Monday, 9 August 2010

St Trinian's! St Trinian's! Will never die.

My sister leant me the boxed set of the original St Trinian's films, which we remember fondly from our childhood. Along with the Carry On and Hammer Horror films they played a key part in our formative years.

St Trinians was the invention of the fantastically talented British illustrator Ronald Searle. Still alive today, his career spanned much of the twentieth century and included stints as a children’s illustrator, war artist, animator and contributor to titles like Life, Punch and The New Yorker. He began StTrinian's during WWII before he saw active service, and continued the cartoons after his return to civilian life. His illustrations of the terrifying school girls were much darker after his experiences of being a prisoner in the war, with decapitated children, weapons and fire being more abundant in these later drawings. His whimsical depictions of the goblin-like girls caught the public’s imagination and were highly successful. They tap into the British’s fascination with mischief, practical jokes and black humour within the setting of an English public girls’ school (the bastion of respectability). No doubt they were also popular because they hark back to the idyll of the inter-war years, before the threat of a German invasion.

A series of four films were made in the late 50s and early 60s. A strong cast took the productions forward in the decade that followed the heyday of the Ealing Comedies. Many of these actors and actresses had long careers in British television and film and became household names (like Joan Simms and Sid James, who formed part of the core Carry On team). Alastair Sim does a wonderfully camp turn as both the headmistress Miss Fritton and her brother Clarence. Joyce Grenfell deserves special mention as a policewoman who is an overgrown schoolgirl herself (complete with a hilarious gait, a crush on her boss and a fondness for hockey). The sets depict the rickety, ink-flicked interior of the school very well, and the girls appear in all manner of ravaged and ravishing costumes. Miss Fritton is suitably frumpy and, like Searle's original sketches of the school mistresses, Victorian. Flash Harry is the epitome of the comedy Spiv with rediculous shoulder pads and, in the second film, a wonderful three-wheeled bubble car.

There was a film released in the 80s and, of course, the new version in 2007 which proves the enduring popularity of Searle's wonderfully wretched creation.

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