The next post will be on or before Sunday, 30th April
Up your bum! Cock off! (16 year old Lynda Mansell on ‘Wish You Were Here’)
If ever you get down in the dumps for whatever reason (thwarted love, no money, thwarted success, not enough sun, not enough sex) I would recommend you get hold of the superb 1987 UK film comedy Wish You Were Here, which is that ideal combination of wild farce, comic pathos and at times yearningly nostalgic sadness. It was directed by David Leland (born 1947) and the lead roles, young Lynda and middle aged lush Eric, are taken by the beautiful fair haired Emily Lloyd who was an undoubted comic genius of a 16-year-old actress then, and that veteran master of sinister roles Tom Bell (1933-2006). Bell’s acting as the creepy and limping film projectionist Eric slimily fixated on teenager Lynda, is his finest ever, the second finest being his role as the whining father Walter Morel in DH Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers as adapted for BBC TV in 1981…albeit he is best known as the sexist detective pitted against his boss Helen Mirren in that vastly overrated serial killer blockbuster TV series Prime Suspect.
Lynda is the outrageous and uncontrollable teenage daughter of her widowed Dad, a gents’ hairdresser called Hubert, perfectly portrayed as part decent man while also a ferociously respectable if always boozing Freemason by Geoffrey Hutchings (1939-2010). It is set in a post war English East coast resort, when couples necked all evening in the cinema, the movies were often Betty Grable and Margaret Lockwood weepies, and fish and chips and flagrant sexism were the satisfactory norms. Hubert returns from the Navy just after the War to be met by his wife and 2 daughters, the younger one Margaret played at different ages by 2 of director’ Leland’s children, and 11-year-old Lynda who is encountered comically incognito in an enormous gas mask, and when urged to unmask and kiss her old Dad asks him shrewdly if he has brought any presents. A few days later Hubert is silkily boasting to his married chums, the husband being an overweight bus office manager, about once doing a perm hairstyle for wartime singer idol Gracie Fields (1898-1979) and he has an autograph and a lock of her illustrious hair to prove it. Bored senseless by this rigmarole, Lynda in her best party dress turns to goody good and treacherous baby sister Margaret (later she becomes a devout Girl Guide and later still wishes to join the army) and utters the film’s hilarious and arguably lewd and oft repeated watchword, Up Your Bum. The sister snitches on her and she is sternly sent up to her room by Hubert who is especially sensitive to bad language. When her Mum comes up to comfort her the sniffing 11-year-old snaps that she wishes he had stayed in the bloody Navy with his Gracie bloody Fields. This poignant brooding with the light off in the upstairs bedroom is an oft repeated motif as Lynda grows up and discovers the world of sex, both the healthy and extremely unhealthy kinds, and the conflict between her and Hubert exponentially soars.
Lynda’s amorous experience starts with her as cheeky trainee female hairdresser who fancies one of the young male stylists and is galled by his fancying the wimpish girl she is currently doing a promotional freebie on. She puts the squeaky voiced rival under a roasting dryer and leaves her there an interminable time until her hair is fried to a crisp and she is promptly sacked. Later cycling jauntily along the seafront she invites a gawky young lad to take her to the cinema and lifts her skirt to reveal a great deal as she teasingly chats with him. Once in the pictures she is stricken with one of her periodic fits of wailing sadness as she watches the melodramatic weepie, and the gawky lad misinterprets this as dislike of his cinema cuddles. At this stage Hubert finds his daughter so untameable he takes her to see a psychiatrist in a dismal mental hospital peopled by the jabberingly senile and demented. There she is twitted by a mad-looking shrink with a spring mattress hairdo, played wonderfully by the poet and political activist Heathcote Williams (born 1939). The shrink tries to get her to say as many swearwords as possible by working through the alphabet and then conveying to him her feelings of possible guilt, pleasure and so on. The subsequent lightning fast parade through the rude alphabet is a masterpiece of comic cinema, especially when Lynda pretends she knows not a single word starting with either ‘c’ or ‘f’, and when the exhausted shrink eggs her on to say them, she addresses him with:
“You dirty bugger!”
Disgusted by her juvenile cinema boyfriend, Lynda’s next job working in the bus depot introduces her to handsome conductor Dave, played by talented Jesse Birdsall (born 1963) later to be seen in the not unexecrable UK soaps Eldorado and Hollyoaks. He takes her ballroom dancing and then to his grandmum’s house, happily deserted as the old lady is away a few days in chaste Tunbridge Wells. Before she loses her virginity, Dave struts about the bedroom aping a posh Noel Coward flaneur, smoking du Maurier from an upraised cigarette holder and sporting a condom put on in advance in the bathroom. Prior to this Lynda in her ignorance asks if he is supposed to swallow them like a pill to make them effective. Throughout their first sex she giggles hilariously, though neither of them are chuckling when his nosy uncle turns up early next morning with his fox terries and Lynda has to hide under the bed. The dog sniffs her out, and also seizes on a discarded condom which it takes down onto the street and begins to devour with chomping relish. Immediately afterwards their promising liaison is abruptly curtailed when Hubert apprised of their overnight dalliance confronts Dave in the bus depot and the young man feebly complies. Lynda by now working in a chip van, gets her revenge by coming to the depot and rubbing a vast quantity of greasy fish and chips across his head.
She is perforce on the chip van having been booted out of the bus depot, after standing one day on a table and gleefully raising her skirt to parade her underwear to a roomful of hilarious drivers and conductors. Her next liaison takes her into dangerous and unsavoury territory when her Dad’s pal Eric the projectionist who has been creepily sleuthing her in the cinema and outside Dave’s grandma’s place finds her alone in Hubert’s house. He snorts and twits her as a cheeky and embarrassing bugger whose Dad wants to get rid of her as soon as he can, meanwhile like the worst of 2 faced villains embracing her pantingly and lewdly. Tom Bell’s acting here with his ugly sexual excitement and the way he parrots her every sentence is a masterclass in the portrayal of a disgusting if pathetic middle aged predator. At that point, Hubert arrives home to interrupt things, and as she sees Eric to the door she taunts him as a stinky finger and also admonishes him with the unusual injunction Cock Off, sister insult to Up Your Bum. Soon after she likewise orders Hubert to cock off when he tries to get her to babysit the sister while he goes to the Masons, and then instructs the gawky sister ditto. However, she is affected, possibly flattered by Eric’s advances and wishing to know far more about the exciting world of sex, decides to encourage him. She arranges a meeting inside the woodshed at the bottom of the garden and while waiting for Eric, clad in her nightie and bored, she commences a mad opera entitled ‘Up Your Bum’. Dancing all round the garden she deafeningly hallooes, Up Your BUM. Up YOUR bum. UP your BUUUUUUUM! A testy neighbour understandably pokes her head out of the upstairs window and asks what the hell is going on whereupon Lynda claims she is only looking for her cat, then bends to reveal her beaming bare behind.
Eric’s naked backside is also on public display on their first attempt at making love in a woodshed. A sedulous young policeman with a flashlight interrupts them and politely apologises, for the gate had been open and he thought they might be intruders. Afterwards Eric who always sports hideous white aertex underpants, refuses to use a condom, fatuously boasting he is an expert and will ensure she doesn’t get pregnant. He adds that he is an unrivalled bare back rider, as counterpoint to which a day later in the British Legion he and the fat depot manager are doing a drunken performance of the Mule Rider song, good old Eric bashing himself on the head zestfully with a tin tray. Lauded with plaudits from Hubert and friends, he goes round kissing every single female there, including juvenile Lynda, who of course he has just had sex with in a shed. The parable is clear enough. Apropos this family embarrassment called Lynda, her Dad is all sniffy respectability but classically blind to what is going on under his nose with a best pal who anyone, even in the pig ignorant 1940s would have detected as an amoral crook. Predictably enough Lynda gets pregnant, considers and finally turns away from an abortion, then decamps with her suitcase to Eric’s pigsty of a bachelor bedsit above the creaky seafront cinema. She is wretched and weeping in her infinite loneliness and his notion of comforting her is to ferretingly take her clothes off and have his way regardless.
A fine and wonderfully comic scene follows, when Lynda takes a job as a waitress in the poshest teashop in town, replete with Palm Court pianist and genteel old ladies whispering coyly as they nibble their finger biscuits. By now she has abandoned Eric so that he follows her to the teashop where she rebuffs him loudly and fills him with terror. Later her father twitching like a frog with dismayed self-righteousness comes there to confront her over her shameful pregnancy. She begs him to shut up or she’ll lose her job, the last thing she needs at this stage, but Hubert cannot be stopped and he embarks on a litany of her all crimes and the awful humiliations he has had to endure because of her. He stands up to make a public castigation, indeed to publicly disown her, whereupon Lynda urges him to cock off and leaps on a table to do a reprise of the bus depot performance. This time she informs the sweet old ladies that she is pregnant as she has had a man’s willy inside of her, and guess what, she liked having it inside her, and it was great. How about them, the old ladies, did they like having willies inside them? Meanwhile the impeccable head waiter with a bone structure oddly like a chisel faced Nazi, goes round grovelling to all the customers and mortified Hubert shoots up to announce that by way of apology, there are teas for all at his expense.
The finale of this hilarious yet harrowing film is affectingly positive and heartening. After Lynda has decamped to another seaside town her aunty comes to counsel her and give her the money for an abortion. She takes the money but with a resolute face runs away from the abortionist’s posh villa a second time. The scene cuts to see her arriving at the old bus depot beautifully dressed and radiantly handsome to a fault. She alights from the bus and puts her lovely baby in the pram and pushes it victoriously past the gawky cinema date, past open mouthed Eric, the obese bus depot man and everyone else, cheerfully proclaiming:
‘Yes, it’s mine!’
-Director David Leland also wrote the script for Personal Services (1986) directed by Monty Python man Terry Jones and starring Julie Walters as real life Cynthia Payne, the notorious and unrepentant UK brothel owner who catered for elderly men who were into S and M. Wish You Were Here was likewise loosely based on Payne’s teenage years, the prequel so to speak.
-Emily Lloyd who at the age of 16 brilliantly portrayed Lynda, was sexually abused by a family friend at the age of 5. Sadly, since 1992, she has been troubled with serious mental health problems, and has been diagnosed as borderline schizophrenic as well as having Tourette’s Syndrome and Attention Deficit Disorder.