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The Belles of St. Trinian's

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Belles of St Trinian's
DVD cover
Directed byFrank Launder
Written byFrank Launder
Sidney Gilliat
Val Valentine
Based onSt Trinian's cartoons by Ronald Searle
Produced byFrank Launder
Sidney Gilliat
StarringAlastair Sim
Joyce Grenfell
George Cole
Hermione Baddeley
CinematographyStanley Pavey
Edited byThelma Connell
Music byMalcolm Arnold
London Films
Individual Pictures
Distributed byBritish Lion Films
Release date
  • 28 September 1954 (1954-09-28)
Running time
86 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The Belles of St Trinian's is a 1954 British comedy film, directed by Frank Launder, co-written by Launder and Sidney Gilliat, and starring Alastair Sim, Joyce Grenfell, George Cole, Hermione Baddeley. Inspired by British cartoonist Ronald Searle's St Trinian's School comic strips, the film focuses on the lives of the students and teachers of the fictional school, dealing with attempts to shut them down while their headmistress faces issues with financial troubles, which culminates in the students thwarting a scheme involving a racehorse.[1]

The film was among some of the most popular British films to be released in 1954, with critics praising the comedy and several of the cast members for their performances, including Sim's dual role as the headmistress Miss Millicent Fritton and her twin brother Clarence Fritton.[2] The film was the first to be produced in the St. Trinian's film series – three sequels were later produced and released after this film: Blue Murder at St Trinian's (1957); The Pure Hell of St Trinian's (1960); and The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery (1966).

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The Sultan of Makyad enrols his daughter Fatima at St. Trinian's – a girls' school in England, run by its headmistress Millicent Fritton. Upon her arrival, she discovers that Millicent runs the school to prepare her students to succeed in a merciless world by having her students fight against authoritative figures in both the police and the government. Many of the girls are unruly and have criminal relations; as a result, the school's curriculum focuses mainly on lessons in crime and illicit schemes, all while the students thwart efforts by the local police and the Ministry of Education (the British government department during that period; now called the Department for Education) to shut down the school. Millicent, however, faces problems as St. Trinian's is on the verge of bankruptcy, and seeks any means to clear the school's debt.

Millicent's twin brother, bookmaker Clarence Fritton, visits the school to check in on his sister and learns about Fatima's enrolment. Knowing that her father owns a racehorse due to take part in a major horse racing event, Clarence decides to enrol his daughter Arabella at the school, with instructions to befriend Fatima and subtly extract information from her about the horse. At the same time, local police superintendent Kemp Bird assigns female police sergeant Ruby Gates, whom he is in a relationship with, to infiltrate the school undercover as a games mistress, while the Ministry assigns Manton Bassett to send in a new inspector to St. Trinian's after two others disappeared – unaware that they now work at the school.

Clarence soon learns from Arabella that the Sultan's racehorse is likely to win the race. Arabella suggests to her father that 'her gang' can incapacitate the stable guy and abduct the Sultan's racehorse, hiding it until the race is over. At the same time, several girls report on the horse's performance to Millicent, who is convinced to place a sizeable wager on it via the local spiv, 'Flash' Harry. When Fatima discovers Arabella leading a contingent of renegade sixth form girls to kidnap the horse, she leads a group of her fourth form classmates to recover the animal and smuggle back it to the racecourse before the race begins. As the police and Ministry are left embarrassed in their failing to prevent trouble, the girls ensure the racehorse wins. As Millicent is berated by the girl's parents over the way she has run the school, Harry arrives with news of the win which has netted the school the money it needed to stay open, much to her relief.


Ronald Searle appeared in a cameo role as a visiting parent.[2] Roger Delgado plays the Sultan's aide.[4] It was also the first film appearance of Barbara Windsor, then a teenager.[5]


The film was based on the cartoons of Ronald Searle. He started doing sketches at the beginning of the war and continued to do them as a POW in Singapore. After the war they became very successful. By the time the film was made Searle had become tired of them.[6]


Filming took place in April–May 1954. The opening scenes of the girls returning to school were filmed at what is now the All Nations Christian College near Ware, Hertfordshire. This includes the entrance gate of Holycross Road and the outside shots of the school.[7] The bulk of the film was shot at Shepperton Studios near London. The film's sets were designed by the art director Joseph Bato.


The music for the film was written by the English composer Malcolm Arnold. The music was arranged as a concert suite for orchestra with piano four hands by Christopher Palmer.[8][9] The suite was performed at the BBC Proms in 2003 and 2021.[10][11]


Box office

The film was the third most popular movie at the British box office in 1954, after Doctor in the House and Trouble in Store.[12][13]

Critical reception

Kine Weekly said "Wacky, side-spitiing collegiate extravaganza, based on Ronald Searle’s grotesque, though wildly funny, drawings, illustrating odd, unseemly goings-on at a young ladies’ seminary. Alastair Sim fills the dual role of headmistress and her bookie brother, and his sly sense of humour holds the chapter of lunatic incidents firmly together. A first-rate supporting cast packed with experienced adults and eager youngsters, and liberal staging put the finishing fouches to another sure winner from The Happiest Days of Your Life stable. Get on to it without delay!"[14]

The New York Times wrote, "Credit Alastair Sim with doing excellently by the dual roles he essays ... Joyce Grenfell makes a properly gangling, awkward and gullible lady sleuth; George Cole does a few delightful turns as the conniving Cockney go-between and last, but not least, the Belles of St. Trinian's rate a vote of confidence for the whacky freedom of expression they exhibit. They all help make St. Trinian's a wonderfully improbable and often funny place to visit."[15]

In British Sound Films: The Studio Years 1928–1959 David Quinlan rated the film as "good", writing: "Rollicking comedy, a big commercial hit."[16]

The Radio Times Guide to Films gave the film 3/5 stars, writing: "Most people's memory of the St Trinian's films dates from their own youth, when the wonderful indiscipline of the tearaways and the debauched indifference of the staff had them longing for their own school to be run along similar lines. In 1954 nothing had ever been seen to compare with this anarchic adaptation of Ronald Searle's cartoons, which turned traditional ideas of female gentility on their heads. Alastair Sim's Miss Fritton and George Cole's Flash Harry became icons of British comic lore, but the real star of the film is Joyce Grenfell."[17]


The film was banned for children under 16 in South Africa.[18]

See also


  1. ^ "The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954)". Archived from the original on 10 March 2016.
  2. ^ a b "BFI Screenonline: Belles of St Trinian's, The (1954)".
  3. ^ "Watch out - St Trinian's heading to town".
  4. ^ "Roger Delgado". Archived from the original on 26 June 2017.
  5. ^ "In pictures: Dame Barbara Windsor". BBC. 30 December 2015.
  6. ^ "FEATURES The Belles Of St. Trinian's LITTLE MONSTERS ALL". The Sun-Herald. New South Wales, Australia. 14 February 1954. p. 22. Retrieved 12 August 2020 – via National Library of Australia.
  7. ^ Monkey, Silver. "Reelstreets – Belles of St. Trinian's, The".
  8. ^ "Malcolm Arnold: The Belles of St. Trinians – Comedy Suite: Orchestra". Music Room. Retrieved 10 October 2021.
  9. ^ "Malcolm Arnold - The Complete Catalogue of Published Works" (PDF). Malcolm Arnold Society. 2004. p. 10.
  10. ^ "Prom 38 – Great British Film Music". BBC. 2003.
  11. ^ "20th-Century British Film Music". BBC. 2021.
  12. ^ "JOHN WAYNE HEADS BOX-OFFICE POLL". The Mercury. Hobart, Tasmania. 31 December 1954. p. 6. Retrieved 24 April 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  13. ^ Thumim, Janet. "The popular cash and culture in the postwar British cinema industry". Screen. Vol. 32, no. 3. p. 259.
  14. ^ "The Belles of St. Trinian's". Kine Weekly. 463 (2520): 31. 13 October 1955 – via ProQuest.
  15. ^ "'Belles of St. Trinian's' Opens at Plaza".
  16. ^ Quinlan, David (1984). British Sound Films: The Studio Years 1928–1959. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd. p. 282. ISBN 0-7134-1874-5.
  17. ^ Radio Times Guide to Films (18th ed.). London: Immediate Media Company. 2017. p. 84. ISBN 9780992936440.
  18. ^ "CABLE NEWS IN BRIEF". The Advertiser. Vol. 97, no. 29, 986. Adelaide, South Australia. 22 November 1954. p. 6. Retrieved 12 August 2020 – via National Library of Australia.

External links

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