Oh, Mr Porter!

Last updated

Oh, Mr Porter!
Oh Mr Porter.jpg
(left to right) Graham Moffatt as Albert, Moore Marriott as Harbottle, and Will Hay as William Porter
Directed by Marcel Varnel
Written by J. O. C. Orton
Marriott Edgar
Val Guest
Based onstory by Frank Launder
Arnold Ridley (play)
Produced by Edward Black
Starring Will Hay
Graham Moffatt
Moore Marriott
Cinematography Arthur Crabtree
Edited by R. E. Dearing
Alfred Roome
Music by Louis Levy
Jack Beaver
Distributed by Gainsborough Pictures
Release date
  • October 5, 1937 (1937-10-05)
Running time
85 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Oh, Mr Porter! is a 1937 British comedy film starring Will Hay with Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt and directed by Marcel Varnel. While not Hay's commercially most successful (although it grossed £500,000 at the box office – equal to about £34,000,000 at 2020 value), it is probably his best-known film to modern audiences. It is widely acclaimed as the best of Hay's work, and a classic of its genre. The film had its first public showing in November 1937 and went on general release on 3 January 1938. The plot of Oh, Mr Porter was loosely based on the Arnold Ridley play The Ghost Train . The title was taken from Oh! Mr Porter , a music hall song.



William Porter (Will Hay) is an inept railway worker who – due to family connections – is given the job of stationmaster at a remote and ramshackle rural Northern Irish railway station in the (fictitious) town of Buggleskelly, situated on the border with the then Irish Free State.

After taking the ferry from England to Northern Ireland, Porter is aghast when he discovers how isolated the station is. It is situated out in the countryside, two miles cross-country from the nearest bus stop. To make matters worse, local legend has it that the ghost of One-Eyed Joe the Miller haunts the line and, as a result, no-one will go near the station after dark.

Porter's co-workers at the station are the elderly deputy stationmaster, Harbottle (Moore Marriott), and an overweight, insolent young porter, Albert (Graham Moffatt), who make a living by stealing goods in transit and swapping railway tickets for food. They welcome Porter to his new job by regaling him with tales of the deaths and disappearances of previous stationmasters – each apparently the victim of the curse of One-Eyed Joe.

From the beginning, the station is run very unprofessionally. Porter is woken up by a cow sticking its head through the window of the old railway carriage he is sleeping in (the cow has been lost in transit and is being milked by Harbottle), and the team's breakfast consists of bacon made from a litter of piglets which the railway is supposed to be looking after for a local farmer.

Determined to shake things up (particularly after he is forced to deal with the irate farmer when he comes to collect his pigs), Stationmaster Porter tries to renovate the station in several ways, most sensibly by painting the entire station, but also by less conventional means – including stopping the passing express and organising an excursion to Connemara.

Porter attempts to drum up business among the local people in the pub by offering tickets to this excursion, but as the locals begin to argue about where the excursion should go a fight breaks out. Porter crawls to safety in the landlord's rooms next door, where he meets a one-eyed man who introduces himself as Joe and offers to buy all of the tickets for an away game that the village football team, the Buggleskelly Wednesday, are playing the following day.

But Porter is unaware that he has really agreed to transport a group of criminals who are involved in running guns to the Irish Free State. The 'football' train leaves at six a.m. the following morning, rather than the scheduled ten a.m., at the insistence of Joe and although Porter questions some of the odd packages being loaded onto the train, he accepts Joe's claim that these are in fact goalposts for the game.

The train disappears as the smugglers divert it down a disused branch line near the border, and with everybody claiming that Porter has lost his mind (there is no such team as Buggleskelly Wednesday, and Harbottle points out that the local team wouldn't leave without him as he is their centre forward). Unfortunately this huge misunderstanding causes Porter to lose his job, since no one has seen the train. Then after his co-workers talk about a tunnel on a nearby disused branch line, Porter decides to head off to track down the errant engine (in hopes of getting his job back).

The trio find the missing train inside a derelict railway tunnel, underneath a supposedly haunted windmill. They investigate and are briefly captured by the gun runners, but escape and climb progressively higher up the windmill until eventually they are trapped at the top.

Using the windmill sails, they contrive to get down where they hatch a plan to capture the gun runners. Coupling the carriages containing the criminals and their guns to their own engine, Gladstone, they carry them away from the border at full speed, burning everything from Harbottle's underwear to level crossing gates they smash through in order to keep up steam. To keep the criminals quiet, Albert climbs on top of the carriage and hits anyone who sticks their head out with a large shovel.

Porter writes a note explaining the situation and places it in Harbottle's empty 'medicine' bottle. When they pass a large station, he throws the bottle through the window of the stationmaster's office, alerting the authorities to their plight. The entire railway goes into action, with lines being closed and other trains re-routed so that Gladstone can finally crash into a siding where the waiting police force arrest the gun runners.

After a short-lived celebration, in which Harbottle points out that Gladstone is ninety years old and Porter claims it is good for another ninety, the engine explodes after its hectic journey, and Porter, Harbottle and Albert lower their hats in respect.


Terling Windmill where the windmill scene was filmed Terling Windmill - geograph.org.uk - 1318919.jpg
Terling Windmill where the windmill scene was filmed


Despite the majority of the film being set in Northern Ireland, none of the filming took place there; the railway station at Buggleskelly was the disused Cliddesden railway station on the Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway, which had closed to goods in 1936. [1] Oh, Mr Porter! was filmed at Cliddesden between May and July 1937. All the interior shots were made at Gainsborough Studios, Shepherds Bush, during the August. [2] The windmill in which Porter and his colleagues are trapped is located at Terling, Essex, [3] and "Gladstone", the ancient steam locomotive, was portrayed by No. 2 Northiam 2-4-0T built by Hawthorn Leslie in 1899 and loaned by the Kent and East Sussex Railway to the film. The engine was returned to the company after completion of the film and remained in service until 1941, when it was scrapped. [4] [5]

The title sequence uses scenes shot at a variety of locations on the Waterloo to Southampton railway line and also between Maze Hill and Greenwich in south-east London. The scene in which Porter travels to Buggleskelly by bus, while being warned of a terrible danger by locals, parodies that of the Tod Browning film, Dracula (1931). [6]

The Southern Railway of Northern Ireland that Porter works for is fictitious. In reality, from the route chosen on the map, the line would have belonged to the Great Northern Railway (Ireland), with Buggleskelly being close to the real town of Lisnaskea. In addition, the Irish border on the map portrayed in the film is inaccurate, placing the border too far east, and roughly along the eastern coast of Lough Erne rather than the border of County Fermanagh.


The film has been very well received over time.

The British Film Institute included the film in its 360 Classic Feature Films list; [7] Variety magazine described the movie as "amusing, if over-long", noting that there was "[n]o love interest to mar the comedy"; [8] and the cult website TV Cream listed it at number 41 in its list of cinema's Top 100 Films. [9]

The film critic Barry Norman included it among his 100 best films of all time, and fellow critic Derek Malcolm also included the film in his Century of Films, describing it as "perfectly representing a certain type of bumbling British humour", [10] despite being directed by a Parisian director.

The director Marcel Varnel considered the film as among his best work, [11] and it was described in 2006, by The Times in its obituary for writer Val Guest, as "a comic masterpiece of the British cinema". [12] Jimmy Perry, in his autobiography, wrote that the trio of Captain Mainwaring, Corporal Jones and Private Pike in Dad's Army was inspired by watching Oh, Mr Porter! [13]


The Will Hay Appreciation Society unveiled a memorial bench to Will Hay, Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt in October 2018, in Cliddesden, Hampshire, the filming location for Buggleskelly. The bench was unveiled by Pete Waterman. [14]


Modern reviews

Contemporary reviews


The film was parodied in the Harry Enfield spoof documentary Norbert Smith - a Life , as Oh, Mr Bank Robber! starring "Will Silly". [15]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pete Waterman</span> English record producer, songwriter, broadcaster, and railway enthusiast

Peter Alan Waterman, is an English record producer, songwriter, radio and club DJ, television presenter, president of Coventry Bears rugby league club and a keen railway enthusiast. As a member of the Stock Aitken Waterman songwriting team, he wrote and produced many hit singles. He is the owner of significant collections of both historic and commercial railway locomotives and rolling stock.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Will Hay</span> English comedian, actor, and film director

William Thomson Hay was an English comedian who wrote and acted in a schoolmaster sketch that later transferred to the screen, where he also played other authority figures with comic failings. His film Oh, Mr. Porter! (1937), made by Gainsborough Pictures, is often cited as the supreme British-produced film-comedy, and in 1938 he was the third highest-grossing star in the UK. Many comedians have acknowledged him as a major influence. Hay was also a keen amateur astronomer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Graham Moffatt</span> British comedy actor

Graham Victor Harold Moffatt was an English comedic character actor. He is best known for a number of films where he appeared with Will Hay and Moore Marriott as 'Albert': a plump cheekily insolent street-savvy youth.

George Thomas Moore Marriott was an English character actor best remembered for the series of films he made with Will Hay. His first appearance with Hay was in the film Dandy Dick (1935), but he was a significant supporting performer in Hay's films from 1936 to 1940, and while he starred with Hay during this period he played a character called "Harbottle" that was based on a character Marriott usually played. His character Harbottle was originally created by Hay when he used the character in his "The fourth form at St. Michael's" sketches in the 1920s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Claude Hulbert</span> English actor (1900–1964)

Claude Noel Hulbert was a mid-20th century English stage, radio and cinema comic actor.

<i>Oh, Doctor Beeching!</i> Television series

Oh, Doctor Beeching! is a BBC television sitcom written by David Croft and Richard Spendlove which, after a broadcast pilot on 14 August 1995, ran for two series from 8 July 1996, with the last episode being broadcast on 28 September 1997. The series is notable for being the last in a series of three comedies by co-writer David Croft to use many of the same actors, starting with Hi-de-Hi! and followed by You Rang, M'Lord? and was also the last full series written by David Croft.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cliddesden</span> Human settlement in England

Cliddesden is a parish in Hampshire, England located 3 miles south of Basingstoke, close to the M3 motorway. In the 2001 census it had a population of 489, increasing to 497 at the 2011 Census. The land and housing are currently protected as it is within a Conservation Zone and has many areas of beauty and rolling countryside.

<i>Ask a Policeman</i> 1939 film by Marcel Varnel

Ask a Policeman is a 1939 British comedy film directed by Marcel Varnel and starring Will Hay, Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt.

<i>Good Morning, Boys</i> 1937 British film

Good Morning, Boys! is a 1937 British comedy film directed by Marcel Varnel and featuring Will Hay, Graham Moffatt, Martita Hunt, Lilli Palmer and Peter Gawthorne. It was made at the Gainsborough Studios in Islington.

<i>Back-Room Boy</i> 1942 film

Back-Room Boy is a 1942 British comedy film directed by Herbert Mason, produced by Edward Black for Gainsborough Pictures and starring Arthur Askey, Googie Withers, Graham Moffatt and Moore Marriott. The original story was written by J.O.C. Orton. A man from the Met Office is sent to a lighthouse on a remote Scottish island to monitor the weather, where he hopes to escape from women, but soon finds the island overrun by them.

Marcel Varnel was French film director, notably however for his career in the United States and England as a director of plays and films

<i>Windbag the Sailor</i> 1937 film by William Beaudine

Windbag the Sailor is a 1936 British comedy film directed by William Beaudine and starring Will Hay. The film marked the first appearance of Hay with Graham Moffatt and Moore Marriott acting as his straight men, however both Moffatt and Marriott had previously acted separately in films starring Hay, namely in Dandy Dick and Where There's a Will, respectively.

<i>Old Bones of the River</i> 1938 British film

Old Bones of the River is a comedy film released in 1938 starring British actor Will Hay with Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt and directed by Marcel Varnel, based on the characters created by Edgar Wallace. The film is a spoof of the 1935 movie Sanders of the River.

<i>Wheres That Fire?</i> 1940 film by Marcel Varnel

Where's That Fire? is a 1940 British comedy film, produced by Twentieth Century Fox, directed by Marcel Varnel and starring Will Hay, Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt. It was the last film Will Hay made with his most famous comic foils, Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway</span>

The Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway was a standard gauge railway in Hampshire, UK. The 12 mi (19 km) line, which opened on Saturday, 1 June 1901 with no formal ceremony, ran between Basingstoke and Alton. It was the first railway authorised by the Light Railway Commission to be built under the Light Railways Act 1896.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cliddesden railway station</span> Former railway station in England

Cliddesden railway station was a railway station in the village of Cliddesden, Hampshire, UK. The station was a stop on the Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway until its closure in 1932.

<i>I Thank You</i> (film) 1941 British film

I Thank You is a 1941 black and white British comedy film directed by Marcel Varnel and starring Arthur Askey, Richard Murdoch, Graham Moffatt and Moore Marriott. It was produced by Edward Black at Gainsborough Pictures.

Harbottle is a village in Northumberland, England.

"Oh! Mr Porter" is an old British music hall song about a girl who has got on the wrong train. It was famously part of the repertoires of the artistes Norah Blaney and Marie Lloyd. It was written in 1892 by George Le Brunn and his brother Thomas, and taken on an extended provincial tour that same year by Marie Lloyd. The lyrics include this chorus:


  1. Ray Seaton and Roy Martin, Good Morning, Boys: Will Hay Master of Comedy (1978)
  2. Dean, Martin; Kevin Robertson; Roger Simmonds (1998). The Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway. Crusader Press. pp. 76–81.
  3. "NTG Oh Mr Porter Trivia". Archived from the original on 1 April 2007. Retrieved 2 April 2007.
  4. "Colonel Stephens' New Locomotives". The Colonel Stephens Railway Museum, Tenterden, Kent. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  5. Gregory, Paul. "Northiam". Weston Clevedon and Portishead Railway. Archived from the original on 18 March 2012. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  6. screenonline: Oh, Mr Porter! (1937)
  7. "Top 100 Movie Lists – BFI's 360 Classic Feature Films". Archived from the original on 27 October 2009. Retrieved 16 March 2007.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  8. "Oh, Mr. Porter! Movie Review". Variety. 1 January 1937. Archived from the original on 24 October 2007.
  9. TV Cream's Top 100 Films
  10. Marcel Varnel: Oh, Mr Porter! | Features | Guardian Unlimited Film
  11. So You Want To Be In Pictures: The Autobiography of Val Guest
  12. The Times, 16 May 2006
  13. James Perry, A Stupid Boy (2002), p. 100
  14. "Mr Porter returns to Cliddesden with guests in tow". Basingstoke Gazette. Retrieved 19 June 2019.
  15. BBC – Comedy – Shows A-Z Index