Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush

No-one gets through adolescence unscathed. Not me. Not you. Certainly not Jamie McGregor – or, as the credits put it, ‘introducing Barry Evans’ as Jamie McGregor… He’s here as the new-brutalist city-centre flashes through its colour-shifted solarised-psychedelic title sequence as Stevie Winwood’s Traffic theme fades in and out. Teen Jamie is a cheerfully engaging grocery delivery-boy hurtling on his bicycle through the brave new town – actually Stevenage, Hertfordshire, while his chain-of-conscious commentary fantasises about girls – and how to get them. It’s about his virginity, and how to lose it. Musing on his philosophy, “I can’t help it. What’s a healthy young lad got to think about anyway..?”

This is what they call a coming-of-age movie, a baptism of fire, rite of passage movie. A familiar, much-abused genre� One we’ve all lived through. The film arrived in 1968, which makes it a little late to be considered a defining 1960s movie. The tropes were already established with the pop-friendly soundtrack, just like the Yardbirds in Blow-Up (1966). This time there’s Traffic, plus the reconfigured Spencer Davis Group who can also be glimpsed at the obligatory church youth-club dance. There’s the intimately audience-complicit voice-over, as Michael Caine does in Alfie (1966). And there are comic fantasy-sequences as with Tom Courtney in Billy Liar (1963) – but with none of Billy’s escapist context.

When Jamie falls into a jerky silent-movie seduction, an ornate photography-session, a Dionysus grape myth-dream, or the already clich�-styled James Bond pastiche, it’s only by way of knockabout humorous interlude. There’s no political subtext, no generational manifesto. Mum and Dad are there over breakfast, but it’s an affectionately playful domesticity, rather than the abrasive social-realist conflict-zone of Hayley Mills and Hywel Bennett in The Family Way (1966), or the inter-generational warfare of Spring And Port Wine (1970), in which father James Mason sternly attempts to assert his authority over his unruly brood. Here, Mum reads Oliver Twist, and later Crime And Punishment. She’s “studying for her PhD,” good-naturedly protesting “What’s your last maid die of?”, while Dad pores over a jigsaw, then checks his football results on the radio.

In its favour, Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush did arrive safely before the 1970s’ exploitation tat that followed, with Evans making a far more attractive proposition than Robin Askwith, his counterpart in those painfully unfunny sex comedies. On his bicycle Jamie physically runs into dippy mini-skirted poppet Linda Speight (Adrienne Posta). “No hard feelings,” she simpers. “That’s what you think,” he double-entendres. For cocky knickers-fixated Jamie McGregor – This Is Your Life. Then he sees Mary Coster (Judy Geeson), and there’s something about Mary. The problem is; she has a boyfriend, a ‘nauseating creep’ with a sports car. And although he really fancies the unobtainable Mary, Jamie settles for taking Linda for a walk in the starlight. They sit together on a bench as he psychs himself up to make his move. “Warm hands warm heart,” she suggests. No, “warm hands, warm crotch” he corrects – and plunges. After a confusing unsatisfactory evening, he glimpses Mary out with his more world-wise friend Spike.

Unconvincingly, fresh-faced Jamie is still a sixth-former attending Bedwell School, where rough-diamond Spike (Christopher Timothy, later TV-vet of All Creatures Great And Small) brags about his ‘lovely bit of tail’ conquests, setting the benchmark. So there are other fumbling bird-pulling forays. Jamie helps out at St Michael’s church bazaar where the trendy ‘so 20th century’ vicar Michael attracts a coterie of eager girls ripe for chat-up lines. Then he gets into golf to get closer to ‘super’-posh bird Caroline. Jamie takes his pyjamas wrapped up in brown paper for a weekend stay-over with her family, in a posh house where they even have an Andy Warhol ‘Liz Taylor’ print on the wall.

There’s a candlelit tea with her wine-poser father (Denholm Elliott) who’s busy flirting with German au-pair Ingrid. “That’s the fun of living today – fast, zoom-zoom!” Caroline enthuses as there’s much nocturnal comic-farce sneaking around the landing as family members switch bedrooms. But tipsy Caroline passes out before he can do the do. Fatalistically reconciled to the fact that the “constant repetition of my staggering ineptitude is staggeringly inept,” he almost determines to give up on “phoney old girls and phoney old sex,” almost…

The film actually forms a confluence of 1960s’ B-list names. Even the writer – Hunter Davies has his place in pop culture as author of a highly respected authorised Beatles biography, and ghost for many more. The novel on which Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush is based was his debut breakthrough project, written while working as a journalist directly after university in Durham. Among the cast, Adrienne Posta was a regular dolly-bird on-call for the 1960s’ teen-kind of movies, with strong character parts in Up The Junction (1968), To Sir, With Love (1967), and Spring And Port Wine, as well as entries in the Carry On… and Confessions Of… franchises, followed by TV roles in Minder, and Red Dwarf, with an active parallel-career and a string of singles as a singer, culminating with Johnny Reggae, a chart hit as part of Jonathan King’s spoof-concoction The Piglets (#3 in November 1971).

At a time when requirements extend to little beyond a pretty smile and perky tits she deploys a strong comedy-flair to good effect. Honey-blonde Judy Geeson – with sister Sally, were always decorative screen-additions across pretty much the same years. And again, Jamie wasn’t alone in fancying her. Judy was theme for many a randy school-brat’s dream, while making elder male hearts sing too. She was also there with Lulu and Sidney Poitier in To Sir, With Love, and with Adrienne in the penis-transplant satire Percy’s Progress (1974), plus the rather more dubious Carry On England (1976), before graduating into TV, guesting in Doomwatch, and even a Star Trek episode.

The sex-comedy Adventures Of A Taxi Driver (1967) actually reunites Judy with both Adrienne, and Barry Evans, if with less than edifying results. Evans himself enjoyed his own greatest success in soft-centred ITV sitcoms as struggling medic Michael Upton in the popular Doctor In The House (1969-70) series, based on Richard Gordon’s novels, and with Richard O’Sullivan in its sequel Doctor At Large (1971), then as night-school teacher Jeremy Brown, in Mind Your Language (1977-9), tutoring a motley collection of racially-stereotyped foreigners in English, a confection very much of its time. Despite his easily likeable screen-presence, this youth-centric typecasting proved an encumbrance when crossing-over to more mature work, and he died in 1997 – aged just 53, ironically working as a mini-cab driver in Leicestershire.

Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush is also the last time you’ll find Spencer Davis and Stevie Winwood mentioned in the same sentence. Stevie had quit the Spencer Davis Group – with whom he’d first achieved pop-visibility, earlier in the year, to form Traffic. Maybe it was just a bizarre coincidence that both groups wound up in the same movie. Or possibly the film company had signed Stevie initially as part of the Spencer Davis package, leaving him contractually obligated, and the movie-makers found themselves in the happy situation of having two chart-groups instead of one? Whatever, Traffic recorded the title-song which was held back to coincide with the release of the film, when it became the third, and last, of Traffic’s top 10 hits. The soundtrack album itself is now a sought-after collector’s item.

But for wide-eyed Jamie, his dream finally comes real. In one of the film’s most trendily celebrated sequences, Audrey invites him to a party, a riotous grope-athon held at an out-of-hours ‘Great Bed Event’ furniture store where he struggles with a stubborn zip as the girl lies there bored, beneath a sign announcing ‘trial bed offer’. Although he almost scores with Audrey, he leaves the party with Mary, his fantasy dream-girl. For a magical while everything is wonderful. They even share a weekend away. He joins her when she impulsively skinny-dips in the lake – “I don’t know what young girls are coming to these days,” he quips, scarcely able to believe his luck. And as they get into naked entwinement even the dog licking his leg fails to provide distraction.

This is the – once censored, now sensibly restored clip that Barry Evans was referring to when he later admitted to being quite understandably stricken by highly visible arousal, much to the amusement of the film-crew. With a sneaking reference to the 1960s’ most permissively liberating publishing event, he shows her how to put the ‘game’ into ‘gamekeeper’, like Mellors in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. But there’s irony in consummation too. Mary is the complete embodiment of liberated ‘don’t think twice it’s alright’ free-love. And while he initially agrees to her open ‘non-commitment relationship’, it’s he who finds it impossible to live up to. “I can do what I like and you can do what you like,” she scolds, “I’m not a nun; I’ve not taken any vows.” His more traditional ideas of romantic fidelity are “out of step, things don’t happen like that anymore.”

Finally, he’s got the thing he’s wanted “for the last five-thousand years,” yet it’s ‘he who says goodbye’. Love hurts. No-one gets through adolescence unscathed. Not me. Not you. Certainly not Jamie McGregor� But he bounces back. In the closing scene he and Spike are filling in working the buses while awaiting places at Manchester Uni. “I’ve had my promiscuity bit,” he protests, then sees Mary in the precinct� with Claire! And he’s off again! Unlike contemporary rite-of-passage movies, there’s no darkness, no edginess. No-one gets stabbed, no-one dies. It’s just a light, feelgood experience. And Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush is all the better for it.

BFI flipside dual-format DVD and blu-ray edition, with bonus DVD featuring Because That Road Is Trodden (1969) – directed by Tim King, and Stevenage (1971) – directed by Gordon Ruttan, with a fully-illustrated booklet.