A young man tries to get his oats in Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush, a British 1968 sex comedy starring Barry Evans, directed by Clive Donner and written by Hunter Davies.
In many ways it’s the suburban Alfie, which was made two years earlier. Where Michael Caine had central London, Barry Evans has Stevenage New Town; where Caine’s Alfie was a confident lothario and lone wolf, Evans’s Jamie is a virginal 18-year-old schoolboy with laddish mates. Alfie charms his women into bed, Jamie just dreams about it, vividly, in youth clubs, bus shelters and while pedalling around town on the bike he cycles as part of his job as a delivery boy. Emphasis on “boy”.
This is the would-be Rake’s Progress through a series of would-be conquests, with Jamie aiming to find the sweet spot – a girl who will do it with him but who he wants to do it with. “The ones you fancy don’t fancy you and the ones you don’t fancy fancy you,” he sums up in a nutshell.
Jamies is also a lot more snobbish than he realises. He’s looking for a “nice class of person” (and says so twice), which discounts “runny old Linda” (Adrienne Posta), a girl who probably would drop her knickers for him eventually, but who is dull and common. Paula (Sheila White) is a bit more like it, apart from her strange thing for the curate who runs the local church rave where the Paula and Jamie snog like crazy when the lights go down.
Things hot up a bit with Audrey, all innuendo and suggestive winks. And even more when posh and possibly up-for-it Caroline (Angela Scoular) comes along. But the girl Jamie really wants is Mary (Judy Geeson), who wafts through the film like a high-born lady in a medieval tale of courtly love, immaculate and out of reach, and dressed almost invariably in white.
How evocative most of these names are. This was Evans’s big break and it propelled him into any number of roles calling for reasonably good looking, reasonably well spoken chirpy chaps of a certain age – likeable young doctors or young teachers trying to get laid, usually, and finding their progress blocked. Grimly, Evans’s career did something similar and he wound up dead in mysterious circumstances, having worked as a minicab driver once the roles for young charmers dried up.
Clive Donner had directed one of the swingingmost movies of the decade three years earlier, What’s New Pussycat. Hunter Davies was well known as a Beatles confidant who could have spent his entire life churning out books on them (and did do a few). Judy Geeson was hot from To Sir, with Love, but just in case audiences aren’t up to speed she gives it her best Julie Christie as the hot blonde everyone wants.
Donner doesn’t load it up with too much grooviness but he does throw in some far-out cutaways, silent-movie stuff indicating Jamie’s inner fantasies, and the opening credits (by Richard Williams, the animator extraordinaire behind Who Framed Roger Rabbit) are properly wig-out synapse-poppers.
Though the Spencer Davis group make an appearance, and their manager Simon Napier-Bell is the music editor, for the most part the grooviness and psychedelia are held in check. And rightly so. Places like Stevenage New Town weren’t having that sort of 1960s. Though young men like Jamie wished they were. Jamie would love to get to the point where he’s struggling with zips and bra clasps but he’s still living in the pre-Permissive Society.
It’s the other side of the Swinging Sixties, in other words, and that’s where this charming movie’s virtue lies. In its cast of bright young hopefuls. In its portrait of suburban life – Jamie’s family’s obsession with blancmange and porridge is a nice touch. And with its unapologetic message: don’t be too desperate when it comes to women; find someone you like and who likes you; and stick to your own class.
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© Steve Morrissey 2023