Neglected Films No.3: ‘The Happiest Days Of Your Life’

The Arts

If there was an award for the most charming film ever made, this would be high on the list; it was produced in 1950 but looks and feels as if it had been concocted in 1925. A perky new teacher arrives at Nutbourne College, to be shown around by a sarcastic, cynical Richard Wattis, who gives him the lowdown…’Nutbourne College goes back to the Tudors, but according to the bank it goes back to them.’

Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat based this comedy on a play by John Dighton, the co-writer of ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’
and ‘The Man in the White Suit’. It comes from a situation that occurred in WWII, when whole schools were sent to different locations at very short notice.

Here, a mix-up at the Ministry of Education causes St Swithin’s School for Girls to be sent to the strictly-boys-only Nutbourne College, with disastrous results – especially when a simultaneous inspection from two different groups leads to a split-second cover-up, with classrooms and sports fields switching from male to female at the blast of a whistle.

Alastair Sim’s headmaster Wetherby Pond is one of his greatest creations. Kindly and decent, he requires order and discipline achieved by mutual respect and, ideally, a complete absence of the opposite sex.

Instead he’s faced with Miss Muriel Whitchurch (Margaret Rutherford), who has no respect for anyone. A feminist before her time, she has no truck with convention or protocol and is quite comfortable taking over Pond’s office, living quarters and indeed his entire school.

Great as they are together, Sim and Rutherford are upstaged by Joyce Grenfell. As the gawky, love-lorn Miss Gossage (“Call me Sausage”), little more than an overgrown schoolgirl herself, she effortlessly steals every scene she’s in, whether over-enthusiastically banging gongs, idly writing her name in the dust or staging impromptu lacrosse matches.

The film was a massive success, and inspired ‘The Belles of St Trinian’s’, which reteamed all three leads and created a franchise still running today. But this first and best version was eclipsed by the films it inspired. ‘I was showing the older girls around the delphiniums,’ says suave sports master Leslie Phillips. ‘I’m afraid they’re rather past their best.’ ‘They’re not the only things past their best,’ Rutherford replies drily. It’s a monochrome charmer from a lost world.

12 comments on “Neglected Films No.3: ‘The Happiest Days Of Your Life’”

  1. Alison says:

    I am proud to say that I have this film on DVD. As far as I’m concerned, any production that contains the collective gloriousness of Rutherford & Grenfell deserves the utmost respect.

  2. Great film. One of my favourites. ‘Poppsies! Hundreds of em!’ Can’t beat a film with a good bounder. Good call!

  3. Dan Terrell says:

    Love all three of the actors and the early St. Trinians films in particular were real gut busters (to put it delicately).
    And it’s available on Amazon, but it’s Region 2! Not suitable for the U.S. and parts of Canada. Dang!

  4. Kevin says:

    One of my favourite films. The presence of any one of Rutherford, Sim or Grenfell in the cast of a film means that it will be worth watching. To have all three of them in the same film, all at the top of their game, playing off each other – it really doesn’t get any better than that.

  5. snowy says:

    A very fine film indeed, and my list of films to buy grows ever longer.

    What make and model player do you use?

  6. Dan Terrell says:

    @ Snowy. It’s a Toshiba SD-5970SU/SC.
    Been off line for a day following a huge storm that hit Friday before midnight. Something scary called a “derecho” which has to be looked up as it’s too complicated to explain.
    Friday we’d had a 104 degree day – a record, but 110 degrees on our deck! (Admin would have got a month’s worth of light and warm out of it, I think.) All that energy took down the lights here for a day – lots of ice buying and cool-chest packing and 9 hours of yard clean up. Three million people are without power and many will be for at least a week and it’s still HOT. Global warming?
    I’ve been in hurricanes but this storm was special; closest I’ve come to being in a tornado. Not the Happiest Day of Anyone’s Life. Thank you very much.

  7. Colin Quinton says:

    An absolute corker of a film. Just thinking the two inspections and the ensuing farce has me chuckling!

  8. snowy says:

    I did have to research the derecho and you were right on both counts, very complex and very scary. But thankfully a very rare event. I wish all those affected a swift recovery.

    The following is for infomation purposes only

    Regionfree via remote control:
    turn the player off
    turn it back on
    open the tray with remote
    type 2403960 (each time you press a digit button you’ll see a cursor advancing on the screen)
    press enter to cycle to region 9
    close the tray with remote
    turn the player off
    turn it back on

    This infomation is given free and is worth only what you paid for it, ie $0.00. To receive a full refund, please use the button on top right marked with an X.

  9. Dan Terrell says:

    In the good old days, if you sought fame and wealth you gathered thousands of fighting men, horses, and supplies and set off overland to India via Egypt. You established cities, trade and culture as you went and when your retainers got tired of foreign travel, you turned back to Persia, where you set up as the “Shah”.
    Fifteen minutes of fame? Heck no, 2,325 years more like.

  10. snowy says:


    [Puts comradely hand on shoulder, and stiffens upper lip]

    I know it’s been a bit windy out there old man, but that’s no reason to get your threads mixed up. Brace up and we’ll say no more about it, strictly between you and me. 😉

    The prior info should let you play all regions, but I can’t test it myself so at your own risk.

  11. Jez Winship says:

    Sounds wonderful. I loved Alistair Sim and Joyce Grenfell in Laughter In Paradise from the following year, 1951. Grenfell’s character in that film, ‘Fluffy’, sounds rather like Miss Gossage.

  12. Helen Martin says:

    I saw this film then and laughed myself sick. I’ll have to check what region we are and perhaps take note of some data up there if our machine is the same.

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