The Smashing Bird I Used to Know

The Smashing Bird I Used to Know is a 1969 British drama/sexploitation film, directed by Robert Hartford-Davis and starring Renée Asherson, Patrick Mower, Dennis Waterman, Madeleine Hinde and Maureen Lipman.[1] As with other Hartford-Davis films, The Smashing Bird I Used to Know contains elements from different genres including psychological drama and social commentary. It is best known however as a sexploitation piece featuring nudity, attempted rape and lesbianism. The film features the first screen credit of the then 15-year-old Lesley-Anne Down in a supporting role.[2]

The Smashing Bird I Used to Know
U.S. publicity poster
Directed byRobert Hartford-Davis
Produced byPeter Newbrook
Written byJohn Peacock
StarringRenée Asherson
Patrick Mower
Dennis Waterman
Madeleine Hinde
Maureen Lipman
Music byBobby Richards
CinematographyPeter Newbrook
Edited byDon Deacon
Titan International
Distributed byAmerican International Pictures (U.S.)
Release date
25 August 1969
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The film was not released in the U.S. until 1973, retitled by AIP as School for Unclaimed Girls.[3] More recent issues of the film in the UK have also used this title as being less dated and more indicative of the film's content [4] AIP also reissued the film a year later under their shadow company United Producers Organization as Hell House Girls.

A scene outside a cinema shows the poster for Hartford-Davis’ previous film Corruption starring Peter Cushing in the background.


Nine-year-old Nicki Johnson attends a funfair with her parents. Her father (David Lodge) takes her on a merry-go-round ride, where Nicki becomes frightened. Attempting to reach over to comfort her, her father instead falls from the ride and is crushed to death in its machinery. The tragedy leaves Nicki traumatised, particularly as in its aftermath she overhears comments suggesting that she was to blame for what happened, which leave her with a permanent sense of guilt.

Seven years on and Nicki (Hinde) is a troubled and confused teenager living with her mother, plagued by flashback nightmares and with an obsession with horses and riding stemming from the merry-go-round horror. Since being widowed, her mother Anne (Renée Asherson) has withdrawn emotionally from her daughter and has sought consolation with a succession of younger lovers. Her latest boyfriend Harry (Mower), who Nicki detests, is a sleazy con-artist who makes his living out of latching on to wealthy older women and fleecing them financially before moving on. Nicki is left largely to her own devices and often plays truant from school, spending the time with her boyfriend Peter (Waterman).

Returning home one day from a riding lesson, Nicki finds herself alone in the house with Harry. He attempts to seduce her, and when she proves resistant, taunts her with the fact that her trust fund is now in his control. A struggle ensues, during which Nicki stabs him several times, leaving him seriously injured. For her trouble, she is sent to a remand home for young women with emotional and behavioural problems.

Coming from a middle-class background, Nicki is overwhelmed by her new environment among a large group of tough, delinquent and maladjusted girls, where bullying and violence is the norm. She tries to keep a low profile to avoid being victimised, but matters improve when she strikes up an unlikely friendship with lesbian fellow inmate Sarah (Lipman). Despite Sarah's fearsome reputation as one of the toughest girls on the block, she becomes Nicki's unofficial protector. As the friendship develops, Sarah reveals her more vulnerable side to Nicki and they discover that they have much in common with regard to how they ended up where they are. Sarah makes it clear that her feelings towards Nicki go beyond friendship, and a tentative intimacy develops between the pair.

Sarah and Nicki finally make the decision to abscond together rather than face the prospect of being sent to borstal. Soon after, Sarah is apprehended, but Nicki avoids capture and manages to make it to Peter's flat. The sensible Peter tries to convince her that she has done herself no favours by running away from her problems and that in the long-term it is better that she should face up to them by returning to the remand home. Nicki is initially unconvinced, but finally realises that he is right. She agrees to being driven back; but as they arrive at a bridge with a bottleneck passage, an approaching truck causes them to veer off the road and over the bridge to their deaths.



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