Monday, 25 May 2015

Adventures of a Plumber's Mate (1978)

The third film in Stanley Long’s Adventures series starts off with a credits sequence featuring crude, lavatory-themed cartoons.  But where the previous films in the series had theme songs related to the hero’s profession (Taxi Driver and Private Eye respectively), this time we just get a generic disco song called “I’m Flying”.  As with Private Eye’s theme it’s written and sung by star Christopher Neil, and he’s not the only one who seems to have found little inspiration in the world of plumbing: much of what happens in the film itself is entirely unrelated to it.

The absence of reliable screenwriter Michael Armstrong this time round is keenly felt.  In what initially seemed a bit of a coup, Long had engaged the services of Stephen D Frances to write the script.  Though his own name was unknown, Frances had originated the Hank Janson series of spicy pulp thrillers that became a publishing phenomenon in the 50s.  Unfortunately, Long found that Frances’ ideas about what was sexy, and what was funny, were stuck in that era.  The attempt to cobble together a workable script is sadly all too apparent: the film’s really just a string of barely related sketches, but with far more of a feel of desperation about it.

Initially it seems like the film’s going to revolve around the toilet seat Neil replaces for bondage-loving housewife Prudence Drage: unknown to either of them it’s made out of gold bars melted down by her criminal husband (Leon Greene), who’s just got out of prison and wants it back (the Golden Toilet Seat sounds like an award given to films of this type).   However, this plotline comes to a premature end after the seat’s acquired by detective Richard Caldicot, with only a callback to it at the very end of the film, by which time the audience is likely to have forgotten all about it.  The remainder of the action sees Neil attempting to get hold of enough money to pay off a superannuated pair of bookies’ enforcers (Arthur Mullard and Jerold Wells), in brief sketches that see him alternating legitimate work for his plumber boss B A Crapper (Stephen Lewis doing his usual Blakey schtick) and small-time villainy for seedy crook Dodger (Willie Rushton in a role intended for Jimmy Edwards, who proved too drunk to play it).

Memorable moments (“highlights” would be stretching it a bit far) include a housewife (Lindy Benson) getting her dress pulled off after catching it in a waste disposal unit, and Neil attempting to blackmail a massage parlour owner but ending up black and blue at the hands of mammoth masseuse Claire Davenport.  Most mind-boggling of all is the wild party held by wealthy dominatrix Anna Quayle (doing an “Ah do declayuh” Southern US accent for no obvious reason) at which Neil attempts to steal a Picasso.  Here, Christopher Biggins can be seen as a young man in love with a blow-up doll, and we reach the peak of 70s sexcom homophobia with an old queen (David Rayner, who played a similar character in Hylda Baker sitcom Not on Your Nellie) who gets off on the threats of violence with which Neil greets his advances.

Adventures of a Plumber’s Mate has a much grimmer feel than either of the earlier films in the series, and Neil’s character is, generally, much less likeable than the hapless berk he played in Private Eye.  Here he’s deliberately written as a male chauvinist pig, and his less-than-convincing Cockney accent doesn’t do anything to increase his appeal.  After this role, Neil decided to concentrate full-time on music and, give or take a few episodes of BBC children’s programme You and Me, it was his last screen performance.  His subsequent achievements included discovering Sheena Easton and producing hits as diverse as Dennis Waterman’s “I Could Be So Good for You”, Celine Dion’s “Think Twice” and Cher’s “Walking in Memphis”.  You may recall that the heroes of the previous Adventures films were named Joe North and Bob West.  The lead character in this opus is Sid South.  Although Plumber’s Mate did better financially than Private Eye, Stanley Long decided to end the series with this one, meaning that sadly the compass was never completed – though there’s some consolation in the fact that John M East was a key figure in British sexploitation’s final years.

  •  Elaine Paige, an unknown actress friend of Christopher Neil’s, was given the part of Suze, the regular girlfriend for whom he contemplates chucking in his womanising ways.  By the time of Adventures of a Plumber’s Mate’s release, she had become a West End star thanks to her lead performance in Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Evita.  Despite keeping her clothes on throughout, the film proved an embarrassment to her and she exerted legal pressure on Stanley Long to keep her name off any publicity.
  •  Richard Caldicot, Willie Rushton, Anna Quayle, Leon Greene and Jonathan Adams all return from the previous Adventures film.  Stephen Lewis and Prudence Drage were both in Adventures of a Taxi Driver.  Stephen Riddle, who played drag queen Bunny McQueen in Taxi Driver (and was the casting director on Private Eye), appears briefly as a heavily-bandaged former victim of Arthur Mullard.  Other familiar faces in the cast include former Please Sir! star Peter Cleall and Derek Martin, best known in years to come as EastEnders’ Charlie Slater.
  • Confessions of a Plumber’s Mate had been mooted as a fifth and final entry in Columbia’s rival sexcom series before Stanley Long started work on this film, though this appears to have been simply a coincidence.