In Very Important Person, the story of wartime heroics is told in flashback by eminent scientist Sir Ernest Pease (James Robertson Justice) when he appears on a This Is Your Life -style television show hosted by Godfrey Winn. During the Second World War Pease, head of Applied Aeronautical Science, poses as a naval public relations officer and is flown over enemy territory to see at first hand the results of his radar experiments.
But he is shot down, taken prisoner and ends up in a prisoner-of-war camp where his arrogant, bloody-minded manner makes his fellow inmates start to suspect that he may be a German spy. His insistence that he is vitally needed in England does not make his acceptance any smoother. However, a radio message from the Prime Minister confirms Pease’s status as a Very Important Person and his fellow prisoners are instructed to help him make his escape by whatever means possible. Helped by Jimmy Cooper (Leslie Phillips) and Jock Everett (Stanley Baxter), the super-efficient Pease devises a highly ingenious escape plan.
The witty screenplay by Jack Davies and Henry Bligh cheerfully parodies the genre, complete with an enjoyable camp concert, typically happy-go-lucky prisoners and humourless Germans. At the same time it creates an absorbing and, towards the climax, suitably suspenseful storyline, while Ken Annakin’s blithe, unobtrusive direction maximises its comic appeal.
As with so many British films of the period, acute casting adds considerably to the impact. Justice delivers another entertaining variation on the irascible self-important character he created so memorably as the surgeon Sir Lancelot Spratt in 1954’s Doctor in the House and the subsequent Doctor comedies.
UK / 1961 black and white
Director: Ken Annakin
Writers: Jack Davies, Henry Bligh
Cast: James Robertson Justice, Leslie Phillips, Stanley Baxter, Eric Sykes, Richard Wattis, Godfrey Winn, Colin Gordon, Jeremy Lloyd