The explosive opening of BULLDOG DRUMMOND’S BRIDE (perhaps an influence on the beginning of Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL?) captures a fascinating historical detail. Note how the character in the foreground grabs ahold of the wobbling post box to stop it falling over. It’s a little-known fact that until the 1960s, Britain’s “pillar boxes” were unfixed cylinders of cast iron, vulnerable to theft and toppling. A great metal canister like that could cause considerable property damage if it got loose on an incline, perhaps struck by a cart or levered onto its side by wanton schoolboys.
Many solutions were considered, including a scheme pioneered in Gloucestershire where the post boxes were simply enlarged to make them harder to unbalance. At over forty feet in height, the new models was unpopular with the citizenry, who disliked having to scale a set of metal rungs to reach the massive letter slot, like lighthouse-keepers ascending to their positions. Postmen demanded danger money for descending inside the great megaliths by rope ladder to collect the mail lying at the bottom, many of the parcels ruined by their plunge into the metallic bowels of the great column.
In addition, high winds could still occasionally blow the giant pillar boxes over, and the destruction they would then cause was stupendous. Fleeing Gloucerstershirians would be converted to jammy smears ‘neath the trundling tread of the unstoppable juggernaut, and entire cottages were reduced to bass-reliefs in seconds flat.
A common reaction to this sort of thing.
All this obscure GPO history reminds me of a story from my late friend Lawrie Knight. Assisting on a TV pilot in, probably, the 1950s, he found that his director was Edmund Goulding, originally from England, and now blacklisted in the US following some kind of homosexual scandal. Goulding was obsessed with filming details like post boxes, saying, “They’ll love it in America!”
More interestingly, at the end of the day the sound recordist had a list of “wild tracks” that needed to be recorded: trains, animals, and the like. Goulding poo-pooed the idea of running around town looking for the required FX, and insisted on doing them all himself. At the end of each impersonation (locomotive, goose, dog, car door), Lawrie would turn to the recordist and ask how it was. “It could pass!” said the stunned sound man each time.
The second part of this post, in case you’re wondering, is true.
Edmund Goulding, human beatbox.
As for the connection to THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, maybe you can guess it? I think a prize can be arranged for a correct answer.