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John Howard Reid

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Life Is a Circus
by John Howard Reid   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Posted: Tuesday, July 14, 2009

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Just one of the over 200 films detailed in "America's Best, Britain's Finest: A survey of Mixed Movies" by John Howard Reid. By "mixed" is meant a mixture of Hollywood and British talent. In this case, Shirley Eaton and Lionel Jeffries are certainly as well known in America as they are in England.

Bud Flanagan (Bud), Jimmy Nervo (Cecil), Teddy Knox (Sebastian), Jimmy Gold (Goldie), Charlie Naughton (Charlie), Eddie Gray (Eddie), Chesney Allen (Ches), Shirley Eaton (Shirley Winter), Michael Holliday (Carl Rickenbeck), Lionel Jeffries (genie), Joseph Tomelty (Joe Winter), Eric Pohlmann (Rickenbeck), Fred Johnson (Mr Deaken), Harold Kasket (Hassan), Maureen Moore (Rose of Baghdad), Edwin Richfield (driver), Vava Peters (secretary), Ballard Berkeley (tent-master), Geoffrey Denton (policeman), Peter Glaze (1st hand), Danny Gray (2nd hand), Marion Collins (girl in newspaper shop), Howard Williams (1st electrician), Howard Greene (2nd electrician), Sam Kydd (removal man), Ann Aylward, Jill Burrows, Marie Devereux, Andrea Loren (houri girls) and Oliver Reed.

Written and directed by VAL GUEST. Additional script material: Len Heath, John Warren. Art director: Tony Masters. Film editor: Bill Lenny. Director of photography: Arthur Graham. Photographed in CinemaScope. Costume designer: Beatrice Dawson. Production manager: Patrick Marsden. Assistant director: Denis Johnson. Camera operator: Ernest Day. Set continuity: Beryl Booth. Sound recordists: Buster Ambler and Wally Milner. Dubbing editor: John Glen. Make-up: Jimmy Evans. Hairdressing: Marjorie Whittle. Set dresser: Roy Rossotti. Choreographer: Denys Palmer. Special effects: Wally Veevers. Music and lyrics for “For You, For You”, “Life Is A Circus” by Phil Green and Val Guest. “Underneath the Arches” by Bud Flanagan. Other song collaborators: Dave Goddard, Gene McCarthy, Larry Vannata (“For You, For You”); Horace Linsley, Bernie Loren (“Life Is A Circus”). Music composed and conducted by Phil Green. R.C.A. Sound System. Produced by M. Smedley Aston. Associate producer: John Pellatt.

Not copyright by Vale Film Productions. U.S. release through Schoenfeld: 25 January 1962. London trade show: December 1958, but not released by British Lion until 1960. Location scenes filmed in Windsor and Runnymede. Australian release through British Empire Films: 28 April 1961. 7,524 feet. 84 minutes.

COMMENT: Life is a Circus starts off as a rather tame circus-on-hard-times frolic, with the Crazy Gang, rather aged and seedy-looking, trying to make up in verve what the jokes lack in wit. Then after an agreeably nostalgic encounter with Chesney Allen underneath the arches, the film suddenly borrows the plot device of Alf’s Button Afloat and improves quite a few degrees as a result. Of course there was always the scrumptious Shirley Eaton to compensate for the shortcomings of the first half of the film, but the special effects in the second half plus some of the fun contributed by Lionel Jeffries’ lustful genie, are surprisingly entertaining. The musical numbers with the singing hero and the whole romantic sub-plot itself are likely to be laughed off the screen but the central plot is a staple which has been used again as recently as The Picture Show Man (though the characters here are not nearly so interesting).

OTHER VIEWS: A reprise. Luscious Shirley Eaton, my favorite film star, tangles with Bud Flanagan who re-lives “Underneath the Arches” with Chesney Allen and Alf’s Button Afloat with Lionel Jeffries’s incoherent genie. This one was made on a shoe-string budget with clowning that owes more to high spirits than scriptual wit or comic inventiveness (though there are a few amusing touches by the genie). But who could resist Mr Flanagan and Mr Allen (in his brief cameo) and lovely Shirley?

— G.A.

The Crazy Gang are back on the screen again. Life is a Circus is the title of the film which brings these fabulous all-British funsters back into sharp focus for cinema-goers for the first time since 1939.

The Gang consists of Bud Flanagan, Jimmy Nervo and Teddy Knox, Jimmy Gould and Charlie Naughton, and lone-wolf “Monsewer” Eddie Gray, who re-joined as a full-time member of The Crazy Gang in 1956.

The Gang came into existence 30 years ago, and they have been together for over 12,000 performances. Val Parnell first directed them at the London Palladium. Eddie Gray, a juggler, joined the original Gang during this period, and they remained at the world-famous Palladium for ten years.

The Crazy Gang’s pre-war films included: Okay For Sound, Alf’s Button Afloat, Frozen Limits and Gasbags.

During World War II, the Gang split up, but individually they continued to entertain the troops.

Since the end of hostilities, they have been appearing in a series of fantastically successful shows that have kept them almost non-stop at London’s Victoria Palace for eleven consecutive years ever since Jack Hylton brought them together again at that theatre in 1947.

The Crazy Gang have also appeared on TV, and their show “Make Me Laugh” was tele-recorded just before shooting commenced on Life is a Circus.

Now for some personal details about these King Jokers.

Bud Flanagan’s real name is Robert Winthrop and he was born in London’s East End on 14 October 1896. He and his wife Anne have been happily married for 35 years. Bud’s long-time stage partner, Chesney Allen, is a Guest Star in the film. Jimmy Nervo, real name James Holloway, was born on 2 January 1898, within the sound of Bow Bells. His wife is Minna Scott, formerly with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. Albert Edward Cromwell-Knox, otherwise known as Teddy Knox, was born on a 12 July at Newcastle. His wife is Clarice Mayne, the famous music hall star. Jimmy Gold (real name McGonigal) was born in Glasgow on a 21 April, and also born in Glasgow was his stage partner, Charlie Naughton on a 15 December. Edward Earl Gray, now better identified as the one-and-only “Monsewer” Eddie Gray, was born in London on 10 June 1899. He is married and has two sons.

Lovely green-eyed, blonde star Shirley Eaton, now to be seen in the laughter-packed Life is a Circus, was born at Edgware, just outside London, on 12 January 1937. Although originally wanting to become a ballerina, she studied at the Aida Foster School, where she remained until she was sixteen. Her stage debut came in Benjamin Britten’s “Let’s Make An Opera”.

Following her West End debut in “Going To Town” in 1954, Shirley has since played on the London stage in the Arthur Askey comedy “The Love Match”, and the Palladium pantomime “Mother Goose”, with Max Bygraves. She was also in “The Lyric Revue” at the St Martin’s Theatre.

Shirley has appeared on both  radio and TV, and recently partnered Dennis Lotis in the ITV series, “The Jubilee Show”. She was also selected for a Royal Variety Performance.

Her film debut was in the British comedy You Know What Sailors Are, in which she had only a small part. More recent films are The Naked Truth, In the Wake of a Stranger, Carry On Sergeant, Further Up the Creek and Carry On Nurse.

Shirley’s hobbies are swimming, riding and skating. In 1957 she married Colin Lenton-Rowe, a building contractor.

One of the British film industry’s most consistently sought-after character actors, thirty-three year old Lionel Jeffries was born in Forest Hill, London, on 10 June 1926.

Educated at The Wimborne Grammar School, in Dorset, he served in the Army during World War II, when his initial interest in show business was aroused. He was later attached to Radio S.E.A.C., and when hostilities ceased, Lionel enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London. Here he first met Eileen Walsh, the sixteen-year-old drama student who was destined to become his wife.

His R.A.D.A. course completed, the young Lionel made his first professional appearance on stage at The Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, in “Man of the World”. Next, he spent two years playing in repertory at Lichfield.

When he returned to London, things were not easy for the struggling actor. Then came his lucky “break”. Ace movie director Alfred Hitchcock offered him a specially written part in Stage Fright in 1952. Since then, Lionel has appeared in well over forty films. Never subjected to the problems of type-casting, he proudly says: “I have been cast as old men, as army officers, as naval ratings, as business men and as ordinary citizens”.

On the “live” stage, Lionel recently appeared at the Aldwych Theatre, London, as a neurotic British Consul in the comedy “Brouhaha”, opposite Peter Sellers. This was inspired casting!

Lionel Jeffries lives with his wife and two young daughters in a charming house at Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, about 16 miles from London. His hobbies are oil painting and home movies.

His latest films are Behind the Mask, Nowhere to Go, Girls at Sea, Idle on Parade, The Nun’s Story and Two-Way Stretch.

Good-looking singing star Michael Holliday — who has been enthusiastically acclaimed as “Britain’s Bing Crosby” — was born in Liverpool on 25 November 1928, of a New Zealander father and an Irish mother. After completing his education he joined the Merchant Navy.

Serving as a steward on the “Queen Mary”, he won a talent contest in New York, a success he later repeated when he returned to Liverpool. This led to appearances with a local band, a season with Eddie Shaw was followed by a tour and then he became resident vocalist with Eric Winstone, with whom he remained for three years.

Radio, variety and TV engagements followed, resulting in Norrie Paramor arranging a recording audition for the young singer. That was four years ago. His first commercial recording was “Yellow Rose of Texas”, and shortly afterwards, Michael signed a three-year recording contract with Columbia Records.

Today he has at least five best-selling records to his credit, and a flourishing Fan Club spread throughout the British Isles.

Michael Holliday is married and has a nine-year-old son, Michael Jnr.

In his very first film, The Crazy Gang laughter-hit Life is a Circus, Michael plays a romantic starring role in which he vocalizes a catchy new hit tune called “For You, For You”, with lovely leading lady Shirley Eaton.

Popular character actor Eric Pohlmann was born in Vienna on 18 July 1913. In recent years he has appeared in many memorable British films.

Eric studied at the Max Reinhardt School, Vienna, and then appeared on the Austrian stage and, later, in Czechoslovakia. In 1938 he came to England and acted with the B.B.C. European Service. He joined the Old Vic Company in 1946 and has since appeared extensively on the London stage. Recent West End stage success are “Point of Departure” and “The Threepenny Opera”.

He entered the film industry in 1948 and has been continually active in that medium ever since. He has also been seen in many recent TV productions.

His films include: State Secret, Constant Husband, Mogambo, Rob Roy and Quentin Durward. More recent picture credits are: Zarak, Fire Down Below, Interpol, A Tale of Two Cities, The Duke Wore Jeans, Nor the Moon By Night, The Man Inside, Further Up the Creek, Alive and Kicking, Upstairs and Downstairs, John Paul Jones, The House of the Seven Hawks, Expresso Bongo.

— British Lion publicity.



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