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They Forgot to Read the Directions

The 20s elite let their guard down... Amateur antics from media baron Lord Beaverbrook and friends, including HG Wells and Rebecca West.

Home movie 1924 20 mins Silent


This amateur black comedy offers revealing insights into some of Britain's 1920s elite. Shot at the majestic Surrey home of media magnate Lord Beaverbrook, it features a cast and crew of his celebrity friends. The racist and sexist attitudes on display here aren't so surprising coming from Daily Express proprietor Beaverbrook, who would a decade later be a prominent voice for appeasing Hitler. But more curious is the involvement of socialist HG Wells and pioneering feminist Rebecca West - who is credited with the ('ironic'?) script.

In what might seem another sign of the relaxed upper-crust morality of the time, Rebecca West had by this time ended a long-term love affair with Wells and is thought to have also had an affair with Beaverbrook. Rebecca West's calling as a novelist rather than a screenwriter is clear from the often amusing but rather wordy intertitles, and the in-jokes inevitably lose something in translation. One reference that can be cleared up is the use of Yadil to cure the poisoned wives. Yadil Antiseptic Jelly was a 'wonder drug' widely advertised after the post-WWI flu epidemic, but in 1924 a chemist discovered it was basically scented formaldehyde. The film was produced on professional 35mm stock for private screenings in the gardens of Beaverbrook's palatial Cherkley Court home, near Leatherhead.