Great Britain took twice as long to recover from World War II as the war itself. Food rationing continued until 1954 and petrol rationing didn’t end until 1957. A year later, a modest military spoof was released from Pinewood Studios: “Carry On Sergeant.” The plot, about some National Servicemen who come out for their sergeant’s last parade, seems tame today, but the supporting cast included a group of British characters who earned their livings from the “Carry On” series over the next twenty years. The “Carry On Comedies” were briskly directed by Gerald Thomas, whose brother Ralph also enjoyed success as the director of the “Doctor In The House” comedy series with Dirk Bogarde. Kenneth Connor and Charles Hawtry were both in their forties when they launched the series and the imposing Hattie Jacques, 34, hadn’t made a film in over three years.
The following year, “Carry On Nurse” was the top British money maker of 1959. The film, available on home video, revolved around the shenanigans in a men’s surgical ward. It also featured an unlikely romance between the late Kenneth Williams, then an extremely fey 33, and the late Jill Ireland, then a beautiful starlet of 23. A great deal of the fun of the series involved the most unlikely sexual pairings. None of the men were particularly macho or drop-dead-gorgeous and their appeal to women is both baffling and hilarious to observe. While the sexual sophistication of the plots is zip, it is always good-natured and men and women alike receive their fair share of ribbing.
The ensemble cast, which also included Barbara Windsor, Joan Sims, Jim Dale, Liz Frazer, Angela Douglas and the late Sidney James, remained fairly consistent over the years because the actors correctly assumed that their best chance of continuous employment was to keep their salary demands at a realistic level. Even so, the energy level is invariably high, and the physical humour and verbal exchanges are always beautifully timed and delivered.
Among the “Carry On” films now available on home video are “Carry On Cruising”, “Carry On Cowboy and the wonderfully zany “Carry On Cleo,” “Follow That Camel” with Phil Silvers, “Carry On Doctor”, “Carry On Camping”, “Carry On Henry VIII”, “Carry On At Your Convenience”, “Carry On Girls” and “Carry On Emanuelle”. There was even a “That’s Carry On” compilation, hosted by Kenneth Williams and Barbara Windsor. The “Carry On” comedies are unlikely to win any awards for subtlety or restraint, but they provide an enjoyable evening’s entertainment and a fine chance to watch some of Britain’s finest in action.
© 2006 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 8/2/06
Carry On Comedies