If you took the genre of 1970s British comedy cinema, and were to cut it open, then you would most probably see the name of Bob Kellett writ large through it like a stick of rock. Kellett was a director, screenwriter and producer, and some of his most famous output included directing the big screen adaptation of sitcom Up Pompeii! and its two sequels – Up The Chastity Belt and Up The Front.
He also brought us other translations from the small screen, such as The Alf Garnett Saga and Are You Being Served?, as well as managing to unite those two rakish cads Terry-Thomas and Leslie Phillips in the 1975 sex comedy romp Spanish Fly. Kellett’s work was not only limited to cinema, however, and he helmed a trio of episodes of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s television sci-fi drama Space: 1999.
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During the 1960s, Kellett was involved in various capacities in the production of a number of short features which come under the category ‘sound effect comedy’: unlike pure silent comedies, like those of Laurel and Hardy, or Buster Keaton, these films would make use of noise and sound effects, plus music, while refraining from making use of spoken words or actual dialogue of any kind (with only indistinct mumblings being dubbed over the actors).
The trend was sparked by The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film in 1959, which was co-directed by Peter Sellers and Richard Lester, with Sellers and Spike Milligan co-starring in it, as well as contributing to the screenplay. Other examples of the genre which followed on from this included Eric Sykes’ The Plank and Rhubarb, as well as Simon, Simon, which was directed by Graham Stark, who also starred in it, alongside a host of comic talent, like Peter Sellers. Bob Monkhouse, Eric Morecambe, and Ernie Wise.
Kellett’s own personal contribution to sound effect comedy during the decade consisted of four shorts: A Home Of Your Own; San Ferry Ann; Vive Le Sport; and Futtocks End. This quartet – most of which has been available separately in the past – has been gathered together by Network Distributing, and lovingly restored for this new release, Futtocks End And Other Short Stories, which happens to use Bob Kellett as the connective tissue which links them all.
1964’s A Home Of Your Own was produced by Kellett, and it tells the story of a young couple (one half of whom is played by Richard Briers) who buy a new property off-plan, with the short film following the mishaps of the construction workers (who just happen to include amongst their number Bernard Cribbins, Ronnie Barker, and Peter Butterworth) during the building process, from clearing the site and laying down the foundations, to the grand opening and people finally moving into their brand new residences.
A Home Of Your Own is actually something of a snapshot of our society at the time when New Towns were starting to be developed around the country, as part of the post-war steps to recovery by addressing the housing shortage which faced the nation. There is visual comedy a-plenty here, involving having to relay concrete which keeps being both walked and driven over, as well as different utility companies digging up the same area repeatedly, and slips of a masonry chisel when carving an inscription. All in all, an amusing little short film, which once ran alongside Inspector Clouseau vehicle A Shot In The Dark.
Kellett both wrote and produced 1966’s San Ferry Ann, the story of a cross-channel ferry sailing, taking a collection of Brits from Dover to Calais, and the misadventures that they get up to while in France. As well as referring to the featured mode of transport, the title is also an anglicised phrase from World War I, with the original French version – ça ne fait rien – meaning that doesn’t matter; thankfully, the same cannot be said of the film itself. A plethora of names is gathered for this short, with the likes of Joan Sims, Barbara Windsor, Ron Moody, Warren Mitchell, Rodney Bewes, Hugh Paddick, and Wilfrid Brambell.
San Ferry Ann pokes a little lighthearted fun at Brits abroad, including the usual sorts of cultural misunderstandings and differences, such as driving on the other side of the road, and the cuisine. However, it does surprise you by not heading too far down the anticipated ‘Little Englander’ route, and paints a rather convivial picture of our continental compatriots; for example, the unlikely and unexpected kinship which springs up here between Brambell’s ex-Tommy and Moody’s former German soldier, giving rise to a touching entente cordiale, the war only having ended two decades beforehand.
The real oddity of the bunch is 1969’s Vive Le Sport, which – although it still has its lighter moments – is in fact less of a comedy, and more of a cross between a European travelogue and a tyre commercial (with the main sponsor being Dunlop, and their product getting plenty of attention throughout the film). With Kellett on producer’s duties again, Vive Le Sport is the tale of two swinging dolly birds who go on a trip round Europe in a Mini Cooper S, whilst being pursued by a sinister figure trying to retrieve a roll of film which has been secreted away in the car without their knowing.
Coming at the dogend of the decade, Vive Le Sport manages to still encapsulate a lot of the spirit of the 1960s, feeling as if one last big hurrah before the era of flares, Space Hoppers, and the Three-Day Week. Comparisons with The Italian Job are inevitable, given the strong continental flavour, and the reliance on a Mini; however, any similarities seem confined chiefly to surface-level, due to the Mini’s ubiquity at that time. If nothing else, Vive Le Sport is a visual delight, with some stunning cinematography, helped greatly by the crystal clear restoration work, showing off all of the scenery to great effect.
Centrepiece of this collection is Futtocks End, written by – and starring – Ronnie Barker, with Kellett stepping into the director’s shoes at the last minute. The film sees a weekend gathering happening at Futtocks End, the country pile of Sir Giles Futtock (based loosely on Barker’s similar TV character, Lord Rustless). Somewhat surprisingly, Barker actually takes something of a backseat here and, having written this as an ensemble piece, lets all the other characters each have their own fair share of the action, which shows just how generous Barker was with his writing, sharing all of the laughs around the cast.
Some of the humour, however, has not dated especially well over the last 50 years, with a lot of it being more on the lewd and bawdy side, akin to the seaside postcards from Barker’s youth. Cue lots of underwear flashes, garter belts, and quite the uncomfortable juxtaposition between a pair of jiggling breasts and a wobbling jelly. Fortunately, there are certainly enough positives on hand to make up for some of the more lascivious and outré material, with Michael Hordern – voice of Paddington Bear on television – really showing his comic chops as Hawk, the lecherous butler.
Each of the shorts has been beautifully restored to absolute pristine condition, and all look quite lovely, so very crisp and fresh. As well as brief interviews with Kellett’s widow Annie and cinematographer Billy Williams, the package includes a commentary track on Futtocks End, recorded for a previous release several years before Kellett’s passing in 2012, along with a cutdown 10-minute version of Futtocks End, put out on 8mm film during the 1970s for home screening in the age before video recorders (and well before Blu-rays were even a faint glimmer on the distant horizon).
A wonderful gathering of some eclectic little slices of British humour, looking better than ever before, Futtocks End And Other Short Stories certainly proves to be another cracking release from Network Distributing, and a welcome addition to any comedy fan’s collection.
Futtocks End And Other Short Stories is out on Blu-ray on 5th July from Network.