Sunstruck

  • aka The Education of Stanley Evans (working title only)

English Goon and singer Harry Secombe plays Stanley Evans, a shy immigrant from Wales, who gets assigned to a one teacher school at Kookaburra Springs, where the weather is hot, the flies are bad and the children are little monsters, and the laconic publican (John Meillon) does his best to help the fat Welshman to overcome homesickness.

Henry turns his pupils into a choir, and when the kids hear there is to be a big school children's concert at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, they conspire to get into the show, switching their tape with a tape of Stanley's Welsh school choir. 

The choir does well in the competition (they score a special certificate of merit), and Harry returns with them to Kookaburra Springs, his confidence restored. He decides to stay in town and get hitched to Shirley (Maggie Fitzgibbon), who has spent the film looking for a man and some laughs ...


Production Details

Production company: Immigrant Productions

Budget: A$400,000, with British and American finance, and $100,000 from the Australian Film Development Corporation

Locations: Treharris, Wales (opening scenes), Parkes and Sydney, N.S.W, Artransa Park film studios.

Filmed: January 1972

Australian distributor: B.E.F.

Theatrical release: world premiere, Parkes, 18th November 1972, followed by release at Rapallo theatre, Sydney, 22nd December, 1972

Rating: G

35mm          Eastmancolor

Running time: 92 mins (Oxford Australian Film)

VHS copy: 1'26"39

Box office: mediocre. It was released in the Christmas holidays season to cash in on the family demographic, but this was, and remains, a two edged sword, and the show was off the main city screens by the end of January.

The film didn't travel well internationally, though it did get a UK release.

 

Opinion

Awards

None known.

Availability

Sunstruck was released on VHS many years ago in Australia and the UK, with copies now extremely rare.

Copies struck from VHS circulate amongst collectors. Image quality depends on the source material, but tends to be only fair average VHS.

On the other hand, a full length copy of the film is better than nothing for anyone wanting to catch up on the film, or for Goon Show fans wanting to catch up on Harry Secombe's performance.

If your idea of watching a 90 minute feature film is to watch a few clips, the ASO site has three here.

Clearly better prints of the film exist than VHS, and it's long overdue for a release in a restored version.


1. Source:

The idea for the film came from a poster devised by the N.S.W. government featuring a cossie clad teacher in mortar and gown on Bondi beach with the tag "Teach in the sun in New South Wales Australia".

Stan Mars, an associate of Jimmy Grafton's, saw the poster, and wrote a draft. Mars, originally Stanley Marshall, was a Scot, who changed his name twenty years before scripting the film. Mars worked with Johnnie Beattie and creating the Francie and Josie comedy duo. Mars also worked the Scottish summer show circuit before moving into television - and several years before he wrote the script for the film he came to Australia to work in TV.

The script was devised as a vehicle for Welsh-born Harry Secombe, a radio Goon show celebrity, with a following as a popular tenor singer who had made a number of stage and television performances down under.

Director James Gilbert had worked with Harry Secombe on the BBC television production of "Pickwick". Another Scot, he had worked as a Citizens' Theatre actor, writing music for some of the big Citizens' pantos in the early 1960s, before heading to London to work on musicals. (He wrote the musical "Grab Me A Gondola"). He later established himself as a light entertainment specialist, and came to Australia on leave from BBC television to direct the show.

Gilbert was head of light entertainment for the BBC 1977-1982, and worked on many mainly comedy shows, such as The Frost Report, the Two Ronnies, Last of the Summer Wine, Open All Hours and Whatever happened to the Likely Lads?

James "Jimmy" Gilbert and his son Colin turned up on BBC Scotland discussing their careers on Christmas day 2011 (more details here).

As noted by David Stratton, the result was often mistaken for a British film - it was registered as a British film by MGM-EMI Distributors, and reviewed as such by the Monthly Film Bulletin, despite having a substantial amount of Australian federal government money invested in it by the AFDC.

(Below: the poster that inspired the film).

2. Production:

Director Gilbert's English TV connections were no doubt influential in attracting British sitcom star Derek Nimmo to do a cameo. This arrives at the very end of the film, with Nimmo turning up on the plane as Secombe is about to go on his honeymoon.

But Gilbert showed as much interest in Australian cameos. Television personalities Dawn Lake and Bobby Limb make their second and last feature film appearance together (their first was in Squeeze a Flower), and television cigarette salesman Stuart 'Waggers' Wagstaff also turns up to host the eisteddfod. 

Gilbert also cast with a canny eye for popular Australians able to do the dinky-di routine, most notably John Meillon doing another turn as a publican, and Maggie Fitzgibbon as Secombe's love interest.

Gilbert also thinks nothing of opening the show with Secombe having a fantasy conducting a bikini-clad choir on a Sydney beach singing Waltzing Matilda, or trotting out Sydney harbour, the bridge and the opera house as a build-up to the eisteddfod showdown. Some riffs never die.

3. Release:

Despite the appeal of Harry Secombe in Australia - he had been a major star since the heady days of the Goon Show - the film didn't do well.

NLT, the production house which had struck out with Wake in Fright and Squeeze a Flower, had a small interest in the film, enough to get co-founder Jack Neary, with Bobby Limb and Dawn Lake a co-producer credit, and also helping to explain the cameo appearances of Limb and Lake  in the show.

But once again NLT struck out. No more would be heard from the company in relation to feature films, but one vicious classic and a couple of inoffensive bland comedies isn't a bad record in the context of the then dismal times.

The irony is that Sunstruck is almost a mirror image of Wake in Fright, on the pleasant side. 

It's another story about a schoolteacher, with an English accent, heading into the outback to a one teacher school, and mixing with the natives, at the pub, in the school and in the wild. Along the way the pub culture is explored - the films even have John Meillon as a shared publican, and Dawn Lake behind the bar.

There's an abundance of Aussie slang but it's scrubbed clean - no room for Bazza McKenzie in a G-rated film (so John Meillon is only as dry as the Nullabor), and there's an obligatory encounter with schooners of beer and getting drunk together, as mates do. 

But the intention with Sunstruck is to offer only mild, G-rated comedy, as critic Colin Bennett noted, in the style of an outback Ealing, Will the Lower Fourth win a Trip to the Choral Festival. The tang of Australian culture is dialled back to match.

All the same, Secombe made the most of his starring role, turning up down under to do publicity for the film, and then not wasting the air ticket by going on a theatrical tour as The Harry Secombe Show in January 1973, doing the major cities. 

It was later announced the same year that he would appear - with his co-star Maggie Fitzgibbon, along with other names, such as Olivia Newton John - in a series of shows dubbed Sunday Night at the Sydney Opera House between September 30th and December 2nd 1973. (Fitzgibbon opened the Chichester Festival in 1972).

Secombe wrote a two volume autobiography, Strawberries and Cream, with the second volume covering the years 1951-1996, published in 1996 by Robson, London.