Back-Room Boy is a 1942 British comedy film directed by Herbert Mason, produced by Edward Black for Gainsborough Pictures and starring Arthur Askey, Googie Withers, Graham Moffatt and Moore Marriott. The original story is written by J.O.C. Orton. A man from the Met Office is sent to a lighthouse on a remote Scottish island to monitor the weather. He hopes to escape from women, but soon finds the island overrun by them.
DVD cover, with Withers in the centre and Askey at the far right
|Directed by||Herbert Mason|
|Produced by||Edward Black|
|Screenplay by||Marriott Edgar|
|Story by||J.O.C. Orton|
|Music by||Hans May|
|Cinematography||Jack E. Cox|
|Edited by||R.E. Dearing|
|Distributed by||General Film Distributors|
Meteorologist Arthur Pilbeam's fiancée Betty breaks their engagement because he has to speed back to the BBC every hour, on the hour, due to his internationally vital job of creating the BBC pips. He is so upset, he changes the pacing of the pips to play "Shave and a Haircut". He tries to resign, but he cannot do that during wartime, so since he also wants to avoid all women, he is assigned the solitary job of sending weather reports from a remote Scottish lighthouse. Before taking a boat from the mainland, his is warned by the locals that he will go mad from the isolation and the curse of a mermaid within a month, as his predecessors have.
Pilbeam has his peace quickly shattered when he encounters Jane, a young girl (who stowed away on the boat that brought him to the island), and then Bobbie, a model and the sole survivor of a torpedoed ship. His radio disappears, and Bobbie sees one man tied up, but he disappears when she brings Pilbeam. Then she is attacked, but her assailant is also nowhere to be seen when Pilbeam returns. Finally, another boatload of women (plus a couple of crewmen) arrive from Bobbie's ship. Things become crowded in the lighthouse, until people start to mysteriously disappear during the night, leaving an anxious Pilbeam to discover what has been happening to everyone and why. Finally, only Pilbeam is left.
It turns out that Nazi agents have been secretly sweeping the waters of mines and have taken everyone else prisoner, leaving Pilbeam free just so he can send away a rescue party without arousing suspicion. But between Pilbeam, Jane's uncle (from the neighboring island) and the women, they manage to turn the tables on their captors. They tie the Germans up and set out on the German boat. On the way back to the mainland, however, they come across am enemy warship in the fog. The Germans mistake them for their own spies and order them to guide them through the minefield. Pilbeam turns around and leads them directly into it instead. The ship strikes a mine and sinks.
Pilbeam returns a hero, only to find Betty has taken his old job. Luckily for him, she plays "Shave and a Haircut" after she sees him.
- Arthur Askey - Arthur Pilbeam
- Moore Marriott - Jerry
- Graham Moffatt - Albert
- Googie Withers - Bobbie
- Vera Frances - Jane
- Joyce Howard - Betty
- John Salew - Steve Mason
- George Merritt - Uncle
- Aubrey Mallalieu (uncredited) - West
- D. J. Williams (uncredited)- McIntyre
Arthur Askey replaced Will Hay when Hay moved from Gainsborough to Ealing Studios before the Second World War. Filming took place at Gaunt-British Studios, Lime Grove Studios and Shepherds Bush, London, England.
In his book about 1940s British cinema, Realism and Tinsel, Robert Murphy describes the film as "the funniest if the least original of the Askey comedies". Halliwell's Film Video & DVD Guide describes the film as a "[fairly] spirited star comedy of interest as a shameless rip-off of The Ghost Train and Oh Mr Porter!." In Beacons in the Dark, film historian Robyn Ludwig critiques the film as "symptomatic of homophobic and chauvinistic undercurrents in Great Britain during the war", but does not provide any evidence from the film to support this perception of homophobia.
Back-Room Boy was released on DVD on 19 February 2007. The film was also released in the Arthur Askey Collection box set on DVD in 2007 in the United Kingdom, followed by another edition in 2012.
- "Back Room Boy 1942". YouTube.
- Mayer, 2003, p. 16
- Murphy p.196
- Walker, 2004, p. 55
- "Beacons in the Dark: Lighthouse Iconography in Wartime British Cinema (1941-1942)". Governmentcheese.ca.
- Murphy, Robert. (1989). Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain, 1939-1949. Routledge
- Walker, John. (ed). (2004). Halliwell's Film Video & DVD Guide 2004. HarperCollins Entertainment. 19th edition
- Mayer, Geoff. (2003). Guide to British Cinema. Greenwood Publishing Group
- Back-Room Boy on IMDb
- Back-Room Boy at the British Film Institute
- Back-Room Boy is available for free download at the Internet Archive