Knack, The….And How To Get It (1965): Richard Lester’s Tale of Swinging London, Starring Rita Tushingham, Ray Brooks, Michael Crawford (Revisiting Cannes Film Fest)

Blast from the Past

Richard Lester directed the British zeitgeist comedy, The Knack…and How to Get it, starring Rita Tushingham, Ray Brooks, Michael Crawford, and Donal Donnelly.

The Knack …and How to Get It
The Knack …and How to Get It film poster.jpg

Theatrical poster

Charles Wood’s screenplay is based on a popular play of the same name by Ann Jellicoe.

The film premiered in-competition at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme d’Or and the Technical Grand Prize.

At the 19th British Academy Film Awards, The Knack was nominated in six categories, including BAFTA Award for Best Film and Outstanding British Film.

Colin, a nervous, insecure schoolteacher in London, observes rather than participates in the sexual revolution of the 1960s. He has little personal sexual experience and wishes to gain “the knack,” namely, how to seduce successfully desirable women.

To that extent, he turns to a friend, a confident, womanizing drummer, Tolen. Tolen gives him unhelpful advice to consume more protein and use intuition, acknowledging intuition is not something that can be learned, while advocating the domination of women. He then suggests that Colin should move into his home, where he and another friend “share” women.

The third mate Tom is obsessed with painting everything white… including the windowpanes. Due to the blocked door Tolen brings his girls in through the window.

Colin swaps his single bed for fancy old double wrought iron bed which he finds in a scrapyard, where he meets Nancy. Nancy is an inexperienced and shy young woman, from out of town, searching for the YWCA. She stops by a clothing store and is won over by the clerk’s flattery, until she overhears him repeating the same words to every female customer.

The three then take the bed on a complex and zany journey back to the house. This includes parking it at a parking meter, moving it on a car transporter and carrying it down the steps of the Royal Albert Hall.

In public, Tolen sexually assaults Nancy, who at first is silent but then faints. When she wakes up, she claims she was raped.

Tolen, Colin and friends are unable to restrain her from repeating the allegations–or puncturing the tires of Tolen’s motorcycle. Hysterical, she runs back to the residence, where she throws Tolen’s records out of the window and strips naked.

The men become convinced her rape allegations reflect rape fantasy and urge Tolen to have sex with her. When Nancy emerges from the room, she instead expresses more attraction to Colin, and he returns the interest.

In the end, the two begin living together.

Emblematic of the Swinging London cultural phenom, The Kanck is delightfully mobile, with lots of frenziedly running and jumping.

After seeing Ann Jellicoe’s play The Knack, the producers offered the position of director to Lindsay Anderson, who refused. Having worked with The Beatles on A Hard Day’s Night, Lester was then offered and agreed to take the position.

Lester made major changes to the play, adding his own touch through direct address, oddly-edited sequences, humorous subtitles, and a Greek chorus of disapproving members of “the older generation.”

Filming took place in a few weeks in November and early December 1964, and Lester employed television advertising techniques.

Talking about the film in the 1980s, actor Ray Brooks said:
He’s a very visual man…They reckon that you could take any frame from Help, The Knack, and A Hard Day’s Night and you could put it on the cover of Time/Life. Everything was so beautifully shot.”

Lester himself makes a brief cameo as an annoyed bystander. John Barry contributed the jazzy score, which features a memorable organ solo by Alan Haven.

Jane Birkin, Charlotte Rampling, and Jacqueline Bisset all made their first cinematic appearances in the film as extras, together with Top of the Pops disc girl Samantha Juste.

Michael Crawford as Colin
Rita Tushingham as Nancy Jones
Ray Brooks as Tolen
Donal Donnelly as Tom
William Dexter as Dress Shop Owner
Charles Dyer as Man in Photo Booth
Margot Thomas as Female Teacher
John Bluthal as Angry Father
Helen Lennox as Girl in Photo Booth
Wensley Pithey as Teacher
Edgar Wreford as Man in Phone Booth
Frank Sieman as Surveyor
Bruce Lacey as Surveyor’s Assistant
George Chisholm as Left Luggage Porter
Peter Copley as Picture Owner
Timothy Bateson as Junkyard Owner
Dandy Nichols as Tom’s Landlady
Wanda Ventham as Gym Mistress
Julian Holloway and Kenneth Farrington as Guardsmen
Jane Birkin as Motorbike Girl
Jacqueline Bisset as Sweater Girl
Charlotte Rampling as Water Skier
Lucille Soong as Girl in Sauna


Directed by Richard Lester
Written by Charles Wood
Produced by Oscar Lewenstein
Cinematography David Watkin
Edited by Antony Gibbs
Music by John Barry

Production company: Woodfall Film Productions

Distributed by United Artists Corporation

Release date: June 3, 1965

Running time: 85 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $364,000
Box office $2.5 million (US)