Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!
- Kenneth Williams, Carry On Cleo
They're as British as fish and chips, moaning about the weather and losing at international sports. They hold a special place in the hearts of young and old alike. And of course, they're the most successful series of British films ever made. They're the Carry On... films, and if you don't like them you probably had it whipped out at an early age. Your sense of humour, that is...
The Carry On movies hark back to a time when men were only after one thing ('What's wrong with the other one?!'); when women were wooed ('Oh, you can be as wude as you like with me!'); and when the only response to the exclamation 'Oh, what a lovely looking pear' is to chuckle lasciviously and say 'You took the words right out of my mouth!'
So join with us as we come together in a celebration of sauce, a tribute to tittering - even a nod to naughtiness!
The Carry On... collection consists of 31 films (so far) of admittedly varying quality. Few would describe them as 'great', though if greatness in terms of how memorable they were and how they've made successive generations roar with laughter they should be right up there with the very best that cinema has to offer. Thanks to regular repeat runs on television, they've become an essential part of British film history, like Hammer horror and Alfred Hitchcock, while the jokes themselves have since been absorbed into the routines of pantomime that had also inspired the films in the first place.
The series began in 1958 with Carry On Sergeant, an adaptation of the war stories of RF Delderfield (author of To Serve Them All My Days). The producer for all 31 films was Peter Rogers who, along with director Gerald Thomas, insisted that the productions were made as economically as possible. This thriftiness extended to casting, with ensemble casts ensuring that no one performer would rise to sole star status - though as it turned out, a few of the stars became indelibly connected to the Carry On series: at 26 appearances, Kenneth Williams was by far the company's most regular star turn, followed by Sid James at 19, Charles Hawtrey with 23 and Joan Sims, whose 24 appearances put her well ahead of Hattie Jacques and Barbara Windsor, who made 14 and 10 respectively.
After their parody of National Service, the team went on to examine the worlds of the National Health Service (four times), the London cabbie and the schoolroom before heading for more exotic subjects like espionage and historical farces set in ancient Egypt, Tudor Britain or revolutionary France.
In 1966, after Rogers took his productions from Anglo Amalgamated to Rank, a decision was made to drop the 'Carry On...' tag from the films. This was why, on initial release, Don't Lose Your Head and Follow That Camel did not carry the Carry On name. The films were, however, bona fide Carry On adventures.
As the British Film industry soared in the 1960s, so it fell in the 1970s. Both the Hammer Studios and Peter Rogers struggled to keep on churning out their traditional fayre and it's significant that both production houses wrapped their final films within a year of each other and both have subsequently traded on their great history thanks to a wave of nostalgia that now includes collectable DVDs, toys and other novelty items.
It would be untrue to say the Carry On films contained a wide variety of characters that stretched their actors' abilities. Each of them was cast with a specific archetype in mind, and generally each of them stuck to that archetype to the bitter end.
The Snob - Kenneth Williams
From his first appearance in Carry On Sergeant to his last in Carry On Emmannuelle, Kenneth Williams flared his nostrils, over-accentuated his vowels and played the role of sexless aesthete to the hilt. In Sergeant, he was a louche college student; in Cleo a paranoid emperor. But in all of them, he was an extension of the depressive, quick-witted, acid-tongued persona familiar to people across the UK from personal appearances and TV interviews.
The Letch - Leslie Phillips / Sid James
Appearing like the wrinkliest of naughty schoolboys, Sid James' battered face was lit up each time he delivered a blast of his filthy laugh. If he wasn't trying to get 'it' with a nubile young woman, he was trying to avoid 'getting it' from his buxom, middle-aged wife. The unlikeliest of romantic leads, his role in later films changed to the nearest thing the series ever had to a villain. He was by no means the sole lusty gent in the movies - in early films, Leslie Phillips recreated his familiar persona of suave lothario from the equably popular Doctor films from around the same time (Doctor in the House, Doctor at Large...).
The 'Bird' - Joan Sims / Barbara Windsor
The object of the letch's affections, the role of the 'bird'1 was to lead the letch on until the final reel, at which point she might just give in. As Joan Sims matured, her place as the buxom lady went to other actresses, most often Barbara Windsor, while Sims took on another position entirely...
The Battleaxe - Hattie Jacques / Joan Sims
The matriarchal figure in the films, it was the role of the battleaxe to be the butt of many a cruel verbal jibe while ensuring that the heroes were thwarted in their plans for promiscuity and debauchery. Such characters might be the matron of a ward or 'the wife', but they were essential elements in the overall story.
The Fool - Bernard Bresslaw / Terry Scott / Jack Douglas
'Wahey! Geddoff!' The fool was present so that the plot could be explained to him (and the audience) and to give other characters a break from the humiliation. Bernard Bresslaw played the role throughout the films, trading upon public awareness of his character in the popular TV sitcom The Army Game, but occasionally the role would be taken up by others, notably Jack Douglas, whose contribution to the films consisted mainly of a series of twitches and sudden jerks that would be guaranteed to make him spill his drink or knock things over.
The Lad - Kenneth Connor / Jim Dale
The young, sexually eager young man was a staple element of the films. The plots often revolved around a love affair doomed to be trapped in a state of coitus pre-interruptus, the lovers struggling to find time to consummate their relationships while separated by National Service, illness or disapproving authority figures. The poor Lad was also the character most likely to be involved in slapstick, falling into the water, being catapulted down staircases on trolleys and being covered in gunge. While the position of Lad was filled by many young actors over the years, for many the most familiar of them all was Jim Dale...
Innocent naughtiness personified, the rather dashing Jim Dale is a much-loved figure in Carry On film lore. He often played the love interest and there was always a frisson of sauciness wherever he went. Take for example, in Carry On Again Doctor, he gets to 'examine' Barbara Windsor who is scantily-clad in a sparkly heart-shaped bikini:
Hattie Jacques: Any giddiness? Fever?
Jim Dale: Actually, now you mention it ...
Hattie Jacques: Not you, the patient!
And one Researcher was lucky enough to meet the sexy beast in the flesh:
Jim Dale was in quite a few of the Carry On films. He often played the 'handsome love interest' and flashed his body about a bit. He was awarded the MBE in the 2003 Royal Birthday Honours List. And I met him once and he was very nice.
Fab Character Names
Another of the 'best things about' Carry On films is the ridiculous names some of the characters have. For instance:
- Vic Spanner
- Sid Plummer
- Vic Flange
- Esme Crowfoot
- Inigo Tinkle
- Doctor Nookey
- Hengist Pod (and his wife, Senna)
- Rodger De Lodgerly
- Inspector Bung
- Socket the Butler
- Bungit Din
Best Lines Of Dialogue
There are many great Carry On lines. The films are built on them, hundreds of innuendo-ridden corkers. It's impossible to pick a selection of the best, because the best are often the worst; saucy punnery that makes one cringe and laugh in equal measure. But a few lines have occurred to h2g2 Researchers, one being a line in Carry On Abroad (1971) which displays to great effect a withering cruelty delivered in the minimum possible number of words. Sid James is describing his wife Cora, as played by the ever-suffering Joan Sims.
The name's Flange. Vic Flange. This is the wife [indicates Sims]. Don't laugh.
Ouch. In fact the joke is even funnier because what does 'Vic' do after saying 'Don't laugh'? He cackles the trademarked Sid James laugh. And from the same film, when June Whitfield replies, 'Tried it once, but didn't like it' to several questions and then adds, 'My daughter is just the same,' Sid James simply asks 'Only child, is she?' Double ouch.
Or how about this for a bit of harmless fun with a pun:
The Khasi of Kalabar (Kenneth Williams): May the great God Shivoo bring blessings on your house.
Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond (Sid James): And on yours.
The Khasi: And may his radiance light up your darkness.
Sir Sidney: And up yours.
Possibly slightly less harmless, another line crops up in Don't Lose Your Head, where Joan Sims is speaking to Charles Hawtrey. She indicates Kenneth Williams (who's posing as her husband) and starts: 'My husband - the Count...' only she annunciates the word 'Count' in such as way as to be possibly misheard as a rather nasty insult.
When I saw that scene again recently I was really shocked by that...
Now, back to the Carry On Doctor series. Two scenes: the first has Sid James acting in bed due to a recent heart attack, and Hattie Jacques, the indomitable matron (as in 'Ooh, Matron'):
Matron: Young chickens may be soft and tender but the older birds have more on them.
Sid James: Yes. And take a lot more stuffing.
Fnarr fnarr - seaside postcard sexual innuendo at its most British. And for the second:
Dr Carver: Is there any pain?
Mr Bean: Yes sir, especially when I pass water.
Dr Carver: Well the best thing for you to do, Mr Bean, is to stop passing it. Everytime you come to some, stop and turn back.
Tommy Cooper would have been proud of that one.
The majority of the scripts were written by a chap called Talbot Rothwell. Besides the Carry On scripts Talbot's main addition to the pantheon of British culture was the scripts for the series Up Pompei! The similarity in style and humour goes without saying. As an interesting aside, one of the stock characters in Carry On was Peter Butterworth; his 'break' came when he met Talbot in a German POW camp! Rothwell was apparently asked to put on a show (to cover an escape attempt) and enlisted Butterworth to help with the show.
Carry On Reminiscing
Thinking about Carry On films today is an intrinsically nostalgiac experience. We can remember when and where we used to watch them, all comfy on the sofa, rain pelting the windows outdoors; how funny those films were, how young we were. One of the best things about Carry On reminiscing, is well, the reminiscing. Here's a selection from our misty-eyed Researchers:
I was surprised by how much more I enjoy the early, black-and-white films. When it gets into the colour films some of them become a little too silly for me. I really like Carry On Cabby, where the set-up of a critique on gender roles in society is played out with women 'doing it for themselves', only to be slightly undermined when the feminist tirade ends because Hattie Jacques' character discovers she's pregnant - what she's always wanted (awww). The relationship between her and Sid James is actually quite charming, despite the bickering. The film also features a scene-stealing cameo from the beautiful Amanda Barrie (who returned as the eponynmous star of Carry On Cleo a long time before she captured the Nation's heart as Alma in Coronation Street) as a rather naive cabbie who enters a roadside cafe to ask for directions and sends all of the men drooling...
The one colour film I really do love is... At Your Convenience. There's the usual collection of scatalogically-obsessed smut and punning, but again it's the relationship between Sid James and his co-worker Joan Sims that really makes it. Both of them are trapped in marriages that they want to escape from, but at the end of the film they do the 'right thing' and avoid an affair because they don't want to hurt their spouses. A bitter-sweet end to the film and one that shows a lot more maturity than some of the more farcical episodes.
Carry On films were about the only thing we sat down to watch on TV as a family when we were kids (my parents not being into blockbusters or musicals), and I love them partly I think because of that. We could all find something funny in them, and the sexual references were either completely obvious (eg, Barbara Windsor exercising her bra across the campsite) or over the heads of young children (we liked Sid James's laugh because it sounded funny, completely failing to appreciate what it was generally conveying).
Gerald Thomas And Peter Rogers
The amazing thing about the Carry On series, unlike other comedy film series like Police Academy, or American Pie etc, is that every one of the 31 films (including That's Carry On) was directed and produced (executive production in the case of Columbus) by the same two men, Gerald Thomas and Peter Rogers. There were lots of other films of the 1950s-1970s that had a very Carry On feel to them, but most were just poor imitations. Having said that, the film Carry On Admiral (not one of the series) was released the year before the series started and starred Joan Sims, so perhaps the Carry On series were the imitators. The aforementioned Doctor series of films were probably the closest to the Carry Ons in style and content, which isn't suprising when you consider that they were all directed by Gerald Thomas's brother Ralph, and produced by Peter Rogers's wife Betty E Box.
Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas made a number of other comedy films besides the Carry On series.
The comedy films of Peter and Gerald are:
- Nurse On Wheels
- Please Turn Over
- Twice Round The Daffodils
- Watch Your Stern
- The Big Job
- Bless This House
- Raising The Wind
With the exception of Bless This House (which was already a huge TV show) any of the above could have been called Carry On.
The team also made a number of dramatic films, most notably Time Lock which gave Sean Connery one of his first tastes at movie acting.
So Which Ones Come Out On Top?
Of course, any value judgement about an extensive film series like the Carry On movies is likely to be highly subjective - just as everyone has their favourite James Bond film, so most of the Carry Ons will have their supporters. However, going on the ratings given by ordinary members of the public to each of the films (as seen on the Internet Movie Database), the five most popular 'Carry Ons' are:
- Carry On Up The Khyber
- Carry On Cleo
- Carry On Screaming
- Carry On Don't Lose Your Head
- Carry On Sergeant
... with Carry On Camping coming up close behind in sixth place. Way down at the bottom of the popularity stakes are the final three films, Carry On England, Carry On Emmannuelle, and Carry On Columbus. Speaking of which...
Carry On Columbus
Made 14 years after the last regular Carry On film, Carry On Columbus was the last Carry On film made. Some thought it a reasonable return to form; others felt it was generally a bit of a disappointing cash-in on the 500-year celebrations of Columbus' voyage of 1492. It had many of the newer stars of British comedy, but in the opinion of many, it failed and is thought of by many as amongst the worst of all the Carry On films. Without the old-stagers' 'music hall' craft, for many it seemed empty and flat.
It was a huge disappointment - the only funny moment came near the start, when Jim Dale was trying (unsuccessfully) to unroll a large map. It was too 'knowing' - I like Julian Clary, but he does make Kenneth Williams seem subtle by comparison. Shame really, because it was a good idea and a promising cast.
But for many others, Carry On Columbus was a welcome return to the traditional Carry On film format, after the two previous much poorer films of the 1970s, Carry On England and Carry On Emmannuelle. Carry On Columbus was not that bad a film, but what it did fail to do was marry the comedians of the day with the surviving Carry On team. The time was not quite right to bring back the series. The hip, up-to-date comedians were too politically biased and didn't look quite comfortable in the Carry On format, especially for some, Julian Clary. The older stars such as Jack Douglas and Leslie Phillips were sadly not used to the best of their potential.
The film itself underwent some dramatic editing which spoiled the overall final result. Peter Rogers is famously reported to have said that the day's filming and playback had everyone in hysterics; unfortunately after the distributors and editors had messed around with it, it bore little resemblance to the envisaged product.
That said, Carry On Columbus marked an upturn in the Carry On series which might have heralded a welcome return to its heyday in British cinemas, hearts and minds. For whatever reason, that promised revival didn't happen; not yet, anyway. Carry On London is, at the time of writing2, in pre-production, so the series looks to be about to make a long-awaited return.
Before we leave Carry On Columbus there's time surely to throw you one more truly smutty pun, resulting from a little exchange between Rebecca Lacey (Chiquita) and Jack Douglas (Marco the Cereal Killer). Chiquita is peering over the edge of Columbus's ship in the middle of the night. Jack Douglas comes up behind her and warns her against thinking about going for a swim...
Marco: I wouldn't if I were you, miss. I've heard that these waters are full of man-eating sharks.
Chiquita: Oh no! So if I fell in, do you think they'd swallow me hole?
Marco: No, I'm told they spit that bit out.
Carry On London
I have been desperate for this film to be made since the original announcement of May 2003.
At the time of writing, rumours continue to circulate about a proposed Carry On revival on the big screen, with Carry On London the title currently doing the rounds. It was encouraging to hear the news that both Tom Hanks and Quentin Tarantino are fans of the Carry On film series, which adds massive support to the project.
Some of the proposed cast include Shaun Williamson, Brian Conley, Leslie Phillips, Burt Reynolds and Jynine James. But we all have our own ideas about who should appear:
I do maintain that for a new Carry On team to be developed they do not have to be known or mainstream actors or actresses. So long as they can deliver funny lines well and give enthusiastic comic performances to a high standard then the film, providing the script lives up to expectation, will be a massive success. What would be crucial is to include some reference or surviving cast from the previous films. I would like to see a few of the likes of the following possibly make a cameo appearence:
- Kenneth Cope
- Barbara Windsor
- Windsor Davies
- Jackie Piper
- Martin Clunes
- Jack Douglas
- Bernard Cribbins
The Carry On... Filmography
- Carry On Sergeant (1958)
- Carry On Nurse (1959)
- Carry On Teacher (1959)
- Carry On Constable (1959)
- Carry On Regardless (1961)
- Carry On Cruising (1962)
- Carry On Cabby (1963)
- Carry On Jack (1963)
- Carry On Spying (1964)
- Carry On Cleo (1964)
- Carry On Cowboy (1965)
- Carry On Screaming! (1966)
- Carry On Don't Lose Your Head (1966)
- Carry On Follow That Camel (1967)
- Carry On Doctor (1967)
- Carry On Up The Khyber (1968)
- Carry On Camping (1969)
- Carry On Again Doctor (1969)
- Carry On Up The Jungle (1970)
- Carry On Loving (1970)
- Carry On Henry (1971)
- Carry On At Your Convenience (1971)
- Carry On Matron (1972)
- Carry On Abroad (1972)
- Carry On Girls (1973)
- Carry On Dick (1974)
- Carry On Behind (1975)
- Carry On England (1976)
- That's Carry On (1978)
- Carry On Emmannuelle (1978)
- Carry On Columbus (1992)
The TV Series
- Carry On Christmas (1969)
- Carry On Again Christmas (1970)
- Carry On Christmas - aka 'Carry On Stuffing' - (1972)
- Carry On Christmas (1973)
- Carry On Laughing3 (1975)
The Stage Productions
- Carry On London (1973-75)
- Carry On Laughing (1976)
- Wot a Carry On in Blackpool (1992)