Survey results

The Greatest Voice

Not a bad response this month to the question, Who has the greatest voice in British cinema? No clear winner though, with many names put forward. Here are the actors who gained more than one vote:

James Mason - 5 votes

Joan Greenwood - 4 votes

Roger Livesey - 4 votes.

John Gielgud - 3 votes

Glynis Johns - 2 votes

Margaret Rutherford - 2 votes

Those who got one vote a piece include Wendy Hiller, Laurence Olivier, Jack Hawkins, Dorothy Tutin, Dennis Price, Nigel Patrick, Denholm Elliott, Dirk Bogarde, Donald Wolfit, Richard Todd, Ralph Richardson, Ronald Colman and Geraldine McEwan. 

The difficulty of choosing just one is summed up by this reply:

I would find it absolutely impossible to choose just one British cinema voice and declare it to be the best. I do agree with the majority of your short list, but I also take issue with you - there are too many candidates that you have left off!

There can be no argument about Greenwood, she had a voice that appeared to have been dipped in sex, but you must also include Kay Kendall, Honor Blackman and the exquisite husky little girl tones of Glynis Johns. Appealing in a much different way were the eccentric sounds of Martita Hunt, Joyce Grenfell and Margaret Rutherford. Brief Encounter is absolute tosh, and it is only because of Johnson that it is still remembered. I know that she is outside the remit of this web site but Judi Dench is a worthy successor to the marvellous Dame Celia.

On the male side please add James Mason's smooth but slightly sinister tones, the precise accents of Michael Denison and Raymond Huntley, George Cole's adopted vowels, Robert Donat's soft northern lilt, Scotland's Sean Connery, James Robertson Justice, Alastair Sim and Gordon Jackson, the outrageous camp of Kenneth Williams, and endless, endless others.

Go West

In the last survey you were given the choice of six actors and asked which one you thought would have benefited most from going to Hollywood. Of the six, three actually did go to Hollywood which proves two things: 1) the reach of Hollywood is truly global and, 2) my brain cells are not what they were.

Perhaps because of the flawed nature of the question not many of you bothered to vote this time even though the survey was up for two months. Here are the results:

Dirk Bogarde - 5 votes (Song Without End)

Jessie Matthews - 5 votes (Forever and a Day)

Kenneth More - 4 votes

Googie Withers - 3 votes

Jean Kent - 2 votes

No one voted for Norman Wisdom (even though he's the only one who actually made a decent film in America - The Night They Raided Minsky's). There was a single vote each for Alastair Sim and Will Hay who weren't on the list.

More's supporters were the most articulate:

Kenneth More would have been perfect in a role opposite Marilyn Monroe, or some such actress. He had a sense of humour and sly way that would have been perfect for Hollywood. I think he could have given David Niven a run for his money as the Englishman in America roles.

He would have made it big over there.

With or without his legs he was an exceptionally under-rated star who deserved a better career.

Bogarde also had his fans:

This man's all round acting ability could of got some massive film roles in Hollywood, his Gritty, Bloody mindedness shines on screen.

Just imagine Dirk Bogarde as Kurtz in Apocalypse Now- not being sarcastic, honest.

And here's a summing up:

Hollywood was not that kind to British actors. Deborah Kerr was given a number of roles that hardly stretched her. Ditto James Mason. Jean Simmons never fulfilled her early promise in the films she made for RKO. Kerr had to fight for the part she is most remembered for in "From Here to Eternity", and Mason was far from first choice for "A Star is Born".

Dirk Bogarde did go - remember the appalling "Song without End"? I think he was better off staying - was he offered anything better than "The Egyptian"? Even when he was making those dreadful comedy films of the 1950s and 1960s there was something interesting about Bogarde. I also think that he was incredibly brave to do "Victim", and his partnership with Losey was rewarding.

Jean Kent - why would Hollywood want her when they already had Audrey Totter?

Jessie Matthews - and Fred Astaire? Aren't you really glad that she couldn't find the time.

Kenneth More was given international co-stars - Bacall, Mansfield, Elg, - to boost his World appeal - and it didn't!

Norman Wisdom was one acquired taste that Hollywood was wise not to want.

Googie Withers' theatrical style of acting would not have suited American films.

Sally Gray might have made it. I could imagine her having the sort of Hollywood career that Madeleine Carroll enjoyed. However, Gray's limited range may have been better suited to the parts Veronica Lake portrayed.

Overall I think that I am glad that some actors stayed. Alastair Sim would have been sorely missed, and so would the likes of Jack Hawkins. Keep in mind that when Hawkins was tempted his reward was "Land of the Pharaohs"!

Next time, I'll try to get it right.

Gainsborough melodrama

This was the month to choose your favourite Gainsborough melodrama. With so much madness on display how can one have a favourite? Well, there was a clear winner.

The Wicked Lady - 16 votes

Madonna of the Seven Moons - 5 votes

Fanny by Gaslight - 2 votes

The Man in Grey - 2 votes

Carnival - 1 vote

Hungry Hill - 1 vote

Jassy - 1 vote

There were also a vote a piece for Our Man in Havana and the Bulldog Drummond series. Both excellent of course, but not Gainsborough.

The Wicked Lady walks it by miles and here's why:

The most famous and the simply the best (or worst!). Lockwood at her campest, Roc all simpering and sweetness, Jones at his blandest. Only Mason letting the side down by attempting to act. Superb!

In the present day it is funny to watch. It's humorous in the way it uses innuendoes, tacky lines and the costumes are great. 

...The Wicked Lady stands and delivers, escaping through her secret passage, to gallop, swashbuckling in the English countryside, under the shadow of the gallows!

Madonna of the Seven Moons has its fans too:

Some of these films are awfully tame in their wildness, but this is the one in which, to its credit, Gainsborough let rip the most. The split-personality device is a neat metaphor for the whole Britfilm business, really: Brief Encounter with its make-tea-not-love message on one hand, Gainsborough bodice-rippers on the other. Presumably, they were both enjoyed by much the same audiences.

Which forties housewife wouldn't want to sneak out for a bit of rumpy-pumpy with Stewart Granger and have the excuse of a split personality!

The Man in Grey got a vote "for the Stars involved and for the light yet riveting relief from the war" and Fanny by Gaslight got one for the great name!

Licking Hitler

This month you were asked which comic was most effective at fighting the Nazis. 22 of you took the trouble to vote and it was a walk over:

Will Hay - 16 votes

Arthur Askey - 3 votes

George Formby - 2 votes

Charters and Caldicott - 1 vote

Hay's fans were very articulate: 

School Master, Master Spy, ARP Warden, Bomb Disposal, Foiling Fifth Columnist Plots. This was the ideal man to teach old Adolf a lesson, sticking two fingers up to any authority (whatever side). So I say, You chaps, Let's hear it for good old 'SIR,' WILL HAY! Hip Hip HOORAY, Hip Hip HOORAY, Hip Hip HOORAY! WAR BONDS AVAILABLE AT THIS CINEMA.

It's hard for me to judge how the comedians named would have aided the war effort, and I would guess this to be the case for the majority who respond to this poll, as we were not around in the war. I have chosen Will Hay because he is my favourite comedy player from this era, although of the films he made during the war my preference is for MY LEARNED FRIEND

Cheerfully incompetent, and with no idea how he'd got himself into such a mess, he represented the spirit of the age. Shame he never joined forces with Moffat and Marriott in this period.

One of Arthur Askey's fans summed up his appeal:

"Ay Thang You !!" 'Big-Hearted' Arthur, to me, represents the "Carry On Regardless" spirit of the war years. Whilst Will Hay gave us the "Up and at 'em !" attitude, Askey gave us the all-round, sing-along performances which must have been quite a relief from the pressures of the time. For simply jollying us along, I say the 'Ays' have it !  

And a Formby fan adds:

He got to punch Hitler in Let George Do It. Is there a more perfect moment in wartime cinema? 

And as for the female comics, well it seems Cicely Courtneidge foiled a spy ring in Under Your Hat. Elsie and Doris Waters (Gert and Daisy) made a couple of moral boosting comedies, but never actually got to grips with the enemy.

Ealing Comedy

The Ealing comedies have always been popular with film fans and 44 of you took the trouble to vote for your favourite. Here's the results: 

Kind Hearts and Coronets - 14 votes

The Ladykillers - 7 votes

Passport to Pimlico - 6 votes

Hue and Cry - 5 votes

The Lavender Hill Mob - 4 votes

Titfield Thunderbolt - 3 votes

Whisky Galore - 3 votes

The Maggie - 2 votes

Most of the films got a vote (did I leave off The Man in the White Suit or does no one like it?), but it's a walkover for Kind Hearts and Coronets:

It's head and shoulders above the other films, in fact they don't come anywhere near this outstanding film.

This film introduced me to the delights of Ealing comedies. I'll never tire of it. It's the best 'pick me up' in the world." 

An obvious enough choice but the sheer sleekness of Price's performance is still wonderful (he was unfairly overshadowed by Guinness), as is the sharpness of the dialogue. The humour doesn't look so black now, but it's still funny; and even the enforced retribution at the end is so wittily handled that it still manages to satisfy.

The Ladykillers also pleased:

I love all of the 'classic' Ealing comedies, but this one stands out by miles. Mackendrick deftly sets up this cosy atmosphere of bygone gentility and before you know it the whole premise is set upon it's head and 'genteel' becomes 'surreal'. A film to be delighted in over and over again. A wonderful flight of anarchic fantasy. The lesson is that one should never judge what is held to be 'normal'.... 

It's surprising how many of you those who voted for Passport to Pimlico want to be Burgundians. It must be all that hot weather.

Several people voted for the Ealing film they saw first which turned them on to British films including a Titfield Thunderbolt fan who saw it when he was stationed over here, and a Hue and Cry fan who saw it in Manhattan as a teenager and has been a fan of British films ever since. It's good to know that these films are still projecting Britain as their producer Michael Balcon wanted. 

Hitchcock - The Golden Years

The films Hitchcock made just prior to moving to America are some of the most loved British films ever. So it's no surprise that this survey got more voters than the previous two.

So here are the results:

The 39 Steps - 13 votes

The Lady Vanishes - 11 votes

Young and Innocent - 3 votes

The Man Who Knew Too Much - 1 vote

Sabotage - 1 vote

And it's a close race for the top position with supporters of The 39 Steps and the Lady Vanishes arguing the merits of their choices:

The 39 Steps

If only for the 'Mr McCrocodile' joke alone! An absolute gem. The remakes and stage play never replicated the brilliant quality of the original.

A absolute "Masterpiece" one Donat's greatest roles! You can watch this film time after time, and still spot new bits of plot, character, sets in this well crafted "CLASSIC".

What an achievement when you consider where and how it was filmed....none of the remakes quite ever made this grade - but then, who COULD second Robert Donat ?

Best spy movie ever made. Donat and Carroll were perfect.

The 39 Steps is a brilliant comedy/thriller/romance. The new digitally mastered DVD brings Hitchcock's artistry to life in a beautifully crisp black and white. Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll are hot!

The Lady Vanishes

Michael Redgrave shines with comedic brilliance creating the illusion of ad-libbed dialogue. But the stars are undoubtedly Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne whose exude sheer Englishness and charm. And if nothing else we beat the bally Hun!

Possibly the best script Hitch ever had to work with - and the best cast. Michael Redgrave was never this much fun again.

Hitchcock - The Experimental Years

Since these films are so rarely shown, it's maybe not surprising few people voted. Here are the results: 

Blackmail - 7 votes

Waltzes From Vienna - 3 votes

Rich and Strange - 3 votes

Number Seventeen - 1 vote

No surprises in the number 1 slot, but a remarkably strong showing for Waltzes From Vienna.

Hitchcock - The Silent Years

Not a brilliant response to the vote on your favourite Hitchcock silent, but then only two are out on video in the UK and the others are rarely screened. Here are the results:

The Lodger -  10 votes

The Ring - 4 votes

Champagne - 2 votes

The Farmer's Wife - 2 votes

Unsurprisingly, the two that are officially available on video in Britain are the two that win. What is perhaps more surprising is that his two silent comedies are the only other two to get votes.

"Whatever one may think of the story (and since in retrospect it seems atypical of Hitchcock), I think THE FARMER'S WIFE is by far the best directed Hitchcock silent. Far more subtle than THE LODGER and a better story than most of his other silents."

This Ring picked up a fair share of votes ("surely the best from Hitch's silent era") Despite this, The Lodger wins hands down.

"Hitchcock referred to it as 'the first Hitchcock film' and he's right. Most of the elements of his distinctive style are present and correct."

Do you want to know?

It was a difficult call: should biographers tell us every private detail about their subjects' lives? With three versions of Alec Guinness' life heading our way it's a topical subject, but with 32 votes we've landed a dead heat.

Many of those who voted on one side or another have deep reservations about their decision. Having to put complex moral arguments into a straight yes/no vote has meant we got many articulate arguments justifying or mitigating the decision:   

I can live with this issue either way. At the end of the day, I prefer to let the artist's WORK do the talking - I have read all sorts of 'revelations' over the years but still enjoy the movies of the people I admire. If they have to write this sort of thing at all, why do they never have the nerve to do it when the subject is still alive to respond? 

Should they choose not to publish their scandal, I would be happier. I read film books for film stories and a private life should be private. But at the end of the day it's the films that matter and one should never let the surfacing of whatever 'true-life drama' which emerges posthumously, detract from what one has enjoyed for so many years.

It's a grown up world out here, we are supposedly more 'enlightened' now and we can still (sensibly) discuss grown up issues - no need to 'muck rake'...


A tricky one this. While someone is alive I believe it's up to them what they chose the world to know. But particularly in matters of gay/bisexuality, the more "the general public" know of how many people are/were gay or bisexual, the more normal it becomes. You can't paint a true picture of a person if only the "socially acceptable" parts of their life are mentioned. Hopefully future generations will wonder what all the fuss was about!


What the hell ! everything should be open in the adult world.


I've voted no on this one, because I believe that we all have a right to privacy. However there is always the much abused public interest defence that the papers use at the moment. However I favour a privacy law so that biographers and papers especially will have to account for this public interest (in court if necessary)


Surely the man should be judged on his talents as an actor. What he did off screen, whatever it may have been, should remain off-screen.


People should learn to separate the artist from the person. Michael Powell, for example, was a wonderful artist, but a vastly self-centred and at times, mean person. Does that makes his movies worse? Not even a little bit. 

It's a fascinating debate and no doubt the argument will continue for a long time.

Leave well alone

Last month I asked you to devise a truly awful idea for a Hollywood remake of a British classic, and I've been called a snob for my trouble! So, in order to maintain the reputation of us Brits I'd better do a bit of explaining.

My main objection to the proposed remake of Kind Hearts and Coronets is that the original film is such a gem. If it were easy to put together the elements that turn a film into a classic, then there'd be a lot more decent films on at the pictures. The remake will almost certainly be worse than the original, so why do it?

Look at the recent version of Psycho. Interesting as an intellectual exercise, but not much of a film. Or how about US TV's remake of Casablanca starring David Soul. I've been reminded of our own skeletons in the closet: The Boys in Blue (Canon and Ball failing to pull off Ask a Policeman) Brief Encounter (with Sophia Loren in the Celia Johnson role) and The Wicked Lady (Faye Dunnaway).

No. If you're going to do a remake, do a Scorsese and tackle a film that's nearly great or could have been better, as he did with Cape Fear. Remember it took Hollywood three attempts in ten years at The Maltese Falcon before they came up with perfection. And who can name the German film on which Some Like It Hot was based?

There weren't many participants in this month's survey but the proposals they came up with were frighteningly possible. So let's hear it for:

A Taste of Honey: with Glenn Close and Winona Ryder

The Happiest Days of Your Life: with John Goodman and Bette Midler

I Know Where I'm Going: with Sean Connery and Jennifer Lopez

The Titfield Thunderbolt: set during the US air traffic control strike in the 80s and using Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose

The Red Shoes: Britney Spears is torn between her love for Skeet Ulrich and her Broadway musical career.

Also mentioned were I'm All Right Jack, The Ladykillers and A Canterbury Tale.

Simply the best

This survey of Alastair Sim's best performances proved popular, but that's hardly surprising since he's still one of our most loved stars. So here are the results:

Hue and Cry - 15

The Belles of St Trinians - 12

The Happiest Days of Your Life - 12

Green for Danger - 8

Scrooge - 3

School for Scoundrels - 1

Stage Fright - 1

Sim's performance in Hue and Cry ("the best coward in cinema since the lion in The Wizard of Oz") wins over the competition despite being little more than a cameo. His two classic school farces draw in second place: Belles of St Trinian's ("Sim hamming it up in drag", "perfect") and The Happiest Days of Your Life ("all the while with his superb facial and oral expressions, moods and acting skill - Sim at his funny/serious best"). 

Green for Danger put up a good showing too ("A marvellous performance in a wonderfully atmospheric little picture. The truly eccentric inspector with his quirks and his 'hidden' incisiveness is played in Sim's usual skilful manner").

School for Scoundrels and Stage Fright ("each scene with Sim's 'Commodore Gill' is a gem in itself, especially when playing off against the marvellous Sybil Thorndike. The only down side was that ruddy jumper!!") were the only unmentioned films volunteered. 

I was also asked which was the film with the bomb and the string quartet. That was The Green Man, but since you can only vote for one film I've not included it in the final tally. 

Missing in Action

I was so damn cocky. I had it well organised. I dropped in on the results file often and made sure I was well ahead of the game. So here are Non-Stop New York, The Tunnel, Fire Maidens From Outer Space, It's a Boy, Vintage Wine, Storm in a Teacup. And apart from a request for more shorts there you have it - sorted!

Then at the last minute someone suggests 23 film titles, few of which I've even heard of, let alone seen. So the following are going to take a bit more time: The Horse's Mouth, Further Up the Creek, Room at the Top, The Oracle, Broth of a Boy, Innocents in Paris, Insomnia is Good For You, Down Among the Z Men, Elstree Story, The Venetian Bird, Black Orchid, The Holly and the Ivy, Ghost Ship, Laughing Lady, Valley of Song, Up for the Cup, Time Gentlemen Please, Vice Versa, The Trollenberg Terror, The Spaniard's Curse, The Phantom Shot, Four Sided Triangle, Sally's Irish Rogue (ineligible - it's an Irish production and my Irish friends are very keen on the difference between British and Irish).

Should get them done by the end of the month. That'll teach me!

Carry On Voting

Thirty of you took the trouble to vote for your best and worst Carry Ons, so here is the result of the vote:


5 votes : Screaming

4 votes :  Teacher

3 votes : Up the Khyber, ...Don't Lose Your Head, ... At Your Convenience

2 votes : Cleo, Constable, Cruising

1 vote : Abroad, Cabby, Camping, Jack, Nurse, Spying


14 votes : Columbus

6 votes : Emmanuel

2 votes : England, Girls 

1 vote : Spying, Dick, ... Follow That Camel, Regardless, Sergeant

Screaming narrowly beats the competition to win the best slot, though Teacher does unexpectedly well to get second. Columbus, to the surprise of no one surely, wins the worst slot by a wide margin (though not the 95% predicted by one respondent).

Screaming does well in the best moment vote too, with "Frying Tonight!" getting by far the most mentions, but many other moments also getting a nod. Moments from other films include those perennial favourites "Infamy, Infamy", and that dinner party from Khyber.

But that's not all. How about the climactic chase from Cabby, the cinema scene from Camping, or Constable's bare bums? Or Anita Harris or any other nurse losing her uniform (except Kenneth Cope)? ...Don't Lose Your Head produced several classic lines including Citizen Nitwit and Joan Sims' magnificent "I don't mind the equality and the fraternity but I'm not having the liberties!".


Who would you put on a stamp to represent Britishness? There was a wide range of opinions offered on this one, and no real consensus.

The acting knights did well. Alec Guinness ("especially as every D'Ascoynes, the epitome of Britishness" got four votes. Michael Redgrave, John Mills and Laurence Olivier also got mentioned.

Stiff upper lips came from Trevor Howard ("From Brief Encounter through War films to Sir Henry Rawlinson. Splendid choice? What?") and Jack Hawkins ("the model of patriarchal middle class confidence", "the voice and presence represents the calmness, dignity and sometimes the righteous indignation of the Brit"). Richard Attenborough was also popular: "transcending acting to directing to regality!".

Among the women nominated were perennial favourites Margaret Rutherford, Vivien Leigh, and Joan Greenwood.  Also Kathleen Byron ("she can show the world that us Brits can be fiendishly sexy"), and Julie Christie ("both classically beautiful yet thoroughly modern ... weird blend of the contemporary and traditional that's somehow very British"). Barbara Windsor was put forward as a joke, but I think she'd be rather good on a stamp.

One nomination consisted of Edith Evans, Fay Compton, Catherine Lacey, Rosalie Crutchley, Margaret Rutherford, Sybil Thorndike, Martita Hunt and Alastair Sim. Bit of a crowded stamp, that one.

Most popular woman was a surprise to me: Googie Withers. The sheer longevity of her career and the range of her roles makes her a strong contender. And preferring to live in the sunny suburbs of Australia instead of this grey old country makes her very British.

The winner was only nominated once, but very persuasively. "What a voice! Stoic, restrained, humorous, lousy teeth -- what could be more British": Roger Livesey.

Why not take part in the current survey? Results of last year's survey's here.