The Bed Sitting Room has been promoted to the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made. This post is closed for commenting. Please make all comments on the official Certified Weird entry.


FEATURING: , Michael Hordern, Rita Tushingham, Richard Warwick, Arthur Lowe, , Marty Feldman, Spike Milligan, Dudley Moore,

PLOT: After the Bomb falls, a family who lives on a still-functioning subway train travels to the surface in search of a nurse for their pregnant daughter.

Still from The Bed Sitting Room (1969)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: This absurd anxiety nightmare about the Bomb could only have come out of the Swinging Sixties; it’s one of the weirder relics of an era when filmmakers felt it was their patriotic duty to laugh in the face of the imminent apocalypse.

COMMENTS: The Bed Sitting Room began its life as a one-act play, written by comedian Spike Milligan and John Antrobus in 1962, the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis. At that time, at the height of Cold War paranoia, nuked-up powers were playing games of chicken with each other and worldwide nuclear annihilation seemed inevitable. In the average person’s eyes the world and its leaders had gone insane, and who better to depict the inevitable aftermath of our self-destructive impulses than Milligan and his “Goon Show” squad, under the cheerfully absurd direction of A Hard Days Night‘s Richard Lester? The results are a ridiculous apocalypse the likes of which has never been depicted on screen before. Looking like it was shot in a Welsh garbage dump, with heaping mountains of discarded boots and crockery and the police flying through the sky in a burnt-out VW bug attached to a balloon, the movie anticipates the junkyard visuals of post-apocalyptic films to follow. Tonally, however, Bed Sitting Room is miles away from the cutthroat scavenger worlds of Mad Max or A Boy and His Dog; it’s Theater of the Absurd performed by vaudevillians. The jokes are almost feather-light, contrasting with the inherent horror of the situation. “I’m not eating,” complains a patient. When the doctor asks why, he answers matter-of-factly, “can’t get the stuff.” In another scene a lonely recluse asks “would you do for me what my first wife did?” to a nervous middle aged woman who’s fallen into his fallout shelter. Having no choice, she reluctantly agrees, and he hands her pots, pans and teacups to throw at him as he dodges them shouting “she means nothing to me!” The movie is full of corny one-liners that are uncomfortably ludicrous coming from refugees of a collapsed civilization; other aspects of post-nuke England are even weirder. Radiation causes some survivors to spontaneously mutate into cupboards, parrots or (of course) bed sitting rooms. The holocaust even caused bug-eyed comic Marty Feldman to dress in nurse drag. Sometimes it seems like the only thing that survived the “nuclear misunderstanding” intact were civil servants and the British class structure. A man on a bicycle generates the electricity that keeps the Underground running, officials roam the wasteland personally delivering death certificates to survivors, and the BBC keeps broadcasting by sending a correspondent around to give live reports from inside of the empty shells of television sets. The Queen may have burnt up into an irradiated husk and blown away, but the survivors have switched allegiances to a new symbolic head of state; they patriotically sing “God save Mrs. Ethel Shroake of 393A High Street, Leytonstone,” in honor of the woman who’s next in line for the throne after 40 million citizens were incinerated. A father still prefers to marry his daughter to a man of breeding, rather than the father of her child; maybe he can get a political appointment out of the connection… Even after Armageddon, the British keep plugging on as they always have. After the bomb drops Australians might grow mohawks and go racing about the Outback in muscle cars fighting over oil and water, but in the United Kingdom, there are proper channels to be followed; you may be starving for food and supplies but you’ll still think twice about breaking into a locked room (“that’s public property!”) There’s (almost literally) a gag a minute, and although many wind up as duds, enough get through to ignite your sense of black humor. In the end it’s all more silly than satirical, but there is some affectionate lampooning of British propriety. In a 1988 interview Spike Milligan said his purpose in the play was to show that after the Bomb, “the moment the cloud had dispersed and sufficient people had died, the survivors would set up all over again and have Barclays Bank, Barclay cards, garages, hates, cinemas and all… just go right back to square one. I think man has no option but to continue his own stupidity.” That is a sentiment we suspect that Mrs. Ethel Shroake of 393A High Street, Leytonstone would fully endorse.

The Bed Sitting Room (and the work of Lester, Milligan and their cronies in general) was an obvious influence on Monty Python (whose television series debuted on the BBC the very same year). Unlike the Pythons, however, this cataclysmic farce was a big flop with audiences, and Lester did not work again for four years. Promoters acknowledged the film’s “specialized” appeal with the tagline “we’ve got a BOMB* on our hands” and the footnote (“*BOMB – a motion picture so brilliantly funny it goes over most people’s heads”). The film is rarely screened and has never been released on DVD in Region 1, but at the time of this writing it is available on Netflix’s instant streaming service (which may be the wave of the future for obscure films).


“A field day for funny collection of Brits. Weird picture originated in a well-known weird place, the mind of ‘Goon Show’ alumnus Spike Milligan… the players manage to keep the laughs flying thick and fast.”–TV Guide

(This movie was nominated for review by “Sandra.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)


  1. Oh, I think this one has to be on the list! Firstly, it takes the exact opposite approach to the usual “Lord of the Flies” trope, and shows polite. middle-class British people whose primary reaction to a devastating nuclear holocaust is embarrassment – at one point nuclear war is referred to as “the naughty thing” as if it was masturbation or something! The only comparable film I can think of is Delicatessen, which I’m pretty sure wouldn’t have existed without this.

    But more significantly, it’s a sincere attempt by a gifted director to film a work by somebody who was a personal friend of his, but which simply wasn’t truly filmable. You can see where the problem lies by reading the paperback of the stage-play (which is still easily obtainable because absolutely everything Spike Milligan ever wrote is). It’s about as funny as a sick baby (and does in fact geature a sick baby), Yet it ran for years. How so? Because Spike Milligan, a superb clown but a very poor conventional actor, wrote it as a framework around which he could improvise.

    Which works just fine in a fairly small theatre, but not so well if you’re trying to make a movie. However, Spike’s character in the stage-play (Captain Pontius Kak), despite being the main character, was oddly incidental to the plot, because if Spike was going to change his lines every night but everyone else wasn’t, he had to be. So, given Spike’s proven inability to carry a starring role in a film, Richard Lester was able to reduce his part to a series of almost wordless cameos while retaining the central story.

    The trouble is, what he ended up with was a film which, because it was written by and around one man who was barely in it, is extremely episodic and lacks a real center – almost exactly the same thing happened to “Sir Henry at Rawlinson End” (another potential LIst candidate, by the way), which should have starred Vivian Stanshall, only he was such a severe alcoholic that he couldn’t be trusted to make a major contribution to the movie.

    Also, just about every scene in this movie, with the exception of some early scenes in the London Underground and a handful of others, looks suspiciously like a stage-play being performed for some unexplained reason in a quarry. Which is exactly what it was.

    That being said, Richard Lester is no slouch when it comes to directing, even if his material is somewhat odd. And the cast is practically a Who’s Who of British 1970s comedy and character actors. The utter strangeness never lets up – in my opinion, one of the best jokes has to be Lord Fortnum, having learned that atomic radiation has doomed him to turn into a bedsitting room, stumbling around an utterly featureless wasteland in a desperate attempt to find a suitably upper-class district of what used to be London.

    The peculiar shift of tone at the very end, as if Spike wrote the whole thing on autopilot and then caught on at the last minute that actually thermonuclear war wasn’t funny, would be very jarring if Richard Lester wasn’t smart enough to downplay it so much that you barely notice it, but all the same, this is one of the most oddly-structured movies ever. It’s interesting to note that the one time Spike Milligan was ever given complete artistic control over a movie, the result was “The Great MacGonagall”, an utter failure which was basically a poorly-filmed semi-improvised stage play with a jarring shift of tone at the end – exactly what this film would have been if Richard Lester hadn’t known what he was doing. (And since it’s an incredibly strange film featuring a scene where Peter Sellers in drag as Queen Victoria shows a soft-core porn slide-show and is married to Hitler, maybe it should be on the LIst as well, if only because of the “why did this ever get made?” factor.)

    So ultimately this is an ambitious failure with a great deal of quirky charm which isn’t quite like any other film you’ll ever see. Definitely it belongs on the List! By the way, in Region 2, it was recent;y re-released in a digitally cleaned-up version, and I think you can now get it in stunning Blu-Ray. Altogether now: “God save Mrs. Ethel Shroake…”

  2. This film has some of the most beautiful apocalyptic imagery ever lensed. Intensely imaginative in every way. And, oh, of course very weird. I’d say any film that posits people who stop moving will turn into furniture deserves to be on the list.

  3. I was mesmerized by this film when I stumbled across it on public television decades ago. It was beautiful and hilarious and supremely strange.

    I would think its inclusion on the list of official weird was inevitable.

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