Memories : Clockwise film, Hull Paragon Station, 1985

Clockwise, Hull, 1985

Who here loves British films? The low budgets, the dry comedy and locations that we all know and love? Clockwise, released in 1986, is one of those perfect little films that encapsulates 1980s Britain – evoking the sights, sounds and smells of a pre-mobile ‘phone era that feels utterly remote from today. And yet, it’s not really that long ago. For car spotters, this one is a joy – it’s basically a road movie, after all – packed with new and old cars, and starring a blue Morris 1100.

It’s July 1985, and punctilious headteacher Brian Stimpson (played by John Cleese) is running to catch his long-suffering wife (played by Alison Steadman) after missing his train due to a hilarious mix-up in communications. The car park is probably seen for about 20 seconds in the film, but it’s a lovely snapshot of what commuters were using to get to the once-grand Hull Paragon Station. The railway station depicted in the film is complete with a sprawling old-style WH Smith’s newsagent, passport photo booth, ornate ticket office, a substantial weigh-yourself machine and grumpy platform staff. Wonderful…

As for the cars in the image above, we’ll go from left to right. At the extreme left is a Ford Orion, something we can’t quite see enough of next to that, then a Ford Escort Mk2 Mexico, a flat-fronted Saab 900 Turbo on Inca alloys. Beyond that, there are a few others, which are too obscured to be sure, but among them looks to be a Vauxhall Astra Mk1 and Honda Civic Mk1. Crossing over, from front to rear, there’s another Ford Escort Mk2, an Austin Mini Van, a Fiat 126, a Ford Fiesta Mk1 and a Mini 1000. It’s a rag-bag collection that’s joined in the car park (in other shots) by a Datsun 180B, an MGB GT V8 and a Reliant Robin. Hardly stellar stuff, but perfectly lovely to see on the screen today.

So, tell us about the film

Clockwise concerns one Brian Stimpson who has been invited to give a speech to The Headmasters’ Conference in Norwich. Naturally, the whole world seems to conspire to make Brian late, when a misunderstanding at the station means that he misses his train. Now desperate to reach the conference on time, he fails to contact his wife, who is ferrying old ladies in her Ford Cortina 80. Needless to say, it doesn’t go to plan and so he picks up an accidental lift from sixth form student Laura Wisely (Sharon Maiden, above) in her father’s blue Morris 1100. The day unravels comprehensively from that point on, resulting in ‘taking and driving and kidnapping’ along the way. It’s an old-school British film farce.

The final scene is one of the highlights of Stimpson’s career as, clad in an ill-fitting and visibly disintegrating suit, he dismisses traffic police, CID and the other parties who have made his journey such a trial with the brand of headmasterly sarcasm that only John Cleese could produce. At the film’s climax, Brian has finally lost the fawning attitude he once had towards the Headmasters’ Conference and although he persists in misdirecting the driver of the police Rover SD1 taking him into custody – ‘Left!’, ‘Right?’, ‘Left!’ – he is in no doubt that his speech has been an utter triumph.

One great aspect of Clockwise is the immaculate cast, from Alison Steadman and Penelope Wilton, via the increasingly frazzled public school headmasters played by Geoffrey Palmer and Nicholas Le Prevost to Geoffrey Hutchings as Mr Wisely and Joan Hickson as one of Mrs Stimpson’s confused old ladies. Further down the cast list lurks future star Nadia Sawalha under the nom-de-plume Nadia Kostakis and British horror film legend Sheila Keith as Pat’s mother, but special honours must go to the diminutive Ann Way as another of the confused old ladies – ‘They keep wanting to go to the loo,’ moans Mr. Palmer.

Having already missed his train for Norwich, Brian Stimpson commandeers the ADO16-driving Laura Wisely to drive him there. However, when you’re travelling low-profile and the mobile ‘phone is yet to be invented, it pays to remember to pay for your tankful of Shell… The scruffy Princess tells you this is an Eighties film of the highest order.
Having already missed his train for Norwich, Brian Stimpson commandeers the ADO16-driving Laura Wisely to drive him there. However, when you’re travelling low-profile and the mobile ‘phone is yet to be invented, it pays to remember to pay for your tankful of Shell… The scruffy Princess tells you this is an 1980s film of the highest order
Life was simpler back in the Eighties, and the Austin Maestro seemed the perfect transport for the bobby on his rural patch. I guess he wasn’t supposed to hurry anywhere, as the car’s later inability to catch the Morris 1100 demonstrated…
Life was simpler back in the 1980s, and the Austin Maestro seemed the perfect transport for the bobby on his rural patch. I guess he wasn’t supposed to hurry anywhere, as the car’s later inability to catch the Morris 1100 demonstrated…
Trapped by a combination of cows and a Leyland milk tanker, the obvious thing to do is to is go, ‘left… into the field.’ Ample progress is made because, ‘we don’t need a track, it’s grass…’That’s all well and good, until…
Trapped by a combination of cows and a Leyland Chieftain milk tanker, the obvious thing to do is to is go, ‘left… into the field.’ Ample progress is made because, ‘we don’t need a track, it’s grass…’That’s all well and good, until…
…the Morris gets stuck in the mud, and Stimpson tries to extract it by a) pushing it for all he’s worth, b) kicking it in the rear door, and c) giving up to find a tractor. Sadly, instead of a tractor, he finds a… monastery.
…the Morris gets stuck in the mud, and Stimpson tries to extract it by a) pushing it for all he’s worth, b) kicking it in the rear door and c) giving up to find a tractor. Sadly, instead of a tractor, he finds a… monastery

Where was Clockwise filmed?

The locations bear no real resemblance to those depicted in the film. Although the direction of the film’s plot is supposed to take place from somewhere around Birmingham to Norwich via Northampton, the locations are far more widely dispersed. They included Menzies High School in West Bromwich, Birmingham University, Hull railway station, Grimsby and the East Ridings to King Edward’s School in Edgbaston for the Headmasters’ Conference. The charming village where Stimpson ends up kidnapping his former university friend Pat (played by Penelope Wilton) was Much Wenlock in Shropshire.

Clockwise is televised on a regular basis and has acquired a dedicated following, including many of AROnline‘s readers, thanks to the starring Morris 1100. It is not a cult film on the lines of Withnail & I, as its fans seem to warm to the sort of film narrative where Cleese, as with Peter Sellers before him, seems to thrive – the insanities of middle England existence, where downfall could be due to a seemingly innocuous Morris 1100 Super Mk 2. Of course, had Laura been driving an Austin Allegro the running time of Clockwise would have been a good deal less as it would have probably broken down before leaving the driveway.

If you enjoyed this, let us know in the comments and, if you have any pictures you’d like featuring, drop me a line via any of the links below.

Thanks to Andrew Roberts, whose 2005 Classic Car Weekly ‘The Car’s the Star’ piece this is based upon.

Keith Adams

19 Comments

  1. Clockwise is available on Youtube, not in 20 parts but one 1 and a half hour video. I watched it recently, certainly a classic in my opinion.

  2. “Is it a Morris or is it an 1100?” is Mrs Wisely’s comment that you’re looking for at the end of the 6th paragraph 😉 . Not that I’ve seen the film too often or anything…

    Cracking film – not just for the 1100, but for all the other “street furniture” cars of the time that are sadly missed today 🙁 .

    I downloaded it as one “chunk” off YouTube several months ago – VLC Media Player plays it fine, as does Real Player.

  3. He who would valiant be, against all disaster. Plenty of disasters in this from the wrong train to the destruction of the Morris 1100, Clockwise is an underrated British classic.

  4. The petrol station is on the corner of Hall road and Cottingham road in Hull. The film crew were in town as they used Paragon station as the start of the disasterous journey. The call box is a prop.

  5. I thought the phone boxes were put up for the film, even in 1985 a village wouldn’t really need 3 in a row.

  6. Nice wright up Keith!
    As an ADO16 owner i was looking to buy the film in DVD a good few years now.
    I could only find a used copy with Dutch subtitles, so i went for that anyway.
    Just a small correction, you kept refering to the car as a Morris 1100 Super.
    Well, the “super” trim level was only used in the Allegro. ADO16s were either “Deluxe” (rather rare and as Spartan as they came…) or the more common “Super Deluxe”. The car in the film was a Super Deluxe.

    • I could envisage it in the mobile era, the early plot device when Mr Stimpson leaves the mobile phone beside the speech on the train

      Then the plot continues.

      Even if he didn’t leave it, Mrs Stimpson puts the phone on silent to cut down on distractions while ferrying the elderly ladies about

      While out in the sticks, instead of the phone booth scene (or perhaps it occurs because) he does not get a mobile reception

      Phone dies (modern smartphones barely have a day charge, perhaps he didn’t charge it overnight), or is lost when they perform the Porsche driver switcharoo

      Laura has a phone, but Mr Stimpson doesn’t remember his wife’s mobile number. Aforementioned lack of reception in the countryside, a monastery would be unlikely to have a mobile tower.

      Would actually be interesting. What would the cars be?

      Mrs Stimpson in a Ford Kuga perhaps as a modern equivalent to a family car? Or a Focus as a Cortina-sized car, or Mondeo if following the lineage?

      Laura in a MINI? The 5 door model, a modern 1100, is perhaps too new to be an “old” family car getting destroyed. Perhaps an HH-R 400? (Cheap family car from the BMC lineage, still enough on the roads that nobody would be concerned about it getting destroyed. Could picture it, the 5 door model, with a roof rack)

      Wasn’t aware that Keith had a hand in the film, kudos, it is a classic British comedy!

  7. An underrated film. Stimson is in control of everything within the school; but loses it rapidly after being accidentally directed onto the wrong train. Very realistic: many of us fell totally out of control on a late running train, but totally in control in an hour’s queue on a motorway.
    Laura’s dad does a stellar turn as Mr. Imperturbable, while his wife disappears up her own postillion.

  8. I’ve not seen this for years but I’ve good fun like a lot of road films.

    Spotting period details is another attraction.

  9. This film was the closest that John Cleese got to putting Basil Fawlty on film as many of the characteristics of Stimpson were recognisable from the hotelier.

    The left right left scene with the speech looked a bit like 1980s Brighton but can’t be definite.

  10. It proves one thing, an ADO 16 can take quite a lot of punishment and keep going, even a 15 year old one. Mechanically these cars were quite robust even if the bodies weren’t.

  11. Hull Paragon station was one of the few places in Hull city centre not to be devastated in the Blitz and its large numbers of platforms and Victorian architecture could make it pass for a London terminal.
    Also the comment about grumpy platform staff in the eighties, yes, British Rail did seem to employ some people whose lack of customer care was well known. It seemed a fair percentage of their staff wanted to do as little as possible for eight hours a day and the argument being if you wanted to know when the next train to London was, you checked the board or asked at the ticket office, not the man collecting tickets.

  12. Saw this at the cinema, which is best of all as when it got excruciatingly embarrassing (which was often), it was impossible to switch it off, or go and make some tea! Wonderful film.

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