The Ups and Downs of a Handyman is one of those sex comedies that made up a significant part of the British film industry’s output in the 1970s – imagine Benny Hill with more nudity and you’re in the right ballpark. Made in 1975 and released early in 1976, Handyman is about a young couple who move into an English village (which was, in reality, a pair of Surrey villages, Chiddingfold and Hambledon). The husband, played by Barry Stokes, offers himself as a handyman for hire and finds to his dismay that the local wives want a rather different kind of service from him. Among these clients are several examples of 1970s feminine pulchritude, of varying levels of iconicity…
As ‘the Blonde’, Sue Lloyd:
Playing the newsagent’s daughter, Helli Louise:
As the farmer’s wife, Nita Lorraine:
As a lady who should really have hired a plumber, Jeannie Collings:
In the role of the policeman’s wife, Alexandra Dane:
And as ‘the Redhead’, the non-redhead Valerie Leon:
Despite this fine cast, it isn’t a movie that’s likely to edify anybody, even about the craft of film-making… but it is a movie with six spankings, and that might well be a record for a production that’s not primarily aimed at a fetish market.
The reason for this uncommon amplitude lies with one character: the village Squire, Bullsworthy, played by regular Benny Hill sidekick Bob Todd. Here he is with not quite the right idea:
As is well known, the character was based on Lieutenant Colonel John Brooks, the bowler-hatted lawyer whom the British press dubbed ‘the spanking colonel’ after he sued a Sunday newspaper for saying he was ‘a menace to young girls’,
and who was awarded the smallest possible sum in damages when he won his case in November 1974. It’s the Squire who gets to do all the spanking in the film.
What this means is that most of the spankings play around that interesting borderline where the consensual masquerades as the non-consensual: the spanked women are playing up to the Squire’s fantasy of disciplining naughty girls, so they are voluntarily pretending the spankings are involuntary. What it also means is that – since we aren’t dealing with an oldfashioned squire exercising droit de seigneur over the village wives’ bottoms – only a small group of girls get spanked … not including any of the ladies mentioned so far, you’ll no doubt be disappointed to hear. Two of them have clear reasons for being spanked: one is the Squire’s wife, and he’s a regular client of the other, who is a professional lady. The third girl’s motivation, as we’ll see, is a little less clear.
Before I talk in detail about my favorite, I’m going to introduce all six spankings, juxtaposing (and sometimes contrasting) images from the movie with text from the novelization…
… written by the director himself, John Sealey – a man of relatively little experience as a film director, though he did work as the production manager of the 1970 film version of There’s a Girl in My Soup, in which Peter Sellers threatens to spank Goldie Hawn.
The first sign that we’re in for some fun comes when a group of village wives are discussing the fact that there’s a new maid at the manor. Here she is, looking cute:
Mrs Bullsworthy explains: she was tried for a minor offense by her husband, who is not only the Squire but also the local magistrate; ‘so he sentenced her to a good spanking, put her in my custody for good behavior and said he never wanted to see her up before him again’. But before we chalk up one to the Squire, let’s record with regret that the movie contains no footage of the maid receiving her sentence.
Never mind, because there’s not long to wait before we get to see:
Spanking # 1: Not Such a Scary Shower Scene
The slap of masculine hand on feminine bottom echoes in the shower room, amid the steam and hiss of the water.
The Squire is having his usual morning slap-and-shower with his wife. He is sitting on the stool and Prudence is spread across his lap. She is naked; he is wearing a bowler hat and wellington boots.
He pauses in his spanking and asks, conversationally: ‘What have you got planned for today, my dear?’
‘I’ve got the handyman coming to clean out the swimming pool,’ Prudence replies. The thought makes her buttocks tingle more.
The Squire gives her a last slap. ‘Good, well I must get ready to do a bit more hunting, you know,’ he says. He goes to stand up, and his wife almost falls off his lap. ‘Oh, sorry, my dear. I’m always doing that.’ he gently eases her to her feet.
This becomes a small running gag in the movie, and even more so in the novel, as we shall see…
Olivia Syson plays Mrs Bullsworthy (not Anouska Hempel as is sometimes claimed) and this is her only known acting work. Sad to say, it’s easy to see why… but then, she later told a reporter that she only took the job in order to make money to keep a gigolo!
Of the six spanking scenes, four were also photographed for possible use in publicity material, and this was one of them.
In the event, this was the only spanking photo to be included in the movie’s pressbook (advising exhibitors on how to publicize it), and the film poster is notable for the complete absence of spanking:
The weirdly inept poster for the US release was even less communicative about this recurring element of the film’s appeal…
… whereas the shower scene was illustrated for the benefit of prospective Belgian filmgoers, only with a slight amendment:
Yes, the young, attractive Barry Stokes has taken over spanking duties from the (ahem) less young, less attractive Bob Todd!
Spanking # 2: An Alternative to Fox Hunting
So Bob the Handyman is due to pay Prudence Bullsworthy a professional visit. The job? ‘I want my bottom scrubbed,’ she says. Of course she means the swimming pool. When Bob starts work, she loses no time in telling him that, according to the Squire, his wife ‘could do with a good spanking’. In case you want to judge for yourselves, here is Bob’s wife:
She’s played by Penny Meredith, who is another of the film’s unspanked actresses: the Squire never catches up with her. But one person he does catch is a schoolgirl anti-bloodsports campaigner he found in the bushes during a fox hunt. Naturally he spanked her (another scene we only hear about after the event), but this didn’t teach her the error of her ways: now she attends every hunt meeting and the Squire has dogs specially trained to sniff her out. If this were a more sophisticated film, we might speculate that her motivation is to save the fox by nobly and self-sacrificingly distracting the Squire with a different kind of quarry. As it is, we’ll just observe that this side of the Squire’s character was surely inspired by this 1974 story in the Daily Mail…
… and remember with eager anticipation that the Squire left home that morning to go out hunting…
Bob has something else on his mind during this conversation with Prudence:
‘Don’t you complain?’ he asks.
‘No, only when he stops,’ she replies with a grin.
‘You mean he spanks you as well?’
‘Of course he does. Look.’
Prudence turns around, lifts up her dress, bends over, and pulls down her panties.
In the novel, they’ve been specifically established as ‘very frilly panties’ in the previous scene, when she puts them on after being spanked.
If you notice a minor continuity problem here, you’re right. (It won’t be the last one…) The Squire administered Spanking # 1 left-handed… but that’s the print of a right hand on Prudence’s bottom! Perhaps it’s lucky there’s no credited continuity girl on the film; in view of what we’re going to uncover, we’d have to recommend that she should be spanked!!
But to return to the scene in question:
Bob drops the pole, which slides into the water and sinks. His eyes open wide as he finds himself staring at the cheeks of her bottom. He blinks, not knowing what to do.
‘Doesn’t it hurt?’ he asks her, trying to maintain the pretence that this is perfectly normal conversation.
‘Yes, it has to,’ she says, excitedly moving her buttocks.
‘What?’ he says, incomprehendingly.
‘The more it hurts, the better it is, isnt it?’
What you don’t get in the novel is the intercut footage of the Squire out hunting, during which the schoolgirl intercepts him, provokes him and earns herself a rather ungainly spanking on her bare bottom:
Spanking # 3: A Sex Game of Two Halves
Now we turn our attention to Maisie, whom Bob first encounters when she calls him in to repair her bed, which seems to have been getting a lot of use. The actress originally cast in the role was the goofy comedienne Hilary Pritchard:
… one of whose qualifications for the role may be observed here:
In the event, the role went instead to Gay Soper, whom we have met before in the television sitcom Romany Jones. She did well out of this film: she married the leading man, Barry Stokes!
But in the meantime, as Maisie, she has to reveal to him, as Bob, that she is doing for the local husbands what he has been trying to avoid doing for the wives. In other words, she’s the local prostitute.
Bob’s difficulties arise when, swamped with callouts from desperate housewives, he hires a ‘junior’, played by the 1970s ubiquitous comedy geriatric, Harold Bennett (best known as Young Mr Grace in Are You Being Served). Suddenly the demand for his services dries up and his former lady clients set out to make trouble for him. He goes for a drink and gets into conversation with Maisie, who takes pity on him. The chat continues with Maisie explaining what the husbands were up to while he was servicing the wives. There follows a montage as she explains the sexual tastes of her clients, including the one that interests us:
‘What about the Squire, then? He comes around every other day after he spends the morning dealing with wrongdoers, and makes me dress up as a schoolgirl and smacks my bottom.’
This is played at very high speed with a tinkly music track, creating a ‘larky’ silent movie ambience. What’s most interesting about it is how Gay plays the scene with a contrast between the two ends of her, pointing up the crossover of consensual and non-consensual. Down at her lower half, the focus of her client’s attention, her legs are kicking away furiously as she is spanked, but the upper half tells a very different story:
For this professional woman, a good spanking is all in a day’s work, not a cause for distress or panic; in fact, she’s so relaxed about it all that she’s smoking a cigar whilst being spanked!
Maisie has an idea that will help Bob: she decides to use her influence with the Squire to get him awarded the license to run the local pub. And that means, in short order, it’s time for:
Spanking # 4: Maisie Tops from the Bottom
The Squire guides her into the study with gentle taps on the bottom. He sits down behind his desk, slaps his thighs, and beckons her with his finger.
She walks around his desk, pulls up her skirt, and lies across his lap. He gives a great roar of laughter and begins to smack her bottom.
Maisie thinks: I’ll get this over with first and then talk to him.
This is not quite what was filmed. We don’t see the beginning of the spanking, but when it starts her skirt is down, and is lifted by the Squire in mid-spanking. But one detail that is consistent between the two versions amounts to a major drawback: he is indeed sitting behind a desk, so at first what we mainly see of Maisie is a bottom and legs sticking up over the top.
The dialogue is mainly played in close-ups,
and then they reposition her a bit higher as the Squire resumes.
Also in both novel and movie, this is an interrupted spanking: the local policeman turns up with Bob the Handyman, brought in for summary justice. And this won’t be the last time he comes between the Squire and his spanking pleasure. He knocks on the study door…
‘What’s that?’ Maisie asks.
The Squire pulls her knickers down further. ‘It’s only Knowles.’ He carries on smacking her bottom.
This is the moment Maisie has been waiting for. She raises her head and looks at the Squire over her shoulder.
And with that, she makes her suggestion: Bob should take over the pub.
The Squire stops spanking her. He puts his hand to his mouth and thinks about it, then smiles, and pats her bottom. ‘Handyman? What a good idea. That will keep him occupied.’ He brings his hand down with a resounding whack on Maisie’s bare buttocks.
It hurts, Maisie thinks, but it was worth it.
The knock on the door comes again.
‘I suppose I’d better deal with it,’ the Squire says. He stands up and Maisie falls to the floor. ‘Sorry, my dear. I’m always doing that,’ the Squire says. He helps her to her feet. She pulls her knickers up and he pats her bottom.
She gives a curtsey. ‘Thank you, Squire.’
This was the second spanking to be photographed for publicity, and we have both color and black-and-white shots:
The b/w photo brings out the seat of her panties especially nicely, including details like the lace edge that the movie camera didn’t really catch.
So Maisie’s kind intervention, and her spankable bottom, ensure that Bob gets the pub. But the local women aren’t giving up that easily. They lure him to what they intend will be a poolside orgy, and he… But you don’t really need to know the details, do you? What matters is that, in an overt nod to its comic roots, the movie’s climax is a slapstick chase sequence to music (sounding almost like the Benny Hill theme played backwards), during which many of the characters lose a lot of their clothes. What matters even more is that PC Knowles takes an interest, and ends up interrupting…
Spanking # 5: Yakkity Smacks
In the novel, the constable falls through a hedge, landing at the Squire’s feet. It is not the best moment:
The Squire, wearing his hunting clothes, is spanking the bottom of a girl in school uniform.
On seeing Knowles he leaps to his feet, ejecting the girl from his lap. He raises his hat, then runs away, leaving the dazed Knowles with his face against the bare bottom of the schoolgirl.
Again, this is not quite what happens on screen:
You’ll have noticed that the novel systematically has the Squire administer every spanking on the bare bottom, whereas the majority of the screen spankings are on panties (and so, for me at least, much more appealing). And on screen the Squire doesn’t get up with the girl still on his lap, tumbling her to the ground: she’s knocked off by the collision with the policeman. And the Squire doesn’t then run off straight away.
On paper, Knowles tries to salute the girl (whereas on screen it’s the Squire who is the recipient of his attempted respect) but has to disentangle his police whistle from her garter belt.
Then the girl runs off after the Squire – only on screen it’s vice versa, and she’s headed for…
Spanking # 6: Schoolgirl’s End
The Squire eventually catches up with the schoolgirl and puts her across his knee…
… whereupon, disappointingly, we cut to handyman Bob and his semi-naked pursuers. Also disappointingly, this incident doesn’t make even a fleeting appearance in the novel, in which the schoolgirl disappears from the narrative after a collision with the fleeing Bob, enabling him to be caught by the amorous women. But the spanking does happen, and is documented in photographs taken during the filming…
Olivia Syson watched as this scene was filmed, and later told a reporter: ‘Her behind was very red afterwards. She squealed a lot which means she probably enjoyed it.’
And that’s all there is to it. Didn’t they do well? Now let’s have a look at the old scoreboard. Which one is the winner?
The Ups and Downs of a Spanking Scene
Of these six scenes I have a clear favorite, without which I wouldn’t have devoted this much attention to what is, if we’re being honest, not a very good movie. Surprising as it may seem, my favorite is Spanking # 5.
It’s a real curate’s egg of a spanking, and inevitably you have to take its outstanding features alongside its drawbacks.
UP! Superb OTK positioning. The girl’s fully across his knee and there’s no way she can put her feet on the ground and escape: she’s there for the duration.
DOWN! It lasts less than a second, partly because we come in while the spanking is already taking place, partly because the point of the scene is to show it being interrupted before it’s finished and partly because of the sequence’s stylized ‘Benny Hill’ accelerated movement…
UP! … but at least in that time the Squire manages to get in three smacks…
DOWN! … even though, if you look closely, only one of them actually makes contact with her bottom.
UP! There are none of the telltale signs of collusion between the participants: they are both wearing all of their clothes, and the lay of the girl’s skirt shows that it was raised after the Squire put her across his knee. This is well staged to look like a non-consensual discipline spanking, even though that isn’t what it really is.
DOWN! The spanking is shot through foreground foliage, so we can’t see it as clearly as we might wish.
UP! The spanking is administered on the seat of white flowered panties.
DOWN! She’s wearing oldfashioned black seamed stockings and a white garter belt. Not my taste at all. This is fantasy schoolgirl uniform from the 1940s and 1950s, not the 1970s. And white knee socks are so much sexier.
UP! The girl’s legs are kicking wildly as she is spanked.
DOWN! You can’t see her face. I like a girl to look at the camera as she is spanked, with the wide-eyed, open-mouthed expression that says, in effect, ‘Oh no, I’m being spanked!’ No chance of that here, sadly.
The odd thing is that the last DOWN! may paradoxically have a little UP! to it, albeit perhaps only for me…
But before we get to that, we must look in detail at the way the sequence continues, which is in effect about tracking how the schoolgirl gets from Spanking # 5 to Spanking # 6.
After they both get clear of the interfering cop, the Squire pursues her on horseback,
during which her dress falls off for no very good reason,
and she continues running away in her panties.
She runs past the swimming pool and knocks the policeman in:
She disposes of her blouse, again for no very good reason…
then bobs around on the spot waiting for the Squire to dismount, catch her and administer Spanking # 6:
After that, the continuity is a bit incoherent, but we do get two last glimpses of her, first back in her blouse beside the pool as the policeman tries unsuccessfully to get out…
and then, in the very next shot, standing in a completely different position to watch as the Squire too falls in.
And now she’s suddenly minus not just her blouse but her stockings and garter belt too! But if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have spotted that there’s a wider continuity problem with her underwear throughout the whole sequence.
In some shots she’s wearing a white garter belt and white cotton panties with a floral print, as featured in Spanking # 5 and its aftermath:
But in other shots the garter belt is black and the panties are white lace, as worn for Spanking # 6:
And that means it’s time to consider…
A Case of Identity
The actress credited as the schoolgirl is 19-year-old Ava Cadell:
Here she is:
She was born in Hungary (her real name is Ildiko Eva Csath), and was smuggled out as a baby to escape the Soviet invasion of 1956. She later got herself a doctorate and became a sex pundit on US television and in print.
But in the mid-1970s she was a widely photographed glamor model who was seen, with few if any clothes, on everything from nude magazines to publicity stunts to popular book covers:
There’s absolutely no doubt that Ava is indeed the girl in Spanking # 6. Both ends prove it. The face is hers, and though bottoms have less individual distinctiveness, even Ava’s…
… there is also the fact that she wore the very same pair of panties in a pictorial spread she did for the glamor magazine Mayfair at around the same time as the filming.
But let’s take another look at Spanking # 5, both as seen on screen and (with apologies for a very poor quality picture) as it was staged for the stills photographer:
Spot the difference? In the film itself, the schoolgirl wears her straw boater on the side of her head, and even contrives to look to her right, away from the camera, as the spanking continues. Whereas in the still, the hat is in its natural position on the top of her head. And that small change of headgear position tells us a very great deal.
In the film and television of the 1970s, whenever you see a character deliberately concealing their face, it’s a sure sign that the part has been temporarily taken over by a stunt double. The principle may be attractively illustrated by this scene from the penultimate episode of The Bionic Woman…
… where not showing the stuntwoman’s face is evidently far more important than not showing anything else!
But the Handyman stills photographer on the day in question was less concerned with such matters, which is why there are some pictures showing both the girl’s panties and her face:
And that establishes definitively that the girl in this scene is not Ava Cadell. (Close examination of the footage indicates that she’s also a little longer in the thigh than Ava.)
So why did they engage a stuntwoman? It can’t have been to take a spanking on Ava’s behalf, because we’ve already seen this one has very little actual contact. What makes the scene dangerous is how the spanking ends: the policeman rolls down the bank and collides with the Squire, whereupon the girl is pitched off his lap and falls backwards over the constable.
That’s the stunt – not the spanking that precedes it. And the continuity tangle at the swimming pool also shows that the stuntwoman was used to run along the edge of the pool – a much slighter risk, it is true, but one which again involved contact with the actor playing PC Knowles. And this leaves us with a question:
Who’s That Stunt Girl?
In the 1970s, there were only around 120 professional stunt performers in Britain, and only one in ten of them were women, so there ought to be a chance of identifying this one. We have to proceed with caution, not only because face recognition is fraught with uncertainty, but also because I may have a dose of wishful thinking stirred in here. But taking all that into account, I think the stuntwoman in question is Sue Crosland.
Here’s another picture showing the girl’s face:
Here’s Sue Crosland in 1973, two years before the movie was made:
And here she is five years afterwards:
Sue began her stunt career on Doctor Who in 1971, playing a golden alien whose face slowly disintegrates. She continued to work until the late 1980s, notably doing the stunts on the films Labyrinth, Aliens and The Princess Bride. She later moved to Spain and founded a charity for neglected dogs. And another of her jobs, again in Doctor Who, was to be the stunt double for the late, great, much-loved and much-missed Elisabeth Sladen.
The adorable Lis herself was busy making Doctor Who throughout 1975 – far too busy to appear in a dubious sex comedy even if it were a job she’d ever have considered taking (and no, I really don’t think she would). But Sue Crosland was, in a sense, another performer who embodied her Doctor Who character, Sarah Jane Smith. What that means is that, if I’m right about the identity of the stuntwoman in this scene, The Ups and Downs of a Handyman is, by a couple of degrees of separation, probably the closest I shall ever come to seeing Sarah Jane get spanked.
And that’s why, in spite of everything, this cheap, cheesy movie will forever have a special place in my heart.