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Very Important Person (1962, James Robertson Justice, Leslie Phillips)

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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 as himself. 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 and 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 while at the same time creating an absorbing and, towards the climax, suitably suspenseful storyline and 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 and, said Variety, he ‘has a role right up his alley as the arrogant professor, the master of the withering squelch, the chap who suffers fools ungladly. He is excellently cast.’

production details
UK | 98 minutes | 1962
Director: Ken Annakin
cast
James Robertson Justice as Sir Ernest Pease KBE FRS / Lt. Farrow RN
Leslie Phillips as Jimmy Cooper
Stanley Baxter as ‘Jock’ Everett / Kommondant Stamfel
Eric Sykes as Willoughby, Sports Officer
John Le Mesurier as Piggott, Escape Officer

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