The Mother-In-Law Joke

I watched The Family Way, the 1966 film based on the play All In Good Time by Bill Naughton.

The story is set entirely in a nameless industrial town somewhere in Lancashire (Bolton was used for location filming) over a period of about 3 months.

The central characters are Arthur Fitton, played by Hywel Bennett, and Jenny Piper, played by Hayley Mills. They are about 19 or 20 years old, working in simple jobs. There is a very long introduction in which we see everyone’s name in pre-titles credits, as we build up to the wedding of the young couple, watched by their separate parents and also Best Man Geoffrey, Arthur’s brother. When we finally complete the ceremony we’re over to the reception, where Geoffrey is singing with the band.

Arthur doesn’t get on particularly well with his dad, played by John Mills.

While the men are watching father and son Fitton arm-wrestling, the women are in the kitchen telling Jenny what’s what.

MRS PIPER: I just can’t believe she’s really married. I feel there’s so much I should have told her.

MOLLY THOMPSON: I’ll give you a couple of tips, love. Never show pleasure – you know what I mean, don’t you.

MRS FITTON: Not that there ever is much.

MOLLY THOMPSON: Aye, you’re right there – never actually refuse, though. It makes him feel small, and he takes it out of your housekeeping money.

In the event it seems that Arthur is unable to perform, although we only see before, and the morning after, in their room in the Fitton’s house, where his parents are audible all night next door.

This pattern repeats over the first few weeks of their married life. It doesn’t help that they miss their honeymoon abroad because it turns out the travel agent was a crook (there is a brief appearance by Windsor Davies as a bystander amongst the crowd demanding answers from the police). Arthur’s job as a projectionist at a sleazy cinema means he has to listen to creepy old lad Joe Thompson.

What Arthur really enjoys is listening to Beethoven and reading books. We don’t get any details on his education but we can assume he left school early and is frustrated that opportunities closed down early. The new couple try to find a place of their own, but it seems the council will only allocate the new high-rise flats to couples who have already started families (we see that the town also has some minorities living there).

When Arthur goes to a Marriage Guidance Counsellor to talk about their problems, of course the details immediately get out via the cleaning women working in the building. But at the same time Jenny has let slip to her mum that there is a problem, and all the parents gather together. During their conference, we hear a bit more about Mr Fitton’s close relationship with his old mate Billy, he even tagged along when the Fittons had their own honeymoon in Blackpool.

MRS FITTON: I’m just showing you that things are not always what they look. Just because our Arthur’s marriage hasn’t gone right ye there’s no call for talking about him being queer. The lad’s no more odd and queer than you and Billy were… and goodness knows what that must have looked like.

MR PIPER: Don’t get upset, Mrs Fitton. There’s no worry with Arthur on that score.

MRS FITTON: Suppose there was? Is that something to get at a lad for?

MRS PIPER: Well… it’s not… normal, is it?

MRS FITTON: Nature would have done it. And a father should help and protect a lad like that, not turn on him like the mob would when it sees somebody different.

But the gossip has spread out of control. Jenny is getting stared at on buses, and Arthur gets in a vicious fight. Everyone is talking about what is and isn’t happening in the Fitton’s house.

There is a happy ending, and it involves the Bank Of Mum & Dad, which was already arranging home loans in the 60s and 70s.

Although there is no reference to current affairs, pop music is part of the background. Jenny works in a record shop and we can see many big names of the mid-60s on the racks. The soundtrack is credited to Paul McCartney and George Martin. Geoffrey is played by Murray Head, who had a successful career as a singer – he was in the original stage production of Chess in the 80s and had a big hit with “One Night In Bangkok” from that show. He also wrote his own material, and it’s a pity “Say It Ain’t So, Joe” wasn’t a hit as well. There are two other connections: 2 singles by The Smiths used images from this film, though in both cases it seems to be that they used publicity stills photographed from different positions to where the film camera was taking in the scenes.

For “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish”, Avril Angers in the church near the start:

For “Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before”, Murray Head in the set of the Fitton’s living room at the very end:

They also had a song about getting married in a humdrum town that gets you down.

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