BrokenTV's Tribute To A Forgotten Comic Genius

  • 12/31/2006 10:43:00 am
  • By Mark Gibbings-Jones

Yes, we've finally got around to updating BrokenTV TV. And what have we added? Some of the best old comedy we've found, dating from the late 1940s. Viewers of Victor Lewis-Smith's output may well have noticed clips of old Public Information Films with a rubbery-faced old man being bollocked by an off-screen announcer who throws pepper in his face, but the full version of this, and other films from the era seem to have been missing from YouTube. UNTIL NOW.

"Don't drink it, man!"

Watching them all now, we can't help but hail the star of these short films, one Richard Massingham, as a comic talent to rival Hancock, before Anthony Aloysius Hancock had got anywhere near a TV screen. Born in 1898, Massingham worked in medicine, at one point being appointed Senior Medical Officer at the London Fever Hospital, but also made occasional short films. Noting that there was nobody making specialist informational films for the public, he set up Public Relationship Films Ltd in 1938, and set about making a troubled Britain a slightly safer place. Especially once the Nazis stopped dropping bombs on it, of course.

The clips we've got here date from 1945 to 1948, and are just a few of the ninety or so short films he turned out over his short career. Massingham went on to co-direct (with Jacques Brunius) an award-winning short film for children, To The Rescue, and had begun work on The Blakes Slept Here, excitingly quoted at Screenonline as "a lavish and curious Technicolor amalgam of gas advertisement and historical cavalcade", when he sadly passed away in 1953.

Just imagine how great he could have been given the Bill Kerr role in the TV version of Hancock's Half Hour.

Here are a few shorts of Massingham magic, in full.

Coughs and Sneezes (1945)

Or, the one that was on TV Offal (or was it Ads Infinitum? Or neither?). All great fun, but quite how people who go about kicking other people into rivers can be classified as 'pretty harmless', we're not sure.

Don't Spread Germs (Jet Propelled Germs) (1948)

Semi-sequel to the above snot-aversion campaign, includes a wonderful bit of announcer intervention.

Pedestrian Crossing (1948)

Pay heed, citizenry. How to cross the road in post-war Britain. "It's no good thinking you can have a sleep!"

A Warning to Travellers (Five Pounds in Notes) (1949)

Richard Massingham being told ONLY TO TAKE FIVE POUNDS IN NOTES WHEN HE GOES ABROAD, otherwise the balance of payments will get all messed up. Less excellent than his other PIFs (his character speaks for one thing, instead of just pulling faces), but any Richard Massingham is fine by us.

There is one Massingham clip already up at YouTube, Watch Your Meters, which is nice, because the version we've got has messed up sound, and you can get hold of the super What A Life! (a tongue in cheek look at postwar austerity) from (we'd put that on YouTube, but we're not directors so can't put twelve-minute epics up there).

ScreenOnline has more details on the great man, including more clips of his short films (but only if you're a school, college or uni, which we're not. Bah). It even includes a transcript of an article written by Massingham for Sight And Sound in 1939, Richard Massingham on Continuity.

Now, if you'll excuse us, we're off to spend the new year fretting about the balance of payments and drinking. Look out for the BrokenTV Awards 2006 tomorrow, if we're sober enough. Until then, here's a bonus bit of VLS-approved retro clippage, this time from 1950, telling foreigners how to use our buses.

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