The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery

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The Great St. Trinian's Train Robbery
"The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery" (1966).jpeg
Directed by Sidney Gilliat
Frank Launder
Produced by Sidney Gilliat
Frank Launder
Written by Frank Launder
Ivor Herbert
Starring Frankie Howerd
Dora Bryan
George Cole
Reg Varney
Raymond Huntley
Richard Wattis
Music by Malcolm Arnold
Cinematography Ken Hodges
Edited by Geoffrey Foot
Distributed by British Lion Films
Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • 4 April 1966 (1966-04-04)
Running time 90 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The Great St. Trinian's Train Robbery is a British film comedy set in the fictional St Trinian's School, released in 1966, three years after the Great Train Robbery had taken place. It also parodies the technocratic ideas of the Harold Wilson government and its support of the comprehensive school system.

Directed by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat with a script by Sidney and Leslie Gilliat, it was the fourth in a series of five St Trinian's films, and the first of them to be made in colour. It retained George Cole, Richard Wattis, Eric Barker, Michael Ripper and Raymond Huntley from the earlier films. Several new actors were brought in, including Frankie Howerd as Alfred (Alphonse) Askett, Reg Varney as Gilbert, Dora Bryan as headmistress Amber Spottiswood, and Stratford Johns as the Voice.

Although asked twice, Joyce Grenfell refused to appear again as Sergeant Ruby Gates; she was later reported to have said that she regretted appearing in the St Trinian's saga.[citation needed] Raymond Huntley appeared as the "Minister of Schools" (a fictional title), having appeared in a different role in the earlier films; and Cyril Chamberlain appeared as Maxie.

The extensive use of trick gadgets in Alphonse's hairdressing salon (used to communicate with the gang's mastermind) spoofs the secret gadgets used in the James Bond spy films of the Sixties, while the gimmick of having the mastermind conceal his identity throughout the film (he is never seen on screen) spoofs the character of Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who was originally only an unseen voice.

Plot[edit]

"Alphonse" Askett (Frankie Howerd) is a hairdresser who is also the operational leader of a gang of crooks who are led behind the scenes by an invisible mastermind (voiced by Stratford Johns). He gives instructions to Askett about the robbery, Operation Windfall, using a variety of James Bond-like communications devices—including a converted showerhead.

The crooks hide the loot in Hamingwell Grange, a deserted country mansion, and after waiting for the hue and cry to die down they return to collect the numerous mailbags which contain £2.5 million (the same amount as in the real robbery). However, following a Labour Party election triumph, the house has been converted into a new home for St Trinian's School for Girls. The crooks decide to infiltrate the school by sending Askett's delinquent daughters, Lavinia and Marcia Mary, to St Trinian's as pupils, with instructions to case the joint to find a means of recovering the money, secretly, from its hiding place. The crooks' subsequent attempt to retrieve the mailbags on Parents' Day, disguised as caterers, results in a climactic train chase between the robbers and the girls.

A sub-plot is the affair between the headmistress of St Trinian's and the Minister, who uses his influence to corruptly obtain a large government grant for re-housing the school, following the latest fire, thus enabling it to move into the mansion. This angers his staff who are normally Conservatives but who, early in the film, are seen excitedly watching Labour win the election, as they believe St Trinians will be shut down by a Labour government. This aspect of the story was probably the reason why the Ministry of Education became the fictional "Ministry of Schools" in this film, to avoid a possible action for defamation by the real Minister of Education.[citation needed]

Cast[edit]

Filming notes[edit]

The railway scenes were filmed on the former Longmoor Military Railway (closed in 1969). In the final railway scene where the girls 'return' the money the British Railways station at Liss can be seen in the background.

The locomotives used were:

  • Longmoor Military Railway WD Austerity 2-10-0 AD601 'Kitchener' as the express locomotive in mock-up green livery and carrying a fake BR-pattern numberplate on the smokebox door until its scrapping in 1967.
  • Two Ministry of Supply "Austerity" 0-6-0ST (LNER Class J94) Tank Engines, one of which was mocked up to resemble a J50 and temporarily renumbered 68961, the other one, No. 68011, remaining unrebuilt.
  • One LMS diesel shunter {BR Class 11} in Longmoor colours.
  • A DEMU in BR livery as the commuter train commandeered by the police (number 1102, Class 205).
  • A Wickham trolley used in the school staff's attempt to join the chase.
  • A pump action Handcar used by two junior girls to switch trains between tracks.

The extras on board the St Trinian's train were pupils from a local convent school. In addition the school used for much of the filming was Little Abbey Preparatory School, near Liss. The school was in fact the other side of the moor from Longmoor. This was previously a Boys own Preparatory school based at Burghclere near Newbury, but had coincidentally merged with a Girls Preparatory School at the location at Liss 9 months prior to the making of the film

Reception[edit]

The film was among the 15 most popular movies at the British box office in 1966.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Most popular star for third time." Times [London, England] 31 December 1966: 5. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 11 July 2012.

External links[edit]