Expresso Bongo (film)

Expresso Bongo is a 1959 British drama musical film directed by Val Guest, shot in uncredited black & white Dyaliscope and starring Laurence Harvey, Cliff Richard, and Yolande Donlan. It is adapted from the stage musical of the same name, which was first produced on the stage at the Saville Theatre, London, on 23 April 1958.

Expresso Bongo
Expresso Bongo FilmPoster.jpeg
Directed byVal Guest
Written byWolf Mankowitz
Julian More (play)
Produced byJon Penington
StarringLaurence Harvey
Cliff Richard
Sylvia Syms
Yolande Donlan
Eric Pohlmann
Hermione Baddeley
Gilbert Harding
CinematographyJohn Wilcox
Edited byBill Lenny
Music byRobert Farnon
Distributed byBritish Lion Films
Release date
  • 11 December 1959 (1959-12-11)
Running time
111 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

In the film, Cliff Richard and the Shadows made their second screen appearance in a film released during 1959, the first being the much darker Serious Charge. The later film was made at Shepperton Studios, near London, with certain scenes shot on location in London's Soho district.


Laurence Harvey plays sleazy hustler Johnny Jackson, who is always on the lookout for fresh talent to exploit, while managing his hectic life with his stripper girlfriend, Maisie King (Sylvia Syms). Maisie is looking to find a better life in singing.

Jackson discovers a teenage singer named Bert Rudge, played by Cliff Richard, in an espresso coffee shop and sets about sending him along the rocky road to fame. He changes his name to Bongo Herbert and soon gets him a record deal and a relationship with an ageing American singing sensation Dixie (Yolande Donlan).

Johnny gets a meeting with Mr Mayer of Garrick Records and gets Maisie to phone him there pretending to be HMV records, this prompts Mr Mayer into giving Bongo a contract.

However, Bongo soon realises that his 50/50 contract, which he naively agreed with Johnny, is not as great as he thought it was, and breaks from Johnny's contract with help from international star Dixie Collins (because Bongo is still legally a minor).


Director Val Guest engaged Kenneth MacMillan to choreograph the strip-club dancers who appear in the film. Struggling at Shepperton Studios to get them to dance and sing to playback at the same time, MacMillan complained, "It's the simplest routine. They may have looks, legs and tits, but they have no co-ordination."[citation needed]

At first, Laurence Harvey was undecided on the kind of accent he would give his character, so Guest told him he was 'part Soho, part Jewish, and part middle-class' and that it might be an idea to model him on the writer Wolf Mankowitz. Harvey arranged a couple of lunches with the unsuspecting Mankowitz to study the writer at close hand, so the character Johnny Jackson in the film sounds something like the writer of the film.[1] Harvey's character sports a melange of accents including his own South African. Wolf Mankowitz appears in the film's opening credit sequence, wearing a sandwich-board bearing his writer credit.


Soundtrack albumEdit

The music for the 1959 film was produced by Norrie Paramor. With the exception of one song, it was entirely different from the music that was used in the 1958 musical. The music and the plot were rewritten to downplay the satire and showcase Richard and his band. In the best ironic traditions of Tin Pan Alley, a satire became a tribute. Only The Shrine on the Second Floor — a song that was intended to drive a sharpened stake into the heart of all sentimental ballads about mother – made it into the movie, but Richard sang it straight.

Track No. Title Composer(s) Lyricist(s) Performance
"Nausea" David Henneker and Monty Norman Julian More and Wolf Mankowitz From original stage show
"The Shrine on the Second Floor" Cliff Richard
"I've Never Had It So Good" From original stage show
"A Voice in the Wilderness" Norrie Paramor Bunny Lewis Cliff Richard
"Loch Lomond" Uncredited (Traditional) Uncredited (Traditional) Arranged by Robert Farnon / Performed by the chorus girls
"You Can Look at the Goods but Don't Touch" Robert Farnon Val Guest Sylvia Syms and the chorus girls
"Bongo Blues" (Instrumental) Norrie Paramor N/A Performed by Hank B. Marvin, Bruce Welch, Jet Harris, Tony Meehan and Cliff Richard
"The Irish Washerwoman" Traditional Traditional Arranged by Robert Farnon
"Love" Norrie Paramor Bunny Lewis Cliff Richard
"Worry Go Lucky Me" Robert Farnon Val Guest
"Nothing Is For Nothing" David Henneker and Monty Norman Julian More and Wolf Mankowitz
"You Can't Fool You" Robert Farnon Paddy Roberts

Soundtrack EPEdit


According to Val Guest the film made "a lot of money and got us a lot of awards".[2] Kine Weekly called it a "money maker" at the British box office in 1960.[3]

In a review for Radio Times, David Parkinson said that as well as being a fascinating snapshot of the era the film was also "one of the best musicals ever produced in this country." Laurence Harvey was "perfectly cast" as the talent agent and the script by Wolf Mankowitz was said to give the film an authentic quality. It was given a 4/5 rating.[4]


  1. ^ Val Guest, So You Want to Be in Pictures, p. 135
  2. ^ Tom Weaver, "Val Guest", Double Feature Creature Attack: A Monster Merger of Two More Volumes of Classic Interviews McFarland, 2003 p 114
  3. ^ Billings, Josh (15 December 1960). "It's Britain 1, 2, 3 again in the 1960 box office stakes". Kine Weekly. p. 9.
  4. ^ "Expresso Bongo (1959)".

External linksEdit