Sometimes, when digitising these tapes, the tape is in a bit of a state. This is an example, with sync problems so bad that I ended up stopping the recording, rewinding and trying again, which fixed it.
I’m glad I did, as this Christmas BBC 1 ident is just smashing.
And so to the first film on here, Clockwise. I love this movie. So well constructed.
John Cleese stars as the pathologically punctual headmaster of a comprehensive school who has been appointed chairman of the Headmaster’s Conference, and has to travel to Norwich to give his speech.
It’s nice to see that he uses a BBC Micro for his timetabling.
I like the fact that, although he is insufferably strict about timekeeping, he does seem to have a slight rapport with the children at school, judging by the laughter he can elicit at assembly.
He certainly doesn’t approve of the music teacher slinking in to assembly late, just in time to play ‘He Who Would Valiant Be’. The louch music teacher is played by Stephen Moore, with the amusing tic that I don’t think he ever finishes a sentence. He’s even called Mr Jolly
His obviously long-suffering wife is played by Alison Steadman, upset that he doesn’t want to take her to the conference.
She drives him to the station, where he gets on the wrong train because he has a habit of saying ‘right’ all the time and doesn’t listen carefully enough to the station staff telling him the train is on the left.
His wife stayed long enough to make sure the train left on time, then went to take three old ladies for a drive in the country. These ladies are lovely, one of them (Joan Hickson) won’t shut up about a relative and the various keepsakes and pieces of family property they’ve ‘taken’ from various family members.
After looking in vain for his wife at home, he almost literally runs in to a car driven by one of his pupils, played by Sharon Maiden. and in desperation asks her to drive him to Norwich.
Steadman sees them at the petrol station, and assumes that Cleese is having an affair with Maiden. She decides to drive to Norwich and confront him.
Maiden’s parents, Pat Keen and Geoffrey Hutchings, believe that he has kidnapped her, and are also in hot pursuit.
Keen talks ten to the dozen, telling the police that her husband is absolutely livid, like a coiled spring, but Hutchings never says a word, just stands there clutching his helmet.
Maiden, we learn, has just broken up with her boyfriend, which is why she’s initially happy to take him to Norwich. And, because this is a farce, her boyfriend is music teacher Stephen Moore.
Stopping to try (and fail) to call the Headmaster’s Conference to tell them he’d be late, he meets Penelope Wilton, an old acquaintance from Teacher Training college, who knew him when he was always perpetually late. She ends up reluctantly driving them to Norwich, until they get lost and stuck in a field.
The cast in this is quite remarkable. Tony Haygarth plays a farmer who’s sitting on a tractor (which is hidden behind a hedge) and has an amused conversation with Cleese as he asks where he might find a tractor.
Michael Aldridge plays the Prior of a monastery where Cleese searches for a tractor.
Farmer Haygarth tows the car there anyway, but Wilton, still angry at having been co-opted, takes the car to drive home, leaving Cleese and Maiden to hitchhike. At this point, Cleese has resigned himself to missing the conference, but now it’s Maiden who seems to want him to get there, even going to the extreme of luring a car salesman into woods to steal his suit and his porsche.
Meanwhile, at the Headmaster’s Conference, everyone in pursuit of Cleese is arriving, to the confusion and consternation of the assembled headmasters – not a woman in sight, I see. Even here, the cast is quite starry (for me, anyway). Including, I’m devastated to say, Benjamin Whitrow, who sadly died only a week ago as I write this. Another victim of the blog’s Death Watch, I’m afraid.
(That’s Nicholas LeProvost next to him).
Geoffrey Palmer is another headmaster.
A familiar character actor Peter Cellier is another.
Cleese does manage to get to the conference, and gives his speech, slightly deviating from his prepared text, as he treats the conference like a school assembly. It’s a lovely piece of writing, by Michael Frayn.
And then, when Cleese leaves, to be greeted by multiple police cars wanting to arrest him, the headmasters all rush to the windows like schoolboys to see the scenes.
And I should also mention that the final scenes of the police cars leaving was filmed at the University of Birmingham, like Nice Work recently.
BBC Genome: BBC One – 25th December 1989 – 22:20
After this, recording switches to Ball-Trap on the Cote Sauvage. A comedy by Andrew Davies about some British families camping in France. Among the cast is Zoe Wanamaker and Jack Shepherd.
Michael Kitchen and Miranda Richardson
Shepherd has a bookshelf in his tent – with a Doctor Who book to boot.
Peter Howitt is creepily interested in the hard-to-reach nudist beach.
Terry Sue Patt (Benny Green from Grange Hill) appears as ‘Young Fitness’.
It’s whimsically entertaining when it’s in Nuts in May territory, with eccentric British holidaymakers. Less entertaining when the men seem to think about nothing but sex. But thankfully there’s not too much of that.
BBC Genome: BBC One – 27th December 1989 – 21:30
The tape ends right after this programme.