, although rumours persist of Red Dwarf and Alan Partridge making the leap to celluloid.
Ooh, You Are Awful was based, not on a sitcom, but a BBC comedy sketch show The Dick Emery Show. This was one of the staples of BBC’s Saturday evening line up for many years showcasing Emery’s talent for impressions slightly saucy sketches which usually involved him in drag (‘Mandy’), as doddery old man (‘Lampwick’) or wearing comedy false teeth. Benny Hill and Monty Python also made features based on their sketch shows, but they were basically versions of their classic sketches just re filmed for the big screen. Ooh differs from this in that it has a single narrative throughout and Emery fits his famous characters into the plot.
The title comes from the most well known catch phrase from his show “Ooh, you are awful… but I like you” uttered by Mandy, Emery in drag as a busty blonde bimbo ( looking slightly sinister yet strangely attractive…). It would appear that there was no place for Mandy in the film proper as she is merely used in a pre credits sequence purely to say the immortal catchphrase and segue into the titles.* The main protagonist is one Charlie Tully, a con man, played relatively straight by Mr Emery. After swindling an Italian millionaire with his pal Reggie Campbell Peek (played by stalwart of British film and TV, Ronald Fraser), the not very pleased spaghetti eater calls on his friends to get the money back. Said friends are naturally some comedy mafia types, you know the sort, moustaches, hats and pin stripe suits. Hereon in the plot gets slightly convoluted. Reggie dies and the code of his bank account (with the aforementioned Italian’s money in it) is tattooed on the behinds of four of his old girlfriends. Thus begins Charlie’s quest to get the numbers, with the help of various disguises. Oh, and for reasons that escape me now, there is also a British gangster Sid Sabbath on his trail who comically thwarts the Mafias repeated attempts to kill Charlie.
The film is a funnier than you would expect romp featuring a host of “isn’t that the bloke from” faces. For me, not enough was made of the attractive ladies behinds. Considering the main thrust of the plot was the fact that he has to see the bare bottoms of the girls, we see precious little of them, the outstanding example being a surprisingly game Liza Goddard with a brief but welcome nude scene. This was of course before she became a stalwart of bland early evening TV (e.g. Give Us A Clue). A quick look on Wikipedia also reveals that she was married to Colin (Sixth Doctor) Baker and Alvin Stardust (not at the same time!). Blimey! But I digress. The film provides ample opportunity for Dick to put on lots of disguises and silly voices including his ‘Lampwick’ old man and one of his ones with the sticking out teeth, but crucially, he doesn’t over egg the pudding as it were and the film remains on an even keel. So to conclude, this is a reasonably funny transfer and well written to the big screen for Dick Emery. It seems a shame that he never got more chances on the big screen; he would have made an effective character actor. He was probably too busy copping off with young ‘showgirls’, but that is another story…
This is the first of my attempt to watch and chronicle every one of the films in this cycle of sitcom feature film genre. It may take some time, years even, as there appears to be quite a few of them… but watch this space for some more musings soon…


* Having said that, the character of Charlie Tully does don a Mandy style disguise to infiltrate a women’s police training centre in one of the funnier sequences of the film. Enjoy clip below...










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