|Very Important Person|
Original British cinema poster
|Directed by||Ken Annakin|
|Produced by||Leslie Parkyn|
|Written by|| Jack Davies |
|Starring|| James Robertson Justice |
|Music by||Reg Owen|
|Edited by||Ralph Sheldon|
|Distributed by|| Rank Organisation (UK)|
Union Film Distributors (US)
Very Important Person (retitled A Coming Out Party in the United States) is a 1961 British comedy film directed by Ken Annakin and written by Jack Davies and Henry Blyth. The cast includes several well-known British comedy and character actors, including James Robertson Justice, Stanley Baxter in a dual role as a dour Scottish prisoner and a German prisoner-of-war camp officer, Eric Sykes, John Le Mesurier, Leslie Phillips and Richard Wattis.
The film had its world premiere on 20 April 1961 at the Leicester Square Theatre in London's West End and went on general release in late May on Rank's second string National circuit.
Sir Ernest Pease (James Robertson Justice), a brilliant but acerbic scientist, is the subject of a television programme based on This Is Your Life during which he is re-united with past acquaintances. He does not remember the senior British Army officer at all! A flashback ensues.
In 1942, Pease is in charge of very important aircraft research during the Second World War. He needs to take a trip on a bomber to gain first-hand knowledge of the environment under which his special equipment is to be used. However, no one must know who he is. He goes as Lieutenant Farrow, a Royal Navy public relations officer. The bomber is hit over Germany and, ignoring a crewman's warning, Pease is sucked out through a hole in the side of the aeroplane, but parachutes safely to the ground.
He is captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp mostly occupied by Royal Air Force officers. His excellent command of German causes him to be suspected of being a spy, but when his real identity becomes known to Group Captain Travers (Norman Bird), the senior British officer, he informs the men in his hut of his importance and that his escape is a top priority. Among Pease's roommates are Jimmy Cooper (Leslie Phillips), "Jock" Everett (Stanley Baxter), and "Bonzo" Baines (Jeremy Lloyd).
Pease is offered an opportunity to escape through a tunnel with two other men. However, he expects the pair to be easily recaptured (which does in fact occur). He instead plans to go into hiding after a fake escape attempt. He presumes the Germans will search for him for two weeks then presume he has got away, at which point they will step down the search and he can more safely escape.
When the Germans eventually assume he has succeeded in getting away and lose interest, he will walk out of the camp, disguised as one of three visiting Swiss Red Cross observers, along with Cooper and Baines (which has echoes of a real Second World War escape from Spangenberg by RAF officers Dominic Bruce, the "Medium Sized Man" of Colditz fame; Pete Tunstall; and "Useless" Eustace Newborn, who escaped dressed as Swiss Red Cross doctors). Crucial to the plan is that Everett looks like the camp Lager (compound) officer, Major Stampfel (also played by Baxter, even though he describes him as "hideously ugly"). He must impersonate Stampfel, as he will be escorting the delegation. The escape committee, headed by Wing Commander Piggott (John Le Mesurier), are very dissatisfied with Pease's plan, but Pease is determined to see it through. The plan nearly comes unstuck at the last moment, when another prisoner, "Grassy" Green (John Forrest), is revealed as an astute undercover Luftwaffe intelligence officer. He takes them at gunpoint, but mistakes Everett for Stampfel and is "dealt with". Pease, Cooper and Baines walk out of the camp and eventually make their way back home.
Returning to the television programme, Pease is reunited with Baines, now a leading designer of ladies' foundation garments; Cooper, a missionary in India; Everett, a West London undertaker; and Stampfel, who has become a popular entertainment manager at a British holiday camp.
The escape plan, to walk out of the camp dressed as Red Cross observers, was used in real life. It was briefly mentioned in Paul Brickhill's book The Great Escape.
There were in fact two such 'Swiss Commission' escapes from German POW camps holding RAF prisoners – Oflag IXA/H, Spangenberg, in 1941, and Oflag VIB, Warburg, in 1942. The escape in Very Important Person is based on the latter, which was an Army–RAF joint effort, and not the one mentioned by Paul Brickhill. Both escapes are described by Charles Rollings in his books Wire and Walls and Wire and Worse.
The film's screenplay was later made into a novelisation with the same title by John Foley, which has erroneously caused John Foley to sometimes be credited as author of the novel upon which the film is based. However, it was the other way around: his novel is based on the film.
The Windmill Theatre mentioned at the end of the film was a famous variety and revue theatre which featured tableaux vivants similar to the Folies Bergère and Moulin Rouge in Paris. It continued to operated throughout WWII despite blackouts and the Blitz on London, and boasted "We Never Closed."
The Great Escape is a 1963 American epic adventure suspense war film starring Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Richard Attenborough and featuring James Donald, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence, James Coburn, John Leyton, David McCallum and Hannes Messemer. It was filmed in Panavision.
Stalag Luft III was a Luftwaffe-run prisoner of war (POW) camp during the Second World War, which held captured Western Allied air force personnel.
The Colditz Story is a 1955 British prisoner of war film starring John Mills and Eric Portman and directed by Guy Hamilton. It is based on the book written by Pat Reid, a British army officer who was imprisoned in Oflag IV-C, Colditz Castle, in Germany during the Second World War and who was the Escape Officer for British POWs within the castle.
In Germany, stalag was a term used for prisoner-of-war camps. Stalag is a contraction of "Stammlager", itself short for Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschaftsstammlager, a literal translation of which is "War-prisoner" "enlisted" "main camp"). Therefore, technically "stalag" simply means "main camp".
Colditz is a British television drama series co-produced by the BBC and Universal Studios and screened between 1972 and 1974.
Howard Douglas Wardle MC, commonly known as Hank, was a Canadian pilot in the Royal Air Force during World War II. He is notable for being one of the only two men who escaped from both Spangenberg and Colditz prison camps during World War II.
Squadron Leader Roger Joyce Bushell was a South African-born British military aviator. He is best known as the mastermind of the "Great Escape" from Stalag Luft III in 1944, but was one of the men recaptured and subsequently murdered by the Gestapo.
Oflag VI-B was a World War II German prisoner-of-war camp for officers (Offizerlager), 1 km (0.6 mi) southwest of the village of Dössel in northwestern Germany.
Oflag IV-C, often referred to by its location at Colditz Castle, overlooking Colditz, Saxony, was one of the most noted German Army prisoner-of-war camps for captured enemy officers during World War II; Oflag is a shortening of Offizierslager, meaning "officers' camp".
Oflag VII-C was a World War II German prisoner-of-war camp for officers located in Laufen Castle, in Laufen in south-eastern Bavaria from 1940 to 1942. Most of the prisoners were British officers captured during the Battle of France in 1940. To relieve overcrowding, some of the officers were transferred to Oflag VII-C/Z in Tittmoning Castle. The Oflag existed only for a short time. In early 1942 all the officers were transferred to Oflag VII-B in Eichstätt.
Group Captain Harry Melville Arbuthnot Day, was a Royal Marine and later an Royal Air Force pilot during the Second World War. As a prisoner of war, he was senior British officer in a number of camps and a noted escapee.
Captain Kenneth Lockwood was a stockbroker and an officer in the British Army. He was one of the first six British prisoners of war to arrive at Oflag IV-C, Colditz, in 1940. He made and assisted in numerous escape attempts, working with the chairman of the escape committee, Pat Reid, and was still at the castle when it was liberated by the US Army in April 1945. He was the honorary secretary of the Colditz Association for 50 years.
The Great Escape is an insider's account by Australian writer Paul Brickhill of the 1944 mass escape from the German prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III for British and Commonwealth airmen. As a prisoner in the camp, he participated in the escape plan but was debarred from the actual escape 'along with three or four others on grounds of claustrophobia'. The introduction to the book is written by George Harsh, an American POW at Stalag Luft III. This book was made into the 1963 film The Great Escape.
Peter Conder, OBE was a British ornithologist and conservationist known predominantly for his contribution as Director of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
Dulag Luft were Prisoner of War (POW) transit camps for German-captured members of the Air Force during World War II. Their main purpose was to act as collection and interrogation centres for newly captured aircrew, before they were transferred in batches to the permanent camps.
Major John "Johnnie" Bigelow Dodge also known as "the Artful Dodger" was an American-born British Army officer who fought in both world wars and became a notable prisoner of war during the Second World War and survived The Great Escape.
Oflag IX-A was a World War II German prisoner-of-war camp located in Spangenberg Castle in the small town of Spangenberg in northeastern Hesse, Germany.
Josef Bryks, MBE, was a Czechoslovak cavalryman, fighter pilot, prisoner of war and political prisoner.
Dominic Bruce, was a British Royal Air Force officer, known as the "Medium Sized Man." He has been described as "the most ingenious escaper" of the Second World War. He made seventeen attempts at escaping from POW camps, including several attempts to escape from Colditz Castle, a castle that housed prisoners of war "deemed incorrigible".
Nazi Germany operated around 1,000 Prisoner-of-War camps during World War II.