The Belles of St. Trinian's
|The Belles of St Trinian's|
|Directed by||Frank Launder|
|Written by||Frank Launder|
|Based on||cartoons of Ronald Searle|
|Produced by||Frank Launder|
Betty Ann Davies
|Edited by||Thelma Connell|
|Music by||Malcolm Arnold|
|Distributed by||British Lion Films|
The Belles of St Trinian's is a British comedy film set in the fictional St Trinian's school, released in 1954. It and its sequels were inspired by British cartoonist Ronald Searle. Directed by Frank Launder and written by Launder and Sidney Gilliat, it was the first of a series of four films.
This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (July 2021)
The Sultan of Makyad (Eric Pohlmann) wants to send his daughter Fatima to a school in England, and asks her governess Miss Anderson to recommend one: she recommends St Trinian's in the county of Barchester. This suits the sultan perfectly: as his racehorses are trained there, he will be able to visit Fatima and his horses at the same time.
At St Trinian's, Miss Holland, the accountant, explains to headmistress Millicent Fritton (Alastair Sim) that they need cash, not cheques. Then Fritton's twin brother, bookmaker Clarence (Alastair Sim), arrives with his previously expelled sixth form daughter Arabella (Vivienne Martin). He gets his sister to re-enroll her so she can befriend Fatima and get information on Arab Boy, the Sultan's horse that will run in the upcoming Cheltenham Gold Cup against Blue Prince, the horse he and his associates have backed. Assistant headmistress/physics mistress Buckland (Mary Merrall) enters the office to introduce Fatima and two other new girls to Fritton, and Fatima meets Arabella.
Fritton explains St Trinian's to the new girls: "At most schools, girls are sent out quite unprepared for a merciless world but, when our girls leave here, it is the merciless world which has to be prepared." Fritton takes the new girls to meet the staff: Miss Brimmer (Renée Houston), arts and handicrafts mistress; Miss Wilson (Beryl Reid), maths mistress; Mlle de St Emilion (Balbina Gutierrez) French mistress; Miss Drownder (Hermione Baddeley), geography mistress; Miss Gale (Irene Handl), English literature mistress; Miss Waters (Betty Ann Davies), the scripture and needlework mistress; and Miss Dawn (Joan Sims).
Barchester Police Superintendent Kemp Bird (Lloyd Lamble), in the hope of getting help to stop the crime wave that has occurred in his area since the new term started at St Trinian's, goes to London and meets the Ministry of Education official Manton Bassett (Richard Wattis). Bassett refuses to help: the two inspectors he has sent there have both disappeared. Kemp Bird arranges to send his girlfriend, Sgt Ruby Gates (Joyce Grenfell), to St Trinian's, undercover, as games mistress Chloe Crawley.
When Crawley arrives, Fritton takes her around the school: she finds the fourth form girls using the science lab to make gin, which Flash Harry (George Cole) sells for them; and the sixth form girls learning about French wine regions from the geography mistress. Florrie (Jill Braidwood), the school snoop, hears Arabella tell her father about a trial run the next day and after teasing the fourth form girls about what she has heard, is forced to tell them about the trial. The next morning Arab Boy goes through the trial run timed by the trainer, by Arabella with some other sixth form girls, and by a hidden group of fourth form girls. Now both the sixth and fourth form girls need to find out the weight of that day's jockey, stable boy Albert Faning (Michael Ripper): the sixth form girls have Amanda (Belinda Lee) seduce him to get his weight, while the fourth form girls calculate it. The result is that Arab Boy is sure to win the race.
The fourth form girls ask Harry to place a bet for them on Arab Boy but, he tells them, they won't make much with the little more than £3 they have, even at the 10-1 odds. So, the girls ask Fatima if they can borrow her pocket money for the bet. Fritton is told by the bookkeeper that they have £400 in the bank and are £4000 in debt. When Fatima, accompanied by four girls, asks for the £100 that Fritton is holding for her, the girls explain that they want to place a bet on Arab Boy, who is a sure winner at 10-1 odds; Fritton doesn't give Fatima the money, but does get an idea. She summons Harry, who tells her that he places bets for the girls, and asks him to bet the school's remaining £400 on Arab Boy in order to win the £4000 needed to cover the school's debt.
Arabella tells her father the disastrous news of Arab Boy's strength and suggests they "nobble" the horse, but Clarence rejects that idea. Arabella suggests he give it some thought and, should he change his mind, come to St Trinian's the next day, ostensibly for the field hockey match. Crawley and some of the sixth form girls are setting up the net for the match, when the girls run off. Crawley chases them and finds them, with two men and Miss Drownder, having a "French lunch", as she later reports to Fritton. Fritton explains that she need not worry: the men are former ministry inspectors Eric Rowbottom-Smith (Guy Middleton), now the school's gardener, and Wilfred Woodley (Arthur Howard), the new fencing master.
Before the match starts Arabella, with some of the field hockey team members, meets with Clarence and his partner Benny (Sid James). They opt for Arabella's plan to "borrow" the horse until the race is over, which is overheard by Florrie, who is tortured by the fourth-form girls for this information. When Crawley goes back to the match, Harry goes to Fritton with a letter he has stolen, which proves that Crawley is really Sgt Gates.
The next morning, with the stable boy's collusion, the horse theft is carried out – almost; in fact, the fourth form girls have taken him. Clarence and Benny are told by their henchman that when they went to get the horse, it was not at the stable. Fritton sees Maudie (Marigold Russell)[note 1] riding Arab Boy up the stairs, and goes to the fourth form dorm to investigate. She finds the girls, Harry, and Arab Boy and insists they get the horse out of the school before dawn, when Fatima will pretend to find and return him. She gets the girls to promise to carry out this plan.[note 2]
The next morning Florrie sees Arab Boy's head sticking out of the fourth form dorm window and tells Arabella. The sixth form girls barricade the dorm and Arabella calls Clarence with the news and suggests he come quickly with a group of henchmen to make sure they can maintain the barricade. The fourth form girls try to break through the barricade, but fail. Then the entire teaching staff tries to break through but also fail. Clarence, Benny, and some henchmen arrive, and block the staircase to the dorm.
It is parents' day at St Trinian's. Parents arrive, as does Manton Bassett, who has been sent to inspect the school. At the school entrance, Harry diverts all the parents to the Brownies' camp fire area and sends Bassett to the summerhouse to meet his missing inspectors. Florrie climbs up some vines to reach the fourth form dorm, with news of the sixth form barricade, which is being re-enforced by Fritton's men. Then the milkman arrives in a horse-drawn cart, and the fourth form girls see a way to free Arab Boy. They throw smoke bombs out of the window to cover Florrie's climb back down the vines to tell the staff to create a diversion. The staff is suddenly joined by a busload of wild former students, and overcome the blockaders, but Clarence escapes.
Meanwhile, the girls lower the horse from the second-floor dorm using a sling made of bed sheets they have tied together, hitch him to the milk cart, and take him to the racetrack. Fritton, back in her office, is being berated by some parents over the way St Trinian's is run (the goateed man is Ronald Searle with first wife Kaye Webb on far right),[note 3] when Harry bursts in with the news that Arab Boy has won the race. The sultan comes to the school to present the good conduct trophy to one of the girls, but it and, subsequently, all the other trophies on display are stolen during two blackouts. Finally, the dais collapses, save the part on which a resigned and exasperated Fritton is sitting.
- Alastair Sim as headmistress Millicent Fritton / Clarence Fritton
- Joyce Grenfell as Sergeant Ruby Gates
- George Cole as Flash Harry
- Hermione Baddeley as Miss Drownder
- Betty Ann Davies as Miss Waters
- Renée Houston as Miss Brimmer
- Beryl Reid as Miss Wilson
- Irene Handl as Miss Gale
- Mary Merrall as Miss Buckland
- Joan Sims as Miss Dawn
- Balbina as Mlle de St Emilion
- Jane Henderson as Miss Holland
- Diana Day as Jackie
- Jill Braidwood as Florrie
- Annabelle Covey as Maudie
- Pauline Drewett as Celia
- Jean Langston as Rosie
- Belinda Lee as Amanda
- Lloyd Lamble as Superintendent Kemp Bird, boyfriend of Ruby Gates
- Richard Wattis as Manton Bassett, civil servant in the Ministry of Education
- Guy Middleton as Eric Rowbottom-Smith, a ministry inspector, now a teacher at the school
- Arthur Howard as Wilfred Woodley, another ministry inspector, also now a teacher
- Michael Ripper as Albert Faning
- Eric Pohlmann as The Sultan of Makyad
- Sid James as Benny, one of Clarence Fritton's racing associates
- Martin Walker as Hankinson
- Noel Hood as Bilston School Mistress
- Dilys Laye as a sixth-former
The music for the file was written by the English composer Malcolm Arnold. The music was arranged as a concert suite for orchestra with piano four hands by Christopher Palmer. The suite was performed at the BBC Proms in 2003 and 2021.
The film was based on the cartoons of Ronald Searle. He started doing sketches at the beginning of the war and continued to do them as a POW in Singapore. After the war they became very successful. By the time the film was made Searle had become tired of them.
Filming took place in April–May 1954. The opening scenes of the girls returning to school were filmed at what is now the All Nations Christian College near Ware, Hertfordshire. This includes the entrance gate of Holycross Road and the outside shots of the school. The bulk of the film was shot at Shepperton Studios in London.
The New York Times wrote, "Credit Alastair Sim with doing excellently by the dual roles he essays...Joyce Grenfell makes a properly gangling, awkward and gullible lady sleuth; George Cole does a few delightful turns as the conniving Cockney go-between and last, but not least, the 'Belles of St. Trinian's' rate a vote of confidence for the whacky freedom of expression they exhibit. They all help make St. Trinian's a wonderfully improbable and often funny place to visit."
The film was banned for children under 16 in South Africa.
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