UK (1962) Dir. Clive Donner
It’s so sad
When you’re young
To be told
You’re having fun
Adam and The Ants shared this sentiment with us in 1981 but it is one likely to resonate with the youth of any post-war generation as this film from almost 20 years earlier attests.
In Bristol, three teenage friends – Johnny (Ray Brooks), Bert (David Hemmings) and Bill (David Andrews) – just want to have fun but the stuffy adults that rule society prevent this from happening. Having lost their motorbike licences for a year after causing an accident, the lads try to find something else to do but it isn’t until they are caught messing about in the local church that things begin to look up.
Volunteer choir leader Mr. Smith (Kenneth More) invites the boys to attend his practice group, where they can play their rock’n’roll music during the tea break, forming a band with Bill’s girlfriend Terry (Angela Douglas) on vocals, drummer Jimmy (Frankie Dymon Jr) and bassist Tim (Timothy Nightingale). But Mr. Smith’s suggestion they try the Duke Of Edinburgh scheme drives a rift between the friends.
Some People is certainly some film but not for the reasons you might think. As a rowdy rock’n’roll fable, this quite a dynamic free entry into the overflowing oeuvre of teens chasing stardom through music. The poster taglines might imply this is the UK’s answer to Rebel Without A Cause, but it is more like Rebel Without A Clue because it a very British film.
The reason for this is that it was made on behalf of the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme to promote Prince Philip’s prize giving venture to young people who apply themselves to undertaking productive and wholesome activities. And what better way to galvanise and inspire the youth of Britain then turning a bunch of unruly rockers into model citizens you can set your watch by?
And therein lies the problem with this film for anyone expecting it to be a vibrant slice of Swinging Sixties nostalgia – it isn’t, at least not in that respect. However, the kitchen sink drama element does make this stand out from the glut of run-of-the-mill pop music films of the era where the cast summarily break into song and dance numbers, giving it a relatable edge for the disengaged youth.
From the onset Johnny, Bill, and Bert are presented as a threat to the upstanding and respectable community of Bristol with their leather jackets and noisy bikes but the reality is they are just kids who want to have fun but “the man” won’t let them. When they visit their old youth club where bored kids play table tennis util Johnny unleashes some boogie-woogie on the piano which gets everyone dancing but the club master (Richard Davies) halts it immediately and kicks the trio out.
Luckily, the sensibly dressed Mr. Smith is able to offer the boys respite from the youth club Nazis and his encouragement reaps positive rewards once the band starts to take shape. But Bill feels like he is performing under duress and Smith is no different from the others, taking his replacement in the band after no showing rehearsals badly and starts antagonising the others. Bill feels vindicated when Smith cagily has everyone agree to earn a D of E badge, causing further splits in the friendship.
To be honest, the way Smith did introduce the idea of the scheme to the kids was a bit creepy, not using the D of E name and being cryptic about “the scheme” and what it has to offer made it sound like a cult leader promising paradise to gullible zealots while lacing their cola with strychnine. He wasn’t of course, but they had to be subtle about how they promoted the scheme without it appearing like a full-blown commercial.
Want more ham fisted product placement? Mr. Smith just happens to be an engineer for the Bristol Aeroplane Company and they are in the middle of the first ever testing of the Bristol 188, a supersonic aircraft, which just happens to have captured for prosperity on film – this film in fact!
Similarly, the music the band played was also indicative of a “designed by committee” style approach to the film. With their rebellious attitudes and cheap tatty guitars, we are forgiven for expecting a raw, raucous Gene Vincent-esque racket – instead we get Helen Shapiro inspired, coffee lounge easy listening (with Angela Douglas miming to vocals by Valerie Mountain). Seriously!
Eking out the drama beyond the Bill vs. the band vs. the establishment feud is a half-baked love triangle between Johnny, Terry, and Mr. Smith’s straight-laced daughter Annie (future Doctor Who assistant Anneke Wills). Annie and Johnny start dating but jealous Terry flirts with Johnny and doesn’t really lead to any fireworks, serving mostly to single out Johnny as the de facto protagonist.
That someone of Kenneth More’s calibre should appear in a film like this might be surprising but work was drying up, and as a supporter of the D of E scheme, he worked gratis save for expenses. More also met third wife Angela Douglas here, despite the 26-year age gap and him still being married.
But the true star in ascendant is Ray Brooks, a last minute replacement when the original actor withdrew, a slow burning totem of young adult angst, compared to David Andrews slightly overacted turn as Bill. David Hemmings would later find his niche in cult films like Blow Up!, whilst Prince Phillip reportedly told Anneke Wills at the film’s premiere he enjoyed the scene of Annie in the bath shrinking her jeans!
Despite not presenting a challenge for A Hard Day’s Night or The Young Ones as a rock’n’roll film for the ages and its shameless endorsements, Some People does have a watchable charm about it as a zeitgeist snap shot of working class 60’s England with little pretension about portraying music as a key to instant success and happiness.