A poster with positive responses from the popular press titles. The upper still shows Liz Fraser and the lower June Ritchie

Talking Pictures TV have come up with another intriguing film, long out of circulation on TV, but now available on a DVD from Renown, the distributor associated with the TV channel. I remember the title from my childhood when the exhortation “Live Now, Pay Later” became notorious as a both an ode to the new consumerism and a condemnation of the misery it caused. In 1962 there was nothing new about buying ‘on tick’ and the ‘tally-man’ was a regular visitor to many working-class homes, but in the early 1960s there seemed to be a surge in ‘hire purchase’ offers on a range of products ranging from cars to white goods and TVs, radiograms etc. The film is set not in traditional working-class areas but in leafy suburbia and new-build housing estates.

Albert’s rather dim sidekick waits as Albert conducts his business in the houses he visits

At the centre of the narrative is Albert Argyle (Ian Hendry), the early 60s version of a common type from the 1940s to the 1970s and beyond as the spiv, the wide boy, the conman. The fast-talking character who can get you anything you need for a price. He’ll sell you anything but he rarely buys anything himself preferring to take out credit on a car or a flat and then never pay the next instalment, but keep well out of the way of the bailiffs. Albert also plays fast and loose with his girlfriends and with any bored ‘housewives’ he finds on his rounds. The film is resolutely sexist but the talented female actors on view also create recognisable women of the period. Shot in black & white and on location in Wealdstone and Luton, the film is immediately recognisable as linked to the later years of the British New Wave, though it rarely appears in lists of New Wave films. That’s partly because it is shot in the South East, not based on a ‘gritty’ northern novel and not made by one of the more distinguished New Wave filmmakers. But the link is strong through June Ritchie, the second lead, who had her first film role as Ingrid in A Kind of Loving (1962), one of the best-known of the New Wave titles. Ritchie, a Lancashire lass from Blackpool was only 20 (IMDb have the wrong bio for her) and RADA trained. She seemed to be on the road to a stellar film career, but by the end of the 1960s she had moved into stage and TV work after she started a family. In 1964 she was paired up again with Ian Hendry in This is My Street. This was a more recognisably working-class social realist drama set in Inner London (filmed in Battersea – before the 1980s ‘gentrification’).

Albert (Ian Hendry) with Marjorie Mason (Nyree Dawn Porter), one of his middle-class ‘customers’

The main plotline of the narrative of Live Now – Pay Later involves three male characters. Albert works for Callendar (John Gregson), a former tally-man who has set up his own business and who dreams of building his own skyscraper store. His adversary, who owns a plot of land on which Callendar would build his skyscraper is the estate agent Corby (Geoffrey Keen) whose wife  is deeply in debt to various credit agencies in her attempt to aid her husband’s political ambitions. Joyce Corby (Liz Fraser) is a former beauty queen and one of Albert’s conquests. He seems to be more of a friend than a long-term lover, but he is still prepared to use her her situation to benefit himself. This casting is interesting in that while Ian Hendry may be playing to one of his familiar types, Gregson and Keen are usually upright citizens and Liz Fraser is usually a sharp and sassy, sexually confident character (e.g. in the Carry On films). The other major character is Grace (Jeanette Sterke), the only stable and sensible character. One of Albert’s early conquests, she had his son but managed to find a loving husband in Fred (Peter Butterworth, who also later became a Carry On series regular) and had three more children.

A ‘tasteful’ scene between Albert and Treasure (June Ritchie)

Albert’s aim seems simply to be happy in becoming the most successful salesman, but he does attempt to win back Treasure (June Ritchie) after losing/abandoning her around the time their daughter was born. To be honest, there isn’t very much plot, more a series of sketches which does include a tragic episode and also an absurdist quasi-musical sequence. The action is always entertaining but it doesn’t come together in a totally satisfactory way. The film’s director Jay Lewis had a background in documentary and training films (forming Verity Films with Sydney Box in 1940) and he died young after directing a handful of features.  Live Now – Pay Later was an independent production but it attracted major talents such as DoP Jack Hildyard and music composer Ron Grainer. The talent behind the script was Jack Trevor Story, a prolific novelist and scriptwriter who I remember as a weekly columnist in the Guardian newspaper during the 1970s. It isn’t clear whether Story adapted his own novel or ‘novelised’ his film script, but like John Braine and Room at the Top, he eventually used Albert Argyle as the central character in a series of novels. Story gives the script the genuine feel of the period and it is arguably Lewis who is unable to maintain a coherent approach to the material.

Albert with Grace (Jeanette Sterke) who is the mother of his son

Live Now – Pay Later was certificated as an ‘X’ film on release. In this respect it followed the earlier so-called ‘kitchen sink’/New Wave films that were seen as exposing the realities of working-class life and which the censors found disturbing. I suspect that it is the casual sexual encounters between Albert and his conquests which was the tipping point, although the few shots of undressing and the carefully composed shot of June Ritchie taking a bath are unlikely to have upset anyone. The very idea that adults might enjoy a sex life outside marriage was still seen as shocking in some parts of society and the New Wave films were a suitable response.

Albert and Treasure in a quasi-musical sequence in Callendar’s store

The Monthly Film Bulletin review (December 1962) is surprisingly aware of the film’s strengths and weaknesses, noting the uneven tone which hampers the satirical work of the comedy. However, the reviewer also recognises that the “cheerful unpretentiousness of its social criticism is endearing” and that the dialogue is “sharp and up to the minute”. The review concludes that the film has “both a conscience and a heart” and that “One cannot often say as much”.