Film: 1559

Animation | 1960 | Sound | Colour


A short, entirely animated film made for British Gas, with a light-hearted commentary by writer and humorist Frank Muir, offering a comic account of the evolution of the kitchen and advice on how to achieve the kitchen of one's dreams.

A spot appears, accompanied by the instrumental pop music that is used throughout the film, and grows and changes colour, as titles on strips of paper are suspended from above. The animation begins as the spot becomes the glow of light around a flaming torch held aloft by a caveman, who wears only a ring of clothing around his waist and bounds from right to left across the screen; the voice of Frank Muir (FM) tells of how Man first discovered fire. A closer shot of the caveman, as he reaches and sets alight a pile of logs, which is soon revealed to be beneath the foot of a large mammoth which roars, turns around and extinguishes the fire with a jet of water, leaving only the frazzled or drenched figure of the caveman.

The title 'The Far East' appears in colourful, elaborate lettering. As FM explains that it was here that Man discovered 'it is easier to cook an animal when it's not running about', a different version of the long-nosed figure that appears throughout the film, now wearing a pointed hat, kneels and blows towards a fire on the left of the screen, then sits and stretches his feet and hands out towards it, before finally turning around and warming his backside. A more distant view of the same scene, revealing that the Chinaman is standing beneath the skeleton of the mammoth, the flames eventually causing its ribs to collapse upon him. A close shot of the figure up to his neck in rib bones, taking up and champing upon a bone that had been balancing upon his hat, then licking his lips, as FM remarks that here Man discovered 'barbecued spare ribs'.

The title 'Meanwhile' appears. We move from left to right over fixed images of Egyptian figures reaping crops, carrying and pouring things, and preparing food, all in the style of a wall painting, until we reach an Egyptian variation on the usual figure, who removes an iced cake from a primitive oven to the left. A close up reveals that it says 'Happy Birthday Tutankhamen'.

'Years Pass'. As FM introduces 'an early Anglo-Saxon family cooking their evening meal', the screen is filled with grey fumes, which disperse to the left to show a blonde female stirring a pot over a fire upon a stone slab, and a straw-haired and bearded male figure to the right, inside a straw-roofed, wooden hut; the man shuts the door that has been open to the right and fumes once more engulf the scene, leaving only a pair of eyes; FM adds: 'This is known as the Dark Ages'.

As FM tells how King Alfred once visited such a home, we see from the side a figure, dressed in a crown and blue robe trimmed with ermine, knocking at the hut; as FM adds that 'he was travelling incognito', the figure turns towards us to reveal that he is wearing a comic false nose, spectacles and moustache, which he lifts up momentarily before he enters the hut. We see three pairs of eyes in the fumes, before they disperse to the left, and then the woman asking the disguised King to keep an eye on some cakes which are cooking at the edge of the fire; the couple leave and the King sits back, then paces the floor, pondering how to invent 'something which would contain the fire and make it easier to cook on', 'a kind of iron basket', while the fumes repeatedly engulf the screen, leaving only the glow of the fire.

The heads and shoulders of an army of Norman soldiers move leftwards across the screen, in the direction pointed to by the sign 'Hastings 5 mi.' in the foreground; the camera lingers on the figure of William the Conqueror riding a horse, a long sword resting against his shoulder; FM comments: 'As all English Kings up to the Tudors were middle-aged, this period was known as the Middle Ages'. Three castles are seen on three closely neighbouring hilltops, as FM tells of the Normans' passion for castle-building. A shot of a number of figures labouring in a vaulted, underground kitchen.

On the right, a moustached chef in a beret lifts the lid from a serving plate to reveal a stuffed pig (a recurring motif in the film!), before he passes the plate to a servant on the left of the screen, who walks away towards some steps; FM remarks that kitchens were often 'a considerable distance from the Great Hall where the baron had his dinner'. The camera moves rightwards across a castle, and beamed, Tudor buildings, until it reaches 'the splendid stately homes of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries', through the windows of which can be glimpsed a similar kitchen servant struggling from room to room.

We look over the shoulder of a periwigged male figure sitting at a table with his back to us in a lavish dining room, while an exhausted servant carrying a plate appears in the doorway at the end of the room, before he totters backwards down some stairs; FM remarks that kitchens were still no nearer to dining rooms in such houses. The footman is sprawled at the foot of a staircase, the stuffed pig bouncing down behind him until it lands on his head.

'The 19th century'. A shot of a heavy iron cooker and hob, which five servants are soon seen trying to light. A reference to the introduction of piped water is illustrated by a rather superior butler, seen in the previous shot, filling a kettle at a sink, with the spout foolishly turned towards him, so that water eventually pours out into the front of his trousers. A female kitchen servant puts a number of knives into a contraption for sharpening them, turns it by a handle, and then removes the knives to find that they have scarcely any blades left. A chef with a huge twisted moustache watches an overheating pressure cooker before it explodes, leaving a fish momentarily hanging from his moustache and other food on his nose.

'Present day'. A modern housewife, with a sign around her neck bearing her name, Annie, sheds tears as FM explains that she has no servants to do the work for her, but does have 'something to do all the dishes, the pots and pans, dispose of her kitchen waste, cope with things like potato peeling and vegetable shredding: that something is called her husband, Harry'; he appears beside her, a large arrow indicating 'husband' pointing towards him; she leans over to him and kisses him on the side of his head.

As FM introduces a number of possible circumstances that such a couple might face, they are shrunk to the bottom left-hand corner of the screen and appear in front of a country cottage. They look through the top half of a stable-style door into a dingy, rather primitive kitchen. They stand in a corridor looking through a doorway into an unseen 'modern flat'. We see an empty kitchen that has been stripped of appliances by its previous occupier. They look up at a workman hammering on the roof of a huge, unwieldy kitchen extension to a now overshadowed old house.

A close up of Harry, as FM explains that he always takes the same approach to such a situation, starting with a dream: a bubble shows him reclining with a drink beside a pool, while a bunny girl waits on him. Annie is seen similarly accompanied by a bubble showing her reclining and reading, while a robot performs all the kitchen tasks.

As FM gets down to the essential functions of the kitchen, in a sequence of shots we see Annie storing food, cooking, serving, washing up, storing cleaning things, and setting up a number of clothes lines across the kitchen. FM adds that 'most families have some little hobby they like to work on in the kitchen', as we see Harry in a beret to the right chiselling at a huge sculpture in the foreground of the kitchen.

The importance of not having a door between the cooker and working surface is illustrated by Harry flattening Annie behind the kitchen door as he enters. The need for storage space is emphasised by the image of a huge number of things spilling out of a tall cupboard onto the floor. Annie is seen stretching up to a row of cupboards at the top of the screen, before she topples and is buried beneath the cupboards, to illustrate the need for cupboards not to be too high. A close shot of a bowl being stirred. Annie stirs, facing rightwards, before the bowl wobbles and slides away, then slides back, revealing that Harry is lying on his back beneath, propping up the surface with the soles of his feet and marking the best position above; all illustrating the importance of 'correct height' with regard to work surfaces.

As the subject turns to lighting, Annie passes through a funnel of light in the middle of the screen, before a crash is heard, and the light is directed onto Harry to the left, who has the stuffed pig on his head, with the fruit used for stuffing in his own mouth; prompting FM to comment: 'And a boar in the hand is worth two in the mush'. As we are told that in a modern kitchen you can have light where you want it, Annie hangs upside down from the light fitting, like a trapeze artist, with other beams of light illuminating her. To illustrate the question of the colour scheme, Annie stands looking at a blank version of her kitchen, before its colours change in rapid succession, and Annie and Harry are seen arguing furiously, then making up, until they both look upon a blank kitchen once again. The need for kitchen floors not to be slippery is shown by both pairs of feet staggering on a shiny tiled floor. The couple sit on the floor beside sockets overloaded with leads, before Harry reaches to a switch and electrocutes them both, leaving them black and frazzled, suggesting the need for 'enough electrical power points'.

'The most Important Units'. Separate shots of a cooker, a sink and a fridge. A badly planned kitchen is suggested by the three units standing far apart in a long kitchen, around which Annie runs from unit to unit; Harry appears with 'a scale floor plan' to which Annie adds coloured labels. A close shot of the labels for the three units. The labels move around a number of different plans, one even in the shape of a steam engine, and another in that of a union jack, to illustrate how inconveniently kitchens can be shaped. The three labels are seen at the points of a triangle, which is then superimposed upon a number of kitchen plans.

A series of things to be avoided in a kitchen are depicted. A close up of a cooker, a saucepan upon it, with working spaces either side of it, is soon replaced by a cooker hemmed in by cupboards, as Annie walks past knocking the saucepan off the hob. A close up of the pan and its contents landing on a screeching cat. The flames from the hob are seen setting alight curtains at a window behind the cooker, to which Harry reacts with resignation, before using the flames to cook his sausage on a toasting fork; eventually the whole unit is pushed left off-screen by Annie, leaving her husband standing bemused in front of the open window, until she pushes on a sink unit from the right.

A side-on view of Annie at the sink looking at her children through the window, even heading back a football, illustrates the advantages of having the sink in this position. To suggest the importance of having the right size of fridge, Harry peers up at a huge fridge containing a single apple which he places in his mouth, while Annie walks past leftwards carrying a bag full of vegetables. Annie, with her bag beside her, opens a small square fridge entirely filled by (inevitably) a stuffed pig.

The coloured labels for the three main units appear again. We see Annie sitting to the left and Harry to the right of a table, as Annie cuts up more labels from coloured card and Harry waves a number of leaflets, both at a speeded up pace, to illustrate the many other matters that they might need to consider: 'ventilation equipment perhaps, hot water supply, cupboards and storage cabinets, something to tip the kitchen waste into, laundry equipment'. We see several coloured cards moving around a floor plan. Shots of a sliding door and a split-level cooker, both advantageous to a kitchen.

Annie and Harry move rightwards through a showroom of kitchen gadgets and commodities, 'everything you could want and some things you can't have', including the bunny girl and the kitchen robot dreamt about by each of them, which are now swept away. Harry and Annie appear in an idyllic country setting beneath a rainbow, as FM approaches the conclusion of his commentary, only to be interrupted by the premature appearance of a screen bearing 'The End', causing him to exclaim 'I haven't finished yet!'; Harry lifts the screen up a little like a blind, allowing FM to end with the words 'dream kitchen'. 'The End' fills the screen once more.

To request more details on this film, please contact us quoting Film number 1559.