Passport to Pimlico

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Passport to Pimlico
Passport to Pimlico film.jpg
Original UK cinema poster
Directed by Henry Cornelius
Produced by Michael Balcon
Written by T. E. B. Clarke
Starring Stanley Holloway
Margaret Rutherford
Barbara Murray
Music by Georges Auric
Cinematography Lionel Banes
Edited by Michael Truman
Distributed by General Film Distributors (UK)
Release dates
  • 26 April 1949 (1949-04-26) (UK)
Running time
84 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Passport to Pimlico is a 1949 British comedy film made by Ealing Studios and starring Stanley Holloway, Margaret Rutherford and Hermione Baddeley. It was directed by Henry Cornelius.

The script was written by T. E. B. Clarke and demonstrated his usual logical development of absurd ideas. Some scenes in which the residents are refused passage out of their district into London by the authorities, and rely on supplies thrown over the dividing wall by well-wishers, were very topical because the film was made during the Berlin blockade.

The film was inspired by a true incident during the Second World War, when the maternity ward of Ottawa Civic Hospital was temporarily declared extraterritorial by the Canadian government so that, when Princess Margriet of the Netherlands was born there, she would not lose her right to the throne.[1] The film was screened at the 1949 Cannes Film Festival, but not entered into the competition.[2]


In post-Second World War London, an unexploded bomb detonates in Miramont Gardens, Pimlico. The explosion reveals a buried cellar containing artwork, coins, jewellery and an ancient manuscript. The document is authenticated as a royal charter of Edward IV that ceded a house and its estates to Charles VII, the last Duke of Burgundy, when he sought refuge there after being presumed dead at the 1477 Battle of Nancy. As the charter had never been revoked, Pimlico is declared to still be a legal part of the House of Burgundy.

As the British government has no legal jurisdiction, it requires the local residents to form a representative committee according to the laws of the long-defunct dukedom before negotiating with them. Ancient Burgundian law requires that the Duke himself appoint a council, and the successor to the line, Sébastien de Charolais, presents his claim. He forms the governing body which includes the local policeman, PC Spiller, and the manager of the bank branch, Mr. Wix; the neighbourhood shop keeper, Arthur Pemberton, is appointed as Burgundy's Prime Minister. The council begin discussions with the government, particularly around the newly-found Burgundian treasure.

The Burgundians realise they are not subject to post-war rationing or other bureaucratic restrictions, and the district is quickly flooded with black marketeers and shoppers, and PC Spiller is unable to handle the rising problems. Unable to stop the illegal trading, the British authorities surround the Burgundian territory with barbed wire. Isolated and unable to leave their Burgundian enclave, the residents retaliate against what they see as heavy-handed bureaucratic action; they stop a London Underground train as it passes through Burgundy, and ask to see passports of all passengers: those without documents are unable to proceed.

The British government retaliates by breaking off negotiations and Burgundy is cut off; the residents are invited to "emigrate" to England, but few leave. Power, water and deliveries of food are all cut off at the border by the British government. The Burgundians undertake a covert night time connection of a hose to a nearby water main, which fills a bomb crater, solving the water problem, although this floods the food store. As the Burgundians prepare to leave their homes, sympathetic Londoners begin to throw food parcels across the barrier. Soon, others begin to supply the Burgundians: a helicopter pumps milk through a hose and pigs are parachuted into the area for food.

Meanwhile, the government comes under public pressure to resolve the problem. It becomes clear to the British diplomats assigned to find a solution that defeating the Burgundians through starvation is both difficult and would be unpopular with the British people, so they negotiate. The sticking point turns out to be the disposition of the unearthed treasure, which is solved by bank manager Wix, now the Burgundian Chancellor of the Exchequer, who suggests a Burgundian loan of the treasure to Britain. With the final piece of the deadlock gone, Burgundy reunites with Britain.



Passport to Pimlico was an original story by T. E. B. Clarke, a writer of both comedy and drama scripts for Ealing Studios; his other screenplays for Ealing include Hue and Cry (1947), Against the Wind (1948), The Blue Lamp (1950), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) and The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953).[3] Clarke was inspired by a incident during the Second World War, when the maternity ward of Ottawa Civic Hospital was temporarily declared extraterritorial by the Canadian government so that when Princess Juliana of the Netherlands gave birth to Princess Margriet of the Netherlands, the baby was born on Dutch territory, and would not lose her right to the throne.[4] The airlift of food supplies into the Burgundian enclave was influenced by the flights of food and supplies during the Berlin Blockade of June 1948 – May 1949.[5]


The outdoor scenes were actually shot about a mile away in Lambeth and not in Pimlico. A set was built on a large Second World War bombsite just south of the Lambeth Road at the junction of Hercules Road. This has now been built on by 1960s municipal flats; however, the buildings on the junction of Hercules Road and Lambeth Road can still be recognised from the film as can the railway bridge going over Lambeth Road, particularly from the scenes where food is thrown to the "Burgundians".


In 1952, a radio adaptation, written by Charles Hatton, was broadcast on the BBC's Light Programme. Charles Leno played Pemberton, in a cast that included Christopher Lee, Gladys Henson and Kenneth Williams.[6] A BBC Radio 4 adaptation, written by John Peacock, was broadcast on 20 January 1996. George Cole played the part of Pemberton; Michael Maloney and Joan Sims also appeared.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wells, Paul. "Passport to Pimlico". Retrieved 27 July 2007. 
  2. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Passport to Pimlico". Retrieved 11 January 2009. 
  3. ^ Barr 1977, p. 81.
  4. ^ Sellers 2015, p. 135.
  5. ^ Wilson 2004, p. 109.
  6. ^ "Monday Matinee 'Passport to Pimlico'". BBC Genome Project. BBC. Retrieved 28 September 2016. 
  7. ^ "Saturday Playhouse: Passport to Pimlico". BBC Genome Project. BBC. Retrieved 28 September 2016. 


External links[edit]