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The Bed Sitting Room (film)

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The Bed Sitting Room
British DVD cover
Directed byRichard Lester
Written byJohn Antrobus
Screenplay byCharles Wood (adaption)
Based onThe Bedsitting Room
by Spike Milligan &
John Antrobus
Produced byOscar Lewenstein
Richard Lester
StarringRita Tushingham
Dudley Moore
Harry Secombe
Arthur Lowe
Roy Kinnear
Spike Milligan
Ronald Fraser
Jimmy Edwards
Michael Hordern
Peter Cook
Ralph Richardson
Marty Feldman
CinematographyDavid Watkin
Edited byJohn Victor Smith
Music byKen Thorne
Oscar Lewenstein Productions
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release dates
  • June 1969 (1969-06) (Berlin)
  • 25 March 1970 (1970-03-25) (UK)
Running time
91 minutes[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom

The Bed Sitting Room is a 1969 British black comedy film directed by Richard Lester, starring an ensemble cast of British comic actors, and based on the play of the same name. It was entered into the 19th Berlin International Film Festival.[2] The film is an absurdist, post-apocalyptic, satirical black comedy.


The film is set in London on the third or fourth anniversary of a nuclear war that killed 40 million, and lasted two minutes and 28 seconds, including the time taken to sign the peace treaty. It is not clear who dropped the bomb. Three (or possibly four) years after the nuclear holocaust, the survivors wander amidst the debris. Most characters avoid naming the "bomb" throughout.

Captain Bules Martin, who holds a "Defeat of England" medal as he was unable to save Buckingham Palace from disintegration during the war is also referred to as Doctor by Lord Fortnum who asks for a prescription for malnourishment, but fears he's turning into a bed sitting room. When Martin confirms it, Lord Fortnum gets a second opinion from the "National Health Service", a male nurse overwhelmed by the extent of the war's aftermath.

Penelope, who lives in a tube train on the (still functioning) Circle line with her parents, gets caught in bed with her fiancé Alan, who then joins their party. It is said that Penelope is pregnant. In search of a nurse, they leave the train taking a trunk so they won't look like vagrants, unknowingly carrying a living man who's been ready to be collected as dead for three years.

Two policemen who hover overhead in the shell of a Morris Minor Panda car that has been made into a makeshift balloon and shout "keep moving" at any survivors they see to offset the danger of them becoming a target in the unlikely event of another outbreak of hostilities.

Martin finds Shelter Man, a Regional Seat of Government who survived the war in a fallout shelter and spends his days looking at old films (without a projector) and reminiscing about the time he shot his wife and his mother as they pleaded with him to let them into his shelter. His current wife Doris (a picture of a shirtless woman attached to the wall) holds food and they share. Shelter Man reveals that he saw evidence that they dipped the bombs in germs to infect the population with measles to kill them off.

National Health Service stalks Penelope and her family and gives Mother her death certificate although she's still alive, and attempts to capture her with a net. Mother wanders away from her family, slips into Shelter Man's home, and transforms into a cupboard.

Lord Fortnum calls Martin, informing him that he is at 29 Cul de Sac Place, and actually does become a bed-sitting room. Mate, a fireguard with nothing left to burn, tricks Martin into leaving so he can move furniture inside. Character "Mao Tse-tung", or Chinaman moves Mother into the room.

Father is measured by the Police and Martin asks to court Penelope. Despite her love for Alan, Father agrees to Martin as it will help him when he becomes Prime Minister, a position he is believed to get "his inside leg measurements". Penelope is uninterested in the date. They hold the wedding ceremony at St Paul's Cathedral, which is mostly submerged underwater. Underwater Vicar weds them. Martin runs off to get his virility test, leaving Penelope, who soon goes into labour. Father is selected to become the Prime Minister.

National Health Service insists that Penelope's baby stay in her womb, but she delivers it. When she shows it to her father, he is found to be transformed into a parrot. Penelope learns that the cupboard is her mother.

Father kills himself and his body is cooked due to the starvation conditions that prevail. Mate warns everyone of the radiation and people head inside the bed-sitting room. Penelope and Alan find their baby dead. Rubber Man repents as the Police knock down the bed-sitting room, Lord Fortnum speaks up and impersonates God, but is quickly shut down by Martin.

The police bring back the chest and reunite Nigel with Martin. Penelope is pregnant with her next child, which is normal and healthy. The Police Inspector delivers a speech as an indication of hope for the future of the country amidst the devastation when it transpires that a team of surgeons have developed a cure for the mutations involving full-body transplant. Finally, a military band pays homage to Mrs. Ethel Shroake of 393A High Street, Leytonstone, the late Queen's former charwoman, and closest in succession to the throne.




After completing Petulia, Richard Lester had intended his next film to be Up Against It, which was written by playwright Joe Orton, but Orton was murdered shortly before production. Lester offered this to United Artists as a replacement.


It was filmed between May and July 1968, mainly in and around Chobham Common.

Set design[edit]

The absurdity of the film extends even to the settings. One scene is shot beside a pile upon which a British pottery firm had been throwing rejected plates since World War II[3] (the joke being that an actor is looking for a dish that isn't broken). Another set of the film is a mock triumphal arch made of appliance doors, beneath which a Mrs. Ethel Shroake ("of 393A High Street, Leytonstone"), the closest in line for the throne, is mounted on a horse. Even the opening credits have a touch of the absurd, listing the cast not by appearance or alphabetically, but by height.


When the executives at United Artists saw the film, they hated it, and it was shelved for a year,[4] only getting its first release at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1969. It wasn't released in the UK until March 1970. The Bed Sitting Room would be the last film released by United Artists' foreign film arm Lopert Pictures Corporation, which folded in 1970.


The film was entered into the 19th Berlin International Film Festival in July 1969, and Richard Lester received the C.I.D.A.L.C. Gandhi Award for it.[2] On 26 March 1970, the film premiered in London at the CineCenta Cinema on Panton Street (today Odeon Panton Street), which was Europe's first multi-screen cinema.[5]

Critical reception[edit]

John Russell Taylor in The Times found the film both funny and frightening, but lacking ideas enough for a whole feature film: "Precisely the same objection applies to the film as applied to the play: that it is based on one of those ideas which are fine in themselves but suffer from the drawback that once you have stated them, all you can do is state them again, louder".[6]

Home media[edit]

The British Film Institute (BFI) has released The Bed Sitting Room on DVD and Blu-ray disc through its Flipside line.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ BBFC: The Bed Sitting Room Linked 2017-02-13
  2. ^ a b "IMDb: Awards for The Bed Sitting Room". IMDb. Retrieved 7 March 2010.
  3. ^ Brosnan, John (1979). "Bed Sitting Room, The". In Nicholls, Peter (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1st ed.). Granada. pp. 63–64. ISBN 0-586-05380-8.
  4. ^ Brooke, Michael. "The Bed Sitting Room". Film Notes.
  5. ^ Cinema Treasures: Odeon Panton Street Linked 2017-02-13
  6. ^ The Times, 26 March 1970, page 15: Lord Fortnum's masonry Linked 2017-02-13
  7. ^ French, Philip (21 June 2009). "The Bed Sitting Room". The Guardian. London.

External links[edit]