Cliff Richard is a conniving and womanising, thieving and blaspheming, drug dealing, money running egotistical bastard. That is to say, in his starring role as Jamie Hopkins in the 1966 film Two A Penny he is. What’s more, the singing sensation gets so horny for his won’t-put-out girl that he comes close to raping her in the bushes. Released momentarily a few years later, its video release was delayed horrendously, perhaps because counter to whatever claims may be out there, it is in truth mute when it comes to the subject of the protagonists repentance; it is not felt, it is not there. Two A Penny is a religious exploitation film, funded by the evangelist movement to capitalise on the visit to the country and tour by Billy Graham, whose Earl’s Court audience is the centrepiece of the film.
Jamie Hopkins is a selfish jerk and an unlikely fashion student who foresees himself as the next but one big thing in swinging London. Meantime he bites the hand that pays his college fees, that of his mother (Dora Bryan): “How am I going to have a classy boutique if my mum’s running around with a butcher?” He can find his girlfriend Carol (Ann Holloway) feeding the birds on the green floor of a blitzed roofless church that over the last 20 years has developed naturally into a secret garden. If not there, she is at her lodgings, a single room with a former showgirl and armed forces’ entertainer, Mrs Burry (Avril Angers), who doesn’t half take a shine to the presentable Cliff on his calls, abusing her own house rules in her attempts to steer in a sexual gratification of her own with the boy. Having nothing to do with the old girl only brings forward the ousting of Carol into the wet streets. Jamie drops in on Mr Fitch (Geoffrey Balydon) the jeweller,
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and one of those evil gays you only ever hear about in such sermons, you know the kind, controlling the sale of drugs in the area. Jamie wants in on the money side of things but his reputation precedes him. Finch gives him a chance, to deliver some merchandise and return with the money, but Jamie wants to make a quick investment on the money before returning it. Fitch learns of this and sends thugs to duff Jamie up, recovering the money on time. The bruised Jamie though is stubborn, popping back in on Fitch, and a proposition comes his way. Jamie’s mother works for a top psychiatrist who is using mind-expanding drugs that are currently “like gold.” In goes Jamie.
The girlfriend is meanwhile holding down her department store job while reawakening to God, here represented by Billy Graham on his acclaimed UK crusade. A customer gifts tickets to Carol for the Earl’s Court rally and Carol in turn tries to draw Jamie into it. He goes, but not alongside her. Ever on the lookout to one-up anyone and everyone, the big triangle himself included, if necessary, if he exists, Jamie sneaks in ahead of her without a ticket and trots up onto the platform to take a seat intended for someone holier. Great use is made of an actual event. Graham is commanding, while Jamie is heard in voiceover, commenting mockingly on the god pushers (“Blimey! I’m surrounded. I should have worn my collar round.”), the capacity attendance (“And I’ll pass the hat around… I wish I had a share of the takings.”), Billy Graham, and Carol (“It looks like she swallowed the whole blooming thing. Oh! I’ll belt her one.”) The anti-Church comments continue at The Drum, the couple’s local pub. “He looks like a waiter!” then involuntarily conceding “but what a menu!” Still, he means to bring the girl to her senses, “I’ve got to save the stupid thing. It (sic!) thinks it’s been saved or some such rot!” When she takes him along to a meeting of young Christians, presided over by the Reverend Peter Barkworth, and it seems a great spot to take a really good dig. “Jesus Christ! A bloke that died centuries ago and you go on like he was Harold Wilson or something.” You begin to get an impression of why this was considered anything but the film anyone thought they were making and why the release was stifled and curtailed. It is only with Cliff’s Christian credentials as pronounced as they are that World Wide Pictures in the 1980s determined it unquestionable enough to push out in the UK at the very least. His personal history plays on Cliff’s motivations for participation to the extent that all UK viewers would read a penitent denouement into the film whether there was a sign of it or not in the plot.
In quickly putting the film into motion it seemed sensible to do it through professionals in an era of British independent film that was exploitative and bold in its themes. The stun effect and the message movie were prevalent and it was in this new mould in which the filmmakers were set. It is an efficiently put together film, with a pace that doesn’t wane, a cast of consummate professionals, bristling dialogue and a consistently criminal Cliff, snarling throughout, that could never have been more fun to witness. That curled lip is easily convertible to a handy sneer. The acting is top notch. The young Christians are so freaky-weird that they may well have been the very things. Veteran players worth singling out include Geoffrey Balydon for his brave appearance as the cold homosexual shop-front kingpin. Then there is Mona Washbourne as a snooty customer who is won over by Cliff’s mischievously fake shop assistant: “But my dress is green.”
“(Ah, but) This chapeau has a history!” The cream of the performances, however, comes from Avril Angers as the landlady, who sadly has to bid leave 45 minutes in, but not until having made a massive impression. The film survives in her wake by bumping up the dialogue to ever more savage degrees as exhibited in this review, a screenplay and original story accredited to Stella Lindon, though a script consultant, David Winter, is on board to presumably advise on the theological touch points.
Though the cast and crew was locally shopped for, the director is an American, and this was not the only film James F. Collier was to do for Billy Graham. The year before Graham had appeared in Collier’s The Restless Ones and the preacher was to feature in a further six Collier films: For Pete’s Sake (1968), To Catch A People (1970), Time To Run (1973), The Prodigal (1983), Cry From The Mountain (1987) and Caught (1987) all of which one can presume made possible with the budgetary intervention of the evangelical millions.
At the film’s shiftiest, Cliff is seen using a posting at a pillar-box as an excuse to pass on the keys to the surgery to another thug, though the already stolen drugs are in the envelope being posted and the young sneak has already setup the expected burglars with a call to the police. It is a shot with information that runs in several directions and any filmmaker ought be jealous of it. This film eventually slipped out on video less in the expectation that it would create new Xtians and more that it could finally start making its money back for the faith. Geek fun can be had in identifying the film releases of the day in the background, a quad poster on the fence for Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head, while over at the Cameo they are screening Onibaba. He sings, of course, four songs, (the soundtrack LP had to tag on a lot of additionally tracks and exposes reviewers pretending to have seen the film also, you hear me Rolling Stone?) one, Twist And Shout to a gallery of disinterested social ordinaries down the pub, while Mike Leander is the composer of the rest of the music. Two A Penny, it’s for those who love Cliff, it’s for those who hate him; therefore it has something for everybody.