1958 – 1961 | 1962 – 1964 | 1965 – 1967 | 1968 – 1970 | 1971 – 1973 | 1974 – 1992
Carry On Christmas | Carry On Laughing
The Carry On films were all directed by Gerald Thomas and produced by Peter Rogers. Since Carry On Cabby (1963), they had all been scored by Eric Rogers1 and written by highly talented comedy writer Talbot Rothwell OBE. The biggest changes since the series started in 1958 were the move to colour and the change of distributor from Anglo Amalgamated to J Arthur Rank. Yet more changes were afoot. Firstly, Charles Hawtrey's alcoholism was becoming increasingly apparent and difficult to control. Despite his comedy genius, he was no longer dependable and so his role in each film was reduced to almost a cameo. Also Jim Dale, who had established himself solidly in the role of romantic lead, had left the series. This left a difficult hole to fill, especially as he had been one of the youngest members of the cast and the others were being moved in a direction that they were increasingly unsuited to play: sex symbols.
Cinema in the 1970s
In the 1970s, British cinema polarised and entered a decline. With three channels, television's popularity was seriously denting cinema audiences, especially as home video players were available from 1975. The large number of mid-budget films all-but disappeared. Films tended to be expensive, glossy productions for the international market, such as Superman or the James Bond films, or period dramas made with the American market in mind. Films aimed at the domestic market were in contrast cheap and cheerful. These were usually film adaptations of popular television sitcoms, horror films, or 'British sexploitation' sex comedies.
Before the 1970s, the Carry On's main comedy rivals were the Doctor films2, but by 1971 the comedy scene had changed. Their rivals were now the Confessions3 and Adventures films, which had a soft-pornographic focus. This trend was also reflected in television comedies of the 1970s, including The Benny Hill Show and The Two Ronnies. That said, of the top 20 most successful British films made in the 1970s, four were pure comedies4.
As the 1970s progressed the Carry On films found it increasingly hard to find their niche, struggling desperately to be hip and trendy when perhaps it would have been better to adopt a more dignified role. One thing that didn't change was the cast's wages. Since 1958 Sid James, Kenneth Connor and Charles Hawtrey were paid £5,000 per film, with no further royalties, and the rest of the regular cast received a flat wage of £3,000 or less per film.
In the tables 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).
21. Carry On Henry (1971)
|Or:||Mind My Chopper|
|Plot||The story of King Henry VIII's long-forgotten seventh and eighth wives. After beheading his last wife, Henry is forced to marry Queen Marie of Normandy, cousin of King Francis of France. Henry would much rather marry the attractive Bettina and suspects Marie of having an affair with Sir Roger de Lodgerley.|
|Setting||Tudor England in the reign of Henry VIII|
Sid James seems born to play sex-mad king Henry VIII, so it seems odd that originally the part was written for 'Goon' Harry Secombe. Some madrigals for Secombe to sing were cut from the film when Sid James was cast. Instead they appear in 1972's Carry On Christmas. Sid James looks magnificent throughout the film, wearing Richard Burton's5Oscar-winning costume (hired from Berman's of London) from Anne of the Thousand Days6 (1969). Despite Sid James excelling in the role, he was criticised for playing Henry as a dirty old misogynist, which is odd considering how the king treated his wives in real life.
This was the first film to have been given permission to film in Windsor Great Park, the grounds of Windsor Castle.
22. Carry On At Your Convenience (1971)
|Plot||Struggling firm WC Boggs & Son manufactures toilets, but may be forced to close due to the frequent strikes, often when the union rep wants to watch a football match. The only way the company can survive is if it makes bidets for the foreign market and both management and workers can work together.|
|Setting||Toilet ceramics factory and also Brighton|
|Drag||Sid disguises himself as a fortune teller.|
|Bechdel||Pass (although there are no long conversations, Maude and Chloe briefly discuss the strike, and Agatha and Mrs Spragg (Amelia Bayntun) shout at each other).|
Written under the title Carry On Working, which is the last line of the film, Carry On At Your Convenience is about the battles of the classes rather than the more common battle of the sexes. Producer Peter Rogers, a man who didn't give his cast a pay rise between 1958 and 1978 while he bought himself two Rolls-Royces a year (a convertible for summer and a hard top for winter), knew which side he was on. The film was clearly on the side of the management and strongly anti-union. Having alienated its core working-class audience, it became the first Carry On film to flop at the box office. It only recovered its costs through international and television sales. In America and Australia the film was released as Carry On Round the Bend.
Following the criticism of Sid James' character in Carry On Henry, his role is greatly toned down for this film. Instead of a lecherous dirty old man, he plays a faithful husband despite the characters Sid and Chloe being obviously ideal for each other and unhappy in their own marriages - poignantly they do not act on their mutual attraction.
This was Ricard O'Callaghan's second and final Carry On, and Kenneth Cope's first. Terry Scott was paid £500 for a day's filming, but all of his scenes were cut from the final film as it was originally 50 minutes over length; scenes featuring Bill Pertwee as the barman of the Whippit Inn were also cut. Bernard Bresslaw couldn't ride a motorbike before making this film, so he had to be taught how to ride in a straight line.
The factory location was in reality Pinewood Studios' timber yard. The cast did actually go to Brighton, where the Clarges Hotel (owned by Dora Bryan, who had appeared in the 1958 film Carry On Sergeant) was used for location shooting of the workers' day out - these scenes are a real delight as you can see the cast enjoying themselves.
23. Carry On Matron (1972)
|Plot||Sid Carter plans to steal contraceptive pills from the Finisham Maternity Hospital's birth control centre to sell on the black market abroad. As part of the plan his son enrols in the hospital disguised as a female nurse.|
|Setting||Bunn and Oven Wards, Finisham Maternity Hospital, England|
|Nudity||Bare bottom of Gilly Grant, credited as Nurse in Bath|
Following Carry On at Your Convenience's failure, the series returned to safer territory with a medical comedy. Once again, Heatherwood Hospital in Ascot was used as the hospital's exterior while Pinewood Studios' corridors doubled for the hospital's interior.
This was the last Carry On to feature both Terry Scott and Jacki Piper. As Jacki was pregnant when her contract was due for renewal, producer Peter Rogers chose not to renew it. Peter Butterworth could not appear due to other commitments, so Bill Maynard was given the role of Freddy. However, the film did introduce Isle of Wight resident Jack Douglas to the series. He had a single day of filming for which he has always maintained he was not paid, although Peter Rogers claims he paid him £25. In either case, when the film made a profit he was sent 12 bottles of champagne as a thank you.
Once again Sid James' character is less lecherous than previously, this time being a crook and a father. He had previously played the leader of a gang of robbers in The Big Job (1965) which was made by the same production team, and also starred Joan Sims. Dr Goode and Matron try to watch a television soap called Surgeons, the plot of which was based on Green for Danger (1947), the first film Hattie Jacques made.
Remarkably, the filming was finished six and a half days ahead of schedule. The production team were obsessed with finishing the Carry On films on time and on budget, and only one went over schedule (Carry On Cowboy (1965) was completed a day late due to rain). Director Gerald Thomas felt that Carry On Matron finished so early more than made up for that.
Getting Carried Away
Meanwhile producer Peter Rogers was attempting to expand his horizons beyond the Carry On series by executive-producing other projects. These included: the science fiction film Quest For Love (1971) (inspired by John Wyndham's short story Random Quest), which starred Joan Collins, who also appeared in his Revenge (1971), a psychological thriller about how a community punishes a paedophile; Assault (1972), about the pursuit of a serial rapist; and All Coppers Are (1972), a film about a policeman and a criminal who are both in love with the same woman.
Carried Off: Bless This House (1972)
More relevant to the Carry On series, Rogers also bought the film rights to the television sitcom Bless This House (1971-76), which starred Sid James as Sid and Patsy Rowlands as his neighbour Betty Lewis. Rogers wanted to work with the Carry On cast and crew with whom he was familiar, and so the film was directed by Gerald Thomas with music by Eric Rogers. Peter Butterworth replaced Anthony Jackson as Betty's husband Trevor. Terry Scott and June Whitfield played Sid's new neighbours. Sid's daughter Sally was again played by Sally Geeson. As Robin Stewart, who had played Sid's son Mike, was busy, Robin Askwith replaced him. The screenplay was written by Dave Freeman; he wrote the 1970 episode of Carry On Christmas and went on to write the 1972 Christmas special, several episodes of Carry On Laughing, and the films Carry On Behind (1975) and Carry On Columbus (1992).
Sid James enjoyed working with Sally Geeson and Robin Askwith so much that he asked Rogers if they could have roles in future Carry On films7. Bless This House was successful enough for Rogers to begin planning a sequel; however, Sid James' limited availability followed by his sudden death meant that this was never made. The plot of the film had no impact on the television series - it continued running with the original cast and treated the film's plot, in which Mike got married, as if it had never existed.
24. Carry On Abroad (1972)
|Plot||WundaTours takes a coach full of tourists to the Mediterranean island of Elsbels, where the hotel run by Pepe and Floella is still being built.|
|Setting||Fictional Mediterranean island and resort of Elsbels, early 1970s.|
|Nudity||Barbara Windsor's bottom in shower, Carol Hawkins' and Sally Geeson's backs|
Despite Carry On at Your Convenience flopping, the scene in Brighton had proved popular. When Talbot Rothwell proposed setting a film within the package holiday industry, Peter Rogers excitedly agreed. However, instead of filming at a Mediterranean destination, the seaside resort was in fact the Pinewood Studios car park with a pile of sand dumped on top. June Whitfield returned to the series for the first time since Carry On Nurse in 1959. Hattie Jacques played a small role; billed 11th, she now weighed over 20 stone (280lb or 127kg)8 so the insurers wrote to Rogers to say they were unlikely to insure her on any future film set unless things changed. Even worse was Charles Hawtrey, whose drink problem was becoming uncontrollable. Peter Rogers said:
Charles was drinking in the mornings and half asleep for work after more drinking during lunch. He was holding up the production... I had always maintained that a film could wait for no man. To keep these films on budget it had to be a complete team effort with no slackness on anyone's part, whoever they may be.
This was the last Carry On film to star Charles Hawtrey, whose role as an alcoholic mother's boy was very true to life. The final straw came when he gave an ultimatum demanding top billing to appear in Carry On Christmas (1972), or he would refuse to appear. His last day of filming featured the scenes set on the coach, although the film ends with his arrival in the pub to meet all the friends he had made on his trip.
Valerie Leon had been intended to be cast as Moira Plunkett, with Madeline Smith as Lily, but they were unavailable. Olga Lowe, who plays Madame Fifi, was one of the first actresses to befriend Sid James when he arrived in the UK from South Africa and was with him when he died on stage in 1975.
Carry On Abroad was warmly welcomed by the British public, many of whom could relate to the package holiday and 'hotel from hell' theme.
25. Carry On Girls (1973)
|Plot||Fircombe is a dying seaside town because of its annual rainfall. In order to get more visitors, Sidney Fiddler, aided by publicist Peter Potter, organises a beauty contest, much to the disgust of local feminist Augusta Prodworthy, who will stop at nothing to stop it.|
|Setting||Fictional seaside town of Fircombe|
|Drag||Peter Potter disguises himself as Patricia Potter to get publicity for the contest.|
|Beauty Queen Cartoons9|
The working title had been Carry On Beauty Queens. The story was inspired by the real 1970 Miss World contest in which Bob Hope was attacked by feminists throwing flour bombs and tomatoes. Councillor Augusta Prodworthy is a perfect impersonation of Mary Whitehouse10, down to her hairstyle and mannerisms. The fictional Fircombe was really Brighton and the Clarges Hotel again featured.
Kenneth Williams was unable to appear due to stage commitments and Bill Maynard had originally been cast as the police inspector but had a conflicting television engagement. The character of Cecil Gaybody had originally been written for Charles Hawtrey; as he had been dropped from the series, the role was recast and heavily cut. This was the fifth and final appearance in the series by Joan Hickson, but the first main film role for Jack Douglas, who had impressed with 1972's Carry On Christmas. He was nominated for a 'Best Film Newcomer' award.
The film attracted undue criticism for its subject of a (sabotaged) beauty contest, as it was considered sexist. Again there is a degree of stereotyping: the feminists are seen burning bras, for example. However, the film's underlying message is that although there are always going to be critics, you don't have to be stunning, like Valerie Leon, or curvaceous, like Margaret Nolan, to be a successful beauty queen; anyone can be universally considered beautiful, regardless of their appearance, whether they look like Wendy Richard, Bernard Bresslaw or even Barbara Windsor.
The film flopped.
The failure of Carry On Girls led to the cancellation of the annual Carry On Christmas television show. From then on only one Carry On film was made a year, rather than the two a year that had been standard previously. The series was coming to an end, finishing not with a bang, but a whimper.