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Sparrows Can’t Sing (1963)

Charlie (James Booth) returns to the East End after two years at sea to find his house has been demolished and his wife Maggie (Barbara Windsor) has left him for married bus driver Bert (George Sewell).

The East End has changed. When he wanders through one house he used to know, on the first floor Charlie finds two Indians politely cooking something on the carpet, upstairs a lot of Africans who seem to be living in a private farce, and in another room a woman probation officer talking sternly about “forcing an entrance and being drunk on the premises” – who turns out to be speaking to an eight-year-old child.

New flats have gone up everywhere and the squealing girls in their tight skirts and high heels now have packets of frozen food in the back of their prams.

This kitchen sink comedy-drama from the early 1960s was co-written by Stephen Lewis (who went on to fame as “Blakey” from On The Buses) who has a small part in the film. The original play had no central plot and was really just a series of people who revolved around a grandmother.

It says a lot about director Joan Littlewood’s talent as a writer that the screenplay she wrote (with Lewis) has a narrative backbone and yet the film is just as free as the play, but much stronger.

An illegal drinking establishment called the ‘Kentucky Club’ appears in the film. The club was a real place, located at 106A Mile End Road and owned by the Kray twins (who apparently turned up on location during filming and persuaded local Limehouse residents to co-operate with the filming).

Charlie
James Booth
Maggie
Barbara Windsor
Fred
Roy Kinnear
Bridgie
Avis Bunnage
Jack
Brian Murphy
Bert
George Sewell
Nellie
Barbara Ferris
Chunky
Griffith Davies
Georgie
Murray Melvin
Ted
Arthur Mullard
Ted’s Wife
Peggy Ann Clifford
Watchman
Wally Patch
Perce
Bob Grant
Caretaker
Stephen Lewis
Arnold
Victor Spinetti

Director
Joan Littlewood