Bob Kellett’s Short Films

July 9, 2021

The great media historian Julian Petley famously used the phrase ‘lost continent of British cinema’, which could apply to many works, from ABPC major features to Rank light comedies. But to those whose film passions were forged by past television schedules, A Home of Your Own could never be “lost”. This 1964-vintage gem would surface on a 1970s Screen Test, sandwiched between the final-reel chase in The Fast Lady and an excerpt from a Children’s Film Foundation drama. Michael Rodd would typically ask a contestant from Salford Grammar School what happened after Ronnie Stevens drove his Hillman Minx Convertible onto the building site.

By the 1980s, C4 might screen Home; in its pioneer days, the channel showcased a fascinating array of British films instead of dire “reality” programmes. There the viewer could marvel at the blend of music and silent comedy in the tradition of Jacques Tati and Pierre Etaix, where the only on-screen sounds took the form of wordless mutterings and grumbles.

In short, A Home of Your Own offered more entertainment than many A-films – and Robert Ryerson, “Bob” Kellett produced it. He had previously scripted Associated-Rediffusion programmes such as the “admag” Jim’s Inn, and in 1960, founded Gannet Films. The concern made an array of documentaries for the Rank Organisation and the Central Office of Information. Another client was Dormar Productions, who asked Gannet to make an “end of the year” film for their parent company Terson Construction Ltd.

This proved so promising, that Dormar agreed to back Kellett’s first cinematic feature. British Lion eventually agreed to distribute A Home of Your Own, which Kellett produced. The director was Jay Lewis, who previously helmed the excellent Ian Hendry drama Live Now, Pay Later. The cast was a blend of the best of British cinema’s character players and actors who made too few films. For example, most mid-1960s cinemagoers would probably have been more familiar with Ronnie Barker’s voice from The Navy Lark than his face. Similarly, the future Broadway star Tony Tanner played a transistor radio addicted young labourer.

Home also boasted a score from Ron Goodwin (plus Lewis’s eye for telling details, such as the site workers’ array of car seats arranged in a semi-circle outside their hut). Kellett later reflected his desire for the picture to ‘show the truth about what happens on a building site – which is usually chaotic’. British Lion released it at the premiere of A Shot in the Dark as the support feature, and Monthly Film Bulletin thought it ‘ a bright, if unpretentious, piece of filmmaking, which is heartening to be able to call our own’.

The following year, Dorman produced San Ferry Ann, which concerned British holidaymakers in France. Kellett wrote the screenplay, and the director was Jeremy Summers. The cast included Barbara Windsor, Wilfrid Brambell, Ron Moody and an almost unrecognisable Brian Murphy. There were also cameos from the aquiline featured Hugh Paddick, Warren Mitchell as a maitre d’hôtel, plus a remarkable array of fine cars, from an MG TC to a Wolseley 1500 and a Peugeot 404. But, alas, the MFB reviewer was not a motoring enthusiast and instead ranted about ‘lavatory jokes’.

San Ferry Ann served as the support to the Boultings’ Rotten to the Core, and premiered at a challenging time for British short pictures. The beginning of the 1960s saw industry hopes of an “Indian Summer” for locally-made B-films, as they were now eligible for Eady Levy funding. Furthermore, Kinematograph Weekly proudly announced ‘the growing realisation by distributors that double bill programmes are still favourite’.

However, this proved not to be the case, for as the decade progressed, the traditional cinematic bill of fare with its newsreels and Look at Life (some of which Kellett directed), began to vanish. As a further sign of changing times, Merton Park – the studio long associated with the crime B-thriller – issued its last Edgar Lustgarten thriller in 1967. Yet, A Home of Your Own and San Ferry Ann seemed to represent a new direction for the support feature – i.e. ones that did not star Conrad Phillips as yet another CID officer.

Kellett’s future projects included 1969’s Vive Le Sport, which starred the Dutch racing driver Liane Engeman and an Austin Mini Cooper S Mk. II. In this regard, the picture was superior to The Italian Job, which used Austin Mini Cooper S Mk. Is. The automotive cast of Vive, further included a very splendid Lancia Fulvia Coupe HF and Porsche 912, while the soundtrack was beyond groovy.

February of 1970 saw the release of Futtocks End, directed and produced by Kellett and written by Ronnie Barker, who starred as a very Lord Rustless like elderly bounder Sir Giles Futtock. The result was an ambitious cinematic version of the picture-postcard world of which Barker was an expert. Hawk, the butler whose formal attire always seemed on the verge of moulting, was played by Michael Hordern, that master of seedy failed grandeur. The two actors previously appeared in a soup commercial as “Mr. Crosse” and “Mr. Blackwell”; and Horden initially told Barker he could not appear in Futtock’s End, as he was preparing to play King Lear.,

Short films were just one aspect of Kellett’s extensive career. He produced Just Like A Woman, a charming 1967 Wendy Craig/Francis Matthews “Swinging London” comedy complete with music from great American jazz singer Mark Murphy. In the 1970s, he worked with Brian Rix, Joanna Lumley, Frankie Howerd, Joan Greenwood, Danny La Rue, Leslie Phillips and Terry-Thomas.

However, this writer’s favourite Kellett film casting is David Lodge and Joan Sims in San Ferry Ann. Every detail, from his jaunty hat to her almost defiant false eyelashes and their Bedford CAL “Romany” camper, encapsulates a Croydon couple nervously venturing abroad. To paraphrase Vivian Stanshall, they almost certainly did not live on the pink half of the drainpipe. And this embodiment of Manfred Mann’s Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James is another reason why Bob Kellett’s films have such a following by connoisseurs of British cinema.

Film Historian Andrew Roberts MA PhD FRSA

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