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Carry On Christmas | Carry On Laughing
By 1974, the Carry On films had established themselves as the most successful British comedy series, but this success was not to last. The popularity would wane when faced with changes in popular taste and the overall decline of British cinema. This era marked the end of the tale.
The Carry On series were all directed by Gerald Thomas and produced by Peter Rogers. For over a decade, the highly-talented comedy writer Talbot Rothwell OBE had written them, yet his involvement was due to come to an unforeseen, sudden end and no other writer was able to reach his standards. Also, by the mid-1970s the established cast were either ageing or wanting to move onto more prestigious – and better paid – roles and the new actors who replaced them were no real substitutes.
There remained strong affection for the Carry On team - the stage show Carry On London!, performed at the Birmingham Hippodrome and London's Victoria Palace, starred Sid James, Barbara Windsor, Jack Douglas, Bernard Bresslaw, Kenneth Connor and Peter Butterworth and ran until 1975. It was during this time that a relationship developed between Babs and Sid. Yet their previous film, Carry On Girls (1973), had flopped, and the annual Carry On Christmas television show was subsequently cancelled. By 1974 only one Carry On was made a year, rather than the two a year that had been standard previously.
The main Carry On cast and actors credited on four or more films are listed in Bold. As the Carry On films are considered to be quite sexist, whether or not the films pass the Bechdel Test is also mentioned (this can be summarised as whether the film involves two or more female characters who have a conversation together that does not include or mention any male characters).
26. Carry On Dick (1974)
|Plot||Desmond Fancey and Jock Strapp are after Big Dick (Dick Turpin). Unaware that the local vicar is the notorious highwayman, will they be able to catch him before he strikes again?|
Another fun historical adventure that combines elements of the legendary Dick Turpin, naturally rebranded 'Big Dick' for Carry On purposes, and Russell Thorndike's Doctor Syn novels (1915-44) about a smuggler, which had inspired Disney film, Dr Syn, Alias the Scarecrow (1963)1. In this adaptation, Big Dick (so named after the size of the weapon he carries) disguises himself as a vicar. The film also contains many similarities to Carry On Don't Lose Your Head (1966).
When the film was being made, Carry On London! was being performed twice daily in London and the film schedule fitted around the cast's stage commitments. There were 29 days' studio shooting and 10 days' location filming - the Jolly Woodman pub in Littleworth Common stood in for the Old Cock.
This was again a film of lasts: although it was not known at the time, it was the last film to feature Hattie Jacques and Sid James. Similarly, Barbara Windsor informed Peter Rogers that this would be the last time she would play a flirty, busty girl; having done so for a decade, at 37 she now wanted to play a different role. Despite this, she did still play the busty blonde in episodes of 1975's Carry On Laughing television series.
The Writing on the Wall
Carry On Dick was the last film written by Talbot Rothwell; he had all-but completed the script at draft stage but was unable to finish the final version. Rothwell was extremely prolific throughout his writing career. Despite frequently experiencing severe ill-health since his time as a POW (prisoner of war), for over a decade he had written three or more film scripts a year as well as the sitcom Up Pompeii!.
Reports suggested he either had a stroke or experienced nervous exhaustion following overwork; either way he was suddenly unable to use a typewriter or write by hand. He was only able to finish the draft for Carry On Dick by dictating to his daughter Jane. He had previously proposed a script inspired by the Great War sequence he had written for the final Carry On Christmas television special, but he had not advanced far before being forced to abandon writing. Without Talbot Rothwell's ability to set the tone, the series entered a decline.
The original Carry On screenwriter Norman Hudis had been contacted in 1970 to see if he would be interested in writing for the series again; however, despite his enthusiasm, he was unable to because of an impasse with the Writers' Guild of America. This was mainly because Peter Rogers refused to pay the additional 11% Guild's Pension and Health Insurance fee.
In 1975 ATV, impressed with the popularity of the Carry On films on television, requested a Carry On television series. 13 half-hour episodes of Carry On Laughing were made, written by various different writers. Only the first four starred Sid James as he was contracted to appear in the stage show The Mating Season in Australia.
27. Carry On Behind (1975)
|Plot||Major Leep runs a caravan park next to a Roman archaeological site.|
|Setting||A caravan park next to an archaeological dig in 1970s Britain.|
Although the film's plot is a virtual retread of Carry On Camping and was also filmed in Pinewood Studios' orchard, the script began as a screenplay entitled Love On Wheels, written by Dave Freeman in 1973, that was not originally intended to be a Carry On film. However, after Talbot Rothwell was forced to retire from writing in December 1974, Freeman was hired to rewrite the script to make it part of the Carry On series. Initially titled Carry On Caravanning, the title Carry On Behind was finally chosen because the film is about caravans, which are carried behind cars2.
The script was written for Sid James to play Fred; however, as he was in Australia he was replaced by Windsor Davies, famous for television sitcom It Ain't Half Hot, Mum. International film star Elke Sommer was paid £30,000 to appear in this film, which was more than the total paid to Barbara Windsor3 for all her 10 Carry On Film appearances. Producer Peter Rogers had met Elke when she appeared in his wife Betty Box's Percy sex comedies4.
This was to be Bernard Bresslaw's final Carry On film.
28. Carry On England (1976)
|Plot||In 1940, Captain Melly is assigned command of the 1313 Experimental Anti-Aircraft Battery. This is a mixed unit with both men and women who are more interested in fondling each other than fighting the enemy. Can Captain Melly turn them into an efficient fighting force, or will his command find a way to get rid of him? Can they survive a deadly attack of stock footage nicked from the 1969 film Battle of Britain?|
|Drag||Kenneth Connor's uniform is stolen and replaced with a women's ATS uniform.|
|Writers||David Pursall & Jack Seddon|
|Nudity||The ATS women all (except Joan Sims) lie in bed topless. Later, when given the order 'skirts will not be worn – battledress trousers will be worn at all times, that is all', a group of women go on parade topless.|
By the end of 1975 it was apparent that the television series Carry On Laughing had not been as successful as had been hoped, and had not matched the success of the earlier Christmas specials. One particularly ambitious script set during the Second World War titled 'The Busting of Balsy' showed promise, but had been too expensive for television. Colin Rogers, Head of Scripts for ATV, contacted Peter Rogers5, who decided that the script should instead become a film: Carry On England.
The intended cast was quite different from the final selection. It had been hoped that Ian Lavender would return to star as Able, Kenneth Williams was offered the role of the Brigadier, Alice Easy had been written with Barbara Windsor in mind, and Penelope Keith was offered the role of Ffouke-Sharpe, although she was busy enjoying The Good Life. Kenneth Connor's son Jeremy plays Gunner Hiscocks; he had previously played the young boy in Carry On Nurse. Actors who appeared in the Carry On Laughing television series were given minor roles: Linda Hooks was a nurse, Vivienne Johnson was Freda and John Carlin and Michael Nightingale were officers. As Sid James still had stage commitments, Windsor Davies was again set to star and was able to use the Sergeant persona he had honed in It Ain't Half Hot, Mum. This is the only Carry On appearance by his It Ain't Half Hot, Mum co-star, Isle of Wight resident Melvyn Hayes.
Peter Rogers also hoped to film another standalone comedy set during the war, to be titled We Haf Ways of Making You Larf. Based on an unused Talbot Rothwell script titled Carry On Escaping, it was set in a Prisoner of War camp. The distribution company Rank suddenly announced in early 1976 that they would not fund that and would only fund half of Carry On England. By this time Rank's films were losing money. Although Bugsy Malone (1976) had been successful, when faced with competition from big blockbusters like Star Wars, most of their recent films had flopped and they had lost over £1.6 million. Rank were becoming increasingly uninterested in filmmaking, wishing to concentrate on their more lucrative and predictable photocopying and bingo business instead. Although Pink Floyd were interested in investing, Peter Rogers provided the other half of the required funds in order to retain control. Finance was tight - composer Eric Rogers left the series when he was told that due to cost-cutting he would only be allowed 20 musicians to create the score with, not 40.
The film's main weakness was that it didn't feature many established Carry On stars, it had only Joan Sims, Jack Douglas, Peter Butterworth and Kenneth Connor. The search for a new Jim Dale continued - Patrick Mower took the handsome hero role. Diane Langton was on trial as a replacement for Barbara Windsor. Sally Geeson, star of Carry On Abroad and Carry On Girls, was not available so they cast her older sister Judy.
A genuine Second World War British 3.7in anti-aircraft gun was loaned from the Imperial War Museum's collection. Peter Rogers boasted it was a bigger gun than anything the Bond (James Bond) films had ever had. Despite this historical accuracy, it is painfully apparent throughout the film that 30 personnel having only one gun between them seems unrealistic. There were mixed anti-aircraft battery regiments in Britain during the Second World War, but they were formed in 1942 not 1940. However, we do get to see some incompetent bayonet practice, bringing back memories of Carry On Sergeant and Carry On Follow That Camel, with the interest in soldiers' skirts being reminiscent of Carry On Up the Khyber.
As the amount of frontal nudity had increased, this was the first Carry On film with an AA certificate, meaning only those over 14 could see it. This dramatically reduced the audience size and it originally flopped at the cinema. In early 1977 an edited version was released without the two scenes containing bare breasts; the mention of the aircraft company Fokker was also excised. This was more successful than the uncensored version. Today the unedited version is rated PG - although it contains nudity, there is no sexualised nudity.
When the film was nearing completion, Sid James collapsed and died onstage during a performance of The Mating Season at the Sunderland Empire Theatre. On its release, the media criticised the filmmakers for having already replaced Sid James. Overall, it was clear that the public disapproved of the release of a Carry On film without Sid James immediately after his death.
29. That's Carry On (1977)
|Plot||None: a clip show|
|Writers||New material by Tony Church|
|Bechdel||Only two characters appear in the new footage introducing the clips; however, the clips chosen definitely pass the test.|
Following the criticism of Carry On England, the series continued with a clip show containing scenes from every Carry On film except Carry On England. Linking material featuring Kenneth Williams and Barbara Windsor inside Pinewood Studio barely keeps the film together6. Some considered it a last-minute tribute to Sid James following the previous film's criticism, but it was inspired by the phenomenal success of the MGM compilation film That's Entertainment! (1974).
The film was a co-production between J Arthur Rank and EMI, who had bought Anglo Amalgamated; however, Rank were uninterested in the film and did not give it general release in cinemas. When it was broadcast on ITV in 1981 it attracted a remarkable 11 million viewers. Unsurprisingly, this was the cheapest Carry On to make.
30. Carry On Emmannuelle (1978)
|Setting||London, late 1970s.|
|Drag||Richmond (Peter Butterworth) in a flashback describes how he dressed as a woman during the war to avoid capture by German soldiers.|
|Nudity||Several glimpses of Kenneth Williams' bottom, Suzanne Danielle's bottom and breasts briefly, Tricia Newby as nurse at marriage guidance clinic.|
When Peter Rogers approached Rank with two proposals for the next Carry On film, they announced they would not commit any more money to filmmaking. The proposals were for a script by Jonathan Lynn and George Layton called Carry On Again Nurse, which, like Carry On England, would have involved nudity, and Carry On Emmannuelle, a parody of the French soft porn film Emmanuelle (1974).
Emmanuelle had reportedly been seen by over 500 million people worldwide. By the late 1970s there were the inevitable authorised sequels as well as numerous copycats including Black Emanuelle (1976) and Yellow Emanuelle (1977). These inspired writer Lance Peters to write a treatment8 called Green Emmanuelle about an alien woman on Earth. Peter Rogers saw this and was impressed but decided to change it so that it was about a French woman rather than an alien. This became Carry On Emmannuelle9, spelt with an extra 'N' to avoid lawsuits, and with the sex scenes heavily toned down.
Peter Rogers decided to wait until 1979 to make Carry On Again Nurse so it would tie in with the 20th anniversary of Carry On Nurse. Distributor Hemdale had just released The Hound of the Baskervilles (1978) featuring Kenneth Williams, and their involvement in Carry On Emmannuelle was dependent on Kenneth Williams agreeing. Though Williams really felt the script was the worst he had ever seen, he felt he had to agree out of loyalty. He was also, astonishingly, given a pay rise, being paid £6,000 instead of his previous fee of £5,000. With Williams on board, Cleves Investments Ltd agreed to provide the £320,000 required to make the film. Barbara Windsor was asked if she wanted a role as the woman described by Leyland, Lyons and Richmond. After reading the script, which involved her character spending most of the time in her underwear, she naturally refused. The role was subsequently split between three different actresses. Eric Rogers composed the score one last time.
The British sex comedy genre existed from 1967 to 1979 and was a result of Britain's censorship laws being the toughest in Europe. With actual pornography being illegal, severe constraints covered what were classed as 'sex documentaries' - these could only be shown on licensed premises if they were officially regarded as informative and not considered to be entertaining. However, extremely saucy humour, combining the music-hall and saucy-seaside-postcard traditions exploiting an audience's embarrassment about sex, was allowed. 1978 was the year that the market for sex comedies, such as Confessions from a Holiday Camp, declined. It coincided with the peak of the anti-pornography feminist movement, where women were encouraged to boycott films containing female nudity, but prior to the rise of the sex-positive feminist movement, which argued that it was fine for a woman to enjoy consensual sex if she so chose. This effectively meant it was the worst possible year in which to make a sex comedy, even one that was neither sexy nor funny.
Gerald Thomas, when questioned by the press, insisted that the film contained vulgar and titillating sex scenes, not crude pornographic sex scenes, but this was hardly reassuring. Released in November 1978, the film was still in cinemas in January 1979 when Peter Butterworth had a heart attack and died immediately after playing Widow Twanky at a performance of Aladdin.
Following Carry On Emmannuelle Peter Rogers began preparations for Carry On Again Nurse in 1979. Hattie Jacques once again would have played Matron, with co-star Kenneth Williams, and there were proposals to reconcile with Charles Hawtrey. However, as Carry On Emmannuelle had flopped, Cleves Investments Ltd were not interested in providing the finance. Distributors Hemdale were not prepared to provide the money to make the film, and so it was mothballed. In 1980, just as the required funds appeared to be available, Hattie Jacques had a heart attack and died. As the proposed film would have starred her as Matron, it was abandoned.
Peter Rogers continued trying to make more Carry On films and in 1981 commissioned Vince Powell to write a parody of US soap opera Dallas (1978-1991). This would have featured Kenneth Williams as RU Screwing, the head of the Screwing family, inspired by Dallas' JR Ewing. This went by the working titles Carry On Texas and Carry On Dallas. It was abandoned when Dallas' lawyers threatened, even after Rogers proposed changing the family name from 'Screwing' to 'Ramming'.
Following the television success of That's Carry On! in 1981, Philip Jones, head of Thames Television, requested a series of Carry On compilation episodes. This was complicated by the fact that ITV only had the broadcast rights to half the series and so clips from only that half were used. The series, entitled Carry On Laughing (not to be confused with the earlier show with that name), ran between 1981 and 1982 and was a huge success. The first episode was broadcast on New Year's Eve and was watched by 16 million viewers. The BBC soon asked Peter Rogers to make a compilation series based on the Carry On films they had broadcast rights to - this was called What a Carry On. Neither series contained any deleted scenes - with hindsight, that seems a lost opportunity.
Having seen that there was an audience of millions still interested in the Carry On brand, Rogers tried again to get finance for another film. Rank, again, were still uninterested. Tragically, in the mid-1980s Rank decided to completely clear out their film storage facilities and destroyed reels of material from many of the films they had made. This included all the outtakes and deleted scenes from the Carry On films. No known copies survive.
In the mid-1980s another attempt was made - an Australian businessman promised to finance a film set in Australia, which led to Vince Powell writing a script named Carry On Down Under. Again it failed to get anywhere, with the finances falling through before the script was finished. The incomplete script has been published in 50 Years of Carry On (2008).
The Carry On team planned to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the series with a special film that would star Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims and Barbara Windsor. An entirely new script for Carry On Again Nurse was written by Norman Hudis, the writer of the early Carry On films, in 1988. Rogers had even managed to get the Writers Guild of America to agree to waive their fee on the grounds that it would be a British film based on a script written in Britain. The story was about a local hospital threatened with closure, and the patients and staff trying to save it. In early 1988 both Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey died suddenly, so the film was abandoned. The script was published in the book The Lost Carry Ons (2000).
31. Carry On Columbus (1992)
|Plot||When Christopher Columbus acquires a map from Mordecai, he persuades the queen of Spain to let him try sailing to China and India across the Atlantic Ocean rather than around Africa. The Sultan of Turkey, afraid that a sea route, if discovered, will result in no more tax income from merchants travelling through Turkey, sends Fatima, his best spy, aided by Achmed the shoemaker, to prevent the voyage at all costs.|
|Setting||1492, Turkey, Portugal, Spain, the Atlantic and New World|
|Drag||Fatima disguises herself as cabin boy Tima 'short for Tima-thee' to get on board the Santa Maria|
|Nudity||Artist's model's bottom (Sara Stockbridge)|
Carry On Columbus was made to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage to America and was more successful in the UK than the official Columbus films Christopher Columbus: The Discovery and 1492: Conquest of Paradise, although all three flopped. Dave Freeman was given ten days in which to write the script and incorporated some material from Carry On Again Christmas. The story has a plethora of characters played by a stellar cast, most of whom have little to do while the film jerks from scene to scene.
Frankie Howerd had originally been cast as the king of Spain but he died before filming commenced. Bernard Bresslaw turned down the role. Joan Sims and Barbara Windsor had been asked but both declined to play Queen Isabella. This was the last film Gerald Thomas ever directed. The American shore was filmed at Frensham Ponds, which had previously doubled for Spain in Carry On Jack (1963). During the making of the film, Sarah Crowe met and married Jim Dale's son Tony.
Overall a huge step up after That's Carry On! and Emmannuelle, there are plenty of enjoyable moments, yet these do not gel together to make a coherent whole, leaving the film less than the sum of its parts. There are too many actors with very little to do, as the film attempts to say farewell to as many of the old generation of Carry On actors as possible while also introducing a potential new generation.
No More Carrying On?
In 1993 Bernard Bresslaw died of a heart attack in his dressing room just before he was due on stage, Kenneth Connor died of cancer and Carry On director Gerald Thomas died of a heart attack at his home.
In 2003, Peter Rogers announced he would be making a film titled Carry On London about a limousine company that takes celebrities to an awards show. This was to be the first in a new series of films. Lots of different comedy and soap actors were supposedly involved, but the project was constantly on hold. Peter Rogers died in April 2009.
Since then, there has been media interest in the Carry On name. Two more Carry On films were announced to great fanfare in 2016: Carry On Doctors and Carry On Campus were supposedly being made back-to-back, although yet again this announcement led nowhere.
One thing that is certain is that the Carry On films retain great affection in the UK. In an era in which films are frequently remakes and reboots, including beloved British comedies such as Dad's Army and St Trinian's, it seems almost inevitable that a new Carry On will be made one day. The question is: how successfully can the magic of the original be recaptured without the original cast?