Work Is a Four-Letter Word

Work Is a Four-Letter Word

Film poster
Directed by Peter Hall
Produced by Thomas Clyde
Written by Henry Livings (original play)
Jeremy Brooks (screenplay)
Starring David Warner
Cilla Black
Zia Mohyeddin
David Waller
Elizabeth Spriggs
Alan Howard
Music by Guy Woolfenden, Cilla Black, Delia Derbyshire[1]
Cinematography Gilbert Taylor
Edited by Jack Harris
Cavalcade Films
Distributed by Universal Pictures (USA)
Release dates
7 June 1968 (London), 25 September 1968 (USA)
Running time
93 min
Country UK
Language English
Budget $800,000[2]

Work Is a Four-Letter Word (also known as Work Is a 4-Letter Word) is a 1968 British satirical comedy film starring David Warner and Cilla Black, in her only acting role in a cinematic film. The film, which directed by Peter Hall, was not well received by critics even though it was based on the award-winning play Eh?. It also marked the acting debut of Elizabeth Spriggs.


Everyone is employed by the ultra-modern DICE Corporation but Valentine Brose (Warner) would rather stay at home to tend his psychedelic mushrooms. However, his bedroom is too small and his fiancee Betty Dorrick (Black) wants him to settle down. Accordingly, Brose seeks a job in DICE's boiler-room, a suitable environment to grow his mushrooms.

The plot describes his attempts to get the job, and the conflicts with middle-management, including the personnel manager, Mrs Murray (Spriggs, in her first film role). Having obtained it, Brose is more interested in his mushrooms than tending the boiler, with unforeseen results including a major power cut. The boiler room contains a computer (for some reason), which towards the end of the film is also breaking down.

Brose eventually marries Betty, but is more interested in having her sweep up the boiler room so he can concentrate on his first love, the mushrooms. Eventually he goes haywire and the film ends with Brose and Betty loading up a pram with mushrooms and escaping.




The screenplay was written by Jeremy Brooks who adapted it the play Eh? by Henry Livings. It premiered in New York City in 16 October 1966. Livings won an Obie Award for Best Play the same year.


David Warner had established a reputation for playing off-beat roles, including the title role in Morgan: A Suitable Case For Treatment (1966) and was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, of which Peter Hall was artistic director until the year of the film's release.

Cilla Black had not previously had a starring role; she had appeared briefly as herself in Ferry Cross The Mersey (1965), a vehicle for Gerry & The Pacemakers.[3] She recorded the theme song for the film, having the same title, which was released as the B side of "Where Is Tomorrow?" in 1968;[4] the single reached number 39 in the UK Charts.[5][6] This would be Black's only starring role in film.[7][8]

Most of the remainder of the cast were members of the Royal Shakespeare Company (Waller, Howard, Church et al.) or stalwarts of British realist drama (Gladwin).


The film was shot on location in Birmingham, England. Interiors were completed at Shepperton Studios near London.


At the time Variety magazine compared the film thematically with Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times but was critical of its "irritating air of improvisation" and described the storyline as "thin", albeit praising some of the off-beat situations as "very funny".[9]

Leslie Halliwell, in his Film Guide, was even more scathing, describing it pithily as a "weakly futuristic industrial fantasy which the author would probably claim to be about lack of communication. Bored audiences might have a similar view".[10]

Cultural References

Johnny Marr has stated in interviews that one of the main impetuses for his leaving The Smiths was Morrisey's insistence on covering the titular theme song to this movie. There is a famous quote published in a 1992 issue of "Record Collector" where Marr disdainfully said "'Work Is A Four Letter Word' I hated. That was the last straw, really. I didn't form a group to perform Cilla Black songs. That was it, really. I made a decision that I was going to get away on holiday. The only place I could think of was L.A. L.A. was the only place I knew where there'd be sunshine, so off I went. I never saw Morrissey again." [11]


  1. "Delia Derbyshire". Retrieved 2009-05-05.
  2. Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p345
  3. Ferry Cross the Mersey at the Internet Movie Database
  4. " : Discography : Singles & EPs". Retrieved 2009-05-05.
  5. Rice, Tim; Paul Gambaccini; Jo Rice (1995). Guinness British Hit Singles. Guinness Superlatives. ISBN 0-85112-633-2.
  6. The song was later covered by The Smiths as a track on the single "Girlfriend in a Coma"
  7. Cilla Black at the Internet Movie Database
  8. "BFI - Film & TV Database - BLACK, Cilla". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2009-05-06.
  9. "Work Is a Four Letter Word Review - Read Variety's Analysis Of The Movie Work Is a Four Letter Word". 1 January 1968. Retrieved 2009-05-05.
  10. Halliwell, Leslie (1997). John Walker, ed. Halliwell's Film & Video Guide. Harper Collins. p. 835. ISBN 0-00-638779-9.
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