The Belles of St Trinian’s, 1954
St Trinian’s is of course is the fictional boarding school for girls, the creation of English cartoonist Ronald Searle. The first cartoon had appeared in 1941, but shortly afterwards Searle had to fulfil his military service. Captured at Singapore he spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of the Japanese.
After the war, in 1946 he started making new cartoons about the girls, but the content was a lot darker in comparison with the previous years.
The cartoons proved popular and by 1954 they became the subject of a popular series of comedy films. The early films featured well-known British actors including Alastair Sim (in drag as the headmistress, but also playing her brother), George Cole as spiv “Flash Harry”, Joyce Grenfell as Sgt Ruby Gates, a beleaguered policewoman, and Richard Wattis and Eric Barker as the civil servants at the Ministry of Education for whom the school is a source of constant frustration and nervous breakdowns. Searle’s cartoons appeared in the films’ main title design.
In 1954 the first film was released: The Belles of St Trinian’s. The film became the third most popular at the box office for that year. It’s also the first film appearance for a young 17 year old Barbara Windsor.
It’s a new term at St Trinian’s School for Young Ladies, striking terror into the local residents and police. The school is heavily in debt, the teachers have not been paid for months, but they stay on, as no other school would touch them.
However a ray of hope appears, in the form of wealthy, westernised Sultan of Makyad (Eric Pohlmann) who has decided to send one of his daughters, Fatima, to the school on the recommendation of his English secretary.
When the students discover the Sultan’s horse: Arab Boy is due to run at the nearby Gold Cup, a moneymaking oppurtunity arises.
Headmistress Miss Fritton learns of it, and reluctantly bets the school’s remaining funds on the horse to save her beloved St. Trinian’s. However the fourth form girls are using Fatima’s influence to watch the horse work out. Impressed by what they see, they bet on Arab Boy to win. It’s not long before the sixth formers are involved, mayhem ensues and the horse is kidnapped.
The situation pits the Sixth and Fourth Forms against each other in a wild mêlée over the horse. Also getting embroiled are the school staff, visiting former pupils and Clarence’s men. In the end, the horse makes it to the race just in time and wins, enabling the headmistress to get the school out of debt.
Alastair Sim as Headmistress Millicent Fritton / Clarence Fritton
Joyce Grenfell as Sergeant Ruby Gates
George Cole as Flash Harry
Hermione Baddeley as Miss Drownder
Betty Ann Davies as Miss Waters
Produced By: Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat
Directed By: Frank Launder
Original Release Date: 28th September 1954