Au Pair Girls

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Known in the US as The Young Playmates, Au Pair Girls is a ripe chunk of British cheese from 1972 and a prime example of the sort of film the UK was making at the time.

A simple story of four girls arriving in the UK and then having various adventures, most of which involve them losing their clothes, Au Pair Girls really benefits from its feisty female leads, Astrid Frank, Gabrielle Drake, Me Me Lai and Nancie Wait.

They’re an interesting bunch. Astrid Frank appeared in French, German and English language movies, switching from a French movie with Jean Gabin (1970’s Horse) to sexploitationers such as Swinging Wives or Swedish Love Games. Gabrielle Drake is the sister of the musician Nick Drake, and had actually worked as an au pair. Me Me Lai eventually joined the police, bowing out of movies with Lars Von Trier’s first major production, The Element of Crime. And Nancie Wait supported herself at drama school by working part-time at London’s Playboy Club and would later become a writer and painter.

The director is Val Guest, a tireless force in British cinema who didn’t really make this sort of film and, having done so, swore he never would again (not true, he shot Confessions of a Window Cleaner two years later). He took an original story by David Grant, a porn producer who styled himself the King of Sexploitation – he’d later die in what was rumoured to be a contract killing – and toned it down quite a bit, removing much of the actual sex and leaving behind instead many shots of female flesh. Notably, at the one moment where a man’s penis threatens to appear on screen, there’s a sudden attack of extreme coyness.

Anita (Astrid Frank) up a ladder, Mr Howard (Geoffrey Bayldon) copping an eyeful below
Anita (Astrid Frank) climbs the ladder, Mr Howard (Geoffrey Bayldon) enjoys the view

Most of the action centres on Randi (yup), played Gabrielle Drake, and her clothes-on-clothes-off (but mostly clothes-off) day out with Richard O’Sullivan’s Rolls Royce-driving Stephen, a lairy lad amazed that this goddess has dropped into his life.

Meanwhile, Christa (Wait) is getting off with a singer (Steve Patterson), Astrid (Frank) is finding herself the object of attention of a worldly sheikh (Ferdy Mayne) and Nan Lee (Me Me Lai) is at a vast mansion with a man-boy called Rupert (Julian Barnes) who doesn’t know which end of a girl does what.

A woman’s value resides in her body parts is the ostensible message, and yet the men in this film in the main come across as a desperate and sad bunch. The women, naked or not, manage to emerge with some dignity, not least because they actually carry the plot, but also because their characters’ attitude to sex is wholesome. The men, like leaky adolescents, spend their time either pulling “you don’t get many of them to the pound” faces, trying to cop an “accidental” feel, or getting an eyeful whenever the young women inadvertently flash their knickers.

1950s attitudes meets a 1960s ethos in the 1970s. Guest, born in 1911, is really a 1930s/40s kind of guy and that sense of a film made by middle-aged swingers suffuses the entire enterprise, most obviously the soundtrack, which is 1960s-ish in that very Lounge way. If you know the song Up, Up and Away (in My Beautiful Balloon), it appears to be the inspiration for Roger Webb’s extensively used title song, which instructs us to “Take care if you fall in love with a new au pair”. Emphasis on the “pair”.

“Funny in the British sense, full frontal nudity,” says one pithy review on Amazon, which is about right. Or to put it in Guest’s words, defending himself against a charge of pornography, it’s “all fun; it’s bubble. There is absolutely no violence or kinks. There are no lesbians, no queers and no whips; nothing like that at all.” Make of that what you will. Different times etc.

If you’ve ever wondered what happened to British Cinema when the American studios pulled back in the early 1970s, and the British government also reduced its funding, films like Au Pair Girls plus a slew of big-screen spin-offs of popular TV shows is the answer. There is talent in front of and behind the camera but the main concern of all concerned is to make something commercial. Breasts on Screen equals Bums on Seats.

Au Pair Girls – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2023

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