Since I started this meme, I’ve always kind of assumed that this film would come along at some point. Not that it’s particularly well-known, or memorable, or even particularly good… but I do remember it by name. Handyman. I also remember watching it, in full, on TV late one night, and then going to bed questioning my life choices.
In fact, since then I’ve found out that this was meant to be the start of another franchise of British sex comedies – in the vein of the Adventures of… or famed Confessions series – but, due to the failure of this first instalment, it never quite got off the ground.
Let’s find out why.
The Ups and Downs of a Handyman (1985)
Director: John Sealey
Starring: Barry Stokes, Penny Meredith, Gay Soper, Sue Lloyd, Bob Todd, et al.
It’s not difficult to see where the idea for something like this came from. Written by Derrick Slater from an idea by the director himself, it takes a trope that works (working-class salt-of-the-earth type attempts to do his job; ends up in bed with beautiful women) and runs with it. The problem here is that it doesn’t appear to know where it’s running to.
I shall explain. Although the film itself starts in London (indeed it has a montage of the London traffic as the opening sequence), it quickly transpires that Margaretta (Meredith), a faithful wife, has inherited a little country cottage in the fictional village of Sodding Chipbury…
…no, wait, I haven’t finished laughing yet…
…and transplants herself there, taking with her her husband Bob (Stokes), who takes on a job as a handyman for hire in order to pay the bills. This is a British sex comedy, though, so of course you know where that’s going.
My memory of this one may be sketchy, but a few things I remembered before viewing this again were:
– a catchy theme song (written by Vic Elms, as it turns out, and sung by Stokes himself. I also remember it being more catchy than it actually is.)
– a title sequence in “British seventies sex comedy yellow”, which is definitely very much there
– a frolicking haystack sex scene
– lots and lots of casual nudity but practically no sex
– and not much else!
I wasn’t far off. For what it’s worth, Handyman does contain all those sorts of things. It ticks a lot of by-the-numbers boxes as well: dirty old men with pretty young wives, a hapless wide-eyed policeman, broad physical pratfalls played for cheap laughs, lots of scenes in double time (seriously, they Billy Whizz half these bits) and a protagonist who is physically unremarkable but seemingly irresistible to women.
Yes, I said that last bit. The problem here is with the main actor. Stokes isn’t unattractive – he’s a decent-looking enough bloke – but the character he’s playing definitely is. He’s mostly completely gormless, seemingly completely unaware of what’s going on, sporting this look that’s reminiscent of someone who’s just been struck over the head with a metal pipe! He has none of the cheeky charm or the innocent-but-keen attitude of the other male protagonists of the time, and the script isn’t doing him any favours. In fact, the best lines go to the women…
When we get to the bathroom, you pull it out!pretty young woman
…but, bear in mind, the fact that they’re the best doesn’t really mean they’re any good.
What I did get wrong was the amount of sex. It isn’t particularly explicit, but there is actually quite a lot of this – brief though the scene may be (the longest sex scene is right at the beginning, between husband and wife). There’s a threesome in the bath at one point, the aforementioned frolicking haystack scene, sex with the squire’s wife, sex with Maisie, sex in a car with the blonde, and…
…yeah, let’s go through these,
Threesome in the bath: This happens during Bob’s first handyman job, with the pretty young woman quoted above (whose dad owns the village shop) and her boss. There is genuinely no introduction to this – Bob trips and falls into the bath on top of her, and it just starts!
The haystack scene: This has some sort of precursor, insofar as Bob comes across Polly, a woman sunbathing nude, who puts him to work shovelling hay and then does a striptease for him basically because she can. Her mother then turns up(!), who appears to be about the same age(!!), and they all have sex in the hay(!!!), and nobody appears to see the problem with this?
Sex with the squire’s wife: After a meeting of classy ladies, Bob gets hired by the squire’s wife. The squire himself is only interested in spanking (in fact, there’s a whole spanking scene here!), but she’s more interested in having sex with Bob. As with the aforementioned two, this doesn’t really have any buildup – she just disrobes and they get on with it!
Sex with Maisie: Maisie (Soper) is presented as a woman with strange fetishes – a few Gothic artefacts on the wall, some BDSM gear, that sort of thing. Again, this is all some sort of hint that the women in the village are both sexually starved and a little odd, but the handyman sleeps with her anyway. The BDSM subplot doesn’t go anywhere, by the way.
The car scene: Bob doesn’t even take his clothes off for this one. While he and the car’s owner are in flagrante delicto, the car’s brake comes off and it careens down a flat road (although quite how…), flattening Fred (the cop)’s bike and initiating a trouble-with-the-law subplot that also doesn’t go anywhere!
In fact, none of these subplots do. Fred has his own which only really amounts to following Bob around. There’s a subplot involving indecent literature in the shop, the spanking squire having a completely topless maid who otherwise wears traditional “French maid” dress, some very ill-advised fox hunts during which young ladies appear intentionally, and the aforementioned incest and BDSM references, and none of them bear any relevance to the main plot…
…BECAUSE THERE ISN’T ONE!
And that’s not hyperbole. Handyman is incredibly episodic and could have just as easily been a miniseries of short sketches. It doesn’t even have a real ending; it just kind of finishes, leaving it open for a sequel which never happens. It’s also badly lit, badly edited, badly directed, and there’s one scene where the spanking squire’s mouth moves but no dialogue whatsoever is heard! Nice one, movie!
I’ve seen in several places that this is “the worst of the worst”, and while it isn’t – there are worse, and this has a good helping of nudity, so at least it delivers on that front – it’s definitely not good. It’s got a lot of what makes a British sex comedy in it, but it completely becomes unstuck, and the initial set-up may as well not have happened when you consider how all-at-sea this ends up being.
And now to try and get that theme song out of my head.