Proof if it were required, that in art, the cream rises to the top, while the milk lies unvisited for the course of many decades. TIME GENTLEMEN, PLEASE! (the title seems an afterthought) is not a classic by any standards, but is yet potent enough to evoke matinees and cinema nights in 1950s Britain, double and triple bills, cigarette smoke, chocolate boxes, the lot. It also boasts the first ever movie appearance of CRISPS, making it a must for snacker nostalgists.
Gather the themes and you’re looking at a one-film-roundup of 50s British cinema: idyllic village with silly name (Hayhoe), about to be interrupted by external turmoil; conniving village committee made up of upper class and clergy; think Titfield, think Pimlico, think Whisky Galore; the triumph of the free-spirited individual over the stuffy ruling or middle classes; and some other period themes – the world turned upside down, the pauper who becomes a rich man and the discovery of bizarre laws in ancient English documents.
It’s all held together by Eddie Byrne (General Willard in Star Wars!) in a terrible fake beard, gigging, boozing and philosophising his way from start to finish, in a lively performance that none of the rest of the cast can match.
Thora Hird gives Eddie Byrne a bath
This was before Sid James, cast as the local landlord, was discovered as a comic actor and habitually played grumps and curmudgeons; and features Thora Hird, cast in the type of battle-axe role she played for 60 years at least.
Lewis Gilbert used a good handful of villagers who weren’t actors in the film, and surprisingly it’s these guys that give us the magic. Real folk, real crowds, masterminded into village madness by the arrival of a film crew. It means that more than many other films of the era, Time Gentlemen, Please! offers a true flavour of bygone days. Nostalgists will love it.
Crisps on Film (1952)
Time Gentleman Please! has huge historic significance beyond any of this however, as it may be the first time in cinema history that CRISPS are featured. That’s CHIPS, USA guys, crisps, chips, whatever. There in the village of Hayhoe, in their tiny English shop, are several handsome boxes of CRISPS. And this scene dressing continues in several shots, allowing the students of crispology a truly exciting glimpse into the early British appropriation of this snack.
Lewis Gilbert, pioneer of the Crisps on Film movement
Real crisps on film, it is a major landmark. And as you can see, back in the day, they came in boxes and not in plastic packets. This is snacking the old way, classic snacking, and although you wouldn't have thought it, back in 1952 they were munching heavily in the shires, and from these perfect family sized cardboard boxes.