Humble estate agent’s clerk Jimmy Brewster (Alan Bates) is determined to become a gentleman whatever the cost, and asks sleazy ex-public schoolboy Charlie Prince (Denholm Elliott) to teach him social graces.
They go on a whirlwind tour of a university town (“now you can say you’ve been to Cambridge”), and they go to parties and the theatre meeting all manner of interesting people.
Jimmy learns quickly from Charlie and scales the heights to reach the rarefied air of upper-strata society. Backed by limitless self-confidence and new speech patterns, Jimmy steps into the lush pastures of luxury where he arouses the interest of Ann (Millicent Martin), his employer’s daughter.
Scripted by Frederic Raphael, photographed by Nicolas Roeg and directed by Clive Donner, there’s no denying it’s a very funny film but the brushstrokes are so broad that there is no room for the finer detail that would have made it a classic.
Bates is splendid as the working-class wannabe, but Denholm Elliott steals every scene as the indolent aristocrat who tutors him in the delicate art of being a cad.