Saturday 21 March 2020



Review of: 
 A BHE Production/ Paramount, 1968. 
Director: Peter Collinson. With Dennis Waterman, 
Suzy Kendall, Adrienne Posta and Maureen Lipman 
(DVD, 2008, Paramount Pictures DVD)

‘There’s nothing new about today, only what the papers say…’ 
 (“Up The Junction” by Manfred Mann)

Dennis Waterman. He’s forever with us. The loveable-rascal child-star of BBC-TV’s adaptation of Richmal Crompton’s ‘Just William’ from 26th May 1962, he could later be seen as the dashing young hero opposite Christopher Lee in Hammer Horror’s ‘Scars Of Dracula’ (1970), valiantly dueling the vampire Count on the battlements of Castle Dracula, before Lee is struck by lightning and plummets to his fiery death. But he became even more high-profile as DS George Carter, tough side-kick foil for John Thaw’s no-nonsense Detective Inspector ‘Jack’ Regan in hard-hitting cop-drama ‘The Sweeeny’ (from January 1975), which spun-off into two big-screen movies in 1977 and 1978. The universally-popular ‘Minder’ softened his persona, reaching new heights of popularity as gullible easy-going Terry McCann to George Cole’s inept devious con-man ‘Arthur Daley’ (from 29th October 1979). He even got to ‘write da feem toon, sing da feem toon’, and that theme-song – “I Could Be So Good For You” saw him cavorting on ‘Top Of The Pops’ as it peaked at no.3 in November 1980. Since then he’s been ageing comfortably into the role of retired cop ‘Gerry Standing’ in ‘New Tricks’ with James Bolam and Amanda Redman (from 27 March 2003), taking the Waterman screen-life all the way from schoolboy to senior citizen. He’s likeable, and people like Dennis Waterman in an easy undemanding reliable kind of way. He knows how to work to camera, because it’s something he’s always done. It’s his day-job.

That he could have been something more is hinted at in ‘Up The Junction’. Here, for once, he’s given the opportunity of stepping outside of character, into something potentially different. But this film is more than that. It’s also the nexus of a number of other career-trajectories threading through the sixties. Manfred Mann wrote the score. With Manfred’s beatnik-jazz guise and Mike Hugg’s compositional abilities (later utilised for the ‘Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads’ TV-theme), they were always more musicianly-competent than their run of hits and chart-contemporaries would suggest. Now, as the siren blasts, and the factory-slappers pour out through the gates the Manfred’s acoustic strum feeds in behind them – ‘through the factory-gates they swarm, overalls like uniforms’, climbing for long-shots over Battersea Bridge towards the Power Station. Vocalist Mike D’Abo sets the scene with lyrics telling of people ‘drifting in the human stream… conditioned to the daily grind’. Although – unusually for Manfred’s men, it didn’t chart, the single edit of the theme-song (Fontana 267-810TF) is one of their finest records. And the album, with its sixties Pop-Art design is now highly-collectible.

While the Nell Dunn novel on which the screenplay is based, is part of the upsurge of angry Working Class writing that was busy upsetting the cosy literary-complacency of the bookish establishment. After all, the ‘Junction’ is both Clapham Junction rail-station, and a more dubious slang reference to the crotch. Although born to privileged upper-class Chelsea parents and educated at a convent, Dunn had dropped out at age fourteen. In 1959 – like Polly Dean (Suzy Kendall) in her story, she’d moved to more exuberant Battersea, worked in a sweet factory, and become part of the vibrantly turbulent community she found there. Here, the DVD-jacket calls twenty-one-year-old Polly a ‘well-heeled party girl who, bored with her affluent Chelsea lifestyle, moves to the industrialised and considerably less well to-do area of Battersea’. So the film dramatises her real-life transition. From the big white house beyond the gravel drive behind the black gates. To the chauffeur, and the Rolls taking her just across the river, to ‘a different world entirely’ as the estate agent muses. It’s a ‘different world, love, that’s all’ repeats Peter later, in case the emphasis was missed the first time round. Why she’s switching lives is never adequately spelled out, beyond glimpses gleaned from her comments. ‘I know what money does to people. I know what it’s like to be rich. It destroys you. It makes you false and useless, and I don’t want to be any part of it.’ Her old life was too safe and controlled? Too hypocritical and smugly complacent? Too artificial?

Opposite the rail embankment the ‘ever-so well-spoken’ Polly applies for a job. Figgins, the foreman, is Michael Robbins – ‘Arthur’ from the ‘On The Buses’ sit-com. ‘I’ve come to enquire after work’ she enunciates politely. Only to be corrected, ‘a job’. Soon she’s packing ‘Pringles’ chocolates six-to-the-box. The girls wear headscarves and blue overalls. They banter raucous-gossip about one girl who’s ‘been a scrubber all her life, that one’. There’s a Monkees-poster on the wall. And they smoke. Edie coughing phlegm into a crumpled handkerchief over the production-line. And they’re almost poisoned by a full pack of fags found immersed at the bottom of a tea-urn. Health and Safety legislation was less stringent in those days. At break-time, apprentices play football in the yard beside the bike-sheds as the girls watch and snigger. Polly observes it all in strange wonderment, as if they’re exhibits in a wildlife documentary.

Next day, in her dark trouser-suit and carrying a red suitcase, Polly comes looking for digs in an area where signs say ‘No Colored’s’. With a cheap apartment rented she spots Dennis Waterman – as ‘Pete’, driving a green VW van. He works at ‘The Curio’, a second-hand junk-shop owned by Charlie (Alfie Bass). She doesn’t want antique furniture, she wants ‘ordinary and plain’ from his Steptoe-and-Son yard outside. £4. 10s for a sofa, a free kitten, and a lift in his van. He’s nervous as he humps her stuff into her flat. She’s out of his class, literally. She tries to tip him. Instead, he asks her out. Pete is a working-class Mod with aspirations. He is what I was at the time. I recognise his every symptom. I recognise the factory and the women who work there. For me, it was a print factory in Hull. But the reality is instantly convincing. A strange lost world, but it’s one that I was a part of. I can vouch for its authenticity. I taste it still.

It’s their first date together that sets up their opposing contradiction. Polly gets her long hair cut into a bob. Buys the bright-orange miniskirt and dangling pink earrings that she wears on the cover of the soundtrack album. He turns up in a white turtle-neck sweater, riding a Mod scooter. She doesn’t want to go to his preferred choice, the West End or Kensington. Why can’t they just walk? So they walk. Fires burn in the slum clearance rubble. Tower-blocks rear behind. A Police siren phases by. A dog barks. She’s entranced by the romance of watching twilight over the rail sidings. He sees it differently. ‘Poxy little houses. Some Mum in bed. Steel rods in her hair and false teeth in her glass. Her Old Man snoring, he’s been out on the booze, every time a train goes by it rattles the house. The Old Man starts coughing. Out of bed and spit it in the pot. A kid’ll scream further down the road. Up in the morning at six, go to work, day in and day out.’ It’s a soliloquy of some poetic power. She sees it differently, to her it is ‘more real, more natural’, a place where you are ‘free to be yourself.’ But no, not to him, ‘freedom? You get more freedom in Wandsworth Jail’ he retorts. Later they witness a street-brawl with factory-girl Sylv and ‘my ponce of a husband’, with Mum and the cops wading in. Embittered, Pete tells her ‘seen enough? You wanted too see life, well that’s it, you’ve seen it.’ Like the Rolling Stones’ socially-aware lyric to “Play With Fire”, ‘well, you’ve got your diamonds and you've got your pretty clothes, and the chauffeur drives your car, you let everybody know, but don’t play with me, ‘cause you’re playing with fire…’

The second strand of the film is Polly’s arm-in-arm friendship with two unlikely sisters, blonde Rube (Adrienne Posta), and dark-haired Sylvie McCarthy (Maureen Lipman). She’s there with them in the smoky saloon bar where Rube banters the pick-up routine with Terry. ‘What’ya doing tomorrow?’ ‘Having a bath.’ ‘Is it your birthday then?’ Outside she straddles the back of his big Triumph motorcycle, asking him ‘are you safe?’ ‘Only when I’m driving’ he leers The dialogue catches the exact sniff of grit-truth. As she’s dropped off outside their terraced house she sniggers to Sylv ‘do you know? I’ve got a feeling that Terry can do anything he likes with me.’ When Rube passes out at work Polly takes her home. Inevitably, she’s ‘up the spout’, but ‘I’ll get rid of it. I know someone up Wimbledon way.’ Before legal terminations on the NHS the only alternative was back-street abortion. This film illustrates its full horrors. The wonderfully-grotesque Hylda Baker is gin-swigging ‘Winnie’, who does abortions as a ‘sideline’ above her hardware store. She charges three-months-gone Rube £4, cash.

As her new friend endures the horrific ordeal, Polly waits outside. She wanders in the park where lovers stroll, doting fathers with kids watch the swans glide, as the Manfred’s play a pastoral “This Day” over the soundtrack. It’s a family idyll to contrast the squalor of Rube’s situation. When she finally emerges, eye-shadow smeared with tears, she’s unable to walk. So Polly calls Peter. ‘What am I, ambulance or something?’ he snipes and tries to warn Polly off getting involved. But she sticks with Rube as an enraged Terry gatecrashes their terraced house protesting ‘I don’t want no kid of mine going down the drain!’ There’s a screaming match between mother and Sylv, ‘Stupid cow’, ‘You dirty bastard’, as Rube howls out her agony. As an immersion in ‘reality’ it surely exceeds Polly’s worst expectations, she’s truly living the nasty brutish and short side of her proletarian idyll, but there’s more to come.

Once the incident has passed, a reconciled Terry and Rube get engaged. In the middle of their celebration party Rube decides she wants to go bowling, and they set off in a convoy of cars and motorbikes. No helmet, Terry is hit by a truck at a crossroad. It’s Peter who has the sense to ask for a mirror to check his breathing. It’s too late, he’s dead. And it’s Peter who comforts a distraught Polly, in bed.

For the film’s final section Peter turns up in a silver sports car to take Polly for a posh weekend in Brighton. ‘For you, Princess, the best.’ Any other girl from the manor would be well-impressed. Not Polly. Posh is exactly what she doesn’t want. Posh is what she’s escaping from. She’s bored by the upmarket hotel he’s booked them into, and its sniffily disapproving receptionist. She’d prefer a cheap B&B with a fat landlady, and a plate of cockles. Again, their contrasting attitudes are thrown into sharper relief. He proposes marriage. Despite her supposed ‘clever and classless and free’ modernity, her response, ‘you’ll have to get a better job. One to support us both’ betrays her conventional attitudes. As husband, he must also be provider.

His response is equally revealing. ‘Everyone in Battersea knows what you are. They all know you’re a rich girl.’ So has he simply got her marked as a meal-ticket out to the ‘Room At The Top’? ‘You think living in a slum and working in a factory is good for you? You’re mad. They all want what you got.’ No, not exactly. From their first meeting he’s been fixated by her, she makes him more than a little nervous. But part of that attraction is that she represents something better, something elevated from every other aspect of his dead-end life. He’s not only drawn to her, but to everything she represents. A motivational tangle he’s probably unable to resolve himself. While, despite his upwardly-mobile pretensions, his gender expectations remain as dully conventional as hers. He still expects her to get up and prepare a full fry-up breakfast for him as he lies in bed reading a ‘Giggle’ comic-book.

In a neat summing-up finale he’s pulled up for speeding by the cops. He’s stolen the car he’d intended to impress her with. In a court hearing the contemptuous judge sentences him to six months. Naturally the court official is a family friend of Polly’s ‘Daddy’, who allows her to visit him in the cell. On her way out of the courtroom she passes a giggly Rube and Sylv. ‘That’s the thing, you see’ moralises Rube, ‘what you don’t get caught for you’re entitled to.’ And the camera pans out over the river, just as the film began, leaving an open ambiguity. Will Polly return to her safe Chelsea life, sadder but wiser? Is her adventure in slumming over? Or will she be there waiting for him on Pete’s release? For a moment, it’s almost possible to glimpse his easy character-evolution into ‘Minder’s Terry McCann, also an ex-con fresh from the nick. Her future is a matter of choice. His is now more fixed than ever.

Nell Dunn’s path is clearer. She used this source period drawn from her own life to fuel the raunchy and sympathetic female-focused series of short stories that became the book, that became the film. The stories – some of them trailored in the ‘New Statesman’, pass on their authentically gritty power to, first a TV production (a Ken Loach/Tony Garnett BBC ‘Wednesday Play’ broadcast 3 November 1965), then this movie. Yet the film’s reception was not universally positive. Critic Alexander Walker was less than impressed. To him, ‘this story of the Deb girl who settles into a sleazy room to taste the uncorrupted sweetness of slum life’ is ‘all too pat in its parade of slumland London’ (in ‘Hollywood, England’, Harrap Books, 1974). And yes, there is an anthropological aspect to Polly’s exploration of lower-class life, as though she’s a tourist stepping down into a strange culture of quaint and curious people, only to find that she’s ‘using other people’s squalid lives to sustain her own class rebellion’. But, within a context of fluid social mobility in which the earthy realities of Working Class life portrayed by Angry Young Northern writers and personified by the eruption of Beat Groups, ‘Up The Junction’ is honestly autobiographical – if inevitably viewed through celluloid’s distorting lens. While the narrative device of using Polly’s trip through the underclass seems contrived, it throws the contrast into a sharper relief. If the film lacks the monochromatic harder edge of Karel Reisz’ ‘Saturday Night And Sunday Morning’ (1960) from Alan Sillitoe’s novel, revealing to Alexander Walker ‘how swiftly social reality turns into social cliché, unless there is insight and sympathy to refresh it,’ that’s because time had moved on, into the late-sixties, benefiting from London’s newly-swinging status. Reality itself was becoming more porous.

Later, although writing predominantly for the stage, Nell Dunn followed ‘Up The Junction’ with Ken Loach’s equally forceful ‘Poor Cow’ (1967) with Carol White and Terence Stamp. Her subsequent theatre work includes ‘Steaming’ (1981), which ran on Broadway and was revived in the West End during the nineties, while ‘Cancer Tales’ (2003) was a series of monologues and dialogues written in response to her father’s death. Meanwhile, ‘Up The Junction’ features a score of supporting actors with their own vital contributions – comedian Hylda Baker, Alfie Bass, Liz Fraser, as well as dolly-birds Suzy Kendall and Adrienne Posta. Briefly married to Dudley Moore, Suzy Kendall was ‘Gillian’, one of the sassy underperforming schoolkids in teacher Sidney Poitier’s classroom, alongside Lulu and Judy Geeson, in ‘To Sir, With Love’ (1967), tackling racial and social issues in a touchingly humorous way. The seventies were less kind to her, until she (again alongside Liz Fraser and Adrienne Posta) appeared in drab sex-comedy ‘Adventures Of A Private Eye’ (1977). While Adrienne, who also cut a series of Pop singles through the sixties, finally charted as a session-singer on Jonathan King’s 1971 hit “Johnny Reggae” as the Piglets. She also rejoined Dennis Waterman as ‘Jenny’ in the ‘Minder’ episode “All About Scoring, Innit?” (broadcast 20th November 1980). Because Dennis Waterman, he’s forever with us. 


UP THE JUNCTION’ (A BHE Production/ Crasto distributed by Paramount Pictures, 25 January 1968) Director: Peter Collinson. Producers: John Brabourne and Anthony Havelock-Allan. Screenplay by Roger Smith based on the book ‘Up The Junction’ by Nell Dunn. With Dennis Waterman (at Pete), Suzy Kendall (as Polly), Adrienne Posta (as Rube), Maureen Lipman (as Sylvie), Liz Fraser (as Mrs McCarthy), Susan George (as Joyce), Alfie Bass (as Charlie), Linda Cole (as Pauline), Doreen Herrington (as Rita), Jessie Robins (as Lil), Hylda Baker (as Winnie), Queenie Watts (as Mrs Hardy), Billy Murray (as Ray), Michael Robbins (as Figgins), Mike Reid (as uncredited Policeman outside Court). Music by Mike Hugg and Manfred Mann, LP ‘Manfred Mann Go Up The Junction’ (Fontana TL/STL 546023, February 1968) produced by Shel Shalmy with thirteen original tracks. Group in the Pub doing “I Need Your Love” are the Delecardos. 114-minutes (DVD, 2008, Paramount Pictures DVD) 

The June 1979 no.2 hit single “Up The Junction” by Squeeze (A&M 7444) – from the group’s second album ‘Cool For Cats’, has no direct connection to the film, but writers Glen Tilbrook and Chris Difford acknowledge its influence on the song’s title and lyrical themes 

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