battleaxes, spinsters and chars: the ageing woman in british film 2017-10-12آ  submitted by claire...

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  • i

    Battleaxes, Spinsters and Chars: the

    Ageing Woman in British Film Comedy

    of the Mid-Twentieth Century

    Submitted by Claire Mortimer

    Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

    School of Art, Media and American Studies

    University of East Anglia

    February 2017

    This copy of the thesis has been supplied on condition that anyone who consults it is

    understood to recognise that its copyright rests with the author and that use of any

    information derived there from must be in accordance with current UK Copyright

    Law. In addition, any quotation or extract must include full attribution.

    Word count: 94 090

  • ii

    Abstract

    ‘Battleaxes, Spinsters and Chars: the Ageing Woman in British Film Comedy of the Mid-

    Twentieth Century’ explores the prominence of the mature woman in British film comedies

    of the mid-twentieth century, spanning the period from the Second War World to the mid-

    1960s. This thesis is structured around case studies featuring a range of film comedies from

    across this era, selected for the performances of character actresses who were familiar faces

    to British cinema audiences. Organised chronologically, each chapter centres around films

    and actresses evoking specific typologies and themes relevant to female ageing: the

    ‘immobile’ woman in wartime, the spinster in the post-war era, retirement and old age in the

    1950s, and the cockney matriarch in the early 1960s. The selection of case studies

    encompasses the overlooked and critically derided alongside the more celebrated and better

    known in order to represent the range of British film comedy of the time. The final chapter

    spans the time-frame of the whole thesis, exploring the later life stardom of Margaret

    Rutherford. The thesis is centred on close textual analysis of sequences from the case

    studies, applying research into a range of historical texts relevant to the films and actresses,

    including biographies, letters, correspondence, press, posters and publicity materials. Each

    chapter draws on diverse scholarly disciplines to interrogate representations of female

    ageing, encompassing age studies, feminist studies, star studies, sociological research, genre

    studies, political philosophy, anthropology and social history. I conclude that film comedy of

    the mid-twentieth century offered familiar and reassuring typologies of the ageing woman

    for audiences in a time of upheaval and social change. My analysis of the films demonstrates

    how the representations of female ageing provided by these character actresses and stars

    were inflected by the cultural and social context. In her various guises the character actress

    in British comedy offered a fantasy of continuity, stability and reassurance within a country

    which struggled to define its national identity, and a national cinema which was struggling to

    survive.

  • iii

    Contents

    Title page i

    Abstract ii

    Contents iii

    Illustrations iv

    Acknowledgements vii

    Introduction

    Female Ageing, Comedy and Performance in British Film of the Mid-Twentieth

    Century 1

    Chapter 1

    ‘Immobile’ Femininity: the Mature Woman in Wartime Film Comedy 38

    Chapter 2

    ‘It Ain’t Natural Her Not Having a Husband!’: The Spinster and the Post-War

    Settlement 81

    Chapter 3

    The Age of Boredom: the Radicalisation of Retirement in Film Comedy 116

    Chapter 4

    Angry Old Women: Kitchen Sink Comedy of the 1960s 147

    Chapter 5

    ‘Mrs John Bull’: the Eccentric Stardom of Margaret Rutherford 180

    Conclusion 236

    Bibliography 242

  • iv

    Illustrations

    Figure 1 Deep England as evoked by wartime poster, 1942 (Imperial War Museum).

    .................................................................................................................................... 46

    Figure 2 Went the Day Well?: Mrs Collins murders a German soldier. ..................... 47

    Figure 3 A Greek chorus of gossiping matriarchs in Love On The Dole. .................. 49

    Figure 4 Doris and Elsie Waters featured on a cigarette card, 1934. ......................... 51

    Figure 5 Nellie Wallace, photographed by Cecil Beaton in 1947.............................. 52

    Figure 6 Lily Morris and Nellie Wallace as charwomen in Radio Parade of 1935. .. 53

    Figure 7 Doris and Elsie Waters in costume for a publicity shot for Gert and Daisy's

    Weekend. .................................................................................................................... 56

    Figure 8 Gert and Daisy endorsing Maclean's toothpaste, 1938. ............................... 60

    Figure 9 Gert and Daisy's Wartime Cookery Book, 1941. ......................................... 62

    Figure 10 Doris and Elsie Waters opening a communal feeding centre in March

    1941. ........................................................................................................................... 63

    Figure 11 Gert and Daisy confront Ma Butler in Gert and Daisy's Weekend............ 66

    Figure 12 Poster for the Housewives' Service. .......................................................... 67

    Figure 13 Gert and Daisy wait in the fish queue in Gert and Daisy’s Weekend. ...... 68

    Figure 14 Gert and Daisy lead the dancing in the underground shelter in Gert and

    Daisy’s Weekend. ....................................................................................................... 69

    Figure 15 Gert and Daisy meet the upper class in Gert and Daisy’s Weekend. ........ 71

    Figure 16 Gert and Daisy on a tricycle: poster for Gert and Daisy's Weekend. ........ 73

    Figure 17 ‘Now I want you to promise me you’re all going to be really good little

    evacuees and not worry his Lordship.’ Giles cartoon, Sunday Express, 30 July 1944.

    .................................................................................................................................... 74

    Figure 18 Gert and Daisy demonstrate their more maternal side in Gert and Daisy’s

    Weekend. .................................................................................................................... 76

    Figure 19 Gert and Daisy make a promise to the evacuees in Gert and Daisy’s

    Weekend. .................................................................................................................... 77

    Figure 20 The seaside sauciness of the Holiday Camp poster. .................................. 88

    Figure 21 Flora Robson as the 'imperial’ or ‘sanctified’ spinster in Fire Over

    London. ...................................................................................................................... 91

    Figure 22 Elsie attempts to disguise her age in Holiday Camp. ................................ 95

    Figure 23 Elsie and Esther find common ground as spinsters in Holiday Camp. ...... 96

    Figure 24 Elsie competes in a beauty pageant in Holiday Camp. .............................. 99

    Figure 25 ''Heavens! Who is that tall man standing beside Harriet?': cartoonist Helen

    Hokinson celebrates the strong-minded middle-aged woman. ................................ 105

    Figure 26 Miss Reid dominates the conversation in Winter Cruise......................... 107

    Figure 27 A fond farewell for Miss Reid from the French steward in Winter Cruise.

    .................................................................................................................................. 110

    Figure 28 Miss Reid is subdued by romance in Winter Cruise. .............................. 110

    Figure 29 The two spinsters discuss the joys of a cruise in Winter Cruise. ............ 112

  • v

    Figure 30 The residents of Sunset Home await their royal visitor in Alive and

    Kicking. .................................................................................................................... 119

    Figure 31 The three fugitives at sea in Alive and Kicking. ...................................... 121

    Figure 32 Culture clash: Irish traditionalism meets English eccentricity in Alive and

    Kicking. .................................................................................................................... 123

    Figure 33 The fugitives become carers in Alive and Kicking. ................................. 125

    Figure 34 Dora abseils to collect birds' eggs in Alive and Kicking. ......................... 127

    Figure 35 Rosie conceals her crimes in her carpet bag in Alive and Kicking. ......... 128

    Figure 36 Mabel charms the Russians with her pirouettes in Alive and Kicking. .... 130

    Figure 37 Pinkie scurries to the bathroom in Make Mine Mink. .............................. 133

    Figure 38 Collective action unites the household in Make Mine Mink. ................... 136

    Figure 39 Pinkie defends her modesty from the burglar under her bed in Make Mine

    Mink................................................................................

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