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Carlton-Browne of the F.O. (1959)


Main image of Carlton-Browne of the F.O. (1959)
DirectorJeffrey Dell
 Roy Boulting
Production CompanyCharter Film Productions
ProducerJohn Boulting
Original Story Jeffrey Dell,
& ScreenplayRoy Boulting
CinematographyMax Greene

Cast: Terry-Thomas (Cadogan de Vere Carlton-Browne); Peter Sellers (Prime Minister Amphibulos); Ian Bannen (young King Loris); Thorley Walters (Colonel Bellingham); Raymond Huntley (foreign secretary Tufton-Slade)

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Foreign Office diplomat Carlton-Browne is dispatched to the remote British colony of Gaillardia to sort out a little local difficulty that's threatening to escalate to full-scale revolution. But can this incompetent upper-class twit have any real influence?

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Having poked fun at the British Army (Private's Progress, 1956), legal system (Brothers in Law, 1957) and universities (Lucky Jim, 1957), the Boulting Brothers turned their attention to the Foreign Office. In so doing, they widened their satirical range beyond the domestic scene and into the arena of world politics. Carlton-Browne of the F.O. (1959) explored such topical issues as Britain's colonial collapse, the cold war, and even the volatile subject of partition.

The Boultings' mixture of satire and broad comedy in this context was not universally well received: the Monthly Film Bulletin thought their position "invidious" and the comedy "uncomfortable". The topicality having faded, however, the film can more readily be enjoyed as a timely lampoon of outmoded imperialist attitudes and bureaucratic ineptitude.

Everything about the British government's response to the story's complicated international situation seems outdated and inadequate. The colony of Gaillardia, only discovered in the first place when a ship ran into it in the dark, retains its resident adviser, who contacts London for the first time over forty years after he should have been recalled.

Following extensive research to discover where Gaillardia actually is, the island's problems are placed in the less-than-capable hands of Cadogan De Vere Carlton-Browne, head of the catch-all department of Miscellaneous Territories. Carlton-Browne, who only obtained a Foreign Office position due to his father's distinguished career, typically reacts to the news that he is being sent to Gaillardia by pointing out that he will miss Ascot as a result.

Terry-Thomas is in fine form playing the incompetent, upper-class twit Carlton-Browne, some way from the archetypal 'bounder' roles which would later become his trademark. He does, however, manage a raffish "good show!" as he ogles some scantily-clad Gaillardian dancing girls.

Among the rest of the cast, many - including Thorley Walters, Ian Bannen, Irene Handl and John Le Mesurier - were already recognisable as members of the Boultings' repertory company. An important new addition, though, was Peter Sellers, noted for his repertoire of voices, but with a track record in films which already indicated that he could be relied upon to portray a comical foreigner without resorting to caricature.

Taken as a whole, the film certainly uses slapstick and farce among its comic weapons, but is no less effective for that in declaring war on the British establishment's hypocrisy and confusion in the face of post-war decline.

Tony Whitehead

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Video Clips
1. A Ministry summons (1:58)
2. To Gaillardia (3:42)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Addison, John (1920-1998)
Bannen, Ian (1928-1999)
Boulting, John (1913-1985)
Boulting, Roy (1913-2001)
Handl, Irene (1901-1987)
Le Mesurier, John (1912-1983)
Malleson, Miles (1888-1969)
Parsons, Nicholas (1928-)
Sellers, Peter (1925-1980)
Terry-Thomas (1911-1990)
Boulting Brothers