Thursday, 18 November 2010

The funniest line in British screen comedy

To qualify as quintessentially the funniest line in British screen comedy it has to be chucklesome, aggressive, rude and a double entendre. The Carry On movies has them in abundance. But to my mind the best ever is found at the 2:45 point in the Doctor In Clover clip that heads this post.
It is delivered by comedian Arthur Haynes who died of a heart attack at the peak of his television popularity in 1966 at just 52.
Largely overlooked now, this British Film Institute ScreenOnLine link gives a flavour of the loss Haynes was to the world of comedy. The misanthropy of his television tramp character had echoes of Tony Hancock but in addition he was a one man warrior in the class war.
The movie, based on the Richard Gordon comic novel, was released in 1966 and is mainly a Leslie Phillips vehicle. But for me the exchange between hospital patient Tarquin Wendover (Arthur Haynes) and top consultant Sir Lancelot Spratt (James Robertson Justice) lifts the film out of the ordinary. Haynes’s screen time – repeating his combative personae - in the film is in the best traditions of comic acting.
At 2:45 Wendover is explaining to Spratt the cause of his back and chest pain is the result of an old war wound suffered while “bending down in the trenches prior to like leading my men over the top.”
Wendover: Suddenly, bang, off goes a grenade and a lump of shrapnel hits me right up the…
Spratt: Rectum?
Wendover: Well, it didn’t do 'em any good.

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