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Carry On films

The Carry On films were a long-running series of low-budget British comedy films, directed by Gerald Thomas and produced by Peter Rogers. An energetic mix of parody, farce, slapstick and double entendres, they are seen as classic examples of British humour.

Twenty-nine original films and one compilation film were made between 1958 and 1978 at Pinewood Studios, with an additional film made in 1992. The films relied on a repertoire of comedy actors which changed gradually over the years. The mainstays of the series were Kenneth Williams (26 films), Joan Sims (24), Charles Hawtrey (23), Sid James (19), Kenneth Connor (17), Hattie Jacques (14) and Bernard Bresslaw (14). One of the best-known Carry On stars was Barbara Windsor, although she appeared in only ten of the films. Comedy legend Frankie Howerd is also associated with the Carry Ons, but only appeared in two films (Doctor and Up The Jungle) and the 1969 Christmas TV special.

The films' humour was in the British comic tradition of the music hall and seaside postcards. Many of them parodied more serious films - in the case of Carry On Cleo (1964), the Burton and Taylor film Cleopatra (1963).

The mainstay of Carry On humour was innuendo and the sending-up of British institutions and customs, such as the National Health Service (Nurse, Doctor, Again Doctor, Matron), the monarchy (Henry), the Empire (Up the Khyber) and the trade unions (At Your Convenience) as well as the Hammer horror film (Screaming), camping (Camping), foreigners (Abroad), the seaside (Girls), and caravanning holidays (Behind) among others. Although the films were very often slated by the critics, they were popular.

The series began with Carry On Sergeant (1958), about a group of recruits on National Service, and was sufficiently successful that others followed. A film had appeared the previous year under the title Carry On Admiral; although this was a comedy in a similar vein (with Joan Sims in the cast) it has no connection to the series. There was also an unrelated 1937 film Carry On London, starring future Carry On performer Eric Barker.

The characters and comedy style of the Carry On film series later moved into shows in other media. There was a television series titled Carry On Laughing, and several Christmas specials. There were also three stage shows: Carry On London, Carry On Laughing and Wot a Carry On In Blackpool.

Early films

From 1958 to 1962 the films' screenplays were written by Norman Hudis and mostly shot in black and white. Set in institutions of various types, the bungling protagonists usually fail, then eventually triumph in the face of some adversity.

The phrase "Carry on, Sergeant" was commonly used by a British officer telling a Sergeant or other NCO to continue with his duties, and indeed it was used several times in the first film. It provided the title for the first film, and the template for the series. There was also a colloquial expression "What a carry-on!", meaning "what a fuss!", or "what a load of nonsense!"

The top-grossing film in the UK in 1959, and a surprise hit in the USA.

The first colour film of the series.

A black-and-white film, Carry On Spaceman, was planned for release after Carry On Regardless, but was abandoned. Plans for a revival of the film in 1962, under Dennis Gifford, also failed.

Classic Carry On

In 1963 Talbot Rothwell took over the role of screenwriter. The settings became more ambitious, often parodying well-known films or genres. In keeping with the changing times, they featured more explicit sexual jokes and situations. The films made in colour in the '60s remain among the most popular of the series.

At one point, Talbot Rothwell sought and received permission to borrow several one-liners and quotes that Frank Muir and Denis Norden had written for the successful radio comedy series Take It From Here. Rothwell was a friend and colleague of Muir and Norden.

Back to black-and-white; originally scripted as a non-Carry On film called Call Me a Cab

In colour again; not considered a successful film in the canon

In black-and-white as a deliberate spoof of Film Noir in some sequences

In full colour again (as were all the rest that followed), using costumes and sets left standing from filming portions of Cleopatra; contains the line voted as the funniest comedy movie line ever: "Infamy! Infamy! they've all got it in for me!" (Kenneth Williams)

This film was said to be Sid James's favourite, in which he played The Rumpo Kid.

A spoof horror film, with the Gothic atmosphere of a Hammer production. In 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted this the 40th greatest comedy film of all time. Harry H. Corbett guest-starred in the Sid James role. Most famous line is a lustily-delivered "Frying tonight!" from Kenneth Williams.

A Scarlet Pimpernel spoof.

A Foreign Legion parody, and an unsuccessful attempt to break into the American market by casting Phil Silvers as the lead. Sid James, who does not appear, suffered his first heart-attack just around the time that the film went into production.

The highest grossing film that year in the UK

The loss of the Carry On prefix from the titles of 'Don't Lose Your Head' and 'Follow That Camel' was due to the change of distributor from Anglo-Amalgamated to Rank. Both films were later re-issued with a Carry On... prefix.

Into the 1970s

Although the series continued to be popular in the early 1970s, there was a growing feeling among the cast and critics that the quality of the films was declining. British society was becoming more accustomed to seeing sexual content on screen, and the innuendos of the series no longer had the impact they did before, although they became noticeably stronger. Rothwell continued as writer.

The Wedded Bliss agency, run by Sidney and Sophie Bliss, is a picture of domestic happiness, until the customers walk out the door! This film tried to introduce younger stars into the mix, incorporating such newcomers as Jacki Piper, Imogen Hassall and Richard O'Callaghan in key roles.

This was the first box office failure in the series, something attributed to the film's attempt at exploring the political themes of the trade union movement — with, crucially, the unionists (with whom the traditional Carry On core audience might have identified) portrayed as buffoons. Although considered by some Carry On fans to be one of the best of the series it did not return full production costs until 1976 after several international and television sales. Richard O'Callaghan, Jacki Piper and Kenneth Cope play key roles alongside the Carry On regulars.

After the problems caused by the topical and political nature of the previous film's story, this was a lightweight farce that returned to the familiar Carry On setting of a large hospital. Matron featured all the main regular cast of the period with the exception of Peter Butterworth, and was the final Carry On for recurring players Terry Scott and Jacki Piper. The first appearance for Jack Douglas.

This film, about a disastrous package holiday where anything that could possibly go wrong did go wrong, was Charles Hawtrey's last Carry On. The brothel keeper is played by Olga Lowe, one of the first actresses to work with Sid James when he arrived in the UK in 1946. Incidentially, Olga was also the actress on stage with Sid the night he died in Sunderland.

The story of a struggling seaside resort's attempt to organise a beauty contest, and the efforts of militant feminists, to oppose it. This was the first film where key regulars Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey were both absent. The sexual humour in this film is notably less subtle than its predecessors. Robin Askwith was cast as a sexually naïve young man; a similar role to that which he would play in the later Confessions films.

The last Rothwell film, and the last to feature Sid James, Hattie Jacques, and Barbara Windsor. It is often seen as the last "true" Carry On.

Decline

After Rothwell ended his run as writer in 1974, the already variable quality of the series took a sharp downturn. The Carry On style of humour now seemed dated and sexually tame. Moreover fewer and fewer of the established cast were now appearing in the films; Abroad had been the last Carry On film appearance for Charles Hawtrey and Dick the last for Sid James (who died in 1976), Hattie Jacques and Barbara Windsor. Owing to the withdrawal of American funding from British films, with a few exceptions, many of the most profitable British films during the 1970s were those adapted from television series (such as Steptoe and Son), or semi-pornographic comedies. The influence of these genres is keenly felt in the Carry On series' output of this period, with an increased sexual content and more television stars (such as Windsor Davies) appearing in place of regulars.

Windsor Davies, Ian Lavender, and headlining guest star Elke Sommer. This was the final Carry On film appearance for Bernard Bresslaw.

This film featured an almost entirely new cast. Although Carry On regular Kenneth Connor had a leading role the only other regulars present, Joan Sims and Peter Butterworth, had only small roles in the film. Windsor Davies who had joined the series with the preceding film again plays a major role. Other key roles are taken by established and recognisable actors Judy Geeson and Patrick Mower. A major commercial failure, this film was withdrawn from some cinemas after just three days. Many critics regard this film as the weakest of the entire series.

A compilation of clips with specially filmed linking footage presented by Kenneth Williams and Barbara Windsor.

An attempt to revive the series by increasing the sexual content. This film is notable in that Jack Douglas plays a character other than his stuttering Alf Ippititimus-type persona, in this case a snooty butler.

Unmade Carry Ons

Scripted by Norman Hudis, and was to satirise interests in the space race from the Western world's point of view. The cast was to consist of three would-be astronauts who constantly bungled on their training and their mission. The film was to be shot in black and white.
Originally supposed to be released shortly after Carry On Regardless, in 1961. Attempts to revive Carry On Spaceman in 1962 under Denis Gifford, again by Hudis, failed again, and the project was subsequently abandoned.

See main article for more information.

  • Carry On Dallas (aka Carry On Texas) (1987)

A planned spoof of the then popular US soap Dallas. A full script was written and casting offers made — including Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Connor, Jack Douglas, Suzanne Danielle, Joan Sims, Charlie Hawtrey (in a guest role) and Jim Dale. The script centred around the Ramming family (and not Screwing, which was dropped in an early draft as this could have endangered the A certificate). When the 'Who Shot JR' storyline occurred, Dallas became the most watched TV programme in the world at that time. Lorimar then wanted a royalty about 20 times the size of the total budget to use the programme as a base, so the production dried up.

  • Carry On Down Under (1988)

This was loosely to have been based on the Neighbours series and its ilk. Location scouting had been carried out by Gerald Thomas, in Australia, but eventually the finance fell through. Essentially, Rogers always liked the script for Carry On Dallas, and so a couple of years later the oil tycoons became sewage farmers and the whole thing shifted to Australia. Thomas had seen some locations there whilst on holiday and spoke to the Australian film commission, which welcomed the idea. The scripts for Carry On Dallas and Carry On Down Under were identical.

See main article for more information.

To be based in Soviet Russia, the script (which never got beyond the draft stage) contained many humorous references to enormous, oversize furry hats which would have been worn by every cast memeber.

Revival

During the 1980s the Carry On films were viewed by many as representing the worst side of British attitudes to women and to sex. However, they were still very popular and were regularly broadcast on television.

In 1992, an attempt was made to revive the series with Carry On Columbus, co-inciding with the production of two serious movies on the subject and the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' first landing in the Americas. The producers managed to persuade a number of alternative comedians such as Rik Mayall, Alexei Sayle, Peter Richardson, and Julian Clary to appear in the film as well as the comic actress Maureen Lipman, but it did not achieve any great commercial success and was panned by some critics.

Of all the original Carry On stars, only Jim Dale (playing the title role) and Jack Douglas appeared in the film – many of the others had died. Barbara Windsor, however, refused to appear after reading the script. A handful of other actors who had played a few roles in the original films, such as Peter Gilmore, Bernard Cribbins, Bill Pertwee, June Whitfield and Leslie Phillips also appeared. Frankie Howerd had originally agreed to appear, but he died before filming, and the role was adapted to be played by Julian Clary.

The script, by Dave Freeman, included comment on colonialism as well as the obligatory innuendo and slapstick.

Recent activity

A new film, Carry On London, was announced in 2003, but was still in pre-production as of 2008. The script was signed off by the production company in March 2008, and "centres on a limousine company ferrying celebrities to an awards show." The film has had several false starts, and the cast has changed extensively over time. Daniella Westbrook was once attached, but is no longer involved with the project. In May 2006, it was announced Vinnie Jones and Shane Richie are to star in the film, which was to be directed by Peter Richardson, though Ed Bye has since been attached to the project as director. In May 2007, this project was announced to be 'back on' with a release date of 2008. At the 50th anniversary party held at Pinewood Studios in March 2008, Peter Rogers confirmed that he plans for a series of Carry On films after London, subject to the success of the first. It is currently hoped to be released in late 2008 as part of the celebrations of fifty years since the release of Carry on Sergeant, the first in the series, in 1958, However the arrival of the new film still looks doubtfull.

Regular actors

  • Kenneth Williams (26, including co-presenting That's Carry On) Williams played a range of character types. Early roles were rather strait-laced, he then sometimes played his snide character: quite slimy and smarmy with a distinctive nasal voice. Later the haughty, proud and easily outraged character became more frequent and Williams' best-known character type. Williams sometimes played characters of other nationalities, such as in Up the Khyber. In some roles, when not actually playing his role in snide mode, Williams might deliver a single joke using his snide voice.
  • Joan Sims (24) had the longest uninterrupted run of roles in Carry On films, being in all 20 films (excluding That's Carry On) from Carry On Cleo to Carry On Emmannuelle. Played a range of characters from jolly and assertive young women with sturdy moral standards (Camping, Loving), to sexy and lusty matrons - either desired (At Your Convenience) or coarse and unattractive (Henry, Up the Khyber), to a chatty glutton (in Matron), and an unattractive spinster (Doctor).
  • Charles Hawtrey (23), essentially played variations on the same theme in all his (varied) roles: the meek, rather effete 'mummy's boy' who could suddenly erupt into riotous behaviour.
  • Sid James (19) was often portrayed as a womaniser, something that caused problems in his private life.
  • Kenneth Connor (17) often played put-upon men ranging in character from pompous to meek, and often leering.
  • Peter Butterworth (16) frequently played major roles in the films, often as a generally benign, unflappable but bumbling assistant or servant unable to see the chaos around him. Unusually for a regular, in some films, such as Again Doctor, Henry and Loving, his role consists of a cameo appearance in a single scene.
  • Bernard Bresslaw (14) cycled between playing the dimwit or the heavy, or the lusty and bombastic "foreigner". In the later films his characterisation developed greater depth, such as in Dick, Behind.
  • Hattie Jacques (14) Played the haughty matron or school senior mistress in several films.
  • Jim Dale (11) Joined the series with support roles, but quickly progressed to playing the younger, sympathetic male lead, often in the film's romance plot strand. From his debut had an uninterrupted nine-film run. After a one-film absence returned for Again Doctor, his final Carry On until taking the lead role in the 1992 revival film Carry On Columbus.
  • Peter Gilmore (11) usually in supporting roles, also returning for Columbus.
  • Barbara Windsor (10, including her presenting chores in That's Carry On) Windsor played main roles in all her Carry On appearances. Her characters were always the cheeky and saucy young blonde, often in revealing costumes. Sometimes her characters were chaste, some were easily swayed.
  • Patsy Rowlands (9) Started in support roles, often as undervalued, meek and mousey secretary or assistant who undergoes transformation into a more assertive and sexually-aware woman.
  • Jack Douglas (8) Jack Douglas joined the series with a cameo appearance in Matron where he appears in just one scene and has a single line of dialogue. After an only slightly larger role in the following film Abroad where he again plays his established Alf Ippitimus-type character, his roles increased in size and increasingly diverged from the familiar Alf performance. After his debut Douglas appeared in all subsequent films in the original series, and was one of the few returners for Columbus.
  • Julian Holloway (8) played several supporting roles, usually as a laddish young man.
  • Terry Scott (7) played, among others, the put-upon husband (Camping), the barking sergeant (Sergeant, Up the Khyber) and lusty doctor (Matron).
  • Valerie Leon (6) always played glamorous roles, such as beautiful shop girls or Amazonian queens, Carry on up the Jungle.

References

  • The Carry On Companion by Robert Ross (1996) (Batsford Books)
  • Keeping the British End Up: Four Decades of Saucy Cinema by Simon Sheridan (third edition) (2007) (Reynolds & Hearn Books)

Notes

External links

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