There were three subjects British cinema excelled at during the heady days of 60’s liberalism – kitchen-sink-drama, Gothic horror and old-fashioned, feel-good humour. If director Tony Richardson’s gritty social treatise A Taste of Honey (1961) and anything produced by Hammer during their mid-decade heyday epitomised the first two categories, then Twice Round the Daffodils encapsulated everything that was humorous during this era.
Six men (Donald Sinden, Donald Houston, Kenneth Williams, Ronald Lewis, Andrew Ray and Lance Percival) are convalescing from TB at a sanatorium set somewhere deep within London’s Home Counties. The accepted sign amongst the hospital staff that the patients are well enough to go home, is when they have the strength to walk twice around the large daffodil bed which forms the centrepiece of the garden outside their ward window. During their enforced confinement the barriers between the men break down resulting in burgeoning friendships, whilst at the same time providing them the opportunity to pursue a healthy interest in the nurses who are employed to look after them.
Considered by many as an unofficial member of the ‘Carry On’ canon, Twice Round the Daffodils contains many of the elements which became synonymous with that archetypal British series. A popular setting for comedies at the time, the hospital environment was seen not only in many of the best ‘Carry On’ entries, but also the popular ‘Doctor’ series during the same period. On a more intrinsic level the involvement of several ‘Carry On’ production staff including director Gerald Thomas, producer Peter Rogers and writer Norman Hudis can be seen in the film’s risqué double entendre-laden humour, whilst the inclusion of stars such as Kenneth Williams and Joan Sims only serves to enforce the impression that this is a ‘Carry On’ film in all but name.
Viewed now it is doubtful whether Twice Round the Daffodils could be made with the current humourless vogue for laddish crassness. Fundamentally a ‘boy’s own’ tale with all the major roles being male, it has an endearing naivety often missing from today’s ‘clever’ comedies. However its humour, though frequently verging on the sexist and ‘non-pc’, is so clearly derived at the expense of the men who are often made out to be the fools of the piece, that only a dyed-in-the-wool curmudgeon would fail to appreciate its drily sardonic wit.
The film’s underlying beauty is its ability to hold your interest for eighty-five minutes despite being bound virtually within one room. This factor serves to focus the viewer’s attention on the characters’ relationships as much as the situation in which they find themselves, resulting in the film being an early showcase for the talents and pin-sharp comedic timing of a group of character actors who would go on to become household names.
Recently released on DVD to mark its 50th anniversary, Twice Round the Daffodils is a reminder of a now forgotten period when Britain and the escapism its film industry provided, could still lay a rightful claim to greatness.
Cleaver Patterson is a film critic and writer based in London.