Is The Fast Lady the most “1962” comedy film in the history of British cinema? There is the Trad Jazz theme tune, the sun-drenched locations of Buckinghamshire, and various extras who look as though they have strayed from a Ladybird book. And then there are the hand-picked character actors, which include Eric Barker, Esma Cannon, Allan Cuthbertson, Dick Emery (who Wardour Street should have offered more straight acting roles), and the great Kathleen Harrison.
All of this before we even mention the stars, none more important than the titular automotive. The eponymous heroine in question, is a 1927 Bentley “Red Label” Speed Model Open Tourer (coachwork by Vanden Plas). It commenced life as a 3-Litre model, but after the Second World War gained the 4 ½ litre unit – motoring enthusiasts will no doubt have noticed this. In the trailer, the Bentley is offered for £500, 48 years later, it was auctioned by Fiskens for £550,000…
As for the human stars, The Fast Lady is the third Ken Annakin film to combine the talents of Stanley Baxter, Leslie Phillips, and James Robertson Justice. While the first of the three anchors the narrative with a wonderfully acerbic performance, it’s Philips who demonstrates, once again, that he was Beaconsfield’s answer to Cary Grant – Justice gives his best “curmudgeon in full overdrive” performance. Julie Christie plays his screen daughter; the time between the release of The Fast Lady and Billy Liar was a mere eight months, but the gulf between “Claire Chingford” and “Liz” is best measured in aeons.
Baxter, Phillips, and Justice reunited under the direction of Peter Graham Scott for Father Came Too!, a picture that often brightened afternoon television during the 1970s. It virtually goes without saying that any film in which Kenneth Cope, Ronnie Barker, Timothy Bateson, and Philip Locke form a folk-beat combo named “The Scrubbers”, is automatically a screen classic.
Father Came Too! also benefits from Nicky Henson as a Ton-Up Boy, Cardew Robinson as the world’s most inept fire chief, and Hugh Lloyd and Terry Scott appearing in the village pageant. The musical score practically defines the word “jolly”, while Sally Smith is so engaging as the leading lady that her comparatively few pictures is a matter of great regret.
Most importantly, Baxter, Christie, Justice, Phillips, and Smith make the art of comedy seem utterly easy. Their combined talents ensured that The Fast Lady and Father Came Too! brought happiness to countless people at a time when they needed relief from their everyday cares. For that, this writer and thousands of others owe these two films a great debt.
Film Historian Andrew Roberts MA PhD FRSA