Suffolk writer finds laughter in the bad old days of British sex comedies
PUBLISHED: 11:24 05 August 2019 | UPDATED: 11:24 05 August 2019
The British sex comedies of the 1970s have long been regarded as the low point of the British film industry but Suffolk writer Alan Stafford has found comic inspiration in their tackiness and has penned a new novel based on a tragic half-finished film
The British film industry in the 1970s went through something of an identity crisis. After the groundbreaking 1960s - which gave us everything from The Entertainer to The Italian Job including along the way such exhilarating milestones as Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, This Sporting Life, Billy Liar, Darling, The Servant, Alfie and Charge of the Light Brigade suddenly we were knee deep in such dubious joys as Holiday On The Buses, Steptoe and Son Ride Again, Confessions of a Window Cleaner, Adventures of a Plumber's Mate, Carry On Girls, Come Play With Me, Keep It Up Downstairs and the entirely regrettable Carry On Emmanuelle.
Despite an array of famous names like Irene Handl, Willie Rushton, John Le Mesurier, Ian Lavender and Liz Frazer these films from the 1970s did not reflect well on the British film world. With the rebirth of respected British drama in the early 1980s with movies like Chariots of Fire, Excaliber, Gandhi, Maurice along with Heat and Dust you would have thought those 1970s sex comedies would have been swiftly forgotten and consigned to a footnote in British film history.
Any yet they continue to thrive, being lovingly remastered and re-issued on DVD and occasionally turning up on late-night slots of retro-film channels on TV. They provide a window onto a different age and for some, like Suffolk scriptwriter Alan Stafford, provides a rich seam of comic possibilities, so rich in fact that it provided the basis for his first novel - Bonkore!
It's a tale of one cheeky half-finished sex comedy being played out over half-a-century. "I am a fan of comedy, all eras of comedy, and some comedy you almost have to apologise for and all you can say is that it was a different era. It was of its time.
"When the Confessions film series were at their peak you have to remember the cinema was where you went to watch that sort of material it wasn't on your computer or on late-night television. I grew up with the Carry Ons. I had just had my 16th birthday when Carry On Camping came out and of course we saw it in the cinema.
"It was a strange time because it revealed the British approach to things of a sexual nature. If there was a film where people took their clothes off and it was a dramatic continental film then it would be cut to ribbons by the censor. The music would be jumping all over the place and the offending scene would be over before it began. The British approach was to make it a comedy, to play it for laughs, and as a result hardly anything was cut at all.
"So this was the background to the book. I wanted to write a novel rather than a screenplay but if I was going to write a book then I wanted it to stand out from everything else, so I wanted to tap into my love of comedy and revisit an area of comedy which is not well remembered and try and match it up with moral viewpoint of society today."
He said that the starting point of his story was the question of what would happen if the cast of a cheap'n'cheerful sex comedy were reunited after 30 years to complete a film that was abandoned in mid-production.
"So you have got this bit of a film and some modern director comes along and says let's complete it. The first problem is that in the intervening years some of the cast have worn better than others... so that was the premise, something I thought had comic potential."
Alan says he remains fascinated by the whole era which existed in a bizarre time bubble. "It was also the era when TV series were transferred onto the big screen and for some strange reason they felt compelled to change half the cast. They did it for Bless This House which was hugely popular on TV and they recast Robin Askwith as the son but decided to keep Sally Geeson from the TV series as the daughter. Why not keep both or change both, not do a half and half - and when they made Dad's Army for cinema they changed Mrs Pike. Dear Liz Frazer took over from Janet Davies who carried on playing the part in the TV series."
He says the nostalgia for the era of 1970s sex comedies informed the narrative of the book as the story opens with Amanda, the leading actress, being interviewed by the new film director. She thinks its just a nostalgia piece but doesn't realise that the director is planning to finish this long-forgotten film.
There is one problem, in that the reason the film was abandoned in the first place was that the leading man killed himself and the film. So remounting the film 30 years on, how are they going to get around the problem of not having a leading man?
The answer lies in the fact that the long-dead star had a son. "The fact that he hasn't had an acting lesson in his life, doesn't worry anyone unduly and Amanda sets about getting the old cast back together."
Alan, who is best known for being one of the core-team of gag writers for Roy Hudd's long-running topical Radio 2 comedy series The News Huddlines, says that Bonkore! sort of wrote itself. "It's good to have a general idea of where you are heading but you also have to leave yourself open to inspiration. If the story wants to take you in a certain direction then you should be able to go with it."
Alan says that he is pleased with the way that the novel has turned out. "I never expected to write a novel - it's not my kind of writing. I write scripts, I write gags or I am researching documentary subjects like the Wilson, Keppel and Betty book Too Naked For The Nazis or the story of Crackerjack.
"Novel writing was a new adventure but I wanted it to be as tightly written as anything else I would do. I was also determined to write it with as much attention to detail as I would devote to my non-fiction books. Bonkore! is about the actors, it's about what's going on in people's lives, it's also about the movie. You get little sketches and scenes and by the end of it, you feel as if you have almost seen this funny British movie from the 1970s."
Bonkore! by Alan Stafford is available as a paperback or as an ebook from Amazon.