III. The St Trinian's Film Comedies


With a thriving British film industry in existence by the 1950s, and with the huge success of the St Trinian's cartoons, it was inevitable that Searle's creations would be further fleshed out on celluloid. The first St Trinian's film, The Belles of St Trinian's (1954), was duly made by London Films at Shepperton Studios. It was directed by Frank Launder, who also produced it with Sidney Gilliat and scripted it with Val Valentine. With the exception of Valentine, this was the same combination which in 1951 had made The Happiest Days of Your Life, an immensely successful comedy based on the play by John Dighton about what ensued when St Swithun's, a girls' school, was mistakenly billeted on Nutbourne College, a boys' school, during the Second World War.
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Like The Happiest Days of Your Life, The Belles of St Trinian's included among its stars Alastair Sim, who played both the St Trinian's headmistress Millicent Fritton and her bookmaker brother Clarence (Sim having played the headmaster of Nutbourne College in the previous film) and Joyce Grenfell as Policewoman Sergeant Ruby Gates (Grenfell having previously played a St Swithun's teacher). Grenfell, whose character is that of the overgrown schoolgirl who never grows up, was also to star in the following two films, as was George Cole as Flash Harry, the grown-up boot-boy engaged before the war who remained with the school as its only (avowedly) male character. The film's opening and closing music was composed by Matthew Arnold and directed by Muir Mathieson, and as with the The Happiest Days of Your Life and the rest of the St Trinian's films, background and title graphics were provided by Searle.
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Launder created two groups of schoolgirls: the Fourth Form, who most closely resemble Searle's schoolgirls, and who parody the fact that many girls' school stories are set in the Fourth Form; and the Sixth Form, sexually mature young women whose uniforms exaggerate their sexuality. This marks one of the key differences between Searle's cartoons and the films: the closest Searle's girls get to sex are a few Cupid-inspired jokes which have as much to do with the comic possibilities of the arrows as anything else; and all are shown as being relatively childish. In the films, however, the Sixth Formers are sexually aware young women.
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The Belles of St Trinian's opens with a scene set in the home of an Arab Sultan, assisted by two Englishwomen who act as governess and secretary. Owing to the building of a US air base nearby, Prince Makyad (played by Eric Pohlemann) has decided to send his daughter, Princess Fatima (played by Lorna Henderson), to school in England. St Trinian's is recommended by his governess, and he agrees as it is in the same county where his racehorses are trained, allowing him to visit both them and his daughter at the same time. The racist humour which was to characterise the films is introduced here: the joke is made that the Sultan does not know who his daughter's mother is, since he has so many wives. The scene does echo the genre of girls' school stories to the extent that a foreign princess is often seen in the character of the New Girl, but here, rather than being a romantic heroine, Fatima is only of interest for her wealth.
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The following scene resembles Searle's cartoons and the genre more closely, since it shows the mayhem caused by the St Trinian's school train journey. Searle produced a number of cartoons which show the girls travelling to school, arriving and unpacking; the journey to school is also commonly depicted at the beginning of girls' school stories. As the St Trinian's train arrives, station personel run away, shops and banks are locked up, and the police are frightened and take refuge in drinking alcohol. As with the cartoons, the St Trinian's girls' activities are well-known throughout the community.
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Arriving at the school by car, Alastair Sim as the headmistress's brother, Clarence Fritton, brings back his daughter Arabella (played by Vivienne Martin), who was expelled the previous term for burning down the uninsured school sports pavilion. Arson is a common theme in Searle's cartoons, which perhaps parodies the fact that incidents of fire are frequent in the genre of girls' school stories (only Elinor M. Brent-Dyer created an arsonist, though: Emerence Hope, in Shocks for the Chalet School, 1952). But while the genre's heroines rescue others from fires, Searle's girls start the fires in the first place. Clarence wants Arabella to return to school in order to get racing tips from the Princess Fatima, but Millicent, also played by Sim, refuses to accept her until Clarence threatens to tell "Mummy" - a formidable Victorian portrait is shown - that Millicent has mortgaged the family home (we presume to subsidise the school). Millicent explains to Clarence why the school is in so much trouble:

It is significant that the war is mentioned as the point where a sea-change took place in the school, given that this marks the point when cultural opposition to real girls' schools became more overt. Millicent also comments that Arabella is over school age; but Arabella replies that so are many of the Sixth Form, including one, "Pogo" Williams (note the sexual reference and thus the double joke), who is married. St Trinian's girls do not refuse to grow up, only to leave school.
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The girls are then shown arriving back at the school; all are pleased to be back, and their love of the school, as with the genre of school stories, is a constant in the films. There is a parody within a parody here, when a teacher is seen posing dramatically outside the gothic-looking school à la Morticia Adams from Charles Butler's cartoons: "If only I had the courage to give myself up". Life at St Trinian's is worse than in prison. Inside, Miss Butler brings in a group of new girls, including Princess Fatima - as with normal schools and school stories, they are neat, tidy and well-behaved - to be welcomed by Millicent. (The welcome from the headmistress is another common scene in the genre of girls' school stories.)

Here Launder mocks not only the progressive education movement, which St Trinian's continued to parody in succeeding films, but also the preoccupation of girls' boarding schools - and the genre of girls' school stories - with sport and a healthy lifestyle. He also highlights the financial difficulties faced by many private boarding schools following the Second World War (which eventually led most to close), meaning that essentials such as food and fuel were often in short supply. The girls leave the study, and Miss Holland enters to tell Millicent that there is not an ounce of food in the school. It becomes apparent that the school is in serious debt and the school's cups have been pawned, but Millicent is undaunted: "Sometimes I think it's just the frustrated mother instinct in me which urges me on." Here Launder reflects the widespread tendency to regard women teachers as frustrated spinsters, deprived not only of sex but of motherhood.
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Millicent leaves for the staffroom, neatly dodging a booby trap set over her door to the disappointment of the watching Fourth Form girls. The difference between Millicent and Miss Butler are illustrated by the fact that Miss Butler, following behind, is caught in the trap: Millicent is more than capable of surviving in the world of the school; Miss Butler is not, but has no other choice as an unmarried woman. In the staffroom, the other teachers are shown to be drinking, smoking and practising golf. (Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's Chalet School staff, of course, are frequently pictured smoking.) Millicent informs the staff that the Ministry of Education is threatening to shut them down. From this portrayal, of course, there is no reason to wonder why: the previous scenes have already illustrated that the school is anachronistic and badly run; with the suggestion being that women are unfit to run their own schools, as well as a more general criticism of the private school system compared to the state-controlled.
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It becomes apparent that the staff have not been paid for some time, and when Millicent discloses that Princess Fatima has been given £100 pocket money by her father, a chase ensues to get to it first. However, the staff discover that Millicent already has the cash and Fatima has only the receipt; this again illustrates Millicent's survival skills. Later Millicent and Miss Butler smile benignly as riots erupt in the dormitories while they patrol the school corridors: "Term has begun." Like Searle's headmistresses, they are unflappable, and the scene also parodies the first nights in girls' schools and school stories, when the rules are relaxed to allow girls to "visit" in other dormitories and so on.
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The next scene is set at the Ministry of Education. Mr Bassett (played by Richard Wattis), a senior official, reveals that the local police are concerned about a crimewave in the area around St Trinian's; as no crime takes place during the school holidays, the blame has been laid on the girls. Meanwhile both of the education inspectors sent previously to the school have disappeared, although they have continued to draw their salary. The police wish to place an officer in disguise on the staff; a newspaper advertisement shows that there are permanent vacancies. At the local police station Ruby Gates (played by Joyce Grenfell), is reluctantly persuaded - "It's a terrible place" - by her police officer boyfriend Sammy (played by Lloyd Lamble) to be disguised as games teacher Chloe Crawley; she immediately recognises that she will be called "Creepy Crawly" by the girls. These scenes introduced the two institutions which the following films were to continue to parody, the Ministry of Education and the police, as well as the characters of Bassett, Sammy and Ruby. The Ministry had already been a target for satire in the novel The Terror of St Trinian's (Searle, Ronald and "Shy, Timothy" [D.B.Wyndham Lewis], Max Parrish, London, 1952), where Inspector Rover ends by marrying Angela Menace.
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Arriving at the school, Ruby is escorted around by Millicent, who leaps over another booby-trap in the process to the further disappointment of the Fourth Form. Ruby spots Harry (George Cole) through the window, but Millicent does not know who he is, although she thinks that he might be the boot-boy she employed in 1940. This stresses that, unlike the girls, Millicent has little to do with the world of men. She takes Ruby into the chemistry lab, telling a pupil: "You will be careful with that nitroglycerine, won't you? - I told you, they're frightfully advanced". Girls are also shown making St Trinian's Gin; this is lowered out of the window by the girls and labelled and packaged by Harry. The girls themselves are more than knowledgeable about and capable of surviving in the outside world. As Millicent and Ruby leave an explosion follows them out: "Poor little Bernie, I warned her about the nitroglycerine." (A number of school stories, including Brent-Dyer's, feature explosions in the chemistry laboratory.) Next is a French lesson, where the girls are being taught about Champagne. The scene's function is summed up by Millicent's "Well Miss Crawley, I think that gives you a fair picture of the school."
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The plot continues as Clarence phones Arabella and asks her to get details of the racing form of the Sultan's horse, Arab Boy. She is overheard by a Fourth Form girl who hints about her knowledge to the rest of the class; they force her to tell them by twisting her arm. Although Searle's cartoons feature girls being extremely cruel to each other, it was evidently decided that this was unacceptable in the film comedies, and the "torture" depicted throughout the series was only that which would occur in real life. In order to find out about the racing form of Arab Boy, the Sixth Form girls, dressed in tightly fitting riding clothes, watch a racing trial legitimately and chat up the jockey, while the Fourth Form, dressed in oversized Girl Guide uniforms, watch the trial during a nature ramble and calculate the weight being carried by the horse themselves. The Fourth Form, of which Fatima is a member, then decides to back Arab Boy in the forthcoming Cheltenham Gold Cup, and they whistle for Harry to come and take their bets.
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The following scene is where George Cole as Flash Harry is properly introduced. He talks broad Cockney dialect - some of it undoubtedly made up by Launder - and his appearances are always accompanied by a tune. The girls then ask Millicent for Fatima's money; she refuses but discovers why they want it. She then summons Harry herself with a whistle (she is enchanted to discover that she can whistle) and asks how to go about placing a bet, as a win would save the school. This scene stresses again Millicent's lack of familiarity with the world outside of the school; the only Fourth Form girl who is not familiar with the betting process is the one who lets the plan slip to Millicent. It reflects as well as parodying contemporary criticism of real girls' schools: that they did not prepare girls for "real life" because the staff were unfamiliar with the world of men, preferring to retreat into their own world of the school. Meanwhile Arabella contacts Clarence and suggests "nobbling" Arab Boy to allow his own favoured horse to win.
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The following scene shows Ruby preparing for her first lacrosse match. (Although girls' school stories have a "jolly hockey sticks" image, in fact lacrosse was the game most often played by girls' schools and it is commonly represented in the genre.) Ruby finds that one goal is two feet narrower than the other and the Sixth Form girls use a double-headed coin to ensure that they always win the toss; this underlines the fact that the St Trinian's girls do not, unlike the popular image of the schoolgirl and the schoolgirls represented in girls' school stories, "play the game", and reflects the parodic view that in reality girls are not to be trusted. When the girls disappear, Ruby discovers them with the French mistress in the summer house, entertaining the two former education inspectors who are now the school's gardener and fencing master. She reports this to Millicent, but Millicent already knows about it and sends her back to prepare for the match. It is interesting to note that Millicent has defused the previous threats by the Ministry by subsuming these men into her own staff, but Harry, who began as a member of staff, has in turn become independent of her.
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Harry reveals to Millicent that Ruby is a police officer; and Arabella and her father agree to kidnap Arab Boy, once more overheard by the Fourth Form girl. The lacrosse match ends in carnage: a Fourth Form girl takes bets on the result; the Guides stretcher off the bodies of the opposing team, including Ruby and the games mistress from the other school who have been hit on the head with a croquet mallet; and the cup, won by St Trinian's in the first half as predicted, ends up joining the others at the pawnbrokers. Here Launder parodies a set scene from the girls' school story as well as echoing Searle's cartoons, but his Sixth Form girls play the match in gym knickers, emphasising their sexuality. (The idea may have been taken from real life, since some schools continue to make girls wear knickers for sport today.)
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The Fourth Form find out about Arabella's plan, again "torturing" their friend in order to do this. They have already managed to amass enough money to place their bet, and are concerned to protect their investment. The Sixth Form duly kidnap Arab Boy with the cooperation of its jockey, knocking the jockey out with a croquet mallet in the process, but when Clarence's men go to collect the horse, it has disappeared. Sammy orders Ruby to look into the theft: "If I pull it off, could it be wedding bells?" "If you don't, it'll be curtains!" Meanwhile, one of the former inspectors and the French mistress return to the summer house after a date to discover Arab Boy inside with members of the Fourth Form. Harry enters and warns the girls that Arabella is coming and so they should move the horse; he bribes the ex-inspector to keep silent about the horse's presence.
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Millicent has discovered from the bookmaker, "Mr Alf", that her bet is not refundable if Arab Boy does not race - the fact that this comes as a surprise to her stresses again her lack of knowledge of the outside world - and has been advised to look for the horse herself. Ruby asks her about the Sixth Form girls who were seen riding at the time the horse was kidnapped, suggesting that they might like to help the police find him. This scene also parodies Ruby's overgrown schoolgirl character.

Millicent, who is far from being simply an overgrown schoolgirl, is alerted to the truth by this exchange, and she discovers Arab Boy in the Fourth Form dormitory, along with Harry. The girls tell Millicent what has happened, and she suggests that they ride the horse back to its stable at dawn to avoid the school being implicated: "St Trinian's expects, that every Fourth Form girl, will tomorrow do her duty." But the Sixth Form see Arab Boy's head looking out of the dormitory the next morning and barricade the Fourth Form in. Millicent calls the staff together and tells them that they will not be paid unless Arab Boy is rescued. The men lead the advance but all are repelled by the Sixth Form; this illustrates the girls' violence and their physical superiority over men. Millicent then asks Ruby to question the girls; Ruby is knocked out by them within thirty seconds, as predicted by Millicent.
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It is Parents' Day - a set scene at the end of many girls' school stories - and Clarence arrives with his men dressed as parents. Harry alerts Millicent that her brother and "his hoppos" are there. Ruby comes round and overhears Clarence and Millicent talking; Millicent will not forgive him for letting this happen on Parents' Day. Mr Bassett from the Ministry arrives and Harry directs him to the Brownies' camp fire, along with the parents. The staff hold a crisis meeting and receive a message from the Fourth Form asking them to create a diversion. At this point the Old Girls arrive (in real life many women were encouraged to keep in touch with their schools, and in Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's Chalet School series former pupils continue to be important). We do not see their faces, but know that they are a very diverse group of women by seeing their differently dressed legs trampling Harry underfoot; the facade of any woman can conceal a St Trinian's girl. While the Old Girls advance on the Sixth Form and Clarence's men, the Fourth Form lower Arab Boy out of the dormitory window and swap him with the milkman's horse before driving him away. Ruby escapes and rides off on the milkman's horse, thinking that it is Arab Boy.
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In the penultimate scene, the race is shown on television in the summer house; Mr Bassett the inspector is there too, having fun and tempted to join the other officials at the school. Arab Boy wins, and the Fourth Form are delighted, as is Millicent. Harry bursts into Millicent's study, where parents are threatening to take their daughters away, with the news. Millicent is delighted: "In that case, ladies and gentlemen, courtesy forbids me to tell you exactly where you can send your daughters." Finally, Millicent gets the cups back from the pawnbrokers in order that the Sultan can present them to the winners, but during the presentation the lights go out and the cup for good conduct is stolen. (There are a number of scenes in girls' school stories where the lights are switched off at the mains for a prank.) Millicent has the lights switched off again in order that the culprit can return the cup anonymously; when the lights come back on all of the cups have disappeared. The Fourth Form's booby-trap finally succeeds, and the table on which the bases are left collapses. The film ends with Millicent looking resigned.
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As can be seen from the detailed discussion above, The Belles of St Trinian's does reflect Searle's cartoons closely as well as parodying many of the plot elements of girls' school stories. As a film, though, its greatest strength lies in the character performances of Alastair Sim, Joyce Grenfell and George Cole, particularly since the characterisation in the Searle cartoons is very slight and Launder had to create the adult characters almost from scratch. Janet Montefiore, who has studied the camp elements of girls' school stories and their parodies, notes that "Literary camping-up of school stories rarely results in full-length narratives; it is usually found in glancing moments of parody and illusion, most notably in the reviews and skits of the humorous writer Arthur Marshall". In creating a full-length narrative, Launder had in any case to extend the joke considerably. It should be noted here that the girls remain relatively characterless, the focus is in the films is on the adults.
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By the following film, Blue Murder at St Trinian's (1958), there were few links left between Searle's cartoons, the genre and the film's content. The Ministry of Education plays a much more prominent role in this and subsequent films than in The Belles of St Trinian's, with Launder turning away from girls' schools and setting his sights on post-war officialdom in the shape of the police, the army, the prison service and Whitehall. The film was made by the same team as before, but Sim made only a brief appearance. (His character, now called Amelia rather than Millicent Fritton, is imprisoned for an unspecified offence at the beginning of the film and only returns triumphantly to the school at the end.)
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As the film opens, the staff have all resigned, removing most of the female characters, and the army has been called in to keep order, adding more male characters. Harry is running a marriage bureau with the cooperation of the Sixth Form and is in Rome to discuss possible wives for a Prince Bruno; the Prince asks him if he can bring a group of the girls to Rome before the end of term. The remainder of the action takes place away from the school, and the Fourth Form's role is reduced to a minimum in favour of a still-more-sexualised Sixth Form.
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Blue Murder at St Trinian's also features some strong character performances by Joyce Grenfell and George Cole, joined by Terry Thomas as Captain Romney Ricketts, who drives the school coach, and Lionel Jeffries as Joseph Mangan, the wanted criminal who disguises himself as the St Trinian's headmistress, Maud Hackshaw. The film's other strength lies in its introduction of the St Trinian's School Song, written by Sidney Gilliat to the theme music by Malcolm Arnold which had been used in The Belles of St Trinian's. (The school song was a common feature of both girls' schools and girls' school stories, and was intended to stir the "school spirit"). At the end of the film, the words are reproduced for the audience to sing along with in the manner of a pantomime, with a ball marking each word as it is sung. The song shows that the girls will stop at nothing to get their own way, continuing to reflect cultural fears about the implications of girls and women's independence.

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The third film, The Pure Hell of St Trinian's (1960), was again made by the same team, with the addition of Leslie Gilliat as associate producer, and also features the St Trinian's School Song in the title credits. The action takes place largely outside the school setting, while the female characters are marginalised in favour of male characters and the girls are represented largely by the ever-more-sexualised Sixth Form. Racist humour is central to the plot: the Sixth Form are kidnapped by an Arab Emir for the "white slave trade". But although the girls play minor roles in the film itself and do not appear in the final scenes at all, they are still shown to have triumphed, and bring the Ministry and the army as well as the Emir to their knees. To this extent at least the film is faithful to Searle's creations.
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The fourth film, The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery (1966), was the first St Trinian's film to be made in colour. It was made by many of the same team as before, with Leslie Gilliat writing the story with Launder and Sidney Gilliat as well as producing, and Ivor Herbert collaborating with Launder on the screenplay. The film also featured the return of Richard Wattis as the ministry official Bassett, but although much of the humour is once more at the expense of the police, the characters of Sammy and Ruby are now absent. Unlike the previous two films, though, the action returns to the school itself, and the plot again features Parents' Day. There are also far more female characters in the shape of the mistresses, but unlike the staff in Searle's cartoons and the preceding films, the majority of them are heavily sexualised. (Previously this had only been true of the French mistress in The Belles of St Trinian's, the stereotyped "mamselle" of girls' school stories.)
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The film opens with the robbery taking place and the proceeds being hidden under the floor in an old manor house, where, unknown to the criminals, the school is about to relocate. The opening song - also composed by Malcolm Arnold - and credits also tell the story of the train robbery, which is depicted by Searle's cartoons. Racist "humour" is introduced early in the villagers' reaction to St Trinian's moving in; a departing Black family is seen to number more than a dozen people. Later a railway signalman's poor command of English is the target of the humour, and at the end of the film the chief train robber, Alf, escapes by stealing a spare uniform, blacking his face with coal and accompanying the signalman, who is too stupid to realise Alf's true identity. It is interesting to note that, while the genre has been criticised for its "political undesirability", it was quite acceptable for racism to play a prominent role in the film comedies.
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The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery appeared to be the last of the St Trinian's films, but in 1980 The Wildcats of St Trinian's was released. This was again written and directed by Frank Launder, but George Cole - now a highly successful television actor - was replaced as Harry (renamed Hawkins, running a Chinese takeaway from the school lodge) by Joe Melia. The film is once again set in the school, and female characters are prominent. Racist humour is also present, with the introduction of another rich foreign princess, Roxanne. Roxanne is the daughter of Prince Narouz of Merbuta, a fictional oil state, and at the end of the film is accompanied by a bus-full of her sisters (as with The Belles of St Trinian's, the "joke" is that the Prince has many wives and children). Parodying the union strife of the late 1970s which culminated in the "Winter of Discontent" (a wildcat strike is one which is sudden and unofficial), the girls decide to form a schoolgirls' union. Harry points out that they need a "closed shop" to succeed, and should therefore involve all of the other girls' schools in the country. Needless to say the girls succeed brilliantly, and eventually the Ministry concedes to all of their demands.
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At the time of writing (1997) there have been no more St Trinian's films, but in 1992 Ronald Searle wrote in the foreword to the cartoon collection The Curse of St Trinian's (Pavilion, London) that he had just signed another St Trinian's film contract. It seems possible, then, that the St Trinian's saga will continue until at least the end of the century.
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Isabel Quigly's claim that: "With St Trinian's the girls' school story took off into pure farce and has never come down again" is true in that St Trinian's became the over-riding popular image of girls' boarding-schools and girls' school stories during the post-war period. (In carrying out the research for Virtual Worlds of Girls, I was often greeted with "Oh, you mean St Trinian's!" when I described my work.) While the critics used literary criteria to denounce the genre as being "bad" (see 7. The Critics of Girls' School Stories, 1949-1995 for details), St Trinian's used satire to denounce, not only the genre, but what it represented as being ridiculous and unworthy of respect. There was a huge difference between the pre-war schoolgirl image of "the curly-haired Captain of Games who looked clean through you with those straight, fearless grey eyes before which a fib shrivelled and died of shame" and the post-war image of the schoolgirl:

And whereas the critics' influence was felt most directly by the librarians and teachers who attempted to control children's reading, the influence of St Trinian's was felt by the population at large; schoolgirls and their parents could not fail to be aware of it.
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It is worth stressing here that there have been no similar parodies of boys' schools and school stories. For Montefiore:

It should be noted here that, in my reading of the film, Sim's performance is being used to satirise the single women who ran girls' schools as being "unfeminine"; the qualities which were required of them were regarded as being male. And while camp is a queer strategy, the St Trinian's film comedies represent a heterosexist parody which results from fear of lesbian sexuality. Rather, the boys' stories were not parodied because they were taken seriously by the critics: they represented what Auchmuty describes as "compulsory heterosexuality" rather than threatening it.
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Montefiore has concluded that:

So who is the joke on in St Trinian's? In terms of the representations of feminine identity in the films, there are five stereotypes: the Fourth Former; the Sixth Former; the Overgrown Schoolgirl; the Schoolmistress; and the Headmistress. The Fourth Former, like Searle's girls, is indeed more than capable of looking after herself: "it is the merciless world which has to be prepared". Fourth Formers are better incarcerated in institutions; they are too great a threat to men outside. Following adolescence, though, the majority of Fourth Formers turn into "real women" and Sixth Formers, potential wives and mothers. This is underlined by the fact that Harry opens a St Trinian's marriage bureau. Sixth Formers still get their own way, but wherever possible by using their sexuality; women who use their sexuality are also not to be trusted.
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If she does not become a typical Sixth Former, the Fourth Former will never grow up, but turn into the overgrown schoolgirl typified by Ruby. She may desperately want to become a wife and mother - Ruby's lengthy engagement to the less-than-enthusiastic Sammy is a long-running joke in the films - but she is unfit and it is denied her, she is totally ridiculous. Overgrown schoolgirls, like all those women who have grown up but who are unable nonetheless to get married, have little choice but to become Schoolmistresses, and to remain in the company of Fourth Formers for the rest of their lives. Rather than becoming lesbians - this was obviously not thought to be a fit subject for a "family" film - Schoolmistresses are either sexless, if they are obviously destined never to marry, or sexual, in which case they will leave their job as soon as they find a husband. Headmistresses, meanwhile, become "mannish", because they are fulfiling a role which is believed to be the sole province of men.
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There are, of course, a number of ways to read St Trinian's. As Hugh-Jones has pointed out, despite the ridicule to which they were exposed, for many 1940s schoolgirls: "Searle came as a prophet of liberty and new self-respect", particularly at a time when the effects of war and rationing meant that many uniforms were indeed ill-fitting, shabby, second-hand and often home-made from black-out material. Searle's girls were strong young women, united around their school - which, as in the school stories, was the focus of their lives - against the rest of the world. The image may have changed radically from that of the curly-haired Captain of Games, with her straight, fearless grey eyes, but it was a strong one, better suited to coping with post-war life; the joke for the girls was on the old pre-war myth.
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However, by the 1950s and 1960s, when the film comedies were made, St Trinian's was used to mock post-war institutions such as the civil service, the police and the army alongside girls' schools and school stories. Rather than being the main focus of the satire, the female characters and their school were increasingly marginalised in favour of male characters, becoming ever more sexualised and passive in the process. The intended audience for the humour was both adult and male. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the humour was also reactionary in its political perspective. The films reworked the St Trinian's myth and thus its place in popular culture, and it is this reworked image which persists as the image of St Trinian's today. When St Trinian's went on the films - as so many schoolgirls of the day desired to do - the joke was as much on Searle as it was on them.
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Next: 8: IV. Schoolgirls and Situationism
Return to: 8. The Parodies of Girls' School Stories Index
Return to: Virtual Worlds of Girls Index

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