Friday, March 16, 2018

Under the Table You Must Go (1969)

From the same stable as Naked London and London in the Raw, this short film (it runs around fifty minutes and was presumably originally released as a supporting feature), is less sensational, but certainly no less interesting as a time capsule of 'Swinging London'.  Directed by Arnold Miller and photographed by Stanley Long, both stalwarts of British exploitation cinema, Under the Table You Must Go is a Mondo-style tour of various London pubs and clubs, emphasising the rich variety of drinking establishments and hostelries which still existed n the British capital in 1969.  A rather haphazard tour which makes little sense either thematically nor geographically.  The various segments are presented by a bewildering selection of celebrities, (including the film's two narrators, Murray Kash and Gordon Davis, both of whom also appear on screen individually presenting segments), and also feature several famous aces of the era.  One minute celebrated jazz musician and writer Benny Green is asking young drinkers in 'The Boathouse' what they think of live jazz being played there, the next Reg Gutteridge is visiting a series of sports-themed pubs and interviewing various retire sportsmen, before we can draw breath, Richard 'Stinker' Murdoch is visiting the 'Escape' club and talking to various former PoWs about their wartime experiences and escape attempts.

And so it goes on: Tommy Trinder performs in a music hall themed pub, Pete Murray visits the Playboy Club, then Radio One DJ Stuart Henry gets down and groovy at 'The Bird's Nest', a pub with a disco feel, Fred Emney samples the cuisine at an Italian restaurant-cum-pub and, for no reason at all, Jon Pertwee puts on a Prussian helmet and Teutonic accent to sing songs in German beer keiller themed pub.  Even a bizarrely bearded Jonathan King, long before he did bird for having relations with underage boys, turns up in a pop pub.  But, although haphazard, it is all quite charming and hugely entertaining.  What's most fascinating, though, is the fact that, despite this being 1969, there's little evidence of the 'swinging', counter culture London which supposedly dominated the UK's popular culture at the time.  Indeed, other than the Stuart Henry, Jonathan King and, to a lesser extent, the Pete Murray Playboy sequences, most of what is on display here is pretty traditional working class leisure activities.  It is a quaint world where people put on a collar and tie to visit the pub, which was still the social heart of local communities.  Conversation, sing-a-longs and live entertainment from professional pub performers was the order of the day.  The closest thing to a 'gastro pub' (that unholy bight upon the very concept of the British public house) is that bar incorporating a Trattoria and 'themeing' a pub meant filling it with sports memorabilia, having live jazz or pop acts and/or a DJ, rather than some plastic mock 'Oirish' bar.

The media might like, in retrospect, to portray late sixties Britain as being full of promiscuous hippies having sex and shooting up drugs everywhere, but films like this emphasise the fact that, in reality, the so called permissive society wasn't that widespread.  In truth, as in any era, the past,in the form of traditional pubs and entertainment, persisted and continued to serve the majority of the population.  The process of social change was relatively slow, rather than the revolution the media likes to portray.  The popular view of the past is always highly selective, focusing on the most sensational and attractive aspects.  That's the value of films like Under the Table You Must Go, which provide contemporary snapshots of popular culture. If the film lacks the determined sensationalism and obvious staging of some scenes for shock value, it does employ a suitably bizarre narrative device to link its apparently random segments together: talking cars.  Yes, that's right, the film is narrated by a pair of cars, a Triumph Stag and a Bentley, which, initially parked in central London, are bored waiting for their owners to return, so decide to compete to see if they can get around London, via the various pubs and clubs frequented by their absent drivers, and back to their parking places before their owners return.

Incredibly obscure, I was able to view Under the Table You Must Go as part of a BFI DVD collection, Roll Out the Barrel, which brings together a number of short films chronicling the British pub and its associated culture from the 1940s to the 1980s.  It's an excellent compilation and well worth investing in if you have any interest in this aspect of British culture.  Under the Table You Must Go is just one of many highlights contained on the two DVDs, with others including a charming Guinness promotional film drama from the sixties and a fascinating German documentary about a British Working Men's club.  Great stuff!

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