Review – Please Sir (1971)


Please Sir began life as a television comedy show on L.W.T in the late 1960s. It ran for four series, was enormously popular, and was turned into this big screen adaption in 1971. As with many of the comedy shows around at that time, including Are You Being Served, Man About The House, and On The Buses, if it was successful on television, it was deemed worthy of a big screen spin off. Please Sir, easily ranks as one of the best of these.

The plot is about as basic as it can be. Bernard Hedges, played by the always brilliant John Alderton, is a teacher at Fenn Street School. His class, 5C, are unruly and a complete nightmare. Every year, one class from Fenn Street is nominated to go on a rural retreat for two weeks. After much persuasion, Hedges manages to convince the other teachers, and the headmaster, that 5C would benefit more than most, from this experience. One condition though. If 5C are allowed to go, he has to accompany them. He agrees, and what follows is 90 minutes of mischief and hijinks, with Hedges desperately, and unsuccessfully, trying to keep control of this classful of tearaways.

Please Sir benefits from having an amazing cast of supporting characters. We have Joan Sanderson as Doris Ewell, the Deputy Head Mistress, and a complete dragon. There’s Richard Davies as the cynical Science teacher, Mr Price, who sees nothing but the worst in 5C. Deryck Guyler as Norman Potter, the brilliantly funny and inept caretaker. Patsy Rowlands, always exceptional in the Carry On films, plays Miss Cutforth, who carries a brightly burning torch for Hedges.

As for the pupils, we have Peter Cleall as Duffy, who’s pretty much the head of the class. Carol Hawkins plays his on/of girlfriend, Sharon. David Barry plays the childlike, wannabe Hells Angel Frankie Abbot, who’s usually armed with a toy machine gun and his faithful teddy bear. We also have Liz Gebhart as mousy, slightly religious Maureen, Peter Denyer as the dim, but likeable Dennis Dunstable, and finally Malcolm McFee as bird chasing player, Craven. Plus how could we forget the amazing Barbara Mitchell as Frankie Abbotts Mum, and Brinsley Forde, aka Springs from the tv series Here Come The Double Deckers, who later became known for forming the reggae band Aswad, which he still fronts to this day.

One of the running jokes of Please Sir was the age of the actual pupils. The actors portraying the class of supposed 16 year olds were mostly in their early to mid twenties, and i believe Peter Cleall, who played Duffy, was about 28 years old. I dont remember noticing it at the time, but watching it now it’s quite plain the actors were way too old to be playing the sixth form pupils they were supposed to be. Just the sight of these people, who were clearly grown adults, crammed behind those tiny desks, is amusing all on it’s own.

There were quite a few of these television comedy spin offs around in the 70s, but i have to say that Please Sir actually fares pretty well as a stand alone comedy film. You can quite easily watch this without having seen a single episode of the original series. Some of the humour, is of course very much of it’s time, and would certainly cause a few raised eyebrows today, but things were very different back then, and as distasteful as it may be to some folks, i’m afraid this is the kind of stuff we used to laugh at decades ago. Yes, some of the jokes in these older comedies might be considered to have slightly sexist, racist or homophobic overtones, especially by todays standards, but none of them are, what i would consider to be out and out offensive, unless of course you are super sensitive, and are actively looking for something to be offended by. Sure it’s risqué in today’s climate, with constant clips around the ears for the cheeky kids but that’s how school was in 1971. Most people i’m sure would see this for exactly what it was back then, and still is now, just good fun.

There’s also a very catchy, upbeat pop tune performed by Cilla Black, “La La La Lu I Love You” which plays over the final scene and end credits, and rounds the film off very nicely indeed.

For me, the funniest scene by far features Frankie Abbott, trying to persuade his Mum to let him go to the camp, whilst he’s squirting washing up liquid at their pet budgie. He eventually convinces her in his usual, gently persuasive manner, brandishing a box of matches, threatening to burn her hair off. Hysterical.

If your looking for a good solid British comedy, featuring a cast of seasoned comic actors playing idealistic, pompous teachers, trying to reign in a school full of teenage tearaways, and mini skirted dolly birds, you are going to find Please Sir a real hoot. It’s highly under-rated, features many memorable characterisations, a great script, and a wonderful feel-good factor. What more could you ask for?

Bit of trivia for you. If you look very carefully, within the first few minutes of the film you’ll spot a very young Todd Carty aka Grange Hill’s Tucker Jenkins in assembly……..



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I am passionate about movies and cinema generally. I love talking about them and writing about them.

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