This Christmas on ITV 1…
It’s the same every year. Or it was the same every year until the ennui stopped me checking whether it was the same every year.
But there’s no way that coach isn’t still hanging over the edge of that cliff. There’s no way Michael Caine isn’t still telling his gang he has another idea. And those gold bars? They’re still creeping millimetre by millimetre towards the open doors and the drop.
Oh, the drop.
All these years on, and I’m still thinking about the drop.
This Christmas on ITV 1…
It’s the same every year. James Bond in prime time. Still stuck largely in the Roger Moore era because it would be too much to ask for a Daniel Craig or few. James Bond, then a Christmas special with Z-list celebrities before your treat for getting to the end of the night. The end of an entire day spent in front of the telly. There would have been no church for us; not least because they wouldn’t have let us in for fear of lightning strike. So, yeah, as your treat for surviving a whole day of repeats, you might get a classic movie straight out of my dad’s VHS collection (the tapes that could be safely broadcast without prosecution). The Taking of Pelham 123. The Producers. The Italian Job. One of those, perhaps.
For me, it doesn’t matter what repeated-into-the-ground movie they’re showing this year, it’s always The Italian Job in that 10pm to midnight slot. It can’t be anything but The Italian Job.
There are so many memorable moments in that movie. The original, I mean. The gathering of the team, from Caine to Coward and from Coward to Hill – Noel Coward with Benny chuffing Hill! In the same movie, for heaven’s sake. Then the gang rehearsing their heist. “You only had to blow the bloody doors off!” The business with the computers and the traffic lights and the Minis on the dam and the Minis in the square and the Minis on the stairs and the…
I haven’t seen it in years now, but I can quote you whole scenes. The one that particularly sticks in the mind, because it would, is Benny Hill with the 1960s computers with their comically huge tape spools. He’s messing with the city’s traffic lights to allow the crooks a clean escape from the scene of the crime. So they’ll get at least as far as the coach that will take them across the border (that’s right, isn’t it?) Leading to audience elation that they’re going to get away with it.
And then they turn that mountain pass corner too fast.
And there’s the drop.
Anyone who’s seen the film will tell you about the ending. Apparently, it was one of the reasons it wasn’t the box office smash it was supposed to be. People hate an open ending. They want to know whether those gold bars are going to fall. They want to know if Michael Caine and the rest are going to follow swiftly afterwards.
And I can understand it.
This year and every year, in my head, without any need to check the schedules, it is always The Italian Job.
It started whilst Benny Hill was messing with the traffic computer. That’s when the cause – though, as kids, we hardly knew it – of our every year Christmas TV-bound existence determined that she needed, finally, to move from the sofa. After a full Christmas dinner (cooked by the kids, natch) and that half tin of Quality Street and those many, many cans of finest cider that could be bought reduced from the local corner shop (still open on Christmas Day, natch), she determined that she needed to move. Or, to put it another way, something within her determined that it needed to move.
And all this started about the time Benny was playing with the traffic lights.
And she had form.
We’d had several Christmases to learn the routine by then. I was – what? – twelve, perhaps?
I knew where this was going.
I knew where she was going.
She wasn’t going where she thought she was going.
Every year, when I think of The Italian Job, I think of the drop.
I think of the pants round the ankles on the landing and the insistence that she was – thank you very much – about to do her business where she was supposed to be doing her business.
And there was I, edging forward like Caine in the coach. Telling my siblings that, yeah, I had another plan.
The gold did not have to drop.
And, like Michael Caine and co, part of me is still there.
This Christmas on ITV 1. And every Christmas. In my head.
Mike Hickman (@MikeHicWriter) is a writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including 2018’s “Not So Funny Now” about Groucho Marx and Erin Fleming. He has recently been published in EllipsisZine, Dwelling Literary, Bandit Fiction, Nymphs, Flash Fiction Magazine, Brown Bag, and Red Fez. His co-written, completed six-part BBC radio sit com remains frustratingly as unproduced as it was the last time he updated this biography. He is now contemplating setting it to music. Or setting the scripts on fire. One or other. Maybe both.