Back Add a Comment Share:
Facebook Button

Feature


Ah, the Swinging Sixties—it was a time when more liberal values were coming to fruition, the last vestiges of the war were finally being swept away and—most importantly to some—people were beginning to have sex left, right and centre...

...or at least that was the image that was being pushed by the press.

Barry Evans plays Jamie, a sixth-former who delivers groceries on his bicycle and is constantly thinking about getting his leg over with several of the local dolly-birds. Jamie has yet to get his leg over, which is made all the more annoying when his younger brother is scoring effortlessly.

If Barry Evans swears, will he be told to Mind His Language...?
Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush follows Jamie as he tries to shed his virginal skin and embrace the sins of the flesh. When Jamie first appears, he is on his bike, eyeing up the local skirt—you can never hate a movie bold enough to have its main character exclaim “Cor!!! Knickers!!!!” as his opening gambit.

The opening credits have an overt psychedelic to them, accompanied by titles in a nonconformist font which would do the American drug counter-culture proud. Though these titles imply that the film is going to explore the whole counter-culture movement, the reality is that pot is only mentioned in passing and the focus of the film is on the trials and tribulations of a young man trying to get his leg over.

During his pursuit of that most elusive of creatures, the bearded clam, Jamie meets up with numerous types, his school-chums, flash well-to-do types who serve to highlight his humble working-class roots and even rubs shoulders with the middle-classes, who seem to be more sexually rampant.

Director Clive Donner (who passed away recently) paints a picture of late sixties Britain that is painted with fairly broad strokes, but there is still a fair amount of honestly and realism presented to the viewer. The film is based upon the novel by author Hunter Davies, who wrote the only authorised biography of The Beatles and is frequently wheeled out whenever a documentary on the sixties is commissioned and the transition from the page to the film was a fairly faithful one.

Barry Evans played the same character throughout his career, with the only variables being the degrees of either naivety or rampancy—he was at his most sexually restrained during the three series of Mind Your Language. Evans' life was fairly depressing in that he was a rising hopeful who was eventually typecast—roles in Under the Doctor and Adventures of a Taxi Driver only served to bugger up his credibility—and his life spiralled into alcoholism and he became a real-life taxi driver in his later years. His death in 1997 at the age of fifty-three has always been a mystery—was it suicide? Was it an accident? Could foul-play have been involved? Nobody knows. If we were to be flippant, the coroner could have recorded his death as "misadventure of a taxi-driver"...

Jamie (Barry Evans) finds himself inside the Manson Family hotel-on-wheels
We have always had a fetish for movies of around about this era of British cinema, which is pretty much typified by our deep affection for Don Sharpe’s Psychomania.

This might sound really odd, but as well as being a pretty good snapshot of that particular era, Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush has some of the most vividly captured examples of shopping precincts. To illustrate what we mean, the sequence of Evans chasing various pieces of skirt near the beginning takes place in such an area makes the era almost tangible, the skilled camerawork combining with an objective view of the consumer Mecca in a most pleasing way. The shopping precinct in question was Stevenage, which was where Psychomania was filmed two or three years later, and the place had hardly changed in the time between seeing Barry Evans on a bicycle and Nicky Henson on a motorcycle. Oh, and we got a real kick out of seeing Nicky Henson and Roy Holder together in Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush, as the two of them eventually became members of the Living Dead motorbike gang in Psychomania.

Speaking of things that haven't changed - the times certainly haven’t changed all that much: the pricks are affluent and have nice cars, which shallow girls fawn all over. The decent guys are downtrodden and earnest, but without a pot to piss in.

It was the beginning of the “plastic society” which saw durable metals jettisoned in favour of the latest in space-age materials for household products. This is typified when Evans’ mother almost proudly brandishes a blue plastic salad shaker at the dinner table.

As was the case in the sixties and seventies, this film includes the traditional British confusion between “crutch” and “crotch”; our protagonist Jamie happens to mention the word "crutch" to a bubble-headed young woman—over whom he is trying to get his leg—and she asks what a crutch is. The reply she receives is very nearly baffling, and shows that possibly Jamie is using the quasi-anatomical crutch as an emotional and metaphorical one...

At times, Evans’ character really isn’t the most likable of folk, especially to a modern audience. For a guy who is eternally rampant, his sole purpose in life the business of getting his end away, he is pretty choosy about the women he pursues. He spends much of the movie lusting after Judy Geeson, but tries it on with someone else at a party as a consolation prize. When she finally gets in the mood for some good, baby-making fun, he spots Geeson and promptly spurns her advances, even calling her a “stupid bitch” when he develops tunnel vision. From a modern perspective, the casual sexism (sometimes "misogyny" would be a more appropriate term) in films of this ilk is quite startling.

It seems that the popular children’s rhyme of the title was not the only one to grace the movie, as Evans’ walk through the rainy streets brings him to a sign announcing the premises of one Dr Gloucester, doubtless a discrete way of mentioning the famed physician, probably on his way to Foster.

What is it with giving Angela Schoular and giving her huge glasses?  Honestly, the poor woman can’t appear in a hit movie without being saddled with a cumbersome pair of bins? Atop the mountains in Blofeld’s lair with George Lazenby? Yep, you’ve guessed it—she had specs appeal in that, too.

Scoular's middle-class character invites Jamie to her parents' house for the weekend and the evening meal provides an amusing look at the class divide that existed in Britain (and was supposedly breaking down) at the time. The wine-tasting scene is one of the funniest sequences in the film, with a masterful balance of send-up and mocking, topped off by Denholm Elliot at his comedic best, savouring the vino in a manner that is accompanied by groans and moans of pleasure that would ordinarily require lighting up a cigarette afterwards, or more fitting in this case, a good cigar.

Along with reflecting the social moirés of the times, the movie makes a delightfully cynical comment on the multitude of garish fashions coming out of swinging London in the mid/late sixties. With clothes becoming ever more outlandish and becoming passé so soon after plunking down hard-earned money for them, when trying on a multitude of expensive outfits with Scoular, Evens bemoans “The minute I walk out of here this lot will be old-fashioned”.

So verrrrrrrrrrry close...
With Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush riding the crest of the free-love wave which blew the lid off of relationships in Britain, it seems only right that the average males’ attitudes to such things being brought up, and you won’t be left disappointed at just how accurate and blasé hormonally-charged kids were at the time. Sure, the pill was out there and all of the cool girls jumped at the chance of consequence-free sex, but the average guy was far too driven by their genitals to worry about such trivial matters. Until afterwards, anyway. When our hero with the horn broaches the subject with his mates, they impart their frighteningly simple attitudes to contraception: just take a nice hot bath before you go at it—presumably the elevated temperature in the testicles would theoretically destroy some of the sperm. While the logic is there, it’s an utterly irresponsible attitude to birth control which turns conception into a game of Russian roulette. This is consistent with the era, though, as contraception was still regarded as squalid and seedy, and any possible alternatives to going through proper channels to get condoms—no matter how ridiculous—was given serious consideration.

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush reinforces the generalisation that the upper classes spend their nights creeping around their palatial abode having it off with anyone they can get their claws into. Denholm Elliot engages in the odd midnight rendezvous with the au-pair girl, while his wife settles for anything in trousers, with Evans narrowly dodging the bullet of her advances. This is clearly before the era of MILFs.

The use of highly stylised sequences which use gaudy colours and animated still frames really breaks the format and pushes Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush into its own genre. Nothing before or after captured the same look or feel, not even if the best of the Confessions series stuck a few of the aforementioned “fantasy” elements into them. It’s rather ironic that one such piece has Evans as a James Bond type character, as that same year saw the “unique” version of Casino Royale feature some identical montages.

Playing the principle object of Jamie's desire is Mary, played by Judy Geeson. Mary is seeing at several times during the film, but most on most occasions, she is the in the arms of someone else and Jamie gets depressed, and simultaneously more determined to win her affection. He eventually succeeds, but is devastated to learn that some women are just out to have causal, no-strings attached sex just like many men.

During the filming of Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush, Evans and Geeson were supposedly entangled romantically, but this abruptly ended when Geeson was snatched out of the arms of the shy, retiring Barry Evans by George Peppard. Clearly she had a taste for alcoholics whose careers were on the rocks.

With some of the crap Judy Geeson has appeared in over the years (cough- Inseminoid-cough) you forget just how stunningly gorgeous she was back in the day, and here we get to see a hallowed skinny-dipping scene where bears all for the sake of swinging sixties art.

One scene that has Jamie just about get his end away with Mary, he happens to make a reference to Lady Chatterley's Lover—this was still reasonably topical at the time, as Penguin Books were found not guilty of obscenity at the start of the decade and the eventual ramifications of this were felt in many types of medium, including film.

Look carefully and you'll see that the Mulberry Bush is cold and frosty this morning...
Barry Evans puts in a very likeable performance in the film—Evans always had a naive, nervous charm that served him well and his turn here is no exception. Evans talks into the camera in a very Alfie-like manner, but where Michael Caine's character was arrogant prick and fairly hard for a general audience to identify with, Evans' Jamie elicited a sense of identification from the males in the audience and a feeling of motherly protection from women.

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush features a veritable "who's who" of sixties and seventies British acting talent—Sheila White, Adrienne Posta, Vanessa Howard, Diane Keen, Michael Bates, Christopher Timothy, George Layton—the list is endless.

What was a surprise was to see actress Angela Pleasance (daughter of Donald) in a blink-and-you'll-miss-her role as a flat-dwelling housewife. Though she is only seen in long-shot, Pleasance obviously made an impression on director Clive Donner, as he used her sixteen years later as the Ghost of Christmas Past in his wonderful version of A Christmas Carol.

A real revelation comes with season B-movie veteran Marianne Stone doing a turn in a nice, see-through negligee as a potentially desperate housewife. With all the times she was cast as either mousy or an old boot in the Carry On movies, it brings a smile to the lips and a twitch to the trousers to see her in minx-mode.

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush ends rather like the novel of A Clockwork Orange where wild ways are tempered when respectable work comes along and the fate of peripheral characters are revealed. What of our plucky hero and his best mate? Well, these two sex-obsessed males end up On the Buses. It seems odd that less than two years after the film came out, British audiences were introduced to a series where… well, you can work out the rest.

It seems mind-scrambling that writer Hunter Davies was inspired to write his book after reading the seminal Catcher in the Rye, hoping to replicate the deceptively easy, free-wheeling style as though anybody could do it. Granted, the game of one-upmanship with his wife (Margaret Forster, author of Georgy Girl) spurred him on, and while the book was indeed successful, there is almost an arrogance to Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush’s origins. Should it have enjoyed the same lasting, cultural impact of Salinger’s novel, we wonder if somebody would have been inspired to go out and attempt to assassinate Thatcher in the hopes of impressing Bonnie Langford.

Video


Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush is presented on Blu-Ray in 1080p and whilst it looks very nice, it is not quite as stunning as most other titles on the British Film Institute's Flipside label as this was not sourced from the original negative, but from a low-contrast print. The colours are somewhat more muted than, say, London in the Raw or Man of Violence, but the general image is quite pleasing with only the odd bit of print damage here and there. The booklet mentions that there were problems with the transfer and this mainly manifests itself during one reel where there is horizontal picture instability, which manifests itself as a horizontal movement. It's only minor and doesn't really distract from your enjoyment of the film.

Barry Evans tries yet again to get his leg over...

Audio


The film is presented in English PCM Mono and it sounds fine, with the sixties soundtrack coming across with a pleasing amount of fidelity to it, especially the much-used title song by Traffic (not to mention the songs by The Spencer Davis Group) have some punch to them.

Extras


Censored Version: Presented in its entirety is the censored version of Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush, which was shorn of several moments, most of which occur during the skinny-dipping scene with Judy Geeson. This version was achieved via seamless branching and it is interesting, but only really for completists only.

Because That Road is Trodden: This short film from director Tim King was made in 1969 sees the world filtered through the thoughts of an adolescent public schoolboy, with the emphasis on transmogrification and what he will eventually become. Essentially, this is twenty-three minutes  of pretentious crap, with a young well-spoken teenager bemoaning "oh, isn't it hell to be in an expensive boarding school that allows one to get one's feet under the table and have good career prospects?" There is some interesting stark imagery, but this looks and feels like the kind of thing someone in their late teens makes as a calling-card to get their foot in the door at film-school. It's hard to have pity on someone who is at an expensive public school - the sort of environment where the term "having a fag" can have several different meanings—there are moments when you expect to hear our angst-ridden subject wish that he was at a comprehensive school with the oiks, just so he can be with Pater and Mater.

Stevenage: This promotional film looks at the so-called "New Town" of Stevenage, which was where Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush was filmed. This twenty-one minute documentary was made by Gordon Ruttan in 1971 and examines the history of the town and what people living there think of the place. It starts off with a potted history and then has numerous close-ups of what was then high-tech computers (you know the type—ones with spinning tape reels) as they present facts, figures and statistics about the town. It's pretty interesting, but mostly a puff-piece for the town and also a way of pushing the concept of the New-Town, which came about after the Second Word War to move people out of bombed-out areas of London. It starts off in a documentary fashion, but eventually moves into some blatantly staged sequences of the local youth movement—the most hilarious of which shows a bunch of leather-jacketed rockers dancing in two lines in a manner that requires them to have their thumbs hooked into the belt-loops on their jeans. This is an interesting piece, presented in gloriously vibrant colour and looks fabulous, even if there are numerous jumps and splices during the prologue.

Booklet: As ever with the titles from the BFI, a highly-detailed and informative booklet is included. It features essays from journalists Steve Chibnall, William Fowler and Vic Pratt, along with a piece from Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush author Hunter Davies on the transition from page to screen - in which he mentions that he—a die-hard northerner—was not happy about moving the location down south. The essay from Vic Pratt on the sad life of actor Barry Evans is possibly the pick of a great bunch.

DVD Copy: Seeing as this is one of the BFI's recent dual-format releases, a DVD copy of Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush is included, along with all of the extras. It's a nice touch, but you know which one to watch...

Angela Scoular finally ditches the dodgy specs

Overall


Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush is quite possibly one of the definitive snapshots of the "Swinging Sixties"—a time of optimism and sexual liberation, but without the life-shortening consequences of sexual promiscuity that the next decade would bring. Director Clive Donner successfully and colourfully brings Hunter Davies' novel to life and the performances—particularly from Barry Evans—all adds texture and flavour to this story of one young man trying to get his leg over.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


Links: