The Bed Sitting Room
Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan, Peter Cook
Directed by Richard Lester
Widescreen 1969
MGM 2012

Following a devastating nuclear war which, despite lasting under 3 minutes, left Britain in ruins, the last 20 Brits are keeping calm and carrying on despite having obviously lost their marbles

Sure, the whole country is in ruins and the population is slowly going mad, but that doesn’t stop the BBC from operating – even if that means having a man (Frank Thornton) in torn formal wear go from house to house, sticking his head through the back of the shattered telly and reading the news. He even signs off singing “God save Mrs. Ethel Shroake of 393A High Street, Leytonstone” as she is closest to the throne amongst the 20 survivors.

Based on the play by Spike Milligan & John Antrobus, The Bed Sitting Room feature a cast of dignitaries (listed in order of height in the opening credits) such as Marty Feldman, Ralph Richardson and all the members of Britain’s legendary Goon Show cast that aren’t Peter Sellers : Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Spike Milligan.

I mention this point because the film could actually work as a sort of unofficial sequel to Stanley Kubrik’s Dr. Strangelove picking up where it left off with the rest of the Goons.

But the tone of this piece is different. The Bed Sitting room plays out like absurdist theatre staged in a garbage dump (the film was shot in a landfill site). There is a family that lives in what’s left of the London Underground’s “Circle line” with their 17 month-pregnant daughter, another man who is mutating into a parrot and cops who patrol the countryside in the wreck of a police car held aloft by a hot air balloon. The title itself comes from the fact Ralph Richardson seems to have lost all sanity by claiming he is turning into a “room for rent” – until he does. (This is not really a spoiler as you still have to see what is meant by that.)

Richard Lester does eccentricity on screen like no other director and this film s very much in keeping with the style he developed working with the Beatles a decade earlier.  The overall tone and lack of formal structure of this farce is very “proto-Python”. The Goons were, after all, a major influence on The Flying Circus and fans left hungry by repeated viewings of the handful of Python films would do well to seek out the MGM Limited Edition of this more obscure but by no means less satisfactory offering of inappropriate British mirth.

Jean Guerin

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