A look back with the Ladies Who Do

Rather hilariously tonight, down at the West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates (see previous blogs, frankly too numerous to list here) it is “Film Night”.

A goodly few dozen, if not hundreds, of local residents will be gathering for an action-packed evening starting from 6pm at the Gibbs Green Community Hall. The programme kicks off with a “Reception with Andy Slaughter MP” and goes on to offer a “Campaign film & BBC report” (presumably on the recent campaign of the Peoples Estates with their judicial reviews and what have you) before moving on, somewhat incongruously, to a gala showing of…. yes! …. Ladies Who Do, the truly excellent 1963 comedy film starring Peggy Mount and Robert Morley.

If you haven’t seen Ladies who do I seriously would recommend it.  It’s a classic black and white London film job, not an actual Ealing Comedy (but frankly I reckon they would have been more than happy to have it come from their stable).  You can download it on YouTube or whatever it is (but of course, as a complete techno-klutz, I ordered it on DVD off Amazon).

It is a charming film altogether, if a little patchy, as is in the nature of these things.  And sad London office watchers (like me) will hugely enjoy the shots of early 1960s office stock; the monolithic edifices, the Seifert entrances.  And – oh – the empty empty roads.

The (somewhat daft) storyline is that Mrs Cragg (Peggy Mount) works as a part-time domestic for retired Colonel Whitforth (Robert Morley) and as a cleaner at an office block in London. While doing her city cleaning (always with a fag on), Mrs Cragg, the leading lady who does, retrieves a half smoked cigar which she purloins as a gift for the colonel (who is, in true stereotypical manner, somewhat rackety and impecunious) and unwittingly wraps it in a scrap of paper discarded by a property financier named James Ryder (totally brilliant casting here, of Harry H Corbett as cigar waving, pinstripe suit wearing, Jaguar driving caricature; blimey,  EG knew him by the thousand).

On receiving his cigar, the colonel discovers that the scrap of paper actually contains details of a city takeover bid.  Oh what larks!  He unscrupulously uses this insider information to make £5,000 on the stock market, which he shares with Mrs Cragg.

This new-found wealth prompts the pair, together with three other chars who are Mrs Cragg’s neighbours in Pitt Street (and the old birds she gets the bus with each morning), to form the company “Ladezudu” (geddit?) a speculation syndicate headed by Whitforth, with the ladies providing insider information collected from bins at their respective offices. All is going well until an ill-timed investment in Irish pigs wipes out all their capital as swine fever kills their stock.

It is then, and only then, that we have the denouement (and the reason that the West Kensington and Gibbs Green residents will so enjoy it), that Mrs Cragg discovers that Ryder is planning the demolition and redevelopment of Pitt Street. Quelle horreur!  As the bulldozers arrive, with no assets to assist them, the “ladies who do” take on the city executives to save their street.  You just have to smile.

Now… I don’t know whether it is the ever ebullient Gary Yardley of CapCo who is to be seen as the Harry H Corbett figure, or whether it is the great Ian Hawksworth himself.  But I do so very much hope they see the funny side.

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