Back Add a Comment Share:
Facebook Button

Feature


There is no getting around it: the 1970s were a very different era. The idealism of the sixites was wearing off, Britain was in deep financial trouble, the EU was a huge bone of contention and racism was rife. Hang on - we did say the seventies, right?

Actual screen cap.  The colours are great.  Image lovely, too.

Mention the ITV series Love Thy Neighbour in polite circles and you’ll be greeted with anything from disdain, loathing or outright hostility, mostly from people who haven’t seen the show. Along with On The Buses and Mind Your Language , they spearheaded the populist approach taken by ITV in appealing to the working classes, creating characters and scenarios relevant to them, irrespective of the unborn spectre of political correctness. Here, their characters had questionable attitudes to women, were allowed to drink, smoke and say whatever they thought, and were cheered on as they did so.

With the fifties seeing the induction of workers from far shores, the working man was really rather miffed that…well, substitute “West Indies” for “Poland” and we can all save ourselves precious time when trying to explain attitudes of the time. Anyway, the phenomenally popular Love They Neighbour ran for seven series in the 1970s, and followed the life of Labour-supporting northern bigot Eddie Booth (Jack Smethurst) and new Caribbean, Tory-supporting neighbour Bill (Rudolph Walker) and their running battles when Eddie takes exception to the quiet London suburb of Maple Terrace becomes “integrated”. Wives Joan (Kate Williams) and Barbie (Nina Baden-Semper) bond whilst try to stop the boys from killing each other.

The series had the dubious honour of being mentioned in Bill "stop the world, I want to get off" Bryson's bestseller, Notes From A Small Island, being one of the first television shows he watched after he began his overlong stay here in the UK. Bryson dismissively described the series as “moronic” and –  not referring to it by name, as any half-decent journalist would – calling it “My Neighbour Is A Darkie”, downplaying the show and self-aggrandising the author in one fell swoop. Bryson conveniently seems to forget that in 1973, the format of Love Thy Neighbour was sold to America, dropping the “u” in the title into the Atlantic in the process, where the show ran for 12 episodes on ABC.

Kate Williams in mid-"comeback" face.

A common trend at the time was cashing in on a popular TV show by making a movie adaptation whilst it was still playing, not only freeing it from certain restrictions they were faced with on television, but to offer the majority of the country the chance to see their favourite shows in colour. You name the biggest comedy programmes of the seventies, and there was at least one film of it! Around this time, the once-mighty Hammer studios were in the doldrums, struggling to complete with ground-breaking American product like Night of the Living Dead, and needed sure-fire movies with built-in audiences to keep the lights on. As they (depressingly) broke their own records with the On The Buses trilogy, Hammer turned its attention to Love Thy Neighbour, and so do we.

Let’s just get the plot of the movie out of the way: Jack and Bill are still at war, their wives still chatting about the petty squabbles of their husbands over cups of tea and there is a split in the union at work, with the black workers branching off on their own as a strike breaks out. Not only that, but the wives have entered a “Love Thy Neighbour” competition, lying through their collective teeth about their partners in order to win a Mediterranean cruise. Will they win the competition? Will the strike ever break? Will Bill and Eddie kill themselves before the either first occurs? Only one way to find out!

When watching anything related to Love Thy Neighbour, you have to bear in mind the era it was made. When you do, you can focus on what is there rather than how it is viewed today. Many do the same thing with Birth of a Nation or Song of the South, both a product of their time, and just viewed without staring at the elephant in the room. Is that out of the way? Right.

That loaded, hang-dog look: it could only be Kate WIlliams.  Not the bloody historian.

The store is set from the very first shot, where a series of patriotic images of England are played over a rousing reading of John of Gaunt’s Richard II speech., as Land of Hope and glory stirs the patriotism. The ode to all that is British is sharply juxtaposed by Eddie and Bill walking along their road in the middle of racially abusing each other. This is the catalyst for the hilarious opening credits sequence, a tracking shot along their road where each household turns on their neighbour as war breaks out. Every nasty act committed is freeze-framed at just the right moment to allow for credits, including the most well-timed brick-through-a-window in cinematic history! That it closes with a door being smashed in with an axe shows some of the freedom of both form and content afforded the transition to the big screen.

Said transition to celluloid was a good one, taking away the cheap feel of the chipboard sets and the location work validating the whole concept of a suburban terrace. When you look at the two Steptoe and Son films, the transition makes their dump of a house look uncomfortably grotty, along with coating Albert Steptoe in an extra layer of filth which makes you actively dislike him, far removed from the “loveable rogue” from television. Happily, Eddie and Bill haven’t been altered, so their “hated” is little more than flinging insults and pulling stunts on each other. No flaming crosses or calling in the Panthers, it’s all good-natured, as long as you can filter out modern attitudes.

If there is something fundamentally wrong with both show and the movie, it’s that Bill’s comebacks are never as potent as the racist diatribe he‘s countering, relying on variations of “pink-skinned poof”, “ honky” and “ white trash” for this barbs. One major sequence sees Bill and co-workers getting their own back on Eddie by sticking him in the canteen boiler whilst passed out, waking to find them dressed as primitive tribesmen about to cook him alive. OK, this is satirical, and playing on Eddie’s skewed perception of them, but still a point towards the racists for having them recreate that image.

The PC brigade?  Fuck them.

Jack Smethurst plays pompous bigot Eddie Booth with ease, merely slipping in to exactly the same iteration which had cemented him as a household name in light of his success with For The Love Of Ada. When he originally signed to play Eddie, his stipulation was that not only the character be an idiot, but he should never have the upper hand by the time the credits role. It’s this element which stops Eddie Booth being intolerable, as you know that he’s always going to lose. When happy and content, he’s a nice guy, loving to his wife and all others. Bring race into the mix, and things really do take a bad turn. When complaining that Bill’s Tory paper has been mistakenly delivered, he’s outraged that such right-wing slanted press is under his roof. Joan questions if his Labour paper is any less predisposed, to which he replies: “….yes, but it’s biased the right way”.

The gimmick to the premise of the show and movie is that the character of Bill hates Eddie, but for more than just being white. Rudolph Walker returns as the (rightly) angry neighbour who just wants a quite home life, but finds himself ready to punch Eddie at any given time. Be it ogling his wife or stealing a bottle of milk from his doorstep, Eddie is the justified enemy, and Bill only wants things right. Where Eddie uses racial slurs, Bill is more content to let his fist to the talking, giving another dynamic to his relationship with his cowardly neighbour.

Nina Baden-Semper still hadn’t quite gotten her confidence by this point, still coming across as somewhat unsure of herself, resulting in a couple of curious line deliveries.   Watching all the episodes of the television series chronologically, it was by about the fourth series that she was rock-solid. It’s nice she’s given a little something more to do in the movie, coming to verbal blows with Joan and putting the “barb” in Barbie. Well, it’s a little better than the time on the show where - in an attempt to freshen up the show - both female characters became pregnant at the same time.

Sex-hungry char ladies.  Best kind.

Love Thy Neighbour was one hell of a career boost for Kate Williams, becoming the female face of the one the biggest shows of the 70s and cementing work for decades to come. Her pity counterpoints to Eddie’s prejudices were often the highlight of the show, but her character having to put up with such an idiotic husband left dear old Joan with a face as though she was desperately in need of a laxative. Notions of frumpiness were soon exorcised by appearances in films like Confessions from a Holiday Camp and What‘s Up Nurse, along with a broad range of other work to demonstrate that she had more than just a face like a thunder.

As was usual in TV comedy adaptation of the time, not matter now popular the show, name guests were always drafted into the beef up the star-power. Here we have It Ain’t Half Hot Mum thespian Guest Melvyn Hayes, not only upping the profile, but brought in to have the popular element of a crumpet-struck, skirt-chasing “lad” which a format focussing on domestic life wouldn’t normally have had room for. Also on board is Arthur English as local newspaperman Carter, currently in charge of running the Love Thy Neighbour competition, for: “…Blackies and white who live next door to each other”. English was always good, and snags the laughs with ease here, but they felt compelled to give him a gimmick, being the rather distracting overuse of a Vicks inhaler. It’s rather irritating, but always nice to have another tolerant character in the mix, especially when he sets up the finale of the film. Also keep an eye out for cameo-whore Bill Pertwee as a nosy, letter-reading postie, presumably just back from his appearance in Psychomania. Speaking of Dad's Army cast members, the film ends in fine style with a last-minute appearance from James Beck, in one of his final roles before passing away the same year from pancreatitis.

The most crucial addition to the cast is Patricia Hayes, as Eddie’s abrasive yet tolerant mother Annie. Hayes was one of the most prolific TV actors in the history of UK television, and brings a panache to the proceedings. The flipside of the boorish Eddie, she welcomes Bill’s father into the country and shows him around London, all with a gentle warmth which takes the edge off of the more controversial elements to the movie. Particularly good is the loathing between mother and dutiful wife, arriving at the family home just after Joan has finished washing her windows. Almost barging her way in, she remarks that the window-cleaner isn’t doing the corners. She is countered, though. When complaining about Joan’s cooking, Annie asserts that: “…the food of the north is like its people - honest and straightforward”, to which Joan mumbles:  “Yeah, and fattening”.

Frozen in mid-"Bloody Hell" face.

Special mention has to be made of Charles Hyatt, who takes on the role of Bill's father, Joe; Hyatt delivers a performance so likeable and with such a degree of decency and vulnerability that even the most bigoted of viewers would have felt some degree of warmth toward the character. Arriving in Britain tired, cold and bewildered, he is ignored by most and exploited by others, which can be seen as a snapshot of how many West-Indian immigrants were treated at the time. Hyatt also plays wonderfully against Hayes' straight-talking northerner and there is a fabulous chemistry whenever they share the screen.

There is no question that the central theme of strikes was chosen because of Carry On At Your Convenience getting favourable reviews (if poor box office, due to mocking its core audience) the year before, utilising it as the framework on which to hang the movie. Unions in the seventies were so powerful that they controlled everything, and genuinely did walk out for the most minor of reasons, so it’s commendable that Love Thy Neighbour didn’t resort to having the strikes due to trifling disagreements, preferring to have the workers fighting among themselves, with the “All Black Union” just wanting to get the work done. It’s a balanced look at unions without making them all look bad, in spite of factory owner Bill Fraser not being allowed to operate his own machinery.

Possibly the most depressing thing is the way some of the main characters change their allegiances so easily, and all to hammer home points in the plot. The usually cheerful Arthur turns on not only Bill, but all of the other ethic workers at the factory, revelling in the spite generated by the war between them. Similarly, the wouldn’t-say-boo-to-a-goose Jacko shows a surprising degree of spite at times. The strike even drives a wedge between Joan and Barbie, when an inoffensive comment is the catalyst for putting them at each others’ throats. Making things worse is that said exchanged has been torturously laboured to fit the situation, and is terrible. Try this on: “[Eddie] believes in calling a spade a spade…”.  In grating response, to the set-up, Barbie angrily responds: “Don’t call me a spade”.  Yes. It’s definitely the low point of the movie, in spite of the much more obviously offensive elements to it, but this one really makes you groan when you hear it.

No politics here...

Another small point is that having watched every episode of the series, as with all other TV adaptation of the era, there is a lot of pilfering going on.  A number of jokes and scenarios were taken from the show, and - just like the 60s Batman movie - certain parts of the film were incorporated into subsequent stories for television.  The show was in utterly terrible in the final series, after losing the original writers, and the subsequent replacements, then the likes of Johnny Mortimer and Brian |Cooke.  Hell, the final episode didn’t even bother to credit a writer!  Here, Vince Powell and Harry Driver were able to cut loose from some of the restrains, both censorial  and budgetary, to deliver an idealised package.  It’s just a pity that Cyril the barman is played by yet anther actor, rather than the terrifically seedy Ken Parry.

Every racist element is countered by something good, such as Norman Chappell’s horribly stereotypical portrayal of an Indian buss conductor being saved by veteran stunt/hard man Nosher Powell leaping to his defence when being racially abused by Eddie. Conversely, when Bill takes the blame for damaging the boss’ car to prevent Eddie from getting sacked, such kindness is torpedoed when we find that he’s only doing it for personal gain. It plays all angles, and makes for a very
uneven movie.

Apart from BNP members watching to recall the good ol’ days, there is a hell of a lot of nostalgia to be found when watching, almost functioning as a time-capsule. When taking Bill’s father on a tour of the city, Annie mentions some of the notable places in London, including Woolworths and C&A, both of which were two mighty chains that found themselves redundant in modern times. Geographically speaking, there are some lovely shots of Blackfriars Bridge, in a scene which could well have been used a tourist film for prospective Trinidadians. You can also see the nearby railway bridge which was demolished only seven years later. It’s nice to have it there for posterity.

That look.  Oh, that WONDERFUL look!!!

There are lots of observational moments in the film, including just how ruthless cabbies can be in ripping off tourists who‘ve just gotten off the plane, as well as Bill‘s father knowing more about London than Eddie‘s mother, suggesting that those up north are belligerent in their ignorance of down south.  When you throw in a secret night out to see a stripper, an burgeoning friendship between the two parents and everything culminating in a race to stop them going to a wedding, things move along at quite a pace, and landing at a trim 85mins.

Video


The re-framed 1.66:1 image looks superb, and better than anyone could have hoped. Colours are spot-on for a production of this era and budget, with the resolution and definition superb. Just take a look at the piece where Eddie clocks in late at work: you can see every puff of his breath freezing on the air, despite that it was filmed indoors!  It’s all the result of a 2K scan, colour-correction and scratch-removal putting in overtime, and we fully appreciate the effort.  This is terrific stuff!  We only had 2 actual screen-grabs to hand, and they easily stand out against the SD ones here.*

Actual screen-capture.  Looks wonderful.

Audio


Nothing to complain about here – every racist term of abuse is perfectly discernible, with Northern, Trinidadian and Daan Saaarf accents easy to understand via a strong LPCM track.  The music has pleasing range, and this is a fine presentation to complement the excellent image.

Extras


1.331:1 Version: Included for your edification is the 1.33:1 presentation of Love Thy Neighbour.  Watch it to gauge just how much work has been put into the Blu-ray presentation.

Theatrical trailer:

Oh, God, the trailer. Right, it’s voiced by the guy who did a load of the Carry On ones, and has the chirpiest, most cheerful delivery you could ask for. His tones paint it as a movie for the whole family, but then we get to the character descriptions, with one labelled “…a great big grinning n*g-n*g”. It’s jaw-dropping, and arguably more offensive than anything in the film itself.  The rest is a distillation of many gags from the film, so it really shouldn’t be watched before initial viewing.

Photo Gallery:

 A number of posters, the press-book and stills are to be found, and good fun they are.  Take a gander at the flash on the UK quad, saying that the film is for the whole family, but anyone under 14 has to have permission from their parents to get in!

There is also a PDF file of the press-book.

We had to alter one thing on here.  Can you guess what?

Overall


For many years, Love Thy Neighbour has been the show by which racism has been measured by the kind of people who are now labelled Social Justice Warriors. Whilst social cohesion has improved drastically in forty years, the show - and by extension this film version - addressed social concerns of the time and, above all else, showed the small-minded bigots up for what they were.  The important thing to remember is that Eddie Booth never came out on top - Jack Smethurst insisted on it at the time, and Bill Reynolds never sinks to his level,  and it’s what stops it being utterly objectionable today.

On TV, Love Thy Neighbour wasn’t in the same league as On The Buses , where the films were Shakespeare in comparison to the source material, but on the big screen, Love Thy Neighbour was given the best treatment it could have ever had.  Yes, it’s sometimes offensive, but there is a camaraderie among the main cast and the guest stars to help get past all that.  Sure, younger viewers predisposed to racism might pick up a few new insults, but they would have just waited for the next ones to be invented.

If it IS possible for anyone born after the eighties to watch and accept the film for what it is, then there are plenty of good-natured laughs to be had. Network has come up trumps yet again, presenting a wonderful-looking copy of a film that few, if any, thought would ever surface on Blu-ray!  Network really has established a name for itself in the preservation of British cinema, and this is a prime example of really going the extra mile for films which nobody ever expected to get such royal treatment.

Great work!

Oh, and don't forget to rewind when the movie starts to see the original "A" certificate card!!

*Our thanks to Lee for the actual screencaps!!


Links:
Media Copyright Acknowledgement (Fair Use) Insert it until you choke.