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Fun at St. Fanny's (1956)

Courtesy of Adelphi Films

Main image of Fun at St. Fanny's (1956)
35mm, 80 min, black & white
DirectorMaurice Elvey
Production CompanyAdelphi Films Ltd
ProducerDavid Dent
ScreenplayAnthony Verney
CinematographyEric Cross
MusicEdwin Astley

Cast: Cardew "The Cad" Robinson (Cardew Robinson); Fred Emney (Dr. Jankers); Vera Day (Maisie); Johnny Brandon (Fanshaw); Davy Kaye (Ferdy); Freddie Mills (Harry the Scar); Claude Hulbert (Mr Winkle); Peter Butterworth (the potter); Ronald Corbett (Chumleigh)

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25-year-old Cardew - by far the oldest pupil at St. Fanny's boys school - finds himself at the centre of a plot to get him expelled.

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Described by cast member Ronnie Corbett as "one of the most bizarre films... ever made," Fun at St. Fanny's was the brainchild of comedy performer Douglas 'Cardew' Robinson. Sporting stripy scarf and cap, he'd built a career around his stage persona as Cardew, 'The Cad' of St. Fanny's: a gangly, gormless ever-more-aged public schoolboy. Popular on the wireless, Robinson's alter-ego also had a comic strip incarnation, whose hi-jinx appeared weekly for Radio Fun's seven-million-strong international readership. Cardew changed his name to celebrate his famous characterisation, and immortalised his wacky world of corny 'schoolboy howler' jokes in a feature film, produced by the tiny, family-run Adelphi company in the wake of The Belles of St. Trinian's (d. Frank Launder, 1954).

Cardew's schoolboy fantasy harked back to a venerable tradition of scholastic humour, largely established by Will Hay in seedy teacher mode, which saw incompetent masters swapping aged puns with cheekily superior pupils as they battled it out in the classroom. St. Fanny's revival was carried out in the authentically old-school presence of Claude Hulbert (who had previously donned a mortar board alongside Hay) and Fred Emney, with the innovative addition of some of-the-moment casting: Gerald 'Billy Bunter' Campion (so-billed to capitalise on the popular BBC series), boxer Freddie Mills, curvaceous Vera Day, and singer Freddie Brandon, fleetingly celebrated as 'The King of Zing'. Among the schoolboys were young Ronald Corbett, and unbilled Melvyn Hayes and Anthony Valentine.

Relentlessly faithful to its comic strip roots, Anthony Verney's screenplay drew upon raw material from industry veteran Denis Waldock and showbiz journalist Peter Noble. The finished product combined Christmas Cracker-style jokes, variety set-pieces, and odd musical interludes, but Noble's fellow journalists were unimpressed. "Some of the rottenest chestnuts I have had thrown at me in twenty years of film going," moaned the Evening Standard. "Farce of the crudest order," griped The Times. Perhaps the critic at The Standard understood the film's cheerfully unpretentious strangeness a little better, summing it up, with the faintest glimmer of patriotic pride, as "the British school joke stretched almost to infinity."

Released in January 1956, without a major circuit deal in place, Cardew's classroom comedy ultimately failed its box office exam. Though publicity proclaimed it the first in a series of St. Fanny's films, it was also destined to be the last, and Robinson's tenure as a leading man was over as quickly as it had begun.

Vic Pratt

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Video Clips
1. St. Fanny's school (2:57)
2. Mr Winkle's class (2:18)
3. Dr Jankers' study (2:00)
Belles of St Trinian's, The (1954)
Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School (1952-61)
Corbett, Ronnie (1930-)
Elvey, Maurice (1887-1967)
Hay, Will (1888-1949)
Robinson, Cardew (1917-1992)
Adelphi Films