Peter No one plays Herman, a proud Northerner "remember you're not Britain, you're Manchester", who having failed to get a job in advertising gathers a few of his mates together (the rest of the Herman's Hermits with their character names the same as their own) and tries his chances in the world of dog racing having just inherited a greyhound called Mrs. Brown. Oh and as we all need something to fall back on, Herman and the boys also form a pop band to fund their way to London and its race tracks. Their first gig is an inglorious affair, playing backing group to an old codger singing "my old man's a dustman" in a Manchester pub, which ends up the boys being short changed and a mass punch up in the pub (look out for an uncredited Rita Webb encouraging the men to smash each others faces in). Still they manage to find enough money to go to London leaving behind Herman's Gran and Tulip (an ultra-sweet Sheila White) the girl next door who is secretly in love with Herman. Down South things don't go as planned, they get turned away from a B&B when the owner takes offence to renting a room to a few lads and a 'Mrs. Brown' (clearly thinking the dog is a woman of easy virtue) and bamboozled into renting another room only to quickly realize via alarm bells and men sliding down a pole that they're in a fire station! They have more success with Mrs. Brown on the racetrack, though if you've only seen the pan and scan version of the film-which manages to crop both dog and hare off screen-you have to take the Hermits' word for it. Its at the race track where the group meet another Mrs. Brown (Mona Washbourne) who has a lovely daughter, namely Judy a fashion model who introduces Herman's Hermits to the swinging London scene. "London is for the birds" claimed the film's poster "and the loveliest of birds are flocking to Herman and his Hermits" well not quite, in fact the only character who appears to be getting any is Mrs. Brown. Not the Mona Washbourne character you understand, but the dog, who ends up giving birth to a puppy at which point Herman sings well surely you can guess what.
The worlds first and only pop musical/dog racing crossover,it was a brave soul who pitched this idea to producer Allen Klein (yes, the Allen Klein). It's a cinematic peculiarity in many ways and one that largely eschews any expected dramatic incident. The band never becomes famous and romance wise its boy meets fashion model, boy loses fashion model but ends up with a puppy-as Herman comments "what you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts". There is also a tendency for older members of the cast to steal the spotlight from the pop star leads with standout performances from Stanley Holloway and Lance Percival. Holloway as barrow boy turned self-made-millionaire Mr. George George Brown ("it was my dad's fault he stuttered") and Percival as Sir Percy the tramp with the demeanor of an aristocrat. Playing a role that's Part Dr Who, Part proto-bohemian drop out, Percival achieves the kind of on-screen coolness that leaves the films swinging London set looking like vacant bores. While Percival doesn't get to sing (though he does manage to play the spoons) Holloway joins the boys to belt out 'Lemon and Lime' an ode to barrow boys ("press down the scale and you'll go to jail") and the rest of the elderly cast members for the very touching 'The World is for the Young' in which Holloway reflects on "the passing of an age and all the people that I met". Two songs Graham Gouldman -later of 10cc- has probably forgotten writing. Of the Herman's Hermits only No one and the late Derek Leckenby really register as characters, hardly the most hippest of band to name check their wholesome image must have seemed out of step back then and now seems a virtual parody. Their sole stab at on screen greatness-a psychedelic jam at a club-is worthy of being inter-cut with a bad drug trip sequence but this being a Herman Hermits film is actually inter-cut with Herman searching for his missing dog. Oh well what you lose on the swings, and all that.
Trying to convince people Mrs. Brown You've got a Lovely Daughter is the best British film ever made is likely to be drowned out by laughter, but to give the film its due it's a fun filled, strangely charming guilty pleasure. Who can really resist the spectacle of Herman's Hermits film in which the musical highlight is performed by Stanley Holloway and Mona Washbourne and the script's suggestion that the band only drifted into music to fund dog racing gives pause for thought whether the Hermits' contemporaries had similar career sidelines up their sleeves. Were the Rolling Stones closet jockeys? did The Kinks ever breed pigeons? and what about The Animals? You never know.