Sunday, 17 July 2011

Charters and Caldicott arrive in Bandrika

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Charters: If only we hadn't missed that train at Budapest. 

Caldicott: Well, I don't want to rub it in, but if you hadn't insisted on standing up until they'd finished their national anthem... 

Charters: Yes, but you must show respect, Caldicott. If I'd known it was going to last twenty minutes... 

Caldicott: It has always been my contention that the Hungarian Rhapsody is not their national anthem. In any case, we were the only ones standing.


The Lady Vanishes is one of the small number of films which is deeply engraved on my soul. 

Charters and Caldicott who became the heroes of a television series years in the late 1980s are archetypal upper middle class chaste cricket-mad English bachelor clubmen, an archetype that exists in our national collective unconscious but not any more in real life. 

Later in the civil service I found chaste well-bred public school men who were confirmed bachelors and seemed to me to have something from black and white films about them but they preferred books to cricket. 

Bandrika I'd like to fancy is Romania but it probably owes more to Czechoslovakia or Jugoslavia (it has mountains and borders Hungary).

Cecil Parker is an appeaser avant la lettre and ends up dead. Even dear old Basil Radford tries to make up to the commandant who stops the train and discovers they were both at Oxford. 

When Michael Redgrave KO-s the commandant and says, nonchalantly, 'I went to Cambridge myself', the Cambridge Arts Cinema raised the roof.

In Night Train to Munich made during the war the pair are on a train going through Germany when they are told war has been declared and they have only an hour to leave the country. Charters and Caldicott look at one another sharing a silent sombre thought until Wayne says 'You know what this means.' And Radford replies, 'We'll never see those golf clubs we left in Berlin again.' Such things made the British laugh in 1940.

Basil Radford, who played the pompous Charters, was born in 1897. He was 41 or 42 when the film was made. I can no longer disguise from myself that I am middle-aged. And I am older than The Three Musketeers were in Twenty Years After and they seemed so very old when I read that book aged 11. Where did the last twenty years go? I seem to have mislaid them like an umbrella left behind somewhere. I remember a misty eyed man in his seventies whom I saw walking around Old Court at College deep in reflection. How very old he seemed then and how very far away his undergraduate years in the 1920s or 30s.

But I cheer myself up by calculating that D'Artagnan and the musketeers would have been my age when they restored King Charles II to the throne of England in The Vicomte de Bragelonne. I still have time.

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