Sunday, 30 March 2014

What the barrister saw… A Pair of Briefs (1962)

Sandwiched between the Royal Courts of Justice and Lincoln’s Inn can be found one of the most characterful pubs in London: The Seven Stars. An idiosyncratic ale-house for the legal profession and all who serve them (booksellers, publishers… journalists…) it is packed full of posters and photographs tracing the adventures of its landlady as well as the pub’s legal connections.

In the snug to the right – it’s all pretty snug to be honest – is a large poster promoting A Pair of Briefs featuring an angry looking James Robertson Justice and a scantily clad woman wearing a barrister’s wig and gown along with erm, a pair of briefs… see what they did there? OK… so what’s the excuse for watching what promises to be “Carry on Judging”? Well, it’s actually quite witty and, without doubt, there is a superb cast of British acting talent.

Mary Peach
Admittedly the film’s opening credits play up to the promise of the poster, we see a young woman, Francis Pilbright (the lovely, smiley, Mary Peach, who would later feature in the recently-recovered Doctor Who serial, The Enemy of the World), getting dressed for her first day in chambers. Miss Peach is indeed as shapely as her cartoon replication but in fairness this is the most we see of her as the narrative takes on a more dialogue-driven course (well, mostly…).

E-Type and Georgian house...
She leaves a splendid Georgian house and drives an E-Type Jaguar into London at the same time as we see a young man, Tony Stevens (Michael Craig) leaving a more modest Victorian town house on a scooter. Both approach Lincolns Inn and end up almost colliding… Tony is in the wrong but tries to convince Francis that he’s a legal hot-shot… so far so rom-com.

Micheal Craig and Mary Peach
He makes his way to his chambers where he finds he is about to be displaced from the window desk by a new starter who just happens to be the head of chamber’s niece. There’s much grumbling from the impoverished barrister who bemoans his lack of legal challenges and those juicy, highly-rewarding divorce cases, with his solicitor pal, George (Jameson Clark).

Then the new starter arrives and to no one’s surprise  it’s the E-Type driver… before hostilities are resumed Tony can’t help but admire the outline of her chasse (I know, I know…just getting into the spirit of the period…) whilst George is immediately disarmed.

Away from the Inns of Court, we see a well-dressed middle-age woman, Gladys Worthing (Brenda De Banzie) going into a plush Thames-side hotel and then emerging via the back entrance, considerably dressed down and hailing a cab with confident authority. She heads south and makes her way to a dingy maisonette where she encounters wise-cracking Sidney Pudney (Ron Moody) who she claims is her husband. Sidney appears not to recognise her and is shacked up with his “cleaner” Gloria (Liz Fraser) who finds his endless “as the monkey said…” riffing most amusing.

Liz Fraser, Ron Moody and Brenda De Banzie
Gladys is devastated and in her timid northern humility seems quite different from the woman at the hotel… she’s up to something but we don’t know what!

Back in chambers, George is despatched by Uncle Sir John (Roland Culver) to obtain more graphic evidence in a trial involving alleged improprieties at an entertainment venue in Soho.  George arrives to find himself plied with drink and given a close-up view of the acts on show… 

Bill Kerr, Jameson Clark and the great Amanda Barrie
There’s one Gale Tornado (Carry on stalwart Joan Sims), a dancer who performs with a snake (Amanda Barrie, Cleo herself…) and another who dresses as a maid (Judy Carne, later to become a fixture on Laugh In… see, I told you about the cast!). The club owner (Bill Kerr) ensures that George has a whale of a time and he reports back to Sir John with a brown envelop full of incriminating evidence against himself!

Judy Carne shakes a tail feather!
 Meanwhile, as Tony struggles on with civil engineering cases, Francis is delivered of her first proper brief, a case involving the denial of conjugal rights… Deciding that he can’t miss out on such a juicy case, Tony persuades George to give him the brief for the defence without letting him know that Francis will be his opposition: very bad form.

Francis and Tony square up for their day in court as we learn that the case will involve Gladys against Sidney… the strands are pulled together.

James Robertson Justice
The parties appear before the fearsome Justice Haddon (the fearsome James Robertson Justice… who was born to be a lord, m’lud) who grows quickly frustrated with both the inexperienced barristers, the dithering Gladys and the wise-cracking Sidney. Luckily, Gloria has been sent off to the pub and she quickly gets sozzled in a small lounge bar not unlike that in the Seven Stars…

Liz Fraser in The Seven Stars?
Gladys’ case is that she married Sidney in the War and their marriage licence was destroyed in a German bombing raid. For his part, as the monkey said to the hairdresser, Sidney denies everything and you scratch your head wondering what this is all about.

No spoilers: The court scenes are well done and as the mysteries of the case develop so too does the obvious rapport between Tony and Francis… who want to win each other as much as the case. Drunken Gloria makes a timely appearance and all is, almost, revealed…

Ron Moody
Dusty verdict: I won’t reveal the ending as a) it’s partly obvious and b) it’s mostly not…  A Pair of Briefs is ultimately a well written of slight, light comedy ideal for that undemanding nostalgia-watch you need at weekends or on sick days!

The cast are uniformly excellent and there’s a lot of energy from the Carry on cameos… along with the above you also get Terry Scott as a policeman and the recently departed Graham Stark as the man bringing the case against the nightclub.

It lives up to its poster promise and, if anything, is slightly more sophisticated than the image of the pantily-clad Peach at first suggests. She acts well and makes for a good match with the experienced Michael Craig: Britain’s own Doris and Rock?

A Pair of Briefs isn’t available on DVD and so you’ll have to wait for one of its regular TV screenings… another VHS I’ll keep in the dusty box for a rainy day…

Seven Stars on the right as Michael Craig scoots off

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