The Buying Game - The Carry Ons
Steve O'Brien picks the best so you don't see the worst - don't worry, he's with you all the way.
It's easy to sniff haughtily at the Carry On films. The cinematic equivalent of a pie and mash dinner on Blackpool Pleasure Beach, they're a hazy-eyed reminder of when working class culture didn't mean Croydon facelifted, pram-pushers and benefit junkies. As one one writer put it, they reflect a "sense of social cohesion which was really important before an age when individualism became as highly prized as it is now."
They spanned 20 years, from 1958 to 1978 - that's quite a few cultural lifetimes there - going from a world of Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson to the Sex Pistols, from Dixon of Dock Green to The Sweeney. Few film series show the evolution of a changing Britain like the Carry Ons.
Not that the men behind them would have ever intended anything as highfalutin as that. Producer, Peter Rogers, and director, Gerald Thomas, were responsible for all 31 Carry On films, including the misconceived one-shot revival, Carry On Columbus, in 1992. These were movies that were produced quickly and cheaply. An average shoot would last six weeks and the average salary for one of the main cast was £5,000 and no residuals. They recycled jokes, sets and actors, but that was why they worked. They were as cosily predictable as a Sunday roast or a missionary lay.
There have been dogged stories of a new Carry On film, Carry On London, for the past few years, but Rogers' death - at the age of 95, two years ago - seems to have finally killed that silly idea. They're precious reminders of a long-gone Britain, and they belong in that time. Word!
CARRY ON SERGEANT 1958
William Hartnell always seemed to be there at the beginning of British cultural institutions. Here, the man who'd five years later become the first Doctor Who, is the titular sergeant in this, the Carry On that kickstarted them all. Based on a play - The Bull Boys by RF Delderfield, Carry On Sergeant has little in common with the lechy, leery, campy, flouncy Carry Ons that came later. Gentle and sentimental, it has Hartnell's typically gruff but untypically warm-hearted, National Service sergeant on his last training session, but desperate to leave the job as a success. Despite initially looking like the worst collection of hypochondriacs, wasters and lotharios, they pull together, in the best movie spirit, to give him the send off he so richly deserves. As a social document of a forgotten-pre-Beatles Britain, it's fascinating.
CARRY ON NURSE 1959
Sergeant proved such an unexpected success that a follow-up was put swiftly into production. Again, scriptwriter Norman Hudis collected together a motley band of characters and had them butting heads with a stiff, entrenched authority figure. Most of the same cast returned, mostly playing the same types as they did in Sergeant. Kenneth Williams is still bookish and supercilious, Terence Longdon is still the strong-jawed romantic lead, Hawtrey, still beautifully odd and giggly and Shirley Eaton is still as blandly blonde. There's little plot to speak of, mostly a collection of comic vignettes, with the cast only coming together at the end, when they drunkenly decide to operate on Kenneth Williams's bunion. The film is still most famous for its final joke, with Matron (Hattie Jacques) pulling out a daffodil from Wilfred Hyde White's bottom. In America, where the film did surprisingly good business, the scene was so famous that theatres started selling plastic daffs to filmgoers. In the UK, the movie was the highest grossing domestic film of 1959. The team would revisit the hospital setting for another three movies - Doctor, Again Doctor and Matron and were planning - in the 1980s - a return with Carry On Again Nurse.
CARRY ON CABBY 1963
Cabby is the one Carry On that wasn't intended to be a Carry On movie until after it was shot. The original title's in the final line, "Call me a cab!" Rogers and Thomas often did Carry Ons in all but name - Watch Your Stern, Twice Round The Daffodils, Please Turn Over, etc, which often starred the core regulars. Here, Sid James stars as cab driver Charlie Hawkins whose moribund relationship with his wife, Peggy (Hattie Jacques) inspires her to set up a rival taxi company, Glam Cabs, staffed exclusively by leggy lovelies, leading to an all-out war between the two firms. There's a tenderly played out love story with the pair and the film exists in a movie world more touched by kitchen sink dramas than the cosy, 50s sentimentality of before. It's easily one of the few Carry Ons with an emotional depth to it, on top of the tit gags. The Daily Telegraph's Simon Heffer said of it, "It's certainly what Germaine Greer would call a proto-feminist film."
CARRY ON SPYING 1964
Carry On Spying hit screens in 1964, just as the third 007 film - and the one that really gave birth to James Bond mania - Goldfinger opened. What timing. Of course, it was inevitable the 007 films would at some point become a Carry On target. Both film series were produced at Pinewood Studios and their respective producers were frequent dining companions. The only friendly threat was Cubby Broccoli asking (or telling) Peter Rogers not to call Charles Hawtrey's character Charlie Bind, Agent 006 1/2. Rogers simply dropped the code number and got away with it. Spying is a gallopingly pacy Bond parody, with great dollops of Le Carre and Chandler in the mix. Kenneth Williams is in ultimate nostril-flaring form as inept agent Desmond Simkins and Barbara Windsor makes her Carry On debut as the juicily monikered Daphne Honeybutt. It's just a shame that such a Bond-aping movie should be made in black in white.
CARRY ON CLEO 1964
It's one of the most lavish looking Carry Ons, but only because most of the sets and costumes were leftovers from 20th Century Fox's $44 million version of Cleopatra the year before. It boasts the series' most famous line, "Infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me!" (pilfered by writer Talbot Rothwell from an uncredited Denis Nordon and Frank Muir, fact junkies) and it's the first time Sid James brings his sex crazed wide boy persona to the series.Amanda Barrie - 30 years away from Coronation Street - makes for a sweet and saucer-eyed Cleopatra, and Charles Hawtrey is a wonderfully lechy sage. The film though was cursed with courtroom controversy. First 20th Century Fox tried to sue them for nicking the poster idea from their Cleopatra (Rogers won the case) and then Marks and Spencer tried to sue for using their name (as Markus and Spencius) and colours (green and gold) until Rogers apologised, saying there was no insult intended.
CARRY ON COWBOY 1965
Usually when the Carry On team did period they was no attempt to "go native" with the accents. Apart from this weirdly authentic Western parody, where they eschew the knowing winks and play it largely for real. Sid James is the Rumpo Kid, a crumple-faced Jack Palance type riding into Stodge City, turning the quiet frontier town into a haven for blaggards and murderers. It was certainly one of the favourite movies of the cast. Sid James thought it was "like going back to the type of parts I used to play." Despite being filmed entirely in Pinewood and the fields of Buckinghamshire, it does manage to convince, mainly because the actors are taking the Americanisms so seriously. Only Charles Hawtrey, as an Indian chief, keeps to his British accent and classic Carry On persona. For everyone else, it was a chance to remind audiences that they were, in fact, actors.
CARRY ON SCREAMING! 1966
Considering their meagre pockey money budgets, Hammer horror films always looked inexplicably sumptuous. And to the Carry On's credit this saucy Hammer parody looks like a bona fide Hammer product, with its lavish sets and rich colour palette. There's a big Sid James hole in the film, but Harry H Corbett - in his only Carry On - makes for a good replacement, even if his Steptoe-isms are never far from the surface. Though the movie's a complete rip-off of the Vincent Price horror The House of Wax, it's still gloriously English with skits on Doctor Who and Z-Cars within its cocktail of genre-isms.
Kenneth Williams puts in a top performance as the ashen-faced Dr Watt, but it's Fenella Fielding who does the scene stealing. With her huskily silken voice and proto Goth look, it's a shame she never did any more in the series. The movie was nearly made without Charles Hawtrey. Hawtrey had had one of his periodic bust ups with Rogers after another vino-splurge, and was overlooked for Screaming. But upon hearing this, critic CHB Williamson pondered in a magazine piece how successful a Hawtrey-less Carry On would be. A panicky Rogers quickly offered Hawtrey a cameo as Dan Dann the lavatory man, and his scenes with Corbett, Peter Butterworth and Jim Dale are among the best in the movie.
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