20th Century British Humorists Essay

Resuming his celebration of mid-20th century British film, the columnist and historian Simon Heffer turns his gaze on five hugely popular comic actors.

Alastair Sim is perhaps best remembered for a definitive interpretation of Scrooge, but Simon Heffer also recalls the run of classic comedies in which he perfected his role as a slightly ambivalent, often incompetent and occasionally threatening presence: The Happiest Days of Your Life, Laughter in Paradise, Captain Boycott and An Inspector Calls.

He concludes by revealing the little-known story of how Sim came to play the main role - or, rather, roles - in a film which has become a landmark of British cinema - The Belles of St Trinian's.

The inestimable Margaret Rutherford had been marked down to play the headmistress, Miss Fritton, but when Rutherford turned out to be unavailable, Alastair Sim offered to take on both his male part and the role of Miss Fritton, granting him the glorious lines: "In other schools, girls are sent out quite unprepared into a merciless world, but when our girls leave here, it is the merciless world that has to be prepared."

Producer : Beaty Rubens.

Sir Max Beerbohm, original name Henry Maximilian Beerbohm, (born August 24, 1872, London, England—died May 20, 1956, Rapallo, Italy), English caricaturist, writer, dandy, and wit whose sophisticated drawings and parodies were unique in capturing, usually without malice, whatever was pretentious, affected, or absurd in his famous and fashionable contemporaries. He was called by George B. Shaw “the incomparable Max.”

A younger half brother of the actor-producer Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, he was accustomed to fashionable society from his boyhood. While still an undergraduate at Merton College, Oxford, he published witty essays in the famous Yellow Book. In 1895 he toured the United States as press agent for Beerbohm Tree’s theatrical company. His first literary collection, The Works of Max Beerbohm, and his first book of drawings, Caricatures of Twenty-five Gentlemen, appeared in 1896. In 1898 he succeeded Shaw as drama critic of the Saturday Review. His charming fableThe Happy Hypocrite appeared in 1897 and his only novel, Zuleika Dobson, a burlesque of Oxford life, in 1911. The Christmas Garland (1912) is a group of Christmas stories that mirror the stylistic faults of a number of well-known writers, notably Henry James. His collection of stories, Seven Men (1919), is a masterpiece.

In 1910 Beerbohm married the American-born British actress Florence Kahn, and they settled in Rapallo, Italy, where, except for a return to England for the duration of World Wars I and II, they made their home for the rest of their lives. He attracted to Rapallo a constant stream of distinguished visitors, who were charmed by his conversation and found in him a living archive of amusing anecdotes of the literary, artistic, and social circles of late Victorian and Edwardian England. Though Beerbohm’s caricatures hit home, they remained civilized criticism and seldom alienated their subjects. In spite of the fun he had caricaturing successive generations of the royal family, he was knighted in 1939. The only two targets he attacked with ferocity were British imperialism—in the persona of a blustering John Bull—and Rudyard Kipling. As a parodist, he is frequently held to be unsurpassed. After his wife’s death in 1951, Beerbohm lived with his secretary-companion, Elizabeth Jungmann, whom he married a few weeks before his death at 84.

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