22 August 2011 | robert-temple-1
When pubs were pubs and England still had its eccentrics
The title of this superb comedy needs to be explained to people who are not British. When pubs all had to close by law at 11 PM, the publican would call out to the assembled customers: 'Time gentlemen, please!' which meant there was only five minutes left before he stopped serving and commenced closing the pub. Even now that hours have been changed so that pubs can stay open longer if they want to, this phrase is often still called out. The title is thus an amusing reference to the central character of this story, who is a keen drinker and a lazy layabout named Dan Dance, whose favourite haunt is the pub where he might persuade someone to buy him a drink. He is meant to be an elderly man, and the one flaw in this otherwise excellent film is that he is played by the 41 year-old Eddie Byrne, with a false beard and eyebrows, which means that he is far from being the charming old rogue called for in the script, as one is conscious the whole time of how ridiculously unconvincing he looks in the part, being 30 years too young for it. The best performance in the film is by the wonderful Dora Bryan, one of the finest natural comediennes ever produced by the British cinema, and who is still with us, unlike most of the other actors in this long ago and far away production. The story is set is Lower Heyhoe in Essex, a mythical village which, typically for 1952, has no traffic. It is announced that the British Prime Minister is going to make a tour of all the towns in the country where unemployment is lowest, and top of the list is the unexpected Lower Heyhoe, where employment is discovered to be 99.9%. The embarrassing 0.1% which keeps the village from a perfect score is provided by Dan Dance, who sleeps in a haystack and hasn't a care in the world, and hates work above all other things. This makes for wonderful situations and comedy. Sid James for once is an unsympathetic character, playing a grumpy publican who hates Dance. One of the most delightful character cameos is by Jack May, who plays a regular of the pub who uses an old Victorian ear trumpet, and at one moment of panic turns it round and blows it as a trumpet. May appeared in 17 films but there is no other biographical information about him on IMDb, except that his last film was in 1959. May looks uncannily like a rather haggard version of my old friend John Michell, and they could be taken for close cousins. It is sad that such a talented character actor has left no information at all behind as to who he was, when he was born, and when he died. The plot of the film concerns the need to tidy away the embarrassing Dan Dance before the Prime Minister arrives. So examination of an ancient document reveals that the village's empty almshouse would be the ideal home for him, and he will receive the princely sum of one shilling and sixpence per day, upon condition that he will be in the premises, with the gate locked behind him, by 9 PM. (This leads to many comic episodes such as Sid James holding back to clock in the pub to try to make him be late.) No drinking or smoking is allowed in the almshouse! Then the vicar dies and a new vicar comes to the village, scrutinizes the old document, and realizes that Dance as the only inmate is entitled to a huge sum of money. Many of the people who had despised him as a layabout now suck up to him. He then gets elected to be the new head of the village council. The satire and the jokes continue, as the conflict between the stuck-up snobs and the ordinary people of the village becomes increasingly intense. It is all good fun, and an excellent old British comedy.