Heavens Above!

Heavens Above! is a 1963 British satirical comedy film starring Peter Sellers, directed by John and Roy Boulting, who also co-wrote along with Frank Harvey, from an idea by Malcolm Muggeridge.[2] It is in much the same vein as the earlier collaboration between Sellers, Harvey and the Boultings, I'm All Right Jack.[3]

Heavens Above!
Directed byJohn Boulting
Roy Boulting
Produced byJohn Boulting
Roy Boulting
Written byFrank Harvey
StarringPeter Sellers
Bernard Miles
Cecil Parker
Music byRichard Rodney Bennett
CinematographyMutz Greenbaum
Edited byTeddy Darvas
Distributed byBritish Lion Films (UK)
Release date
  • 23 May 1963 (1963-05-23) (UK[1])
Running time
113 min.
CountryUnited Kingdom


A naive but caring prison chaplain, John Smallwood (Sellers), is accidentally assigned as vicar to the small and prosperous English country town of Orbiston Parva, in place of an upper-class cleric (Carmichael) with the same name, who is favoured by the Despard family, who practically run the town and operate a large factory there.

Smallwood's belief in charity and forgiveness sets him at odds with the locals, whose assertions that they are good, Christian people are belied in Smallwood's eyes by their behaviour and ideas. He creates social ructions by appointing a black dustman (Peters) as his churchwarden, taking in a gypsy family, and persuading local landowner Lady Despard (Jeans) to provide food for the church to distribute free to the people of the town.

His scheme spirals out of control and very soon the local traders are up in arms as they have lost all their customers. He tries to explain this to the residents but is besieged in the church hall and only just rescued by the police.

As a face-saving act, the Bishop appoints the 'original' Smallwood to the parish and assigns the 'troublemaker' to the Scottish island of 'Ultima Thule'. He is made 'Bishop of Outer Space' to the British space operations based there. But when the intended pilot of the first rocket gets cold feet, Smallwood takes his place. He is last heard broadcasting a sermon over the rocket's radio.

Main cast

The cast includes several noteworthy uncredited performers: A Hard Day's Night actor John Junkin, Rodney Bewes, who has a couple of lines as a milkman, and future Small Faces and Humble Pie singer Steve Marriott.[4] Sellers's performance is generally held to be outstanding, in a meatier, more dramatic role, similar to his work in I'm All Right Jack, released in 1959.[5]


The film premiered in London on 23 May 1963 at the Columbia Cinema in Shaftesbury Avenue (today known as Curzon Soho[6]), and although it disappointed the critic for The Times, who found it lacking the mild bite and satire of the Boulting-Sellers film I'm All Right Jack,[1] it became one of the 12 most popular films in Britain in 1963.[7]


An article in Garden History likened the character of the Reverend John Smallwood to that of an 18th-century picturesque guru William Gilpin: "The first act of the new reverend is to invite a group of colourful travellers to reside in the vicarage; the second is to convince an old lady to open her house and grounds to all sorts of poor vagabonds, scruffs and vagrants, characters who bring picturesque values to the noble scene. Eventually, a picturesque economic system based on free donation causes havoc in the village and the nation - the reverend is made a bishop and sent into space, in Britain's first spaceship. The film revives a character that one can safely imagine as a modern version of Doctor Syntax - cordial, dedicated, stubborn, fearless, not reacting against, but slightly diverging from, the established values of his culture."[8]

Like other Boulting films, Heavens Above! satirises contemporary materialistic attitudes and cautiously espouses a socialist ethos, while also showing the possible deleterious side-effects of such ideas, and the all-too-human tendency to take advantage of naive generosity.


  1. The Times, 23 May 1963, page 6, Film review: A Serious Film Comedy Gone Wrong - Heavens Above! - found in The Times Digital Archive 2014-03-15
  2. "Heavens Above! (1963)". BFI.
  3. "Heavens Above! (1963) - Articles - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies.
  4. BBC - h2g2 - The Small Faces - the Band. Steve Marriott appeared in Heavens Above!
  5. "BFI Screenonline: Heavens Above! (1963)". screenonline.org.uk.
  6. Cinema Treasures: Curzon Soho Linked 2014-03-15
  7. The Times, 3 January 1964, page 4: Most Popular Films Of 1963 - found in The Times Digital Archive 2012-07-11
  8. The Revd William Gilpin and the Picturesque; Or, Who's Afraid of Doctor Syntax? Author(s): Francesca Orestano Source: Garden History, Vol.31, No.2 (Winter, 2003), pp. 163–179
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