Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Staying On (1980)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Staying On (1980)
Granada Television/Prestige Productions for ITV, tx. 28/12/1980
90 mins, colour
DirectorSilvio Narizzano
Production CompanyGranada Television
 Prestige Productions
ProducerIrene Shubik
AdaptationJulian Mitchell
PhotographyWolfgang Suschitzky

Cast: Trevor Howard (Tusker); Celia Johnson (Lucy); Saeed Jaffrey (Mr Bhoolabhoy); Pearl Padamsee (Mrs Bhoolabhoy); Zia Mohyeddin (Ibrahim)

Show full cast and credits

Retired Colonel 'Tusker' Smalley and his wife Lucy elected to remain in India after Independence rather than return to drab Britain. But as old age creeps upon them, they realise their dreams of acceptance are illusory.

Show full synopsis

McCluskiegunj in North India is a hill station where many of the British who didn't want to return to the UK stayed on after Independence in 1947. Paul Scott (author of The Raj Quartet) based his mythical Pankot on this and several other places in the north. Staying On (ITV , 28/12/1980) focuses on this little known aspect of the Raj - the remnants.

Retired British officer Colonel Smalley (Trevor Howard) decided to stay on because he was too old to start afresh in the UK and he knew no other place but India. Besides, his pension went farther in India than in the UK. For his wife Lucy (Celia Johnson), to stay on in warm India and be waited on is much better than returning to a grim postwar Britain. Unfortunately for many real life Smalleys, the money didn't really extend to a life of luxury and they were merely tolerated rather than welcomed by Indians. As the Colonel realises, it soon became a matter of "hanging on" rather than staying on.

The colonial backdrop notwithstanding, Staying On is, more than anything else, a moving portrait of old age. The process of ageing gracefully with a lifelong partner is beautifully captured in the film. Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson, who were paired in David Lean's Brief Encounter (1945), re-unite in this film to great effect. They bicker and quarrel, yet clearly love each other. In their own ways, they both embrace India, though they still have their Raj hangovers. The Colonel has many Indian friends, but despises Anglo-Indians, while Lucy yearns for some friends of her own race.

However, what looms over the film is the overweening intrusion of a garishly modern India, in the shape of the vulgar Shiraz chain of hotels, which is contrasted with the quaint Smiths hotel in which the Smalleys live. The film, then, works both as a paean to old age and a bittersweet look at a bygone era.

Naman Ramachandran

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Celebrating holi (3:43)
2. Poached egg (2:52)
3. Tusker's letter (3:50)
Brief Encounter (1945)
Johnson, Dame Celia (1908-1982)
Shubik, Irene (1935-)
Suschitzky, Wolfgang (1912-)