Sir Henry at Rawlinson End is a 1980 British comedy film about the attempts to exorcise the ghost of an alcoholic aristocrat’s brother.
Directed by Steve Roberts (Rutland Weekend Television and Up Sunday TV series) from a screenplay co-written with Vivian Stanshall (formerly of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band), based on the characters created by the latter for the John Peel BBC Radio 1 shows. The Charisma Films production stars Trevor Howard (The Unholy; Persecution; Craze), Patrick Magee (The Black Cat; Demons of the Mind; Asylum; Dementia 13), Denise Coffey, J.G. Devlin, Harry Fowler, Sheila Reid and, of course, Vivian Stanshall.
Humbert (Vivian Stanshall), the brother of alcoholic aristocrat Sir Henry (Trevor Howard), was accidentally killed in a drunken duck-shooting incident whilst escaping trouserless from an illicit tryst. It transpires that Humbert’s ghost will not rest until it is supplied with replacement trousers. Until then the ghost walks the corridors of Rawlinson End, often accompanied by that of Humbert’s dog Gums which has repossessed its own body, now stuffed and mounted on a trolley.
Amongst the eccentric family members, mad friends and grudgingly loyal servants involved are the eternally knitting Aunt Florrie, the tapeworm-obsessed Mrs E, Lady Philippa of Staines (Liz Smith), who enjoys the odd ‘small’ sherry and the ever-present Old Scrotum, Sir Henry’s wrinkled retainer…
“Although it truly is in the grand wazoo of weird, the film remains surprisingly unknown and unscreened since its release in 1980. I remember a grainy VHS furtively passed around at school, and even this clear as a bell DVD version feels a bit naughty… The movie equivalent of cheese before bed, this film guarantees nightmares, but in a good way.” The Big Issue
“Loaded with surreal quotes that are great fun to drop into any conversation. A movie that has a very acquired taste. Certainly not everybody’s cup of tea, but if you can get into it you’ll discover an absolute treasure drove of comedy gems.” David J Rodger
” …messily assembles great character acting, vicious social comedy and dotty surrealism […] Shot in amber-tinted black and white, this eschews hilarity in favour of vomit, decay and endless misery as it flogs a dead comedic horse.” Empire
“It’s impossible to do justice to the film’s arrant and quite unique lunacy.” The Financial Times
“Sir Henry is a comic masterpiece.” NME
‘This extraordinary film is one of the most haphazard British comedies I’ve seen. It is also a long time since I’ve laughed so much… a cult in the making.’ –The Guardian
“Occasionally it is amusing in some of its verbal word games – “Michael and Angelo – two men responsible for the Cistern Chapel,” or plays on Greek harpics and the Kalahari, which is taken to be a ritual form of Japanese suicide, and Trevor Howard’s list of his favourite artists, including Avocado Da Vinci and Anonymous Bosch. There is the oddly amusing moment of surrealism – a combined indoor game of pool and polo. However, other than the very occasional nugget of humour, Sir Henry at Rawlinson End is incoherent and incomprehensible.” Moria
” …maddeningly missed opportunity to turn Stanshall’s great rambling shambling mix of poetic wordplay, high cultural reference, low humour and gotcha knockabout into a major work of some sort. What did make it to the screen falls short of the audio version, but it is all we have. A kind of cacklingly eccentric Downton Abbey, it’s undoubtedly one of a kind.” MovieSteve
‘You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll jab your eyes with fingers still trembling from the trauma of being made a child again. You’ll jab your eyes just to check you’ve just seen what you think you’ve seen… Sir Henry is a film to be experienced as closely and seriously and often as possible, a work of art that should sink under the skin and into the bones and do its good work like vitamins and (Captain Beefheart’s) Trout Mask Replica. I can’t recommend it highly enough so I won’t even start.” Plan B
“It wouldn’t be a million miles wide of the mark to call Sir Henry at Rawlinson End a missing link between Monty Python and Withnail & I, but as the brainchild of Vivian Stanshall – pack leader of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band – it has a place in the pantheon of sophisticated English silliness all of its own.” Time Out
“A raunchy Wodehouse-esque British comedy mixed with Monty Python and some drugs. This unique oddity was based on a radio show which revolved around colorful use of language, wordplay, wit and very British absurdities. There isn’t much of a narrative that one can follow, the chaotic comedy revolving around many eccentric characters […] Incoherent, but entertaining.” The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre
Sir Henry: “If I had all the money I’d spent on drink… I’d spend it on drink”
Sir Henry: “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth forcing someone else to do it.”
Sir Henry: “Generally speaking, if I’ve eaten something I don’t want to see it again.”
Reverend Slodden: “Your wit would not threaten a shrew’s brain for occupation.”
Cast and characters:
Trevor Howard … Sir Henry Rawlinson
Patrick Magee … Reverend Slodden
Denise Coffey … Mrs E.
J.G. Devlin … Old Scrotum
Harry Fowler … Buller Bullethead
Sheila Reid … Lady Florrie Rawlinson
Vivian Stanshall … Hubert Rawlinson / Narrator
Suzanne Danielle … Candice Rawlinson
Daniel Gerroll … Ralph Rawlinson
Ben Aris … Lord Tarquin of Staines
Liz Smith … Lady Phillipa of Staines
Jeremy Child … Peregrine Maynard
Susan Porrett … Porcelain
Gary Waldhorn … Max
Simon Jones … Joachim
Michael Crane … Humbert Rawlinson
Nicholas McArdle … Seth Onetooth
Toni Palmer … Rosie Onetooth
Vernon Dudley Bowhay Nowell … Nigel Nice
Talfryn Thomas … Teddy Tidy
Ian McDiarmid … Reg Smeeton
Eiji Kusuhara … Fortyninesah
Tony Sympson … Old Man
Jim Cuomo … Barber
Peter Moss … Barber
Julian Smedley … Barber
Lawrence Durrell … Pub Customer (uncredited)
Tony Lord … Woodcutter (uncredited)
Filming locations (28th August 1979 to September 1979):
Knebworth House, Stevenage, Hertfordshire, England (also Batman (1989), The Lair of the White Worm and Horror Hospital)
Robin Hood & Little John Pub, Rabley Heath, Codicote, Welwyn, Hertfordshire, England
Monty Python collaborator Neil Innes allegedly observed: “The star was an alcoholic, the writer was an alcoholic, the producer was an alcoholic and the director was an alcoholic”.
Vivian Stanshall allegedly wanted Coronation Street actor Bernard Youens (Stan Ogden) for the role of Sir Henry but was nixed by the producers, who required a name star.
Vivian Stanshall’s initial response to Trevor Howard being cast as Sir Henry was that he would be “too upper-crust” but Stanshall later conceded after the end of filming that Howard was a better Sir Henry than his own characterization of him.
Trevor Howard said of the film and his role in it, ‘Why on earth is he doing that film?” they’ll say, and the answer is because I want to do it. I might never get the offer to do such a thing again. People want to see it again and again because you can’t grasp it all at once. It’s wild”.