Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Carry On Christmas

Film4 has recently been screening the early Carry On films. In all, some 30 films were made in the innuendo-laden series, which is a staple of the TV schedules. A core cast of Kenneth Williams, Charlie Hawtry, Hattie Jacques and Kenneth Connor was immediately in place for opener Carry On Sergeant (1958), and director Gerald Thomas was at the helm all the way through to a misguided revival in 1992 for Carry On Columbus, starring Julian Clary.

Sophomore outing Carry On Nurse (1959) saw the introduction of Leslie Phillips, who returned for Columbus after a run in the first films, and Joan Sim, while hospitals remained a popular setting for the series - think Barbara Windsor in her pasties. Given the films' appropriation of seaside postcard humour and the aspirational times, the vacation seam was mined to its full in Carry On Cruising (1962),Carry On Camping (1962) and Carry On Abroad (1972).

Shirley Eaton - of Goldfinger fame - was another early regular and the movies also afforded roles to Bob Monkhouse (... Sergeant) and Richard O'Sullivan, in Carry On Teacher (1959). The theme of these early ventures was routinely of a hapless group - conscripts or other initiates - pulling together and overcoming their own shortfalls to support authority.

Sid James joined in 1960 for Carry On Constable and it's his introduction that arguably cemented the reputation for single entendres and hopeless mugging that would characterise the series, which reached its pinnacle in 1968's Carry On... Up the Kyber, with Roy Castle in the role of the young male ingenue.

The films are no better than the St Trinian's movies (resurrected even more recently with Gemma Arterton, Lena Heady, Rupert Everett, Russell Brand and Colin Firth), but it's warming to see Williams, in particular, displaying finesse in the early, black-and-white outings. This charming portrait of the actor, taken just before the series began in 1957, is currently on show at London's National Portrait Gallery.

Merry Christmas and all the very best for 2012!

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