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My Wife's Lodger (1952)

Courtesy of Adelphi Films

Main image of My Wife's Lodger (1952)
35mm, black and white, 76 mins
Directed byMaurice Elvey
Production CompanyAdelphi Films
Produced byDavid Dent
Screenplay byDominic Roche
 Stafford Dickens
Original playDominic Roche
PhotographyPhil Grindrod
Music under the direction ofFrancis Essex

Cast: Dominic Roche (Willie Higginbotham); Olive Sloane (Maggie Higginbotham); Diana Dors (Eunice Higginbotham); Leslie Dwyer (Roger, the lodger); Wally Patch (sergeant); Alan Sedgwick (Tex)

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A demobbed soldier returns home to find himself ousted by a lodger.

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A 'North country farce' written for the stage by Dominic Roche (hang-dog Higginbottom of the film), My Wife's Lodger migrated south for a West End run in 1950, before Arthur Dent, enterprising head of the tiny Adelphi production company, snapped up the rights for a film version.

Interiors were shot at Kensington's Viking Film Studios (three tiny sound stages); many Adelphi productions were hamstrung by the cramped confines of studio filming, but not My Wife's Lodger, whose comic postwar tale of demobbed Higginbottom's return to a crowded household in which, as the title cheekily suggests, his gap has been filled, benefits from the claustrophobia of the indoors.

The tension dissipates a little in a weaker second half, with the introduction of unconvincing American serviceman Tex and a gradual move out of the living room. Yet Roche's impressively spiky, downbeat script is peppered with dryly effective cynicism. It cheerfully highlights the family's ambivalence to poor Higginbottom's return, and his grim realisation that all has changed. There are unexpected flashes of poignancy and sadness: Higginbottom's gifts - chosen to reflect the ages of his children when he went away - are disdainfully rejected and he faces the glum prospect of his first night home alone, while his wife goes out with Roger the lodger (splendidly played by a sleazy, pencil-moustachioed Leslie Dwyer). There is even a smattering of social comment, bordering on anti-war sentiment. Roger smugly informs Willie that he couldn't enlist because "somebody's got to turn out the armaments," to which Willie drily replies, "aye, otherwise you wouldn't be able to have any more nice wars, would you?" This kind of thing surely struck a chord with returning servicemen who, perhaps, felt a little like Higginbottom: jobless, disillusioned, struggling to reintegrate themselves into an altered community long after the VE Day bunting had come down.

The Daily Film Renter celebrated the film's provincial appeal, cheerfully jumbling North and South. "The acting is of the 'Ee-bai-goom' school and the dialogue is the ripe, uninhibited language of the music-hall... as briny as jellied eels on Southend Pier."

Leading man Roche, perennially plagued by financial worries, hoped the film would propel him into his own television series. Buoyed by a 1956 reissue, he informed Dent, "shortly I will be able to get myself a new suit and a bottle of Guinness." Probably he got the Guinness, perhaps even the suit, but the television series eluded him.

Vic Pratt

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Video Clips
1. Higginbottom's daughter (3:09)
2. Roger the lodger (3:13)
3. An evening's entertainment (3:46)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Dors, Diana (1931-1984)
Elvey, Maurice (1887-1967)
Adelphi Films