DIRECTOR: DAVE HUMBER. RUNNING TIME: 87 mins. DVD: RED BOX. PRICE: £12.99. CERT: 18.
A true curiosity amongst British seventies sexpoitation movies, Never Had it So Good? eschews the usual backgrounds of the pop business, glamour modelling or nursing as a background for its shoddy antics, for contemporary UK politics. Never Had it So Good? probably represents legendary British low budget film maker Dave Humber at the height of his powers as an exploitation director, long before his ill advised dalliance with sex comedies like Hockey Girls at Sea, or the final ultra low budget, unreleased science fiction sex thriller The Killing Grope. Despite a shoestring budget, Never Had it So Good? is a gritty piece of drama, given an added edge of realism thanks to being shot entirely on location and the fact that most of the fictional politicians featured in the film are clearly identifiable as actual politicians of the era.
Set against the backdrop of the February 1974 general election, Humber’s film is a ‘ripped-from-the-headlines expose of the seamier side of the British political scene, as seen through the eyes of a youthful political activist. The plot is straightforward: teenager Wally, attending a Young Conservatives convention with friends, declares that he wants to become a political groupie and stows away in the campaign bus of one of the parliamentary candidates who had addressed the convention, bound for what he thinks will be the bright lights of the London political scene.
The reality, of course, turns out to be very different, with the first candidate he shacks up with sleeping in a shoddy Bayswater penthouse, in between their political agent herding them to hustings and party meetings. After being discarded by the candidate in favour of his press agent (a slick cameo from Barry Evans), Wally ‘trades up’, joining the entourage of more glamourous, and vaguely Jim Prior-like sitting MP and cabinet minister Jake Pringer (Reg Varney). At first this seems an improvement, with Jake seemingly treating him with a degree of respect. Things quickly go awry when he declines the opportunity to perform a threesome with a pair of fellow groupies, (Stephen Lewis and Bob Grant – Varney’s fellow On the Buses alumni -who appear uncredited, have no dialogue, but get their arses out), for Jake’s entertainment. The end result of this is that Wally finds himself unceremoniously passed from Jake’s campaign bus to that of rival candidate Paul Stroller (portrayed by a preening Alan Lake), whilst both vehicles are careering down a motorway. Unfortunately, just after he is bundled into Stroller’s bus, the other bus crashes into a stationary truck, killing Jake.
The film then takes an even darker turn as Stroller becomes worried that Wally is a potential witness to his involvement in the fatal crash, turning to his domineering party chairman, Lord Firkham (Roy Kinnear), to resolve the situation. Wally finds himself packed off to the country mansion used by scandal-stricken Tory politicians when they needed to hide from the public eye. With Prime Minister Tim Commons’ (Arthur Askey) and a Jimmy Savile-like TV personality, played by Anthony Booth, arrival at the house, things, however, take a downward turn. Wally walks in on the pair engaging in an orgy with a number of young men (with the strong implication that they are all underage) dressed in school uniforms and Commons clad only in a yachting cap, (just in case the audience had missed the character’s resemblance to then PM Ted Heath). The shocked young groupie flees the house, finding himself pursued by hitmen despatched by Firkham, as the film lurches into thriller territory. Finally caught by Firkham’s heavies, Wally finds himself, not dead in a shallow grave, but instead forced into working as a drugged up Westminster rent-boy, whose claims about the PM won’t be believed by anyone.
Packing a lot of incident into its less than ninety minute running time, Never Had it So Good? is hugely effective, presenting an unflinchingly downbeat picture of British politics. Never veering from its purpose, it relentlessly exposes the grime beneath the glamour, revealing the reality of being in the seventies Tory party as being a never-ending round of sex parties, luxury buses, up market hotel rooms and sweaty debates in provincial venues. Whilst, today, none of this might seem surprising, let alone shocking, back in 1975, when Never Had it So Good? was released, the Tory party’s public image was still very much that of garden parties, village fetes and upright morality, church-going, devotion to public duty, with its top politicians living worthy lives and hob-nobbing with celebrities and royalty.
Humber’s direction is exemplary here, with neither a scene nor a line of dialogue wasted. He brings an almost documentary like verity to the film, efficiently chronicling Wally’s ever darker journey into the seamy side of politics. The fact that various incidents in the film prefigure the later allegations of sexual abuse against Ted Heath and Jimmy Savile have led many critics to speculate that its makers must have had inside information – something that Humber has always denied, instead putting it all down to coincidence. Still, someone in authority must have suspected something, as the film was abruptly pulled from distribution in 1975 after only a week in cinemas, (it had already been delayed from its original release date in Autumn 1974 on the grounds that it might influence the forthcoming October general election). Never Had it So Good? then vanished completely from the public view, presumably suppressed completely by the ‘powers that be’, just as the truth about the PM is suppressed in the film itself.
Despite being marketed as a ‘sex film’, Humber films all of the sex scenes in a matter-of-fact fashion, characterised more by desperate opportunism on the part of the participants, rather than eroticism. The cast generally performs well, with Varney outstanding as the detached, would be leadership contender Jake and Alan Lake acquitting himself well as the, frankly, pretty obnoxious Stroller. For Eddie Johns, who portrays Wally, Never Had it So Good? was to be his one and only known film performance. A former boy scout, he gives Wally the right degree of teenaged petulance and whiny disappointment as he realises that the life of a political groupie is anything but glamourous. A gritty piece of exploitation, Never Had it So Good? is something of a minor classic. A minor classic which has sadly been kept from public view for too long. Fortuitously (or, some would say, opportunistically) released on DVD and Blu Ray to coincide with the current Tory leadership contest, it can now be enjoyed in all its low-rent glory.