Production company: Pat Hanna Productions
Budget: n/a, low
Locations: mainly Efftee's studio in the fire damaged Her Majesty's Theatre in Melbourne, with some newsreel war footage, and stock footage of London tourist highlights. Old Melbourne goal became a medieval castle
Filmed: beginning early October 1932, for a six week shoot.
Australian distributor: Universal
Australian release: the film was released as a double bill with Efftee's Harmony Row, beginning Hoyts Theatre De Luxe in Melbourne 11th February 1933 (running six weeks), and then as a double bill in other capital and regional cities, often with the Frank Thring/George Wallace comedy Harmony Row. In Sydney the Capitol Theatre reopened after four months dark with this double bill.
Rating: For general exhibition
35mm black and white
Running time: 72 mins (Oxford Australian Film)
NFSA DVD running time: 1'10"33 (excluding NFSA animated logo)
While the film did relatively good business as part of an Australian double bill with Harmony Row, not much of the money returned to the producers, and Hanna almost certainly didn't make much money on the venture.
Hanna claimed that the film returned a net profit in a letter to the Courier-Mail on 7th March 1934, but that it had taken over a year "to receive back our cost of production."
Hanna tried one more time with Waltzing Matilda in 1933, again using his Diggers material, but convinced the system was stacked against independent producers, Hanna gave the game away. He was vociferous in his complaints to the government inquiry into film distribution in Australia at the way producers didn't get a fair share of the box office.
Diggers in Blighty did not travel well internationally, not even in Britain, with a storyline ostensibly designed for that market, but as with other Hanna titles, he continued to mine re-releases of the show well into the nineteen fifties.
None known, though the film did receive a belated screening in the second ever Victorian Film Festival in Melbourne's Exhibition Buildings in March 1953.
The NFSA release of Diggers and Diggers in Blighty on a single disc DVD is an essential item for Ozmovie devotees.
What’s particularly pleasing - given the way so many early Australian films have been lost altogether - is the way that Diggers in Blighty has survived in relatively good shape, with solid blacks and decent contrast.
There’s plenty of surface neg damage, but nothing that interferes with the viewing experience. The sound is also good, within the limits of the sound of the time, which shows off a very primitive mix and some rough dialogue recording.
There are also some extremely handy extras which illuminate both films:
- Three additional scenes for Diggers;
- The Romancing Digger, a shaggy dog 'two-up' story, running 4’14” with a couple of explanatory titles. It’s performed by Pat Hanna over a slow zoom in on a still of Hanna, and was released for sale and radio play in 1930. This site has a transcript at the bottom of its “about the movie” section;
- An image gallery featuring publicity for both films.
As for the sequel, there’s no way around the fact that while he might have been one of Australia’s great and popular exponents of a Digger-derived song, dance and comedy stage show, Pat Hanna didn’t have the first clue about directing or writing a plot that attends to basic structural niceties.
Even as an insight into his vaudeville routines, the film is a bit of a dud. There’s the search for flagons of rum, which end up in a trough and see drunk ducks looping the loop, and a sketch about a bit of female military clothing which leads to a running gag about "there’s a reason for everything in the army," and there’s the old routine with the paymaster about the deficit and credit side, and the tearing pages out of Chic’s paybook and swopping them over to balance his debt to the government - but Hanna’s direction is very clumsy and stage bound, with most scenes filmed in theatrical tableau form.
Clearly Raymond Longford as assistant director was unable to help, and only a few scenes manage to step outside the studio stage (in contrast to the way that many Australian films did in the silent days).
At each tentative attempt to move the bulky camera ever so slightly, it’s possible to feel the elephant-like equipment DOP Arthur Higgins had to use while trapped inside Frank Thring’s burnt-out Melbourne theatre, converted to a barely functional studio. There are few close-ups, and the exteriors are skimpy.
Around this time the Marx Brothers were translating their vaudeville skills into some great movies (Animal Crackers 1930, Horse Feathers 1932) and Duck Soup (1933), and there’s simply no comparison with Hanna’s struggles with the medium. The American and British industries had helped destroy Australian film production, and the equipment and money available for talkies in the early 1930s was extremely limited.
Hanna knew what he wanted to do in the Marx Brothers’ manner - a conventional plot about spies and the officer class and English aristocrats and a little romance (two officers find bliss), filling the gaps with rough larrikin knockabout humour - but didn’t have the skills, the gear or the money to execute it well.
All the same the Marx Brothers don’t reveal aspects of Australian culture and attitudes and that’s why Ozmovie cultists will want to see it, even if Frank Thring’s first Diggers film is a more coherent effort and Ken Hall's Strike Me Lucky more evocative of 'blue' vaudeville…
After all, when Aunt Martha observes that there are plenty of Scotchmen out in Australia, and Chic responds gravely that the rabbits are our biggest pest, he’s offering a variant on ethnic stereotypes that pays off pompous Poms and their pesky import.
The first half in the front line is the least effective story-telling, with a bit of stock footage of the first world war trying to leaven the intelligence caper.
The playing is generally uncultivated, and not helped by the direction, though Thelma Scott is energetic and Field Fisher as butler Muddles hams it up (in much the same way as Nellie Mortyne does as Aunt Martha). As for Raymond Longford’s impression of a French quisling, it’s safe to say his immortality in Australian cinema rests elsewhere, but it’s fun to watch.
The best routines come right at the end of the movie, where things loosen up and jibes can be directed at the Poms and their credulous acceptance of kangaroosters, and at the bizarre notion of drinking barley water. As with much Australian humour at the time, the drinking of alcohol to excess was freely embraced and the source of much joyous amusement, and possibly after the first world war, that was understandable.
It is these latter sequences - and a joke about the oldest race in Australia - which makes the film worth watching, providing social and cultural insights, as well as essential material for any historian doing a Ph.D. on aspects of Australian culture or comedy in the post-war eyars.
This is what makes the NFSA DVD such an invaluable release, but it also makes it such a pity that this program now seems to be on hold.
There are still some interesting early outings which deserve the digital light of day for home viewing, not least Hanna's third and final feature film Waltzing Matilda, but it seems, in these agile and innovative days, that history pays the ultimate price.
For a little more of the humour, see this site’s ‘about the movie’ section where a couple of the sketches are transcribed.
The comedy material and characters were derived from Pat Hanna's stage revue Pat Hanna's Diggers, as amended and cobbled together by a team of writers. The film largely used the cast from the stage show.
For more details of this source, see Hanna's first film venture on this site, Diggers.
The NFSA DVD notes that there was a medieval 'dream sequence' that was shot but not used in the final film. A publicity shot shows Pat Hanna and others in medieval uniform, but the only hint of the sequence in the film is an opening title, which shows soldiers in medieval military armour under a title reading ..."Once upon a time, the bowmen of Britain fought in Picardy ...", before moving on to a title annoucing the story's commencing in 1918.
Dream sequences were fashionable at the time - George Wallace in the 1932 His Royal Highness gets a conk on the head and speads his time dreaming he's been made King of Betonia.
The National Film and Sound Archive, in its origial notes on the film, listed silent movie director Raymond "The Sentimental Bloke" Longford as the director of the film, but the Oxford Australian Film lists Pat Hanna as director, and Longford as associate director, as does the film's credits in the NFSA DVD release.
Contemporary press references also list Longford as associate director, with Hanna credited as the director.
Given Hanna's proprietary interest in the Diggers property - he had been mining the characters and the material on stage in Australia and New Zealand since the early nineteen twenties - and his refusal to work with producer/director F. W. Thring after creative differences over the first film of Diggers, it is most unlikely Hanna would have offered Longford the key director credit.
Longford did however pick up an acting gig as a comical German officer, Von Schieling, along with helping out the film-inexperienced Hanna on directorial duties.
Previous creative arguments with Thring did not, however, stop Hanna from hiring Thring's Efftee studio, and then releasing the film in company with the Efftee production Harmony Row, featuring vaudeville star George Wallace.
However Thring's studio had its drawbacks. There were a number of complaints about the quality of the sound in Hanna's film - a "Niagra of Noise" - and Hanna later explained that the His Majesty's Theatre studio had significant technical issues.
While the stage was used as a de facto studio, the auditorium itself was a mass of twisted steel wreckage as the result of a fire.
"It would have to be abandoned", said Hanna, "because steel wreckage in the auditorium interfered with the recording equipment so much that it was at times almost impossible to record any scene without recording also wireless programmes being broadcast from various stations. "The place is ridden with wireless music," he said. "Even when speaking over the telephone you can hear a strong background." (Sydney Morning Herald, 24th February 1934).
The soundtrack on the NFSA release shows the primitive recording and mixing standards for Australian 1930s talkies, despite Frank Thring having expended large sums of money purchasing the latest technology from the United States.
3. Box Office:
The habit of covering theatrical "nut" (the cost of operating a theatre) and then some, in Australian exhibition was established in the early days, and to the detriment of local productions.
Black books, cash in the paw, phantom tickets, and similar devices were favourite tricks of the trade, and distributors also learned the art of writing off costs to ensure that only a small amount of rentals would return to the producer.
There was an intimate relationship between theatrical chains and major US and UK distributors, and only companies like Cinesound - which had a sister company relationship with Greater Union - could hope for relatively fair treatment.
Independent producers like Hanna simply lacked clout and were vulnerable. Hanna gave evidence into the 1934 government inquiry into film which related to the box office for the double bill of Diggers in Blighty and Harmony Row:
"…In the suburbs of Melbourne, "Diggers in Blighty" and "Harmony Row," two feature comedies, together grossed £8,000. The producers jointly received £2,0000, which was 12½ per cent for each picture. In the Capitol Theatre, Sydney, the two pictures drew £3,079 in two weeks" (Sydney Morning Herald, 24th February 1934)
"…shown at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney, had receipts for two weeks, according to General Theatres Corporation, of £3,079. Of this sum Mr. Thring and his (Mr. Hanna's) company received in all only £463, from which they had to pay for special advertising £150, leaving the small sum of £313 to be divided by Mr. Thring and the company as film hire. After a season of nine weeks in the De Luxe Theatre, Melbourne, which he believed, to be the record for any picture in that theatre, these two pictures were accepted and played throughout the circuit controlled by General Theatres in the suburbs of Melbourne. The takings were, he believed, about £8,000, which, if it was analysed, would prove that two Australian feature pictures each received 12½ per cent. of the takings. If these figures were compared with the terms which both Fox Films and British Empire Films received from independent exhibitors, the position became obvious that Australian pictures were playing under a tremendous handicap. (Sydney Morning Herald, 6th January 1934)
Thring knew the game, having acted as distributor and exhibitor in his days with Hoyts. C. E. Munro, managing director of General Theatres asked him at the inquiry:
Did you say when you were distributing films that 20 per cent was the most you could pay?
Thring replied: I might have said anything. I was selling films then (Laughter).
Mr. Asprey: You are producing films now. Are you "saying anything" now? - The point of view alters.
Mr. Thring said that the present position was that Australian producers had to prove the value of their pictures in a theatre before they could be bought, whereas English and American pictures were bought a year ahead. (Sydney Morning Herald, 6th January 1934)
After one more go at producing a film - Waltzing Matilda - Hanna gave the game away, and Thring, on his premature death in 1936, was said to have lost a net fifty seven thousand pounds on his feature film, short film and studio ventures.
There are no music credits in the film, but over the opening credits a band does a medley of British-themed tunes, including the likes of Britannia Rules the Waves.
Later during the gags in the Quartermaster’s store (a soldier fitted with women’s clothing, clothing too large for Hanna and co.), a piano is heard running under the dialogue.
Theoretically it’s supposed to be a practical piano off, but when the men start prancing about to Mademoiselle from Armentières, the piano follows the melody, as does Joe Valli who offers to give Hanna and Moon a tune on the “Jewish pianner” (a typewriter).
Still later there happens to be a piano handy so that the soldiers and nurse Alison Dennett (Prudence Irving) can embark on a song. The lyrics for this song:
Nurse, Nurse, I’m feeling rather worse,
Would you kindly hold my head
Nurse, Nurse, we shouldn’t need a hearse,
If you want, sit on my bed.
Nurse, Nurse, is your little place of birth
Blown to bits by shot and shell
Strike me pink,
If you ain’t a goin’ to kiss me
Might as well get well.
There doesn’t seem to be any sign of this song on the internet, and for the moment we are unable to provide a source.
That’s followed by the rendition of another song, an old 1925 number by Davis Burke and Fisher, Oh, How I Miss You Tonight, later done by many others including Jim Reeves, wiki here. Lyrics as in the movie:
Oh how I miss you tonight
Miss you when lights are low
Oh how I need you tonight
More than you’ll ever know
Later when the diggers are dockside, ready to set off for old Blighty, with a Tommie (Alfred Frith) leaving his French sort Marie behind, a French tune plays over the scene, and then there are a couple more tunes as the diggers/soldiers prepare to board, including McTavish prancing about to “she’s my lady love.”
Another bit of music, sort of sourced from radio, but really working as underscore, pops up when the diggers in their Essex retreat gesture to butler Muddles that they’d like some beer.
Music also serves as a plot turning point. When bewildered Captain Fisher fails to understand why Alison Dennett is grumpy with him, Chic, in their meeting in the Essex garden, launches into “Who were you with last night, under the pale moon light, wasn’t your sister …” and then Fisher realises it was to do with his allegedly drunken intrigue with, and unloading false documents on, the French woman spying for the Germans, but he nobly says whatever happened can’t be discussed with anyone.
The news towards the end of the show of victory in the Battle of Hamel (and the couples pairing off) is also greeted with a bit of martial music, Soldiers of the Queen, which ironically would turn up much later in Beresford’s ‘Breaker’ Morant in a more ironic way.
And there’s a final bit of brass music when a drunk Mulga turns up to alert Chic and McTavish to the presence of real booze and the diggers get down to serious drinking with Muddles the butler.
5. Comedy sequences:
The film is badly directed, and unfortunately, given Pat Hanna’s reputation as one of Australia’s leading stage comedians, relatively light on comedy (Hanna was perhaps only shaded in fame by the ‘blue’ comedy of Mo McCackie on the ribald vaudeville circuit, a failure when tamed down for Roy Rene's only feature Strike Me Lucky).
Much of the first half is taken up with military matters and a dashing German-speaking Australian intelligence officer, Sir Guy Gough (Norman French) who uses Captain Jack Fisher (John D’Arcy) to get false plans into the hands of the Germans, thereby resulting in the defeat of the Germans at the real 1918 battle of Hamel, led by Sir John Monash (wiki here, AWM here).
During the laborious on the military set-up - it has to be acknowledged that Hanna shouldn’t have been allowed to direct traffic, let alone a feature film in which he was also the leading player - there are only limited opportunities for comedy from the central trio of Hanna (as Chic Williams), Joe Valli (doing his celebrated Scots routine as Joe McTavish) and George Moon as Joe Mulga.
The main flourish is slapstick around a very popular Hanna stage routine, involving rum, which gets into a water trough and sends drunk ducks into the air to do barrel rolls, while back on the ground assorted soldiers are also doing their own kind of barrel rolls. This is immediately followed by ...
(a) The Quartermaster store sketch:
This sketch revolves around the diggers being issued with over-sized clothing, with one donning a female garment. This produces a running gag about “there’s a reason for everything in the army”. A piano off plays under the entire sketch, as if accompanying action in a silent movie.
Chic - Pat Hanna - and Mulga - George Moon - walk into the store and look around and a Corporal slaps the table and stands up in exasperation (footnotes are used for slang words):
Corporal: Wait, what the devil do you …(stuttering in anger) come here!! Left right, left right, left right, HALT! Who the devil do you think you are? This is a Quartermaster store, not a bargain sale! Ah, (reading an army document) Private Williams, one five four seven, size nine … (he gets clothes from a shelf) …one tunic, one pair of britches, one pair of puttees (1) …(he hands the clothes to Chic) … Private Mulga, one nine six two, size six, one pair of britches, one tunic, one pair of puttees. (He points across the room) Dress in there …
Voice off: “Corporal Cruickshank.”
Corporal: “Coming, sir” (he leaves)
(A soldier emerges wearing a white tightly fitting garment over the top of body and arms)
Soldier: ‘Ere, what’s the strength of this, hey? Look at it, look at it.”
(Chic and Mulga examine the strange garment)
Chic: “What, what’s biting you?”
Soldier: “I don’t know, I don’t know, made for the boy scouts or something, look at it.”
(Chic tugs at the garment and turns the soldier around while Mulga smirks)
Soldier: “Oh it’s all, I can’t swaller.”
Chic: “You got it on wrong, wrong side foremost.”
Soldier: “Wrong side foremost, I don’t know, something’s wrong with it …”
(As Chic keeps inspecting the garment, the Quartermaster Sergeant enters from behind)
Chic: “What are the gadgets for?”
Soldier: “Gadgets? Where? (writhing in the garment) I don’t know ...”
Chic: “Oh, I don’t know, oh blimey, I don’t know what to make of it.”
Quartermaster: “You don’t know!!? If you’d only use your head, you’d know there’s a reason for everything in the army. (He moves across, swagger stick under arm). Come here, let’s have a look at him. Turn round here … Well, what’s wrong with it?”
Soldier: “I don’t know, there’s no instructions with it.”
Quartermaster: “Well move your arms.”
(The soldier flaps his arms up and down)
Quartermaster: “Go on, move your arms.”
(The soldier moves more energetically).
Quartermaster: “There you are, it’s as plain as a pike staff! (It’s) ... to give free play to the shoulder blades! There’s a reason for everything in the army!”
Chic (looking at other clothes): “Well look there must be a mistake here somewhere Sar’ Maj’, ‘cause it says here ... (looking at the label on another white garment) ... issued to the Women’s Auxiliary… (He turns the soldier around so that now the garment on his back is presented to camera)…Corp.
Quartermaster (shouting): “WHAT!! (then pointing) Go on, GET AOUT! GET AOUT! AND STOP AOUT!”
(The men leave, and a drunk McTavish arrives to keep the sketch going by collecting a pair of boots from the exasperated Corporal.
As he mutters about not having to win the war in bare feet, Chic returns wearing vastly oversize trousers and Mulga in a very oversize tunic, as Chic says “blimey, get an eye full of me.”)
Chic: “…do I look like a soldier? I ask you.”
McTavish: “No, no, but you can’t blame the uniform for that.”
Mulga: “Blimey, I asked for a tunic. Huh, they gave me a tent.”
McTavish: “You don’t seem to understand, you know that’s the dancing uniform.”
McTavish: “Dance for me, and I’ll give ya a tune on the Jewish pianner.”
(McTavish lurches over to the typewriter and begins pounding on it, as the piano keeps playing offscreen. Chic and Mulga dance as they sing “apres la guerre” and sing Mademoiselle from Armentières. Corporal and Sergeant return to kick the men out and as they collapse outside the store, Chic holds up the tattered female garment to deliver the punchline).
Chic: “Oh blimey, there’s a reason for everything in the army.”
(Fade out on the drunk, laughing men).
(1) puttee: a long strip of cloth wound spirally round the leg from ankle to knee for protection and support.
(b) The Aboriginal Soldier joke:
While the humour is relatively sparse, the film remains a fascinating document, not least for the use of slang, and the odd bizarre interlude, such as a sudden appearance of an Aboriginal soldier for the sake of a joke, as the troops wait dockside to get on the ship to old Blighty for ten days leave.
This is part of a larger dockside song and dance routine, and occurs when an officer passes by the diggers and spots an Aboriginal soldier, and it says a world of things about the fate of indigenous Australians. While there's an acknowledgement that they fought in the war, the soldier also has to play along with a dismissive joke:
Officer: Why, hello Jackie.
Officer: A real Australian native?
Jackie: Yes sir.
Officer: Well do you know that you belong to one of the greatest and oldest races in the world?
Jackie (saluting again): Yes sir.
Officer (saluting): Splendid.
(Then there’s a really bad, hopelessly accented and obvious line of post-synch dialogue supered over Jackie)
Jackie: By cripes he say I’m the oldest race in the world.
(Then, even though this cue doesn’t properly set up the gag):
Chic: Jackie reckons he thinks he’s the plurry Melbourne Cup …
(General laughter as Jackie moves off)
(c) The Paybook Sketch:
In another sketch, the diggers offload their military garments on a French-speaking German quisling (Von Schieling) played by silent film director Raymond Longford (also given an associate director credit on the film), with everybody mangling the French language as they do the deals (Von Schieling is much given to saying “non compris”.)
This is followed by another routine, involving a matter dear to soldiers, the paybook:
(As the Quartermaster, sitting at a desk, talks with a standing Alison and Judy in the pay office in London)
Chic’s voice off: “Hey, ya haven’t got a dozen eggs in there, have ya?”
Quartermaster: “Hey? No! What the devil! Why?”
Chic’s voice off: “Been sitting here long enough to hatch them.”
(The Quartermaster thumps the desk and gives an exasperated sigh “ooohhh!”)
Quartermaster (to the women): “They’ve just come over from France and they seem to think we’ve got nothing else to do but to attend to them.”
Judy: “The poor boys only get a few days …”
Alison: “Have you been over there yet, Sergeant?”
(The Quartermaster is joined by his sidekick Corporal)
Quartermaster: “Of course not!! Our services are indispensable here. Aren’t they Corporal?”
Corporal: “Er, certainly.”
(A secretary in the background gives a disruptive, subversive “huh” sneeze).
Alison: “Well er you attend to the boys, Sergeant, and in the meantime, we’ll see the Paymaster.”
Quartermaster: “Very well miss.”
(The corporal opens a ledger which the Quartermaster inspects)
Quartermaster: “Oh, better let them in Corporal.”
(The Corporal opens the door)
Corporal: “First three men, have pass and paybooks ready. This way!”
(Joe Mulga - George Moon - enters first, followed by Joe McTavish - Joe Valli - and Chic Williams - Pat Hanna).
Corporal (sitting at desk): “Pass and paybooks over here.”
(Chic goes to get out his paybook, but Mulga sneaks his own paybook to the Corporal, then jumps away in fright from the Quartermaster).
Corporal: “What’s that Scotch Corporal doing here?”
Chic (drawling): “Oh he’s our financial advisor.”
Corporal (surly): “Then I shall advise him to stand back.” (Joe retreats) “Well, how much do you want?”
Chic (leaning over): “Here, how much ‘ave ya got?”
Corporal (indignant): “What the devil do you mean?” (The Corporal looks at Mulga’s paybook and shows it to the Quartermaster) “This man did have a credit of five pounds. He’s two pounds overdrawn and there’s a fine of three pounds.”
Quartermaster: “Which leaves him with a large sum of …(slamming down the paybook)… nothing!!”
Mulga: “Well what do ya know about that!?”
Chic: “Aw that’ll be alright Joe, look there’s beaucoup in mine.”
McTavish: “I hope so.”
Chic: “Oh, there must be oh … (he puts his foot on the table right next to the Corporal) ...there’d be (counting his fingers)... there’s five … (the Corporal looks at his foot, and Chic takes it off the table)
Corporal: “Where the devil do you think you are?”
Chic: “We’re here.”
Corporal (lets out a sigh and whirls in his chair and stands up): “Ohhh!”
(The diggers do a little physical slapstick amongst themselves and Mulga ends up sitting on the desk, and an outraged Quartermaster stands up)
Quartermaster: “What the!!??
(The diggers come to sort of attention).
Quartermaster: “Hohhhhh! Pay attention!!
(As the Corporal leaves, the Quartermaster shows the diggers the paybook).
Quartermaster: “On your credit side, you’ve got twenty pounds! (The diggers are pleased and the two Joes shake hands). On your debit side, you’ve got fifty pounds!
Chic (gesturing): “Seventy.”
McTavish: “Look, look, take thirty quid. Ten day leave each, ten quid each, home in a bit.”
Chic: “Yeah, yeah, thirty quid’ll be jakerloo.” (1)
Quartermaster (slamming the desk): “You’ll do nothing of the kind!!”
Quartermaster (standing up): “No!!”
McTavish (softly): “No…”
Quartermaster: “Don’t you understand the difference between debit and credit?!”
McTavish: “Er yes, what is it?”
Quartermaster: “Eh, I’ll tell you ... (he sits back down)...If you had fifty pounds on your credit side, and twenty pounds on your debit side, then you .. (holding up the paybook) … here, I’ll show you. If that side was on this side, and this side was on that side, then you’d have thirty pounds coming to you, but as it is, you owe the government thirty pounds! (slamming down the paybook on the desk). So take that and chew it over!!”
Chic (as McTavish picks up the paybook): “We’ve been winning this blinking war on nothing!”
McTavish: “You know what you really want here is an overdraft.”
Chic (turning back to the Quartermaster): “Yeah, look, look, haven’t I got a contra account?”
Quartermaster: “What do ya mean, contra account?”
Chic: “You know, one side contradicts the other.”
Quartermaster: “Certainly not!!!”
McTavish: “Er, that’s, that’s what’s wrong with your book. That side contradicts that side too darn much ... (pointing at the paybook). And if that side had been on that side, and that side had been on that side, it’d be like … (he breaks down and turns the book around)...
Chic: “It’s on the wrong side!”
McTavish: “Yeah, like there’s... (he tilts the paybook and Mulga tries to follow, bending over)…oh and ya can’t stand on your head to read it, can you? What you want is ... (he pauses, a thought crosses his mind) … I got it … I got it... (he wets a finger and tears a page out of the book)... now look, just a minute …now look... (he hands the torn out page to Chic)...hold that there now, don’t move, we’ll soon fix this up (tearing out another page and passing it to a bewildered Mulga)...hold that, that side …that side, now don’t mix ‘em, now there you are … over here with this... (he completes the swapping of the two torn pages and fixing them back in the book on their new sides) ...now he cannae argue with that, can he?”
Chic: “Show him!”
(McTavish shows the Quartermaster the fixed book)
McTavish: “There’s the whole thing in black and …”
(They all point at the book and talk)
(The Quartermaster, exploding to his feet with the book in hand)
Quartermaster: “What the!!??? Destroying a paybook!!!???”
(They all talk and point)
Quartermaster: “Take that you ...(handing back the paybook to McTavish). And get out!!!”
Mulga: “Ten days leave to spend.”
Chic (mournfully): “And nothing to spend it on!”
McTavish: “Yeah, ya big long kangaroo, just what you would do. I might even knock your block right off! Well well what are we gonna do now?”
Chic: “Back to France.”
McTavish: “They, they won’t let us. We’re on leave.”
Quartermaster: “The only thing you beauties can do is to take advantage of those people who open their homes to soldiers on leave.”
(The two women return from the Paymaster to witness proceedings)
McTavish: “Hmm, open their homes, no wonder they take advantage of them.”
Chic: “Yeah, well what sort of joints are they?”
Quartermaster: “Open up the file, Corporal!”
(The Corporal gives him a file).
McTavish: (soft, obscured)
Quartermaster (reading): “Lord and Lady Plunkett.”
McTavish: “No, too offish, no.”
Quartermaster: “Mr Gavin Smith.”
(voices repeat 'Smith')
McTavish (pushing Chic’s arm down): “Smith, I don’t like that.”
Quartermaster: “Arthur Gray, Esquire.”
Chic (putting his foot back on the desk): “I know …”
McTavish: “… he’s good, Esquire.” (After a glare from the Quartermaster, Chic drops his foot back down on the floor).
Quartermaster: “Mr and Mrs York.”
McTavish: “York? No …”
Quartermaster: “W. Jackson.”
Quartermaster: “Commissioner of Police.”
(All loudly and repeatedly NO.)
Quartermaster: Graham Watts. Great Prohibition Advocate.”
(McTavish, “Oh forget him” and others “no’”, Mulga “what’d he want to bring him in for.”)
McTavish: “Prohibition, I should think not.”
(Alison sidles up to the Quartermaster and whispers to him)
Chic: “We ought to have quids in there Joey.”
Quartermaster: “Miss Martha Gough.”
McTavish (attentive): “Miss Gough. That sounds good.”
Quartermaster: “Er a spinster …”
Chic: "Oh look at me."
McTavish: “No, no, enough of that.”
(Assorted nos and talk, as Alison mischievously whispers again to the Quartermaster)
Quartermaster (spluttering): "Miss Martha Gough … and nieces …”
(All): “Nieces, nieces, what …”
Chic: “What, what, what sort of cabbage are they?”
Quartermaster (shouting, thumping desk): “How on earth should I know?!”
Chic (gesturing with his hands): “I mean are they fat ones or grown up or …
Quartermaster (thumping desk again): “I don’t know!!”
Chic (to McTavish): “He don’t know.”
McTavish (to Mulga): “He don’t know.”
Mulga: “He wouldn’t… what’s the address?”
Quartermaster: “Four hundred and nine Suffix Avenue, Stanstead, Essex.”
McTavish: “Essex! We’ll go Essex!”
Chic: “We haven’t got a razoo.”
McTavish: “You won’t need a razoo, look, every home in Essex brews their own pre-war beer.
Mulga: “Beer?! What do you … how do you get there, Sergeant.”
Quartermaster: “You’re entitled to a railway warrant.”
McTavish: “Oh, that’s, that’s both ways.”
McTavish: “Yeah, we don’t want to be walk back you know.”
Quartermaster (standing and thrusting a piece of paper at McTavish: “Now take that warrant you, and GET OUT!!”
Chic: “And thanks very much Sergeant-Major.”
McTavish: “Oh and no, just a moment... (ferreting in his bag). There’s a little souvenir from France. We know you boys don’t get a chance to go over and get ‘em for yourselves.”
(He plonks a very large shell casing on the table in front of the Quartermaster)
McTavish: “There you are.”
(And then Chic produces the actual shell from his own bag and plonks it down besides the casing).
Chic: “And then that’s the part that goes pop.”
(It makes a clunking noise as it hits the table, and the Corporal and the Sergeant rear back aghast.
Chic puts his foot back on the table with a carefree wave of his hand)
Quartermaster (outraged) : “Get … what the …"(standing and pushing Chic’s foot into McTavish, making the unbalanced Chic tread on the Quartermaster’s foot. The Quartermaster points and shouts)
Quartermaster: “Get ...GET OUT!!”
The diggers depart and the Quartermaster examines the shell casing. He finds a piece of clothing inside it and pulls it out. The women and an officer return to discover the Quartermaster holding the female clothing seen in an earlier scene.
Officer (snatching the garment): “Sergeant Major!!”
The diggers tumble down the Pay Office stairs laughing and chattering.
Chic: “Gor blimey, something’s annoyed that bloke up there …”
McTavish: “I bet he’s got shell shock.”
Then they’re off to try the home brew in Essex.
(1) Jakerloo, Jake: ‘Jake’ was in use before the war in Australia by drivers & others to indicate that the load and harness were secure and everything ready for a start. It was also used to indicate that all was well with the speaker. The addition of the last two syllables appear to have been made in the A.I.F. abroad; perhaps the outcome of the observation by certain members of the ‘force’ of the opportunity to [rhyme] with ‘Bakerloo’, the name of the underground railway that connected Waterloo station with Baker Street, both in London. Some contend that the term was introduced on the Western Front by the Canadians and that it is a relic of the French Revolution when the plotters were known as ‘Jaques 1’, ‘Jaques 2’, etc., in order to avoid detection.
Sourced from the ANU’s invaluable reference list of AIF slang here.
(d) The 'Kangarooster' Routine:
Perhaps the best reminder of Hanna’s stage routines comes when the trio of diggers arrive at their welcoming Essex house and Aunt Martha invites a topping of the Scots/rabbits in Australia (the bigger pest) joke told against McTavish.
The result’s a typical Australian version of the shaggy dog story, as ancient as schoolkids torturing visiting teachers from England with dire tales of bunyips, or in Sunstruck, much later in 1972, giving Welsh teacher Harry Secombe a hard time with a harmless python in the classroom.
Aunt Martha begins the routine by asking her Anzac guests what they do in Australia when they’re not fighting the savages and killing the bushrangers:
Chic: “Oh we’ve got a fair amount to do out there missus. (pointing to Mulga). You see he’s got a kangarooster farm.”
Muddles the butler: “Kangarooster?! Would they be a kind of fruit?”
Chic: “Er fruit, well you could hardly call kangaroosters fruit.”
McTavish: “No, no, not exactly.”
Chic: “No, kangaroosters …er it’s er oh, it’s a little gadget... (gesturing with his hands)... like er …”
McTavish: “Oh go on, they’re bigger than that …”
(One of Chic’s hands hits him on the nose)
McTavish: “That’s enough… you can, they’d be about... (also gesturing with his hands) … that would be about the size, wouldn’t it?”
Chic: “More or less.”
McTavish: “Yeah, about that size … and they’re very energetic. Yeah, they get up every morning before the sun rises and they fly about the whole day.”
(Chic makes an aerial gesture, with a “like”).
McTavish: “They don’t come down at all until the sun sets. That’s when you catch ‘em and milk ‘em.”
Chic (making grabbing and milking gestures with his hands and noises along with dialogue): “Grab ‘em … naughty kangaroosters... (milking action) … like this! (McTavish nods approvingly as Chic points to Mulga). You see, you know, he got a cable from Australia from his kangarooster shepherd yesterdy, and some silly coot left the slip rails down you see, and about two hundred head of kangaroosters got right away.”
McTavish (nodding forlornly): “Yeah.”
Aunt Martha: “How unfortunate.”
McTavish: “Oh yeah, yeah, they were all in milk too.”
Chic: “Yeah, two hundred gallons went westward ho.”
Judy Fisher: “Miss Scott, what gorgeous feathers in that hat.”
(Aunt Martha takes up her glasses to peer at the Lighthorse feather that Chic had previously purloined and stuffed in his hat, though he had no right to be wearing it. Chic takes off his hat and looks and points at the feathers).
Chic: “Oh yeah yeah yeah, they’re kangarooster feathers."
Aunt Martha: “Do they grow out there?”
McTavish: “Come again, miss?”
Aunt Martha: “Do they grow out there …?”
McTavish: “Oh no, no, no lady no... (he stands up, points his bum in her direction, and gestures to his bum) … they grow out there, like that.”
(Chic drags him back into his chair)
Chic: “Yes, you know, you, you should go out to Australia after the war miss.”
Judy Fisher (joining in the fun and bunging on an exaggerated Scottish accent): “Back to the dear old Dingbat Ranges? And hear the lovely lyrebird? (She stands up and walks over) … Oh, I’d love to …but Chic Williams, have you forgotten about twelve years ago, teaching a little girl in Western Australia called Judy Fisher to ride her first pony?”
(Chic looks mortified)
McTavish: “Yeah, ya see missy, he never can rem …”
Chic (nudging McTavish with his elbow): “Shut up, yer Scotch haggis, it’s Jack Fisher’s sister ...”
McTavish: “Jack Fisher’s sis … (he stands up as Alison Dennett enters, bringing the routine to an end).
It’s a common enough routine but with a dinkum kangarooster flavour distinct from other sorts of jokes in the show, such as when Aunt Martha says she’s very worried about her niece Alice and whether she’s a somnambulist (she’s walked about all night) and McTavish tells her not to worry, he (Mulga) is a non-conformist (which leads to a couple of stage kicks in the bum).
And the film also ends on a dinkum note, when after a long wait for the home brew to be tapped, Aunt Martha instructs Muddles the butler to bring the diggers some home-made barley water.
This results in perhaps the best timed slapstick in the show, with McTavish pouring his barley water into the hot water bath provided by Muddles the butler, Chic pouring his barley water into McTavish’s empty glass, McTavish pouring his glass back into Chic’s, and then Chic emptying his barley water into McTavish’s hat, which he inevitably spills into his groin.
That’s followed by the diggers heading out to the barn to join Muddles in Essex home made brew for an end of show effects shot of whirling barrels of home brew.
(e) The Two-Up Sketch:
One of the extras on the NFSA DVD is great fun, a routine performed by Pat Hanna and released in 1930 for sale and widely played on radio. It has to be heard, of course, in Hanna’s dry, drawling and slightly inebriated form of delivery.
While it doesn’t have anything to do with the films, here’s the text for the first time on the internet. May it spread far and wide, and may Pat Hanna’s original reading be celebrated:
I wuz the king of a two up school
When it wuz quiet on the western front
We had a school at Bayonvillers (1) in the 1918 stunt …
And during the war
Behind bully (2) call
One day playing heads and tails
A bloke passed by, dinki di
It was Teddie, Prince of Wales
Well we played you know, for an hour or so
And Prince Ted, he was a bosker (3)
He smiled, he did
When he lost ten quid
And laughed when he did all his Oscar (4)
And young Prince Ted,
He ups and sed
‘Well digger I’ve done me dough
And this blinking war’s a bit of a bore
I’ve got a scheme, will ya give it a go?
Now me poor old dad sez he’s feeling sad
And London’s a dull old town
You and me, old sport, will teach me old man’s court
How to toss the gentle browns (5)
So the very next day we went our way
To Buckingham Palace, where the king hangs out
And Prince Ted sez ‘has a spot’
I sez, ‘could I wot?’
And Ted, he sez ‘right, my shout’
And a bloke popped in his head, and he sez
‘Hello Ted, hey ya needn’t put back that cork,
We’ll have another.’
Ted sez, ‘digger, meet me brother,
Bertie, the Duke of York.’
So I swung the dook (6) with Bertie the Duke
And he sez, ‘the king, me dad, is distressed.
He’s gone to bed with an aching head,
And just then he came out ‘arf-undressed,
‘Hullo dad, old thing, your friend I bring’
Sez Teddie, Prince of Wales
‘Here’s me friend Dick Brown, from Mulga Town
He’s king of the heads and tails.’
‘Now look here dad,’ said the royal lad,
And he winked at His Majesty
‘If life seems tame, get an eye full of this game,
That’s played by the digger and me.’
So we tossed the old browns to the rustle of gowns
What swept o’er the palace floor
And young prince Ted got rash
And started doing his cash
And his old man suddenly roars
‘Hey, bring to me the Treasury key,
And a couple er sacks of gold
I’ll bet me crown against this here dig Brown,
I’ll win me wealth untold’,
So one of the earls brought him gold and pearls
And laid them at his feet
But me luck was in and with every spin
I was winning his gold a treat
Great fun, every time I spun
I was rakin’ in all the dough
‘Till the Treasury belonged to me
And the palace was filled with woe
I had silver and gold and wealth untold
And to help me carry it away
I gave Bert and Ted ten bob (7) a head
To hump the load down to Horseferry road
And on to the boat that day
Well I chartered the boat and was soon afloat
But dinkum the ship went down
In the Oorrstralian bight, she did, too right
And I was rescued with these two browns
And look if I wasn’t so dry, me price’d be high
But you can have those browns for two half crowns (8)
They’re a dinkum souvenir ...
Thank you …
(Then a toffy ponce voice speaks up)
Look, look here I say mate
Look, look at these dates
What here you’ve told some whoppers
The the date on these coppers
Is nineteen twenty eight!
(The digger’s voice returns)
Well blimey what what do you expect
For five bob?!
The Buckingham Palace?
(1) The name of the town is mangled in the delivery to sound like Bayonyeule, or similar but Bayonvillers was a famous battle in the 1918 phase of ‘open warfare’ with the Australians capturing the town without a fight. See here.
(2) Bully, as in cans of bully beef, as in call to eat food.
(3) The excellent ANU AIF slang list gives bosker/boshter as bonzer, aka good, beautiful. See here.) Other slang is referenced from this invaluable resource.
(4) Oscar, money, an abbreviation of the rhyming slang, Oscar Asche for cash, Oscar Asche being the name of an actor (1871-1936). The abbreviation was first recorded in 1917.
(5) Pennies, copper-coloured brown, essential for playing two-up.
(6) Dook, meaning a hand, a variant on duke, from 1874
(7) Bob, meaning shillings
(8) Two half crowns would be two shillings and sixpence, five bob in total.