1958 – 1961 | 1962 - 1964 | 1965 – 1967
1968 – 1970 | 1971 – 1973 | 1974 – 1992
Carry On Christmas | Carry On Laughing
The Carry On films were a long-running series of 31 comedy films made between 1958-1992. Each film starred a regular repertoire of actors and was directed by Gerald Thomas and produced by Peter Rogers.
Independent producer Peter Rogers notoriously had a reputation for being the lowest-paying producer in Britain and also had a phobia of travel and suffered severely from homesickness. This, as well as budget reasons, meant that the films were made at Pinewood Studios or, when location filming, as close to Pinewood Studios as possible. He famously once said I would do anything for my actors, except pay them. His view was that all the actors were expendable as the title Carry On was the star of his films.
In the early 1960s the Carry On series went through a period of both change, changing writer and composer, but also consolidation, particularly the main cast. They also began the move to colour.
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 episodes 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.
During this period Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas made other comedy films together as well as the Carry Ons, usually employing the same actors as the Carry On cast. Several of these have been considered to be unofficial Carry On comedies as they share so much with the official titles, and so these too are summarised below.
6. Carry On Cruising (1962)
|Plot||A group of incompetent raw recruits join the crew of cruise ship SS Happy Wanderer, much to the annoyance of its captain. The passengers also include a couple of single ladies looking for a husband. Due to their incompetence and their enthusiasm not matching their experience or ability, the new crewmembers have a series of misadventures and cause all sorts of problems, yet at the end of the film they show they have what it takes to really make it. The captain is so proud to have known them he chooses not to accept promotion to captain of a liner, but to carry on cruising instead.|
|Setting||On board cruise ship SS Happy Wanderer sailing from England to Spain, Italy and North Africa and back.|
|Writer||Norman Hudis, based on an idea by Eric Barker.|
This is the first Carry On in colour, and the last to be written by Norman Hudis, albeit based on a story proposed by Carry On Sergeant and Carry On Constable actor and novelist, Eric Baker. He had initially proposed a script about a European coach tour holiday, which evolved into set onboard a cruise ship. As Hattie Jacques was still recovering from illness, she did not appear and had not had a role written for her. Joan Sims does not appear either and it was officially said she was also 'ill'1 and her role was played by Dilys Laye who had appeared in several of Betty Box's films, as well as Rogers' Please Turn Over (1959).
After reading a review of Carry on Regardless which said he was the star of the series, Charles Hawtrey gave an ultimatum. He demanded top billing and a star for his dressing room or would not appear; Lance Percival immediately replaced him in the role of Chef Wilfred Haines. Director Gerald Thomas said,
It was a difficult decision, but with the best will in the world we could not bill him above Sid James, for example.
This was the only 1958-1972 Carry On in which Charles Hawtrey did not appear. Kenneth Williams also asked for a pay increase but was promised that though the salary would stay the same, he would get a Mediterranean cruise for free as part of filming overseas. Despite this promise, all the shots were filmed on a set in Pinewood Studios. Plans to film in Gibraltar had been considered however Rogers, with his phobia of overseas travel, preferred to stay closer to home. Shipping company P&O were thanked in the credits for supplying stock footage, including that of the SS Oronsay which doubled for fictional ship SS Happy Wanderer.
Carried Off: The Iron Maiden and Nurse on Wheels (1962)
The next film by Rogers and Thomas was The Iron Maiden (1962), written by Oscar-winning lyricist Leslie Bricusse and Vivian Cox about a jet aircraft designer with a fondness for traction engines. Jim Dale, who had first appeared in Rogers' Raising the Wind (1961) billed 39th was given a larger minor role and continued to impress. This was followed by Nurse on Wheels based on novel Nurse is a Neighbour, starring Juliet Mills with Esma Cannon, Norman Rossington, Joan Sims and Jim Dale. The script had been written with Sims in mind for the lead role, but as Sims had put on weight she was replaced by Juliet Mills and recast as the vicar's daughter. This was the first Peter Rogers' film officially composed by Eric Rogers and the last written by Norman Hudis, who had written all the Carry On scripts to date.
7. Carry On Cabby (1963)
|Plot||Charlie Hawkins is a workaholic cab company owner, who is so obsessed with his job he misses his wedding anniversary. His wife, feeling neglected, decides to secretly set-up her own rival company, Glamcabs, using stunning new cars and employing only beautiful women in air stewardess-esque outfits. Who will win the battle of the sexes?|
|Colour?||Black and White|
|Setting||Early 1960s Windsor|
|Drag||Kenneth Connor (Ted) disguises himself as a Glamcab woman driver|
Shortly after Hudis resigned as Rogers' scriptwriter having moved to America, Rogers received a comedy script by Talbot Rothwell. Rothwell had been in the RAF during the war and, after being shot down, was imprisoned in Stalag Luft III Prisoner of War Camp alongside Peter Butterworth, with whom he worked on the 'wooden horse' escape plan3. Impressed by Talbot's writing, he was challenged to quickly adapt an idea by Morecombe & Wise's scriptwriters Sid Green and Dick Hills about a feuding married couple. Talbot wrote his delightful script, originally titled Call Me a Cab, in two weeks, though the end sequence was co-written by Sid Colin, based on an unsold script he had written called The Streets of Town. Anglo Amalgamated only decided the film should become part of the Carry On series partway through production.
Sid James and Bill Owen had starred in television series Taxi! (1963-4) as a cab firm owner and a driver. This was the fourth and final of both Bill Owen and Esma Cannon's Carry On appearances, but the first by Jim Dale and Peter Gilmore. Kenneth Williams had been offered the small role of Allbright but passed. Charles Hawtrey agreed to appear when he was reassured that he would always be billed in the top three of any Peter Rogers film in which he starred4. Neither Charles Hawtrey nor Amanda Barrie could drive when the film entered production, so Hawtrey was given a quick driving course, having three hour-long lessons a day for three weeks, passing his test just before filming began, while Barrie's scenes behind the wheel were filmed by towing her taxi.
All the Glamcabs were Cortinas donated by the Ford Motor Company, who were promoting their new car. The taxis were hired from the London General Cab Company for £5 per day and the drivers were paid 7/6d per hour each to drive their taxis. The film also contains location footage shot around the streets of Windsor.
8. Carry On Jack (1963)
|Plot||After the death of Nelson the Royal Navy desperately needs more men, even incompetent Albert Poop-Decker who despite being at the academy for over 8 years and still hasn't passed, is promoted to midshipman and sent to sea. In Plymouth his clothes and identity are stolen by Sally, a serving maid, and he is press-ganged onto HMS Venus as a common sailor. However Captain Fearless is obeying his doctor's orders to avoid excitement rather than admiralty orders to seek out the enemy. This causes the first officer and bosun to plot to get rid of Captain Fearless as well as Poop-Decker and Sally, who are incompetent raw recruits. After a series of misadventures and having caused all sorts of problems, by the end of the film they have shown what it takes to really make it, with the First Sea Lord promising promotions for all.|
|Setting||1805, following the Battle of Trafalgar, on the high seas between England and Spain|
The film was written as a spoof of the then current trend for naval films such as Mutiny on the Bounty, HMS Defiant5 and Billy Budd (all 1962), with the opening shot a recreation of the famous painting 'The Death of Nelson, 21 October 1805' by Arthur William Devis. Originally intended to be a standalone comedy entitled Up the Armada, when the British Board of Film Censors refused to allow the title, the name was changed to make it a Carry On film. There are comparatively few Carry On stars in the film, though it marks Bernard Cribbins' first appearance in the series. The film does miss the usual banter from the regular actresses.
The production hired the HMS Defiant set and relevant props from HMS Defiant for £700. The ship set was constructed at the top of a hill at Pinewood Studios to allow filming in all directions free from obstructions in the distance. Bernard Cribbins and Jim Dale would return to Frensham Pond, where the scenes set on the Spanish shore were filmed, for Carry On Columbus 30 years later.
9. Carry On Spying (1964)
|Plot||The only known copy of a top-secret formula has been stolen! Only a group of incompetent raw recruits for BOSH – the British Operational Security Headquarters - can be sent as backup to aid suave Agent Carstairs intercept the plans before they are given to evil Dr Crow, head of STENCH – the Society for the Total Extinction of Non-Conforming Humans. Due to their incompetence and their enthusiasm not matching their experience or ability, the new spies keep inadvertently incapacitating Carstairs. Will the world be safe?|
|Colour?||Black and White|
|Setting||England, Vienna, Algeria6 and the Orient Express|
|Writer||Talbot Rothwell and Sid Colin|
Carry On Spying had a long, troubled journey from concept to film. Original writer Hudis was asked to write a spy spoof following the huge success of Dr No (1962), but Rogers was disappointed with the result and rejected the script. In 2004 Hudis described his rejected work as 'An appalling script, tired and uninspired, written by one who was running on empty'. Shortly afterwards Hudis moved to America where he enjoyed success writing scripts for television series such as The Man from UNCLE (1964-1968) and The Wild, Wild West (1965-1969).
Two years later Peter Rogers asked Talbot Rothwell if he could come up with a spy-based comedy. Talbot, co-writing with Sid Colin, was inspired by The Third Man (1949), Casablanca (1942) and The Maltese Falcon (1941), ensuring that the last Carry On film in black and white owes a lot to film noir.
This was the first film in the series to star Barbara Windsor. Peter Rogers was still trying to find a replacement actress for Liz Frazer. Windsor was chosen as she had worked well with Bernard Cribbins in Crooks in Cloisters (1964), however Carry On Spying was Cribbins' final appearance until Carry On Columbus in 1992. During filming Bernard Cribbins was hit in the neck by a plastic bullet hit and was very vocally critical. Rogers then decided not to hire him again. Bernard Cribbins would later appear in Bond-spoof Casino Royale (1967).
Overall the film looks fantastic, with the opening sequence straight out of a James Bond film – in fact, an assassin disguised as a milkman breaking into a top secret laboratory with explosive milk bottles would be used in The Living Daylights (1987) over 20 years later8. Eric Pohlmann had appeared in The Third Man and had been the voice of Blofeld in From Russia With Love (1963), a film which inspired the sequence set on a train. The villain's underground lair complete with miniature railway looks genuinely like a James Bond set. James Bond producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman threatened to sue; Charles Hawtrey's character had been intended to be called James Bind but this had to be changed to Charlie Bind, while his number was changed from double-0 6½ to double-oh ooh, with the 'oh-oh oooh' delivered in the way only Charles Hawtrey can.
Sadly Charles Hawtrey's alcoholism began to badly affect his performance; he passed out when filming a sequence in which he is dangling from a girder. This sequence is the film's weakest point as, in order for the characters to escape from being dunked in acid by an automated machine, it is switched into reverse. Two whole minutes of the cast making their way through the machine, falling down, being pummelled by dirty rocks and getting soaked in a car wash is repeated, this time shown in reverse. The joke wears off after a couple of seconds but the clip drags on.
10. Carry On Cleo (1964)
|Plot||After conquering prehistoric Roman Britain and returning to Rome with British slaves, Julius 'Julie' Cæsar and his friend Tony travel to Egypt where they meet and are enchanted by the lovely queen, Cleopatra. Will Cleo succeed in seducing Tony and get him to plot against his friend, Julie? Will the slaves escape to freedom?|
|Setting||Prehistoric Britain, Ancient Rome and Egypt|
|Drag||Hengist and Horsa disguise themselves as Vestal Virgins|
Carry On Cleo is one of the highlights of the series. The script is the perfect epitome of Carry On humour at its best. The film owes its existence to epic film Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor, which had begun its production in Pinewood. Soon after Taylor had a near-fatal illness and as she needed to be somewhere warm to aid her recovery, 20th Century Fox abandoned the sets they had built at Pinewood and moved production to Rome9. Spotting the unused Cleopatra sets the Carry On team rushed a Roman-themed spoof into production, using the sets as well as interior props from a just-closed 1964 London production of play Caligula that were hired from actor Victor Maddern.
Joan Sims returns to the Carry On fold and this film marks the debut of Jon Pertwee, later to find fame in Doctor Who. It was the last appearance by Amanda Barrie, who despite playing titular character Cleopatra, is seventh billed. It was the last for five years for Kenneth Connor and is the only Carry On to feature Isle of Wight actress Sheila Hancock or The Avengers and Play School actress/presenter Julie Stevens.
The film is not entirely historically accurate; pre-invasion Britons were not brontosaurus-eating cavemen10, but this is irrelevant as the script is definitely funny. Not everyone got the jokes; store chain Marks & Spencer were unimpressed with the slave traders named Markus and Spencius, and demanded an official apology.
In 2007 a line in the film was voted the best film one-liner of all time. This was first used in radio comedy Take It From Here by Frank Muir and Denis Norden, but fits seamlessly into the story.
Carried Off: The Big Job (1965)
Following Carry On Cleo the team made a comedy about a bank robbery, entitled The Big Job, based on John Antrobus' rejected 1958 proposal for Carry On Constable. This starred Sid James, with Joan Sims, Jim Dale and Lance Percival.
By 1965 the Carry On film series had established itself as popular comedy series and would never return to black and white. Yet the series would face two cancellation crisis within the next couple of years; the films' distributor, Anglo Amalgamated, would announce that they would no longer support the series. When the two following films in the series were released by J Arthur Rank instead with the words, 'Carry On' missing from the titles and had poor box office performances, would the series survive or reach even greater heights?