The iconic Carry On films are a British institution, solely responsible for the continuation of ITV3. Rather like the saying that ‘Londoners are never more than six feet from a rat’, it sometimes feels like no TV viewer is more than a couple of channel flicks away from a Carry On.
Peter Rogers (producer), and Gerald Thomas (director) were responsible for creating one of the most successful series of comedy films in the history of British cinema, from Carry On Sergeant (1958) to Carry On Emmanuelle (1978)
Carry On Columbus (1992).
Norman Hudis (screenwriter 1958 – 1962) established the initial template with the first six films, but it was Talbot “Tolly” Rothwell (screenwriter 1963 – 1974) who steered them towards being the cinematic equivalent of the saucy seaside postcard; full of double entendres, joke inducing sound effects and bosom-heaving/exposed bottom naughtiness.
The key, and not so secret, ingredient to these films was an exclusive combination of comedy actors who fused together as a solid unit. Carry On Royalty – the learing king of comedy Sid James, the camp Kenneth Williams, the battle-axe Joan Sims, the weedy Charles Hawtrey, the curvaceous Barbara Windsor, the weighty Hattie Jacques, the lumbering Bernard Bresslaw, the ineffectual Kenneth Connor, the dozy stooge Peter Butterworth, Jim Dale, and other supporting actors sailed through 20 years of farce and ultimately became as much part of the British way of life as fish and chips, overpriced train tickets, and talking (moaning) about the weather.
The films were shot with consummate speed to keep budgets down with principal photography often completed in only five weeks. This enabled two films to be finished per year. Carry On Camping, set in the glorious British summer, was actually filmed during freezing winter conditions. The muddy ground had to be painted green, whilst Barbara Windsor shivered in her bikini during her iconic bra-snapping scene.
Aside from their fixation with slap and tickle, the films were all about lampooning Britishness, giving our most treasured institutions a swift boot up the khyber pass; the NHS, crap holidays, British history and the old Empire itself were all included.
“It’s fun making them”, Gerald Thomas once remarked, “It’s not like work, more like a holiday. It’s like going back to school and being a headmaster”.
These films would now be considered politically incorrect, sexist, homophobic, and racist to the point of being legally executed in any court, but I love them. They’re not meant to be high-brow or thought provoking, just easy to watch fun with groan worthy one liners. Outdated, perhaps, but who doesn’t enjoy treasured things from the past. It’s like your favourite cardigan.
My fiancee’s best friend has never seen a Carry On despite being 31 year of age. She didn’t even know the meaning of innuendo, and asked for an example. So I gave her one.
Carry On Trivia:
- Gerald Thomas provided the voice for Joan Sims’ foul mouthed mynah bird in Carry On Behind, and the monster gibberish for Oddbod Junior in Carry On Screaming.
- In 1941, RAF pilot Talbot Rothwell was shot down over Nazi-occupied Norway and incarcerated in the camp for captured air force personnel. There he became friends with fellow pilot Peter Butterworth. The two men put on camp shows, performing excruciating duets; what the guards didn’t know was the booing and catcalling of the audience was a ploy to cover the sound of the escape tunnel being dug beneath their feet. The Carry On genre lies in the atmosphere of the PoW camp: sexually frustrated, resolutely cheerful, mocking of authority, obsessed with the opposite sex, and ironically patriotic. Rothwell adapted that spirit into the later Carry On films. Thank you, Adolf Hitler!
- Sid James’ part in Carry On Doctor was heavily reduced and acted in a hospital bed due to his recent heart attack.
- Carry On Abroad was Charles Hawtrey’s last appearance. He was portrayed as a drunk 90% of the time, which was intentional due to his real life drink problem.
- Jim Dale insisted on performing all of his own stunts. Gerald Thomas would deliberately leave these scenes until the end of filming in case of injury.