Sunday, 21 April 2013

A Boy, a Girl and a Bike

Blatant pro-bike, anti-car propaganda from long before anyone ever heard of a carbon footprint, A Boy, a Girl and a Bike tells of the endearingly high-spirited adventures of a cycling club in the Northern mill town of Wakeford.  The club's leading lights include feisty mill girl Susie (Honor Blackman) and her sweetheart Sam (Patrick Holt).

Honor at t' mill

One day Susie's knocked off her bike by car-driving posho David (John McCallum), who rapidly falls for her in the way men in romantic comedies tend to for women who are rude to them.  Personally I'm more interested in the charms of the extra with the moustache.

At their first meeting, David buys Susie a puppy as a token of his affection.  Given he's able to buy a dog off a market stall for next to nothing to give a girl who doesn't even want it, I'd guess animal welfare wasn't a major priority in 1949.  The briefly-glimpsed dog seller is Gerald Lawson, look-and-soundalike brother of Mounds and Circles favourite Wilfrid.

Despite going steady with Sam, Susie's not overly discouraging of David's eager advances, and gives him the idea of joining the club -where he renounces his car after falling for the charms of a cycle in the country as rapidly as he did those of Susie.  But which of her two suitors will she choose? Sam's a bit boring but she and David are from different worlds.  He comes from a very nice middle class family, while hers is your standard ee by gum Northern working class affair.  She's even got Thora Hird for a mother, for goodness' sake.


Not posh

After David stops to help Susie with a puncture on the way to the club's annual camping holiday the two end up getting pissed in a country pub and raucously arriving at the campsite late at night.  This brings Sam and David's rivalry to a head and the pair engage in a spot of physical activity.

Not the marrying sort

But when, just before an important road race, club member Cyril Chamberlain (who looks like he's wearing his toupee back-to-front) gets carted off by the police as an army deserter, David steps in take his place.  Working together, he and Sam lead the Wakeford club to victory.  Hurrah!

The social structure of Wakeford remains untroubled, as David eventually decides to concede Susie to Sam: "She's lots of fun, but I'm just not the marrying sort," he explains

The most engaging of the film's various subplots features 17 year old Anthony Newley as Charlie, a Cockney tearaway involved with an illegal betting ring run by crooked garage owner Maurice Denham (giving it the full Ecky-Thump with flat cap and whippet).  To pay off a gambling debt, Charlie steals a bike from one of the club members, not realising it's a foreign model that can be easily identified (if he were to take part in wholesome activities like joining his local cycling club he would've known that).

Even at this stage in his career Newley's an incredibly charismatic presence.  Here he is tearing it up on the local dance floor.

One of the best things about the film is its gorgeous location shooting at Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, the gorgeous scenery used at its best in the scene where Charlie runs across country to dispose of the bike after it's identified.

A Boy, a Girl and a Bike also features a pre-peroxide Diana Dors as club hussy Ada (insert joke about her being the Bike of the title).  According to her autobiography Dors lost her virginity to crew member Egil Woxholt (brother of film star Greta Gynt) during the making of the film.  But not on camera.

And here's Ms Dors cosying up to future Doctor Who producer Barry Letts.

The splendidly jolly scene where the club members shelter from the rain in an old barn and have a sing-song was later recreated (not very accurately) for TV Dors biopic The Blonde Bombshell.  Keeley Hawes may not look much like our Di but their names rhyme, and that's the main thing.

The opposite of "grim up north", A Boy, a Girl and a Bike shows life in a northern industrial town as carefree, happy and full of fresh air and exercise.  Its geeky enthusiasm for all things bike-related is strangely loveable, with Honor Blackman earnestly delivering lines like "I don't think I've seen fluted cranks like that before," and a specialist knowledge of different types of brake cable leading to the recovery of the stolen bike.  The film's cheery outdoorsiness might be hokey, but its also strangely infectious.  If I was able to sit on a bike without instantly falling off I'd head out for a ride right now.

For more cycling fun, here's Cyclists' Special, a charming 1955 British Transport Film just as keenly evangelical about the wonders of two wheels as A Boy, a Girl and a Bike.

1 comment:

  1. Aw I haven't seen this one for years! Barry Letts used to have an anecdote about being between takes with Dors and a crowd of young autograph hunters pestering her; apparently she signed them all 'lots of love Veronica Lake'