Monday, 24 June 2013

Lady Godiva Rides Again



To all intents and purposes, we now apparently live in a world of talent shows and get rich schemes. If you want a job, don't check the classified ads, simply go on telly and be humiliated for twelve weeks by a grumpy millionaire. If you want to open a small business, don't go to a bank, take part in a bake off. If you are lucky enough to be talented in the performing arts, please remember that your talent can only really be validated by those that have none.

Thing is, though, this isn't anything new. Indeed, it is the central theme of 1951 film 'Lady Godiva Rides Again', a film that sounds like it should be a 'Smut Britannia' entry, but isn't. Made as part of the fun for The Festival of Britain, the film concerns a pretty but ordinary waitress who, by chance, finds her way into show business for a short time before being dragged back down to earth. 

Marge (L); sexy friend (R).

Marge lives in Coventry and, as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations, auditions for the park of Lady Godiva in a local pagaent. The audition consists of a hundred assorted girls traipsing around a dance floor while a young-ish Jimmy Young sings at them. Oddly, Jimmy has less hair than he has now. As the girls stumble about, they are scrutinised by a bunch of old men who, after a good lech, pick Marge.   

Two tickets, please.

Phwoar! No wonder Tom was peeping.

Marge's Dad (Stanley Holloway) is disgusted ('we haven't had any scandal in this house since I found the chewing gum on the bed post!') but is finally persuaded that it will all be in the very best of taste. Marge's golden wig is so shaggy that it covers her up completely but, perhaps because its a slow news year, her hairy ride makes national headlines and she becomes slightly famous. 

Having tasted the heady brew that is minor celebrity, Marge decides that this is what she wants out of life and promptly enters a competition to become Miss Fascination Soap, where she meets Diana Dors, a nice, comely but cynical young woman who has an interesting job: she's a professional contest winner, i.e. she is in cahoots with the organisers, ensuring that they can offer amazing prizes without having to make good on them. In this case, for instance, the prize is a thousand quid, a fur coat and a trial with a film studio. Normally Di would have accepted just a hundred quid but, in this case, because she likes Marge and because the organisers won't let her have the fur coat, she fixes it so that Marge can win.


Interesting hair.

Diana, looking fit and well.

The lady below is real life beauty queen Violet Pretty, who later changed her name and became actress Anne Heywood. She's uncredited here, just appearing as a contestant, apparently along with blink and you'll miss them roles for Joan Collins and (!) Ruth Ellis (I blinked and, subsequently, missed them).

Pretty Violet.

'And the winner is...'

A study in reactions.
A triumphant Marge has her photo taken with her hero, hearthrob actor Simon Abott (Dennis Price) and embarks on a torrid but short- lived time in the spotlight.

Simon Abbott, always with an eye to business. 

Marge is now far too busy for her dopey boyfriend (George Cole), so he goes off with her sexy best friend instead (Bernadette O'Farrell, who died in 1999. Is there an etiquette for fancying young, alive versions of dead people? It's a bit of a strange one). George has the curliest hair I've ever seen on a caucasian male, he must have gone through a dozen pots of brylcreem a week.  

Interesting hair.
Marge's trajectory can be described by the following screen shots:


OVERNIGHT SUCCESS



LINGERING FAME IN THE COLONIES


OLD NEWS


SMUT!

In the end, having knocked off Simon Abbott's wig after he made a pass at her, her contracts are all cancelled and the dream of 'going to Hollywood and having a coloured maid and a swimming pool' quickly disappears. She ends up modelling nude in a saucy revue directed by Sid James until she is rescued by a lovestruck Australian pineapple farmer and taken down under for the 'real' fulfilment of having a family.

A thrown together but nevertheless interesting film, 'Lady Godiva Rides Again' says much about the feel of post war, pre-Festival Britain: boring, deprived, wet and cold and grey - and sympathetically concludes that it's no wonder that girls like Marge crave excitement and glamour and fame and fortune. In the end analysis, however, wanting it isn't enough - you have to have something to give in exchange, i.e. talent - and, nice as she is, Marge simply doesn't have any. 

To conclude, there's a great little speech delivered by Eddie Byrne, a roving talent scout who sees some potential in Marge and tries to convince her Mum and Dad that show business is not necessarily a pit of depravity. With a few number and name changes, I don't see that it is much less relevant today.

"There are three million girls in this country between the ages of seventeen and twenty three hurling themselves down the same blind alleys: dances, speedways, films. Worshipping at the altar of Jean Simmons and Betty Grable, living by proxy - with what at the end of it? Marriage to some factory worker or counter hand - seven years to live and then the kitchen sink".  

With this in mind, who could begrudge Marge her brief moment in the spotlight?

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