The screenplay by Sig Herzig, Val Guest, and Elliot Paul, based on a story by director Wesley Ruggles, revolves around comedian Jerry Sanford (Sid Field), who arrives in London believing he has been hired as the star of a major stage production, when in fact he's merely an understudy. Thanks to his daughter Peggy (Petula Clark, already a screen veteran at age fourteen), who sabotages the revue's star Charlie de Haven (Sonnie Hale), he finally gets his big break. The premise allows for a variety of musical numbers and comedy sketches performed by, among others, Kay Kendall in her film debut and Tessie O'Shea.
The critical and financial failure of the extravagant film, Britain's first major Technicolor musical, is part of British film legend. Financed by the Rank Organisation at a time of rationing and shortages of materials in the period immediately after World War II, it was filmed in the shell of "Sound City Shepperton," which had been made available as a film studio after being requisitioned during the war as a factory for aircraft parts. (The studio was later renamed Shepperton Studios and is still used for film production.)
Musical hall performer Field had cheered up wartime London audiences with his hugely successful stage variety shows, including Strike a New Note (1943), Strike it Again (1944), and Piccadilly Hayride (1946), so he seemed a natural for the lead. As he was of the opinion that no British director was capable of making a good musical, he insisted on having an American at the helm, and the task fell to Wesley Ruggles, who produced as well.
Given that Ruggles had no experience with the genre – his best-known films at that point were the Academy Award-winning Western epic Cimarron (1931) and the Mae West comedy I'm No Angel (1933), both more than a decade old – and his Hollywood career was on a downslide, he was an odd choice indeed.
J. Arthur Rank spent large sums of money for American songwriters (Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke), musicians (Ted Heath and his orchestra), and costumes by the legendary designer Orry-Kelly, while at the same time re-equipping the studio from the ground up. He was confident that box-office business was booming at the time and that demand for a flashy musical entertainment would be such that he would make a healthy profit, so his financial controls were slack.
Kay Kendall was promoted as England's answer to Lana Turner. "Nobody had ever heard of me but they called me a star," she later recalled. "I opened bazaars, signed autographs, went to premieres, did everything a star was supposed to do. My photograph was on magazine covers and front pages of newspapers. And all before we'd ever finished the picture."
So much was spent on production that the film needed to perform better than possible just to break even but, dismissed by critics (who described it as "tacky" and "tasteless") and ignored by audiences, it was a legendary flop. In hindsight however, especially for nostalgia fans, many of its kitschy aspects make it fascinating, and film historians consider it an interesting record of the times in which it takes place. Following Britain's victory in the war, it can be seen as a tribute to London and its residents, and as a celebration of popular Cockney culture, especially its music hall traditions.
It should also be pointed out that according to trade papers, the film was a "notable box office attraction" at British cinemas in 1946.
Kay Kendall said after the film's release there were "no more bazaars to open, no more premieres, no more autographs." However her career later recovered and she became a major star of British films.
Songs in London Town include "You Can't Keep a Good Dreamer Down", "The 'Ampstead Way" (most definitely inspired by "The Lambeth Walk" from the earlier stage production Me and My Girl), "Any Way the Wind Blows", a medley of Cockney songs ("Knock 'em in the Old Kent Road"/"Any Old Iron"/"Follow the Van"), "Don't Dilly Dally on the Way" (sung by Charles Collins), and "My Heart Goes Crazy," which was the title under which an abridged U.S. version of the film was released by United Artists in 1953.
Oddly Clark, who had started her career singing for the troops on the BBC, performed in none of the film's musical numbers. (She is in fact seen singing in "Any Way the Wind Blows".) In September 2006, the film's soundtrack - plus bonus tracks including four early studio recordings by Clark - was released on CD by Sepia Records. It is true to note that this film massively increased Clark's standing as so many reviewers who slammed the film praised the performance of the little girl who outshone her co-stars.
The original two-hour 12 minute version, which never was released commercially, is now available for viewing at the archives at the BFI Southbank
In September 2011 the film is to be released in its full length version by Odeon Entertainment, digitally remastered,and for the first time to be commercially available. Clark has repeatedly been asked about the film and has always been very positive in her comments about Sid Field. In June 2011 she wrote a short piece of praise in relation to Kay Kendall, this item is now displayed at the Kay Kendall Museum in Withernsea, East Yorkshire. This release follows an internet campaign to get the film restored and issued by Clark's fans. In her note she mentions that she was 11 years old and that Kendall was 18 and that it was Kendall's début but Clark herself was a veteran of four films by this time.