I have just added the following review of the Network DVD release of What a Crazy World to a well-known shopping website. It rehashes some info from posts on this blog, so it's nothing regular readers won't already know, but I was keen to get something up quickly, and it might work here as an introduction to the posts about Alan Klein (click here) if you haven't read them.
Readers directed to this blog by Network's newsletter may be
interested to know that I have cowritten Funny Bones, the autobiography
of veteran comedian Freddie "Parrotface" Davies, who was at Butlins
Skegness around the same time as Alan Klein.
The stage version of What a Crazy World came about in 1962 when Gerry
Raffles heard Joe Brown sing Alan Klein's song of that name on TV and
commissioned him to write a musical for Theatre Workshop. Klein had
tired of singing exclusively American songs during a stint at Butlins
and wrote a song in the style of George Formby which didn't try to
emulate the subject matter of American songs.
musical was a popular success despite some adverse critical reaction.
Robert Stigwood offered to put it on in the West End with Mike Sarne in
the lead but Klein opted for Michael Carreras' offer to make a film of
it because "a film's gonna be there forever." And thank goodness he did,
because now, more than fifty years on, we can still enjoy it on this
Existing fans of the film can be reassured that the
restoration is fine. It's a joy to see such sharpness and clarity
compared to the ropey off-air copy I have had to make do with until now.
True, when the film begins, and at a few other points like a
conversation between Joe Brown and Harry H Corbett, you hear a little
faint scratchiness, but that's far preferable to overprocessing of
sound. So to anyone who has been hesitating, worry no more - it's worth
getting. And the film deserves a whole new generation of fans.
Hard Day's Night has also recently been issued in a newly restored
version. It was the film whose release suddenly made the film of What a
Crazy World look like a period piece, according to Klein, but now both
films can be seen and appreciated without any need for comparison.
Klein says of What a Crazy World, "It was a document of its time ...
All I was doing was saying what people felt." It's a world of
disaffected youth, unemployment and the temptations of petty crime, and a
yawning, seemingly unbridgeable gulf between parents and children. The
title song mocks the parents for their negligence ("No one seems to
notice me") and their preferring bingo and betting to quality family
time, but there's a counterbalancing song shared by the mother and
father, surrounded by their mates at the bingo hall and dog track, in
which they protest that their supposed entertainments are not about
having a good time but trying to win a bit of money to buy their kids
the possessions and gadgets they were never able to afford in their own
youth which their materialistic children demand as a right. As with
Steptoe and Son, both sides of the generation divide are given a say.
is very clear throughout the film, however, is that young and old
haven't found a way of communicating with each other, and that isn't
resolved by the end. Alf (Joe Brown) plays his family the record he has
just made. This might have made for a triumphal ending in another sort
of film but there is an almighty barney and the record is forgotten. So
all that has happened by the climax is that grievances have been loudly
aired, and the finale has everyone singing part of the title song, so
that it no longer seems to belong to the Joe Brown character, the young
complaining about the old, but allows everyone to have a go.
if that makes the film sound like a gloomy prospect, it's anything but.
And what makes the film special from a musical point of view is its
successful marriage of rock'n'roll with music hall: throughout, there is
a warmth and a verve that you can't resist. It may be a crazy world,
but it's one you will want to embrace. The cast, including many Theatre
Workshop regulars, are superb. Harry H Corbett is the father and Avis
Bunnage the mother. Alan Klein himself is one of the layabouts who
cluster around Herbie Shadbolt, played by Marty Wilde. Really the only
slightly weak link is Susan Maughan, not really suited to the part of
Alf's girlfriend. Wilde himself is very good, as is Joe Brown. The
device of Michael Ripper as a kind of common man is also very effective.
could say a lot more if time permitted, but all that needs to be said
is that this is a long, long way away from your Cliff Richard musicals
or other pop exploitation films. It has a foot in reality, even though
it's carnivalesque at times, as in the scene in the labour exchange.
Someone compared it to Quadrophenia, but it takes itself far less
seriously. I urge you to take a chance on this modestly priced DVD for a
film which is gritty, witty and, above all, teeming with life.
A guide to other posts about Alan Klein can be found here.
Funny Bones: My Life in Comedy by Freddie Davies with Anthony Teague will be published on July 31st.