Clockwise Review

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A Middle England headmaster, Brian Stimpson (Cleese), is invited to give a keynote speech at a convention of teachers, only to have his journey there disrupted by car engine failures, woeful rail services and stereotypical taxi drivers.


Basil Fawlty casts a long shadow and one, it would seem, that John Cleese is reluctant to goose-step out of. Here he plays a punctuality Nazi of a headmaster whose only two passions in life are making sure pupils are where they should be, when they should be, and punishing those who aren't. The scene is set for a reversal of fortune as Mr. Stimpson battles circumstance and the intricacies of British public transport when his car breaks down (the unfortunate motor takes a Basilesque thrashing by a sapling-wielding Stimpson). Basil, sorry, Brian picks up a sidekick along the way, a bunking schoolgirl who would normally have him salivating at the prospect of punishment. Outside of school, he needs her nouse to beg, borrow and, well, hijack his way to the conference.

The resultant situations, like Cleese, can be made out a mile off, but, like Cleese, still generate plenty of laughs. It is testament to the lanky comedy genius of the man that he can flit between stentorian authority figure and snivelling wreck, monster and weed, at the slightest trigger and rescue a script that has run its course way before the chaotic climax.

Without Cleese, this would be nothing; with him, it's a slapstick comedy of errors that ticks over but never quite finds its rythmn.