Andrew Sinclair wrote his semi-autobiographical novel The Breaking of Bumbo in 1959. It told the story of a young Guards officer who, whilst undergoing various rites of passage in the regiment, becomes sympathetic towards the peace movement and organised student protest. A decade later, Sinclair formed Timon Films with Jeffrey Selznick with the sole intention of adapting his novel for the big screen. Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo were attached to direct but, following a falling out with the producers, it was left to Sinclair himself to direct the film which received one TV screening by the BBC on Sunday 17th August 1975, before fading into an obscurity that Network DVD have subsequently rescued it from.
The scene in which Bumbo first puts his suggestion to the soldiers under his command in a pub after a regimental rugby match is arguably the film's highlight. The politics of the piece - the argument about why orders are followed blindly, especially when it pitches them against their own people - remains deeply valid and strong and there's a great moment where Bumbo's Sergeant Major (the always reliable Derek Newark, a much underappreciated character actor) tries to address the fact that Bumbo, as an officer, has the luxury of an education and class to consider orders and such ideas, whereas he and the ordinary guardsman seated there do not. To make his point that they are different, he remarks that Bumbo is holding his pint glass by the handle, whilst every soldier present (including a young Warren Clarke) grips their pints away from the handle.
Less successful now is the way that the radical politics are depicted. It's the typical swinging '60s idea of peace and love and counter-revolutionaries, with a tubby flak-jacketed John Bird leading the charge with a peculiar accent, melting the wax models of British heroes and dignitaries with a blow torch at Tussauds, and generally invoking stereotypical, colourful anarchy. I haven't read the original novel but I do wonder if it has dated somewhat better given that it presumably explores the beatnik era and the rise of the CND as opposed to the more cartoonish on-screen excess of 60s counter culture. Perhaps most damning for the film was the fact that the original release date was delayed, meaning that by the time it finally hit the cinemas in late 1970, the era of swinging and fashionable London seemed rather passe. It's not a great film and it doesn't really go anywhere until Lumley arrives, but its an interesting time capsule that offers a very touristy view of London at the time, and I found the central notion of a natural-born officer having the kind of change of heart that makes him consider the shifting sands our democracy is built upon an intriguing one. As a result, The Breaking of Bumbo ought to take its place alongside other lesser known or overlooked '60s pictures such as Privilege and The Jokers.
Of course Joanna Lumley's career went from strength to strength after this film and she now enjoys national treasure status, but it's Richard Warwick who takes the acting honours here, reminding us that he was taken far too soon during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, leaving behind just a few memorable appearances in the likes of the aforementioned If..., Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, and Derek Jarman's Sebastiane and The Tempest. Also in the cast are a few familiar faces still working to this day such as Jeremy Child, Edward Fox (himself a former Guards officer), Simon Williams and Chris Chittell aka Emmerdale's Eric Pollard. Andrew Sinclair went on to direct the unholy trio of Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O'Toole in 1972's Under Milk Wood, before moving on to another hellraiser in the shape of Oliver Reed in the peculiar Blue Blood a year later. His last film was 1982's Tuxedo Warrior, starring Mancunian hardman Cliff Twemlow!
Just a note about the Network release. It claims to be uncut but that simply isn't true - missing from the film is a sequence featuring Lumley and Warwick in the nude, perhaps the former still has a power of veto to excise such scenes. And speaking of the divine Ms Lumley,I'll just leave this here...