Sailor friends Tommy (Tommy Trinder) and The Professor (Sonnie Hale) are travelling by tandem all the way to Portsmouth when they spot a damsel in distress by the side of the road. She is Lydia (Diana Decker), a Wren who is fighting off the advances of a disreputable fellow who stopped to give her a lift, but Tommy and The Professor knock him for six. She is very grateful, although the help they give her to go on her way - she is going to Portsmouth too - could have been more comfortable as she balances on the handlebars of the tandem, and when they spot a storm blowing up on this midsummer's evening, they opt to take shelter, not counting on the magical properties of lightning...
No, this was not a sequel to Fiddlers Two, this was a sequel to Sailors Three, but as a violin is only briefly glimpsed you might wonder why the nursery rhyme about Old King Cole might have been invoked. It was a catchy title, one presumes. Along with Time Flies, which starred a different comedian called Tommy (Tommy Handley in that instance), this was a British comedy of 1944 to implement the plot device of time travel, although this was more like Eddie Cantor's Roman Scandals, which is readily admitted in this film during an exchange that points out Eddie had been there recently.
"There" being Ancient Rome, for when Tommy and his pals are struck by lightning as they try to seek refuge at Stonehenge, they are hurled back through the centuries to the era of Emperor Nero (Francis L. Sullivan). First they meet James Robertson Justice as a centurion who is unamused at these upstart Brits (they pretend to be druids once they realise where they are) and splits them up, with Lydia going on one slave ship to Rome and Tommy and The Professor going on another - in a crate, which takes the best part of a year and leaves them with full beards once they arrive at the city that all roads lead to.
Seeing as how the film, which is a musical, begins with Trinder and Hale singing the praises of "Sweet Fanny Adams" you can tell from the beginning that this is not going to be a serious opus, and it does manage to raise a laugh or two considering it was chiefly made to entertain British wartime audiences at home and overseas. Thus there are jokes about rationing where Nero's wife Poppaea (delightful Frances Day) is scolded for having more than five inches of milk in her bath, and Tommy is not afraid to drop in contemporary references to confound the Romans, which can be lucky as the learned Professor sets them both up a soothsayers.
The Professor's working knowledge of Roman history means that the two of them can escape being human sacrifices due to their apparent foretelling of the future. But how can they find Lydia and rescue her from a life of slavery? It so happens that word reaches them of an auction, and Tommy and The Professor head over, giving them both a chance to fall back on that old reliable of British comedy, men dressing up as women. This ends up as Trinder pretending to be Carmen Miranda (!) and saving his friends, but then the problem of returning home arises, not to mention Nero's fondness of throwing people to the lions - will our heroes be next? Played with a mixture of cheeky charm and a sly wink from the cast, and notable for its casting of black singer and actress Elisabeth Welch in a refeshingly non-stereotypical role for its day, if you catch the references then you should have fun with Fiddlers Three. Yes, it's nonsense, but it's nonsense well done.