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Belles of St Trinian's, The (1954)


Main image of Belles of St Trinian's, The (1954)
35mm, black and white, 91 mins
DirectorFrank Launder
Production CompaniesLondon Film Productions, British Lion Film Corporation
ScreenplayFrank Launder, Sidney Gilliat, Val Valentine
PhotographyStan Pavey

Cast: Alastair Sim (Miss Millicent Fritton/Clarence Fritton); Joyce Grenfell (Police Sergeant Ruby Gates); George Cole (Flash Harry); Hermione Baddeley (Miss Drownder); Betty Ann Davies (Miss Waters)

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Miss Fritton is headmistress of St Trinian's, where her unorthodox doctrine and free expression has brought her a collection of very uninhibited pupils. The arrival of a wealthy Sultan's daughter as a new pupil leads to involvement in the kidnapping of a prize racehorse.

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The Happiest Days of Your Life (d. Frank Launder, 1950) was such a huge success that a follow-up was inevitable - and Ronald Searle's much-loved cartoons about the riotous, thankfully fictional girls' school St Trinian's (1941-52) provided the perfect inspiration.

The Belles of St Trinian's (d. Launder, 1954) reunited Alastair Sim and Joyce Grenfell and threw in a bevy of 1950s character actors. The standout is George Cole as Flash Harry, Arthur Daley's spiritual ancestor, but there's sterling support from Hermione Baddeley, Irene Handl, Beryl Reid, Joan Sims and Sid James, while cameos include Searle and his wife and editor Kaye Webb as concerned parents.

St Trinian's is presided over the genial Miss Millicent Fritton (Sim in drag), whose philosophy is summed up as: "in other schools girls are sent out quite unprepared into a merciless world, but when our girls leave here, it is the merciless world which has to be prepared".

The girls themselves come in two categories - the fourth form, most closely resembling Searle's original drawings of ink-stained, ungovernable pranksters, and the much older sixth form (one of them is even married), sexually precocious to a degree that must have seemed somewhat alarming in 1954.

Sex, smoking, drinking and especially gambling aren't on the official curriculum, but they're not exactly frowned upon, and one of the most telling moments comes when the spiv Flash Harry is asked if he's a teacher and he replies "In a way" - his role as their bookie has certainly taught the girls plenty about economics.

Although much sillier than Launder and co-writer/co-producer Sidney Gilliat's previous films, there are glimpses of more sophisticated satire drawing upon images of (then) contemporary British society. Here, targets include "progressive" education (usually anything but) and the precarious situation faced by private boarding schools in the postwar years, extreme cash shortages affecting not only facilities and staff salaries but also basic necessities like food. It's no wonder Miss Fritton turns to gambling to keep the school afloat - there's precious little else holding it together.

Four sequels followed - Blue Murder at St Trinian's (1957), The Pure Hell of St Trinian's (1960), The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery (1966) and The Wildcats of St Trinian's (1980). All were directed and co-written by Launder, with both Gilliat's involvement and the films' quality progressively diminishing. Sim dropped out after Blue Murder, Grenfell and Cole after Pure Hell.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. The new intake (4:05)
2. Fixing the goal (3:14)
3. Pets in the dorm (2:37)
Production stills
Publicity materials
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Fun at St. Fanny's (1956)
Happiest Days of Your Life, The (1950)
Educating Marmalade/ Danger: Marmalade at Work (1982-84)
Arnold, Sir Malcolm (1921-2006)
Baddeley, Hermione (1906-86)
Cole, George (1925-)
Delgado, Roger (1918-1973)
Gilliat, Sidney (1908-1994)
Grenfell, Joyce (1910-1979)
Handl, Irene (1901-1987)
James, Sidney (1913-1976)
Launder, Frank (1906-1997)
Lee, Belinda (1935-1961)
Sim, Alastair (1900-1976)
Sims, Joan (1930-2001)
Verno, Jerry (1894-1975)
Launder and Gilliat
The Carry On Legacy