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Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.

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Because the film Born Lucky (1932) is on the "Missing, believed lost" list we might never get to see it.

I found a copy of the book that it was based on and thought that the story from that would give us a fair idea what it was about.

As it was a "quota quickie" they wouldn't have done very much work on the script and it is the sort of story that could be turned into a film. They did make it into a musical though so we can play "guess where the songs were" like with The Elusive Pimpernel.

by Oliver Sandys
Pseudonym for Marguerite Florence Barclay, afterwards Evans, aka Marguerite Caradoc Evans
London: Hurts & Blackett (1928)
Source novel for Born Lucky (1932)

Precis of the story by Steve Crook

Mops is an orphan. She is called "Mops" because of her dramatic mop of curly hair. A happy girl, she lives with her guardian "Turnips" in the East End of London. He is named Turnips because he earned a few extra pennies by carving flowers from vegetables and his favourite for this was the turnip.

Turnips works as the limelight man at the local variety hall where Mops does a turn. She is very popular with the crowd and they earned enough to live on. But Mops is pretty and also draws the lecherous attention of the theatre manager. When he tries to force himself upon her she fights him off. Turnips hears and gave the manager a good thumping. For that they both got the sack of course.

With no income they couldn't pay the rent on their small house and were turned out. They take to the road, heading for Kent. Like all East Enders they know that there is seasonal work to be found in the hop fields and orchards of Kent. But it's hard to get there when they have to walk all the way. Too proud to beg they get by on a few crusts and some berries from hedgerows. Turnips tries to sell his "flowers" a few times but has no luck. Things are getting desperate but Mops remains cheerful, always maintaining that something will turn up and that "There's a good time coming!" [a cue for a song if ever I heard one]

While Turnips is trying to sell his flowers, Mops meets another "Gentleman of the road" (aka a tramp) and despite her circumstances he shares the few berries she has with him. This other man is younger than Turnips, quite good looking but his hands don't look like they have done much hard work. He is a bit downhearted but Mops soon cheers him up.

Turnips tries to buy a stale loaf of bread from the baker at the end of the day. The baker demands a penny but Turnips only has a ha'penny. An argument and a fight develops [Turnips should watch that temper] and Turnips is arrested.

Turnips is convicted to "three months hard" (hard labour) by a harsh magistrate that hates all tramps. Mops makes a fuss and is carried from the court.

A sympathetic policeman lets Mops in to see him in the Police cell. Turnips tells Mops that she should go to see a charitable lady he has heard of who runs St. Jude's Training Centre for Destitute Girls and will find Mops a position "in service". Mops is sure she will end up as a lady in waiting at Buckingham Palace.

Lady Chard, widow of Sir Angus Chard the pickle millionaire, is looking for a new kitchen maid and interviews Mops at St. Judes. Lady Chard is put off by Mops unruly curls and good looks (kitchen maids should be plain) but is impressed by her willingness to work hard. Mops just wants to work and work so that she doesn't have time to think about Turnips breaking rocks in prison.

So Mops is employed. As the kitchen maid she is the most junior member of the household staff and has to put up with some bullying from the others, particularly the Cook. But she lets that wash over her like water off a duck's back. She makes some friends amongst the other staff, particularly another maid called Patty. Patty is due to leave soon and already has her next job lined up so doesn't need any references. Because of this she can be cheeky to the Cook and defend Mops. Patty also likes to read romantic novels, particularly those written by Frank Dale.

Amongst the jobs Mops is given is the task of walking her ladyship's small dog every morning. Most people just find it a yapping, snapping nuisance but Mops manages to make friends with it.

One morning, when Mops is alone in the kitchen, having got up before everyone else to light the fires as usual, there is a knock on the door. It is the young tramp they met on the road. Mops gives him something to eat. They chat and Mops says how he only needs one break, like she got at St. Judes, and he'll be back on his feet. But he can't go for a job interview in the tramp's clothes he is wearing. So Mops steals a suit of clothes from one of the guests at the house, Sir Bernard Harriman the theatrical impresario. The young man promises to bring them back that evening and then goes on his way.

We follow him down the road and ... he gets into a smart car and tells the chauffeur to take him home. It turns out he is Frank Dale and was going "undercover" as a tramp to research his next book. As well as writing slushy romantic fiction he also writes social polemics. [There's a touch of the Charles Dickens about him]

Back at Dale's house we meet his fiancée. A beautiful lass, but very materialistic. Dale is thinking about his next book. The fiancée is thinking about how much money he will make from it.

Meanwhile, at Lady Chard's, the servants are talking about the servants ball. They tease Mops because she has nobody to take her. Then Sir Bernard's manservant comes in. Sir Bernard wanted the suit that Mops "borrowed" and will be sacked if it isn't found. Mops is about to confess all when there's a knock on the back door. Yes it's "the young tramp" with the suit - all is saved. He's now quite smartly dressed and tells Mops that he has a good job working for Mr Frank Dale the writer. Mops rushes upstairs to replace the suit but is trapped in Sir Bernard's rooms. She is discovered and confesses all to sir Bernard. He is impressed with her honesty and her appearance and decides not to punish his manservant.

Mops and Frank start "walking out" together in whatever spare time they can find. While they are talking Mops tells him about the ball. He had already been impressed with her generosity the first time they met, even more so the second time. So he asks he if he can escort her to the ball. But Mops has nothing to wear. A parcel arrives from her escort and it's a lovely ball gown. Mops is the belle of the ball and its all a great success. Frank Dale manages to stay incognito even though he has written a play that has been sent to Sir Bernard.

The night after the ball, Mops & Patty go to their bedroom. Patty wants to read her latest romance (by Frank Dale of course). Mops falls asleep only to be woken by Patty's screams. She had fallen asleep and the candle had fallen and set the curtains and Patty's nightdress on fire. Mops does her best to put out the flames, on Patty's nightdress at least. The rest are too much for her and they make their escape raising the alarm. The dog is heard in Lady Chard's room and despite the flames, Mops rushes back in and saves it.

But she's badly burned and is taken to hospital for a few days. When she's on the mend she hears that Patty was burnt too badly and died. The Cook comes to see her and realises what a good girl Mops really is. But Lady Chard needs someone to blame for the fire. Mops won't say it was Patty's fault so takes the full blame herself and is dismissed. [Nasty Lady Chard]

Mops walks down the road to see her friend who works for Frank Dale. When she gets there Frank is talking to Sir Bernard about the new play. The play is about tramps and they are looking for someone to play the main role when Mops knock on the door. All is explained, Frank admits who he really is and they offer Mops the lead role - it was based on her so she'd be perfect.

Through rehearsals and onto the opening night. Mops and the play are a huge success. It'll run and run. Mops is the talk of the town, everybody wants to meet her. She now has lots of money and her own flat and maid. She and Frank are great friends but Mops is aware of the fiancée.

Frank goes abroad for a while. Mops is invited to a party at the London house of Lady Chard. Lady Chard has never seen the play and doesn't know who this new star performer really is, she just wants her at her party. Mops soon manages to put Lady Chard in her place. At the party Mops allows herself to be chatted up by a young rogue knowing well that he is the son of the magistrate that sent Turnips to jail.

The magistrate's son takes Mops for a drive but she manages to fight him off until he proposes marriage. He pretends that the car has broken down and they'll have to stay the night. Mops sends him to a nearby house to see if there's anyone there, switches the petrol back on (she'd seen him switch it off) & drives away. She keeps him at a distance to make him put an announcement of their engagement in the newspaper. His father sees it & is outraged. Sure that "this actress girl" is just a gold-digger he rushes up to town to buy her off. Mops demands a strangely exact amount and then tells the magistrate who she is and her story. The final blow is that she will use the money to buy a house near his and turn it into a hostel for tramps!

Frank comes back from his holidays, the grasping fiancée has married someone else. Frank proposes, Mops accepts, Turnips finishes his spell in jail and they all live happily ever after.

All in all, quite a good story, almost worthy of the great Emeric Pressburger himself. A few good backward references to connect to earlier events. A few moral lessons, a bit of high drama, a nice bit of unselfish behaviour and a happy ending.

I can see why it would appeal to a film-maker :)

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