Premiering in December 1959, Please Turn Over is a British comedy that, in its own way, reflects the teenage rebellion and sexual liberation of the decade to follow. It centres on Jo (Julia Lockwood), a 17-year-old bored of her middle-class existence in a town where, she says, “the inhabitants only experience three painful processes – birth, death and the repayment of mortgage interest”. Jo resolves to write a steamy novel called The Naked Revolt with lustful characters based on her family and neighbours (I think there are websites for that sort of thing now). It’s an immediate bestseller, horrifying its subjects and scandalising their neighbours. Such filth and fury can now be enjoyed on DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of Network, who are issuing a new scan of Please Turn Over as part of their The British Film range.
Based on the hit West End comedy Book of the Month, Please Turn Over comes from writer Norman Hudis, producer Peter Rogers and director Gerald Thomas, best known as the team behind the first six Carry On films. The cast features several British comedy stars of the era; Ted Ray, then a popular radio presence in the BBC radio show Ray’s a Laugh, plays Jo’s aghast father Edward, Joan Sims is the family maid Beryl and Leslie Phillips is afforded the chance to play against type as Dr. Manners, a GP outraged at being portrayed as a sex-mad philanderer in the book. The likes of Lionel Jeffries, Joan Hickson and Charles Hawtrey appear in smaller roles, while Gainsborough star Jean Kent makes a rare comedy appearance as Jo’s mother Janet.
Superficially, the film evokes the celebrated suburban daydreams made at Ealing Studios earlier in the decade; Meet Mr. Lucifer (1953) sees Londoners terrorised by a different scandalous signifier of modern degeneracy – a television set. There’s no such backwards moralism peddled in Please Turn Over. Jo and angry young man playwright Robert Hughes (Tim Seely) are painted sympathetically and it’s the fuddy-duddies who need to listen. Really, it is surprising how well this film from the Carry On team has aged.
With this broadening of the mind, then, comes a broadening of the comedy. Ribaldry abounds in a series of sequences showing how Jo’s family and neighbours are portrayed in the book. These scenes are very enjoyable – Leslie Phillips slips into his usual lecherous role and Joan Sims’ east-end housemaid is reimagined as a saucy French maid – but when we’re back to reality, Please Turn Over seems to fizzle out. Comedies of this type often wrap up neatly and somewhat predictably, but there’s usually a little more garnish than in the last 15 minutes of this film. Disappointingly, Jo settles into the same conformity she was trying to break.
So The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner it isn’t. Please Turn Over starts and ends a fairly traditional slice-of-life breeze and really that’s good enough. It’s still an example of British comedy in a purple patch and boasts a strong script and a stellar cast. As ever, Network have rescanned the film elements in High Definition and presented the film in its original theatrically exhibited aspect ratio. Additionally, a new interview with Tim Seely – now the film’s only star still living – is included, making for an excellent package.