GASBAGS(Gainsborough, 1940)—Comedy. Director: Marcel Varnel; Producer: Edward Black; Script: Marriott Edgar and Val Guest; Cinematography: Arthur Crabtree; Cast: Chesney Allen (Ches), Bud Flangagan (Bud), Jimmy Gold (Goldy), Teddy Knox (Knoxy), Charlie Naughton (Charlie), Jimmy Nervo (Cecil), Moore Marriott (Jerry Jenkins), Wally Patch (Sergeant Major), Frederick Valk (Sturmfuehrer), Eric Clauvering (Scharffuehrer), Anthony Eustrel (Gestapo Officer), Carl Jaffe (Gestapo Chief), and Irene Handl (Wife).
In 1933, the first Crazy Gang show was produced at the London Palladium. The concept grew out of the appearance of three double acts on the same bill— Bud Flanagan and Chesney Allen, Jimmy Nervo and Teddy Knox, and Charlie Naughton and Jimmy Gold. The first show was such a success that there were six more Crazy Gang shows and three films—Okay for Sound (1937), The Frozen Limits (1939, which Graham Greene thought was “the funniest English picture yet produced”),1 and Gasbags.
Gasbags was released at an anxious time for the British people as the country was facing invasion from Germany following the fall of Norway. Yet, Gasbags is quite surreal and it provides evidence of neither fear or the overt jingoism evident in Hollywood films produced in the period following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Crazy Gang, as members of the British army, operate an illegal fish and chip stall from their barrage balloon in Hyde Park. When a strong gale lifts the balloon and the six comics to the western front, they meet up with a platoon of (captured) French soldiers and are placed in a German concentration camp. Other inmates include a squadron of Adolf Hitler look-alikes who have been imprisoned because of their refusal to impersonate the Führer at times when he is likely to be assassinated. The Gang escapes, after Knoxy replaces Hitler at a banquet where the Gestapo plans to kill the impersonator, thereby engendering public sympathy for Hitler. However, Knoxy, because of his total ineptitude, survives the assassi