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DVD of the Week – The Fast Lady

Why in my admittedly biased view, is The Fast Lady one of the greatest pictures in the history of civilisation? Well, the trailer below might provide a slight clue.

The Fast Lady

The plot is simplicity itself; cycle enthusiast Murdoch Troon (Stanley Baxter) falls in love with Claire Chingford (Julie Christie in only her second leading cinema role), the daughter of the famous motor-magnate Commander Chingford.

Unfortunately for our hero, he is played by James Robertson Justice in full curmudgeon mode so to impress the ogre he buys £500 worth of vintage Bentley from Leslie Phillips’ not overly ethical car salesman – and accepts a challenge that he cannot learn to drive in a week.

One reason why The Fast Lady has been one of my favourite films for more than three decades is the on-screen cars.

There are cameos from a Daimler SP250 “Dart”, a 1937 Frazer-Nash BMW 327 and Triumph Heralds.

If this were not sufficient reason to immediately order the DVD, there is also a driving instruction scene with an Austin A40 “Farina” and Phillip’s “Freddie Fox” works at a showroom with a display of Standard Tens (‘Many Extras’) and Austin A90 Atlantics (Car of The Week’).

Fox is also seen at the wheel of a Lincoln Continental Mk. III and an MGA 1600 Mk. II which looks like an Abingdon PR car.

Claire Chingford pilots a very early Morris Cooper, courtesy of the BMC PR fleet, although some of Ms. Christie’ driving was accomplished via the stunt ace Jack Silk donning a wig.

Joe Wadham, his partner in the famous company 999 Cars, has a dual role as an irate motorist in a Jensen Interceptor 4-Litre and getaway driver. Meanwhile, Justice looks completely at home during the hill climbing scene amongst the Austin 7 Specials as back in the 1930s he had competed at Brooklands.

Secondly, The Fast Lady has one of the finest casts of any British film, with guest appearances from Graham Hill, John Surtees, Raymond Baxter and John Bolster.

The gentleman emerging from a manhole cover is Frankie Howerd, Bernard Cribbins is seen on an ambulance stretcher and Murdoch’s driving examiner is Allan ‘The Colonel from Gourmet Nights’ Cuthbertson.

Dick Emery’s role as Fox’s employer makes one regret he did not play villains in straight dramas and the unfortunate L-School instructor is portrayed by the great Eric Barker.

And it goes without saying that the four leading actors are all brilliant.

Thirdly, there are the star cars – the hoods’ Jaguar Mk. VIIM, the getaway vehicle of choice in early 1960s British films, and a police Wolseley 6/99, registration number 716 TPD.

If this splendid car looks somewhat familiar this might be because it appeared in scores of other British films from Carry On Cabby to Doctor in Distress and The Wrong Arm of The Law.

James Robertson Justice is seen driving a 1954 Bentley R-type Continental Drop Head Coupé by Park Ward, chassis no. BC73C.

At the time of shooting it was the property of Harry Lewis Motors of Staines who often loaned vehicles to cinema features.

The picture’s heroine was a 1927 Bentley Speed Model Open Tourer (Red Label model), chassis number ML1505 and with coachwork by Vanden Plas.

The original engine was a 3-litre unit but by 1948 her latest owner fitted with a 4 ½ litre power plant and the Bentley was subsequently acquired by Independent Artists, the film production company.

The rigours of making The Fast Lady were many and various; it is hard not to wince when the great car lands in Frensham Pond.  

Asides from needing a replacement gearbox, the mighty car ran immaculately, although post-filming a correspondent to Motor Sport magazine observed that ‘The film producers painted the car green and the chassis red, and also fitted the unoriginal lamps and the inappropriate horn’. At the wrap party Leslie Phillips turned down the chance to buy the Bentley for £500…in 2010, it was auctioned by Fiskens for £550,000…

The Fast Lady was released in February 1963 and as part of its promotion, Regent Oil staged a road safety rally at Denham Studios that was hosted by Graham Hill and featured a virtual Who’s Who of British Film & Television. Naturally, Baxter and Phillips competed in the Bentley, alongside Donald Sinden in a Morris Mini-Minor, Roger Moore in a P1800 (of course) and Stratford Johns in a Ford Zephyr 6 to mention but a few stellar names.

As to my final reason for recording The Fast Lady to anyone who cares about motor-cars, great comedy films – or both – there is the set-piece chase sequence where the final line goes to Leslie Phillips.

And anyone who prefers East Enders to this masterpiece is quite possibly one of the living dead.

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