A Challenge

Here’s a challenge for cinéaste readers of The Deep North: I discovered recently that Burra had a brief episode of working for J. Arthur Rank at Highbury Studios in Islington: ‘Well dearie’, he says, ‘here lies a mere hulk of poor Edward Burra the darling of our crew. As what with designing the death trap & spies parlor in the cellars of Doomesday Grange for Highbury Studios a hacking cough with phlegm on the side & an attack of my old complaint which commenced with a quartern ague lasting half an hour I couldnt keep still for a minute & chattered all the time, I realy am half crazy. I keep getting telegrams from Highbury and go trailing off with a paper bag containing a very dirty cigarette tin containing some frowsy mumbled old tubes of mud & one or two cleaned up brushes & pencils & proceed to put in & take out spiders webs, chandeliers put in archs all in five minutes & straight off, only somebody with no scruples & completely insensitive could ever do it. however I enjoy it very much.’ He expands a bit in a subsequent letter. ‘The film I was doing was a blood curdling 2nd feature called “a peice of cake” or cup of tea buts a kick in the pants to yrs truly, as Corcoran tells us they are notoriously crooked –– very slippery & wont pay unless they are threatened’. Ed was not exactly wordly, but he had his limits; he would not work for people who generated hassle because he hadn’t the energy, and that was the end of his career in films. But somewhere, there is, or was, a J. Arthur Rank ‘B’ movie, possibly called A Piece of Cake, which aired in 1948/9, with at least part of set designs/painting by Ed. I would love to see it. Few people have ever enjoyed bad films more than did Ed; it is somehow fitting that his only involvement with the industry was some species of oceangoing turkey.

17 Responses to “A Challenge”

  1. lampy Says:

    IMDB offers: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038844/fullcredits#writers

    Apart from starring Cyril Fletcher (remember Odd Odes on That’s Life?) it credits Edward Burra with title drawings. The Highbury studios closed years ago, had a brief re-emergence as a theatrical venue, and are now, guess what, luxury appartments.

  2. lampy Says:

    Further information, it’s short, 46 mins and described by the Encyclopedia of British Film as ‘one of the silliest films ever made’. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to have been a rush to bring it out on DVD. BFI is probably your best bet.

  3. Andreas minor Says:

    Here is the full info - found without much ado by typing “burra” into IMDB. Now all you need to do is keep an eye on eBay…


  4. Jon Says:

    It certainly is ‘A Piece of Cake’:


    It’s very unlikely to be commercially available, except on the offchance it’s part of a boxed set of B features, which I think improbable. The BFI’s listing (http://ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/title/46420) is very thin, suggesting that they don’t have it either (otherwise you could go and view it). I’ve enquired on your behalf all the same.

  5. The Man From Maryport Says:

    Never heard of it - but I’d've thought that application to the BFI library might establish whether a copy still exists somewhere . . .

  6. canadian professor Says:

    Get on to

    IMDb - movie database.

    Type in Edward Burra and up will come A Piece of Cake.

  7. canadian professor Says:

    So just Google IMDb

    This is the database on which I found the film of Clemmie, info supplied by, as of 5.30 on the 14th, my son-in-law. Film & screen writer.

  8. Jane Says:

    Not much of a challenge; I am revealed in my idleness. The amount of mess generated by Rank, the 1988 A Piece of Cake, etc. I pursued only so far through Google and since it seemed to be fragmenting, ‘we RANK the nation’s favourite chocolate CAKE …’ ‘J. Arthur Rank, Cockney rhyming slang … (work it out) etc. Not so the Professor of French: undaunted, she emerged triumphant with A Piece of Cake, director John Irwin, 1948. Simultaneously, the Webmeister pursued the British Film Institute, and when I am next in London, I can organise a screening. Oh, I will, I will. As I said in a grateful email, I really think I ought to turn up with a bag of popcorn and some Kia-ora, to get the full flavour of the late 40s filmic experience. Many thanks to both.

  9. Jane Says:

    And also to all the other heroic souls whose comments I subsequently pulled out of the spam file where they were entrapped.

  10. carol Says:

    Oh please, can I come too? Not for the popcorn (loathsome commodity)- packets of Munchies were my fleapit treats- a confectionary never cosumed anywhere else. And hotdogs were countenanced only in the presence of celluloid, by a father whose scorn of processed foodstuffs like sliced bread and fish fingers, was the more telling because he know how to tweak the very machines which sliced and wrapped, extruded and breadcrumbed.

    I’ll bring cake, though.

  11. The Barbadian Latinist Says:

    Does Kia-ora still exist?

  12. canadian professor Says:

    My pace quickens as I head to my local cinema - to the icecream counter, for the kind which comes on a stick and has a chocolate coating. The best is Hagen-Daaz, but even facsimiles will do. A chaste bottle of water to accompany & make the popcorn eaters feel guilty. They can’t see or hear the icecream.

  13. Jane Says:

    I don’t know if Kia-Ora still exists. But an indelible aspect of my childhood cinematic experience is the advertisements — and there was always one for Kia-Ora, which we hardly ever actually *had*. I was assuming, of course, that the BFI would not run to an hot dog salesperson, and that any edible nostalgia items would have to be brought along.

  14. Jane Says:

    The choc-ice is a happy memory for me, but not with respect to films (and I have had the odd one since, if you are in this country, CP, the Magnum is not to be despised, and they have lovely ones in Norway with bits of Dime bar in the chocolate coating) In Ealing when I was little they was a van from Tony Bros. of Acton (Italian ice-cream makers) which tinkled its way about — summer Sunday afternoons, the van coming by, eating choc-ices in the garden. Modest quotidian treats. Tony Bros. made good ones, too, with nice chocolate, and Italian style milk ice-cream. However, if I was going to A Piece of Cake, a choc-ice would be difficult, unless I brought one in a thermos.

  15. canadian professor Says:

    I know the Magnum and it is, at its best, very fine. They sell them at the 8 to 8 in Chilcompton, near the abbey.

    Please give a note on Kia-Ora.

  16. Jane Says:

    In response to the CP and the BL — Wikipedia: Kia-Ora is a concentrated orange soft drink, made by Atlantic Industries and produced in the UK by Coca-Cola Enterprises Ltd and by Chivers in the Republic of Ireland. It takes its name from “kia ora”, a M?ori language greeting which has entered New Zealand English. It means literally “be well/healthy” and is used for both “hello” and “goodbye”. Early advertising used the jingle “We all adore a Kia-Ora”. Later promotions included a song by Caramba called “Fido”, and the slogan “too orangey for crows”; crows are intolerant of citrus fruit.
    ‘Kia-Ora Orange - Ace when sold ready diluted in those square plastic cartons especially in cinemas and the like. Wish you could still buy them. …’ said a reviewer on a Kia-Ora website.

  17. carol Says:

    Maori confirmation from the splendid film ‘Whale Rider’ I saw at the weekend- people were greeting eachother thusly throughout. If I’d only read this thread first, I would have known they weren’t asking for orange squash to start with, but I worked it out in the end.

    What was the brand of orange drink that used to come in cardboard pyramids? The enjoyment of drinking it was always augmented by the triumph of figuring out how to get into it without overall sogginess.

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