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What a Carry On/ Legends: Sid, Kenny, Charlie and Hattie (Part 1) ~ Sid James

May 15, 2015

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Sid James:

the bloke with the most?

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One of my favourite ever tweets is the work of a chap named @davelee1968, whom back in March 2012 shared with the world that he was “Watching Sid James riding a GoKart on a pier being chased by an angry mob and women in bikinis. It’s what makes Britain Great.” For anyone particularly au fait with the Carry On series, this Tweeter was quite clearly (if a little ironically) referring to the final scene in Carry On Girls (1973), in which Sid’s beauty pageant in the fictitious seaside resort of Fircombe-on-Sea has gone disastrously, er, tits up, thus he’s scarpering from the scene – as well as chasing after a similarly escaping Barbara Windsor (of course).

To be honest, however familiar you are with the Carry Ons, it’s an enduring and fitting image. It’s perfectly representative of the Sid James of the public consciousness – the middle-aged; sex-driven; Babs Windsor-pursuing; unavoidably rather ugly; absurdly, nay inexplicably lucky; cheeky Cockney bloke. But is it actually fitting? Who was the real Sid James? In this first of four articles to look at the quartet of fantastic, fascinating Carry On cast greats (which will see each of them enter this blog’s ‘Legends’ lounge) we look at the series’ leading man – and answer the question: was Sid James the bloke with the most? The bloke who got the most? The bloke who, like his persona, enjoyed it all most?

Before we start, it may be only fair to warn you that, if you have always assumed the Sid of the Carry Ons was more or less the Sid of real life, you’ll be in for a few surprises. Indeed, let’s get surely the biggest surprise out of the way first. Sid James wasn’t a Londoner. He wasn’t even an Englishman. Or a Brit. In fact, he didn’t set foot on UK soil until he was 33-years-old. Yes, really.

He was born in May 1913 under the name Soloman Joel Cohen to (yes, you got it) Jewish parents and was mostly brought up by relatives in the deprived Hillbrow neighbourhood of South Africa’s Johannesburg, while his parents toured a vaudeville act. Probably unsurprisingly, given the rough nature of his early surroundings, he liked to talk in later life of having tried out different masculine professions, such as a boxer and a diamond cutter, but possibly suggesting he developed an eye for the ladies from the very beginning, he also tried his hand as a dance tutor at a studio he ran himself, but was most successful at training and then working as a hairdresser at a salon his mother set up on her return to town.

Indeed, it was at a salon in the town of Kroonstad that he met his first wife, Berthe Sadie ‘Toots’ Delmont; they married in 1936, had a daughter (Elizabeth) the following year and Toots’ father bought a hairdresser’s salon for his son-in-law. Yet, Sollie (who, partly thanks to a teacher clearing up a confusion over nicknames involving his elder brother Maurice, had decided thereafter he’d be called ‘Sidney James’) wanted a different future. Ironically, one not unlike that of his parents, whose absence had caused resentment in the young Sid. So, not only did he turn his back on hairdressing, he also turned his back on his wife; his first marriage lasted just four years. It’s been suggested that, even then, the reason for this relationship’s breakdown was Sid’s womanising (he sired two children with other women), but one wonders whether there was more to it than that. Having given up the salon for the theatre – he joined the Johannesburg Repertory Players, which led to radio acting gigs with the South African Broadcasting Corporation and a stage lead in Of Mice And Men – it’s clear that not just Sid’s amorous desires, but his dreams and ambitions lay elsewhere.

All the same, Sid’s abandonment of his young bride and child was the last straw for her wealthy father (whom apparently ‘put a price’ on our man’s head), so he decided to cut his losses and join the army. And, coinciding as this did with the outbreak of World War Two, it actually aided his performing career – as it did for later British comic contemporaries such as The Goons, Tommy Cooper and fellow Carry On-ers Kenneth Williams and Kenneth Connor. For, after a stationing with the South African Tank Corps in Abysinnia, Sid was ordered (yes, really) to join the Entertainment Unit, made a corporal and proceeded to put on shows for his fellow troops. During this time, he was caught under heavy fire at the notorious Siege of Tobruk and was eventually promoted to the rank of staff sergeant. (Note: he would go on to portray many a working-class, sergeant-like, mid-level authority figure in years to come)

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Fun and games: Sid speeds away from the scene of the crime in Carry On Girls (left); living up to his working class hero brand by lending his identity to a pub game flogged as a ’70s family toy (right)

Around this time he acquired himself a second wife, dancer Meg Sergei, and come the war’s end and his decommission, the couple’s showbiz ambitions saw them leave their homeland for the glamour of London. In fact, so the legend goes, it was on hearing that an acting acquaintance of theirs named Larry Skikne had landed himself a grant for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) that they decided to relocate to the Smoke – Larry Skikne would eventually carve out more than a decent thesping career under a stage name that may (or may not) have been dreamt up by Sid… Laurence Harvey.

Sid and Meg arrived in the UK on Christmas Day 1946 and, amazingly enough, within days he’d landed himself not just an agent but a small role as a gangster in the crime flick Black Memory (1947). Indeed, by the end of the year he’d appeared in five films as well as in a radio drama; the following January he starred in his first play, Burlesque, which arrived at Her Majesty’s Theatre in the West End with an extra scene explicitly written to expand Sid’s role. The work was starting to flow and in the summer he made his debut on the relatively new medium that was television; days later he appeared on the box again as the lead in drama two-parter The Front Page.

By the time Sid featured in a major supporting role in the classic Ealing comedy hit The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), he’d already starred in 14 movies and was becoming a familiar face on TV and a recognisable voice on the radio. Specialising in playing tough guy-esque, Cockney-ish small-time crooks (and often in comedy), he was carving out a fine niche for himself; not bad for a Saffer who’d only been out of the army and in the country for five years. If only his private life could have gone so well. Despite having a daughter together in 1947 (named Reina, whom would go on to become an author and actress), Sid and Meg’s marriage had fallen apart and, this time, it appears his affairs can really only be blamed for the break-up. Not least because they seemed to have driven Meg to the bottle. The couple divorced and in 1952 he married 19-year-old actress Valerie Assan (whom used ‘Ashton’ as her stage-surname) and with whom he’d been characteristically, er, carrying on.

Work-wise, though, Sid’s life continued to go from strength to strength. So much so that the next stepping stone he took could be said to be the greatest of his entire his career, for it was the one that made him a household name. Ironically, it was also one he was far from comfortable with, at least initially. As has been noted, Sid had certainly done and thus was used to radio work, but he’d never done comedy on the radio – certainly not for a big-time project. And filling out a supporting berth in a BBC sitcom built around established comic star of the airwaves Tony Hancock was the big-time, all right.

Hancock’s Half Hour debuted in May 1954 and went on to run for six series, coming to an end in November 1961. One of the very first examples of a British sitcom, it offered listeners a 30-minute-long sketch, a willfully stripped-down step away from the variety-style sketch-and-song-filled comedy shows radio had previously delivered, such as Educating Archie (1950-58) – whose huge success had won Hancock his own show – and later, of course, Beyond Our Ken (1958-64) and Round The Horne (1965-68). Written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson (whom would later achieve just as much success with TV’s Steptoe And Son), the show focused around the observations and diatribes of a misanthropic comedian (a down-on-his-luck version of the real Hancock), supported by several characters (some of whom were played by future Carry On legends Kenneth Williams and Hattie Jacques) and included one Sidney Balmoral James, a petty criminal type whom often succeeded in implicating Hancock’s anti-hero in schemes, and in so doing usually conned him.

A warped take on Sid’s roguish persona, this character’s popularity in the runaway success that was Hancock’s Half Hour saw his star soar. Not least because he was the only cast member to make the transition with Hancock from the radio show to the just as well received TV adaptation (1956-60). Indeed, the lack of much of a supporting cast in this version saw Hancock and Sid come to be seen as a double act in the public’s mind. According to Moira Lister, a co-star on the radio show: “from the start he [Hancock] was very neurotic and worried about everything. It was never a relaxed and happy show. Sid, on the other hand, was relaxed and easy going … Because Sid was un-neurotic, he was able to cope with Tony’s neurosis and was probably a very good balance for him, both in and out of the studio”.

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“He never resorted to any tricks at all and he never upstaged anyone. He was a kid at heart. In Carry On Cowboy I’d find him behind the scenery twirling a six-gun and trying to practice a fast draw. And he always liked to gamble. He would run a sweepstake every day based on how many minutes of film we’d shoot”
~ Carry On director Gerald Thomas on Sid James

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Nonetheless, it didn’t last – and maybe couldn’t. Hancock hadn’t earned his neurotic persona for nothing; like so many comedians before and since, he was a depressive, sadly fuelled by drink and, one has to suspect, his decision to cut Sid out of the TV show and go it alone for one final (albeit no less successful) series – renamed simply Hancock (1961) – had more than a little to do with the inner demons he constantly battled. Apparently he didn’t tell his colleague and pal of so many years himself; he left it to the BBC brass to do so. Still, Sid clearly put the experience and Hancock behind him by moving on with other projects – most of which boasted him as lead player.

In truth, he had actually been poached away from the Beeb in 1958 to headline ITV’s comedy series East End, West End, in which he played a Cockney ducker-and-diver. The series hadn’t been a great success and with no second series in the offing Sid had been free to continue on Half Hour. When he was dropped from that show, though, Aunty was determined its TV rival wouldn’t step in again, so had Galton and Simpson dream up a new sitcom for its star. Citizen James (1960-62) cast Sid as an inveterate gambler named, er, Sidney Balmoral James. By the writers’ own admission, James was indeed simply playing his Half Hour role in a different TV show. Yet, co-starring future co-Carry On-er Liz Fraser as his girlfriend, Sid enjoyed popular success with Citizen James; it ran for three series and from the second series on even saw his character become something of a people’s champion.

Burned as he had been with East End, West End, however, Sid had been far from sure his future lay with TV, so before Citizen James he’d tried something new, namely singing and dancing in his supporting turn in the Tommy Steele-headlined movie musical Tommy The Toreador (1959). Given the film appears to be all but forgotten now, it’s fair to say it wasn’t a stonking success, but it shows that Sid was willing to stretch himself and do something different. In fact, throughout the ’50s he’d combined radio and TV work with appearances on the big screen, having played supporting roles in another Ealing classic The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953), Hammer horror sequel Quatermass 2 (1955), classic thriller Hell Drivers (1957) and even the Burt Lancaster/ Tony Curtis Hollywood blockbuster Trapeze (1956).

However, the most notable film from this era in which Sid was cast – and this time in the lead – was the one that turned out to be arguably the most important of his career. Now a reliable, dependable, versatile screen lead, he was called on to replace radio comedy star Ted Ray, whom (owing to a dispute between rival film studios) wasn’t available to return for the latest movie in a line of comedy smash hits. The movie was Carry On Constable (1960) and Sid’s casting in it shifted him in a new irresistible direction – an upward curve towards utter iconoclasm. An audio interview recorded in 1972 (listen to it at the bottom of the page) reveals that Sid never expected  to become a lead actor, let alone a film star, but once he appeared in Constable there was no way back.

Like the three Carry Ons that had preceded it, this police-pastiching flick was huge at the UK box-office and made the series’ producer Peter Rogers and director Gerald Thomas realise they now had on their hands a de facto lead for their talented and hugely popular troupe of comic thesps (Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Hattie Jacques, Joan Sims and Kenneth Connor). Vying variously with Williams, Sid became arguably the series’ star attraction for the rest of its run. In total, he’d go on to appear in 19 of the silly, bawdy but often very funny Carry Ons; receiving top billing in every one. However, despite what anyone may say, he didn’t always play the same character. Make no mistake about it, over the course of the movies (and as befitting the needs of the series through the tumultuous social changes of the ’60s and ’70s), Sid’s Carry On persona certainly evolved. Well, if that’s the right word for it.

And it’s here that we collide with the Sid James legend or, to be more precise, the is-it-or-isn’t-it? obfuscation of the real Sid thanks to the big screen Sid occurs. In his early Carry Ons (Constable, RegardlessCruising and, to some extent, Cabby), he’s the put-upon authority figure, pulling his hair out at the ineptitude of those he’s lumbered with overseeing. Come the burgeoning sexual revolution of the mid-’60s, though, and definitely from Carry On Cleo (1964) onwards, he’s the randy, canny, inexplicably irresistible bloke with the unmistakeable ‘yak-yak-yak’ laugh who’s always chasing skirt – and, thanks to being variously successful at it, something of a peculiar fantasy figure for working class middle-aged men up and down the land. So, ensconced in the ’60s and drifting into the ’70s as we now are, was there a genuine blurring between the real Sid and this Sid we love so much? Well, possibly.

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Trouble and strife: a happy (?) Sid and wife Valerie at Tommy Steele’s wedding in 1960 (left); detail from the 1973 Christmas TV Times cover – Sid was carrying on with Babs in real-life at the time too 

The Sid of this era, having to earn a living for himself and his family (especially considering how badly the Carry Ons paid, even though it seems he was paid far better than most of the other regulars), was also a permanent star of the small screen, seamlessly moving between hugely popular and softly socially conscious domestic sitcoms in which he usually played a fairly straight, booze, football and gambling-friendly dad character – appearing opposite Peggy Mount in ITV’s George And The Dragon (1966-68), alongside Victor Spinetti in the BBC’s Two In Clover (1969-70) and, of course, in ITV’s fondly recalled Bless This House (1971-76), the latter of which was so successful it even spawned a 1972 feature film. Yet, the real Sid wasn’t a beacon for dull domesticity; by all accounts he was just as much the charming lothario he’d always been; only his third and final wife decided to put up with his bed-hopping.

Judging by her her memoirs, though, it seems there was one particular conquest that almost broke the camel’s back and, eventually and rather tragically, broke Sid himself. And, fueling the legend and aiding the blurring, it was the one he oh-so memorably chased in so many of his Carry Ons – just like in those movies, Barbara Windsor was a real-life obsession with Sid James. After they first appeared together in Carry On Doctor (1967) – the one in which Sid remains in his hospital bed for almost the entire duration; actually the result of him suffering from a recent heart attack, which was also the reason why he smoked a pipe in character thereafter – Sid simply couldn’t get the effervescent Ms Windsor (forever typecast as ‘Babs’, the chesty, perky Cockney bird as much up for how’s your father as a mere laugh) out of his mind and pursued her for years.

Was his pursuit of her as blatant, pathetic and cack-handed as it is in the marvellous Carry On Camping (1969)? Who knows, but its seductive to think so. Eventually, she relented and they had an affair in the early to mid-70s – around the time of the filming of the aforementioned Carry On Girls (1973) and Carry On Dick (1974); indeed, the chemistry between them in those two flicks seems pretty palpable, it must be said. Windsor has since said that she hoped if she slept with him once that would be an end to it, but it seems his infatuation was too strong, leading to him after some time being warned off by her then gangster husband Ronnie Knight. Which, contemporary sources suggest, was the beginning of the end for the brokenhearted Sid – he more or less ‘gave up’.

Carry On Dick, coming as it did just as the series entered its irrevocable decline, was Sid’s final, timely foray in the series and really his final professional foray (although between 1969 and ’75 there would be a few Carry On specials and a couple of series broadcast by ITV). He lived for another two years, finally succumbing to another heart attack that saw him actually die on stage during a performance in Sunderland; the smoking, boozing, gambling and, well, shagging having finally caught up with him it seems at the young age of 63.

Sid’s was undoubtedly a life of pursuing and getting what he wanted – a sort of successful version of all the aspirational but thwarted everyday men he played – yet his popular persona that’s been burned on to the public’s collective retina for so long belies the will to succeed he called on, the hard work he put in and the sheer talent he demonstrated throughout his long and varied career. Far too easy to overlook or even dismiss, Sid James is in fact a complex nest of thorny contradictions as well as Carry On delights; a bloke who so often we feel like we see when we look in a mirror – and even if that’s not who he really was, it’s who he’ll always be, ‘yak-yak-yakking’ back at us forever more.

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Playlist: Listen, my friends! ~ May 2015

May 4, 2015

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In the words of Moby Grape… listen, my friends! Yes, it’s the (hopefully) monthly playlist presented by George’s Journal just for you good people.

There may be one or two classics to be found here dotted in among different tunes you’re unfamiliar with or have never heard before – or, of course, you may’ve heard them all before. All the same, why not sit back, listen away and enjoy…

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CLICK on the song titles to hear them

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The Cowsills ~ The Rain, The Park & Other Things (1967)

Nancy Sinatra ~ Up, Up And Away (1967)¹

Otis Redding and Booker T & The MGs ~ Day Tripper (1967)

Carnaby Street Pop Orchestra and Choir ~ Dr Jekyll And Hide Park/ Hyde Park (1969)²

Chicago ~ 25 Or 6 To 4 (1970)

Sohail Rana ~ Soul Sitar (1970)

Roberta Flack ~ Sweet Bitter Love (1971)

John Barry ~ Theme from The Persuaders! (1971)³

Ben E King ~ Supernatural Thing Part 1 (1975)4

Planet Earth ~ Theme from Doctor Who (1978)

Kate Bush ~ And Dream Of Sleep (1985)

Billy Ocean ~ When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going (1986)5

Labi Siffre ~ Something Inside So Strong (1987)

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¹ An irresistible performance of the pop classic performed by the ’60s chanteuse on her NBC TV special Movin’ With Nancy, which was broadcast on December 11 1967 and was produced by her own company, Boots Enterprises Inc.

² This track from the musical collective’s marvellous LP The London Theme/ A Taste Of Excitement (the project of composer and conductor Keith Mansfield, whom in the ’60s worked as arranger for artists such as Tom Jones and Dusty Springfield and is now maybe most renowned for his ‘music library’ work), is very familiar in Brazil thanks to weekend TV show Sports Spectacular, for which it’s featured as the opening theme since the programme’s first broadcast in 1972

³ A promotional film of John Barry’s terrific theme for the Roger Moore– and Tony Curtis-starring TV adventure drama classic The Persuaders! (1971) for Top Of The Pops and featuring the umistakeable dance troupe Pan’s People

4 This ’70s soul classic from the singing legend, best recalled for his sensational solo hits Spanish Harlem and Stand By Me (both 1961) and his previous work as a principal lead singer with The Drifters, saw him hit top spot on the US R&B chart for the first time in 14 years and reach #5 on the main Billboard Hot 100 chart; Ben E. King died aged 76 on April 30

5 The awesome official video to the tremendous tune (which topped the charts in seven countries including the UK and hit #2 in the States) from the soundtrack of adventure movie The Jewel Of The Nile (1985), sequel to Romancing The Stone (1984), featuring the flick’s stars Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito on ‘backing vocals’

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What a Carry On: Carry On Regardless (1961)/ Carry On Cruising (1962)/ Carry On Cabby (1963)/ Carry On Jack (1963) ~ Reviews

April 30, 2015

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A week ago this blog took a step forward or (judging on your view) a step back by kicking-off its celebration of the UK’s greatest ever comedy movie series, a possibly ill-advised marathon viewing, reviewing, rating and ranking of every one of the films contained therein – a Carry On-athon, if you will. And this post, like it or not, sees its continuation.

Yes, with the four flicks under the microscope here, we’ve entered the ’60s, folks, and not only does it see the Carry Ons entering the age of colour, but there’s something of a nautical theme too, with two of the four films set at sea. But will the movies ride the rough waves of film criticism (or at least that of George’s Journal)? Well, you’ll just have to read on and find out, won’t you…?

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How it works:

  1. The ‘Carry On-athon’ takes in all 29 cinematically released Carry On films, chronologically from Carry On Sergeant (1958) right through to Carry On Emmannuelle (1978), excluding the compilation-clip-comprising That’s Carry On! (1977) and Carry On Columbus (1992), whose inclusion in the original series might be said to be a bit tenuous
  2. The reviews consist of 10 categories or movie facets, the inclusion of which tend to define a Carry On film as a Carry On film (‘the regulars’; ‘the crumpet’; ‘the setting’; ‘the plot’; ‘sauciness’; ‘cross-dressing’; ‘catchphrases’; ‘character names’; ‘music’ and ‘overall amusement’), each of which are rated out of 10, thus giving the film in question a rating out of 100, which ensures all 29 films can be properly ranked – the ratings are made up of ‘Boggles’, after Sid Boggle, Sid James’s utterly iconic character from Carry On Camping (1969)
  3. There’s also an ‘Adjuster for each film’s rating (up to plus or minus 10 ‘Boggles’) to give as fair as possible a score according to its overall quality as a film.

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Do you provide substitutes?”/
No, this is a respectable firm!

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Screenplay by: Norman Hudis; Composer: Bruce Montgomery;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 87 minutes; Released: March 1961; Black & White

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The regulars

Sid James; Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Hattie Jacques; Joan Sims; Kenneth Connor/
semi-regulars: Liz Fraser (first film); Esma Cannon; Bill Owen;
Terence Longdon (final film); Joan Hickson

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The crumpet

Liz Fraser; Fenella Fielding

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The setting

Contemporary (early ’60s) London

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The plot

A bunch of jobseekers – Williams, Hawtrey, Sims, Fraser, Owen and Longdon – meet at the Employment Exchange (read: Job Centre) and, catching wind that new business ‘Helping Hands’ is hiring, race off to fill out its staff; the opportunity’s so enticing even the Exchange’s fed up jobsworth Connor joins them. Run by James, the mantra behind the ‘Helping Hands’ agency is to provide what’s required, however unusual the job – trying on underwear bought for an absent wife, acting as seconds for a boxer, giving a pet chimpanzee a walk, and so on. All seems to progress more or less all right, until the secretary’s (Cannon) filing system is disturbed and each staff member’s sent to the wrong job…

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Would you like sauce with that?

Regardless undoubtedly, er, keeps up the tradition of the bawdiness becoming more overt in each new Carry On. We’re hardly in the freewheeling ’60s here, but with Fraser making her debut the filmmakers take advantage of her looks, assets and comic talent – the first job anyone undertakes is her trying on expensive lingerie in a married man’s bedroom. And later Williams manages to fall into a bath at an ‘Ideal Home’ exhibition in which Sims is taking a dip, while James – and we – get to ogle a gaggle of under-dressed girls. I wonder whether that’ll ever happen again…?

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Cross-dressing to impress?

Fraser, by way of disguise, dons a heavy men’s overcoat and chapeau to exit the aforementioned married man’s wardrobe, in which she’d hidden when his wife unexpectedly returns home (yes, that old chestnut). She also puts on a blokey voice. To be fair, it’s more sexy than funny.

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Catchphrase count

‘Yak-yak-yak!’ (James): 3; ‘Corrr!’ (Connor): 1

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Marvellous monikers

Bert Handy (James); Francis Courtenay (Williams); Gabriel Dimple (Hawtrey); Lily Duveen (Sims);
Sam Twist (Connor); Delia King (Fraser); Montgomery Infeld-Hopping (Longdon);
Miss Cooling (Cannon); Penny Panting (Fielding)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

A rather unremarkable offering from Montgomery this time really, although the lack of an overarching theme to the film doesn’t aid his score in terms of identity. He clearly has fun with the cues during the train sequence, though, providing a very mock-film noir vibe.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

This one has its moments – among them the home exhibition sequence, Sims getting plastered at a wine tasting do, Connor going all Bogart-cum-spy on a train and the finale when the gang titivate/ destroy an old house – but not really enough of them. Other sequences including a boxing bout, Connor caught in a honey trap with a horny Fielding and Williams at a chimps’ tea party (which, while memorable, nowadays feels a bit wrong) just keep things ticking along.

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Adjuster: 0

The weakest of the series’ early entries, Regardless suffers from its more-sketch-than-plot narrative – the sum of its parts definitely being less than its parts. The story’s far from incoherent or too absurd, yet you can’t help but wonder how ‘Helping Hands’ remains in business when the majority of its jobs are foul-ups. However, the addition of Liz Fraser to the Carry On company is an inspired move and Kenneth Connor’s dominance among the ensemble this time out is well deserved – he’s employee of the month.

Total Boggles:

55/ 100

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The best bit

Sid’s standing-in for an eminent doctor at a hospital, a sequence that concludes with the former inspecting the, er, health of a line of nurses in their underwear – note: just one film on from his debut and the lascivious side of Sid has reared its walnut-like head

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The best line

Cannon: “Don’t go – think of brain-washing!”/ Connor: “How can they wash what isn’t there?”

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Trivia

Regardless’s lack of a solid theme – in contrast with predecessors Sergeant (army), Nurse (hospital), Teacher (school) and Constable (police) – and a creditable plot is indeed down to the fact Hudis threw together sketches he’d previously written to form a script

Jacques only appears in a cameo as a hospital sister because illness prevented her taking a larger role

The film’s title memorably appears as a repetitive line in The Beautiful South song Good As Gold (Stupid As Mud) (1994) – itself, no doubt, a forerunner for the title of the band’s hugely popular best-of-album Carry On Up The Charts (1994).

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carry_on_cruising

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 Shut your port-hole”/ “Begging your pardon, sir,
one must have fresh…
”/ “… and your cake-hole!

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Screenplay by: Norman Hudis; Composer: Bruce Montgomery;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 85 minutes; Released: April 1962

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The regulars

Sid James; Kenneth Williams; Kenneth Connor/
semi-regulars: Liz Fraser; Dilys Laye (first film); Esma Cannon; Cyril Chamberlain

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The crumpet

Liz Fraser; Dilys Laye

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The setting

Contemporary times (the early ’60s) aboard a ship in the Mediterranean Sea; sending up holiday cruises

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The plot

The S. S. Happy Wanderer is setting sail on its latest cruise around the Mediterranean, but it looks to be a unhappy wander for the captain (James), concerned by the new faces in his crew – a gauche first officer (Williams), a blundering doctor (Connor) and an eccentric cook who’s never sailed before and is immediately struck with seasickness (Lance Percival). In addition to his ongoing quest with his colleagues to prove they’re not inept, Connor’s troubles are compounded by falling in love with a single-girl passenger (Laye), whom has been talked into the cruise by her similarly attractive best friend (Fraser), but seems to be looking for a man everywhere on the ship apart from in the doctor’s surgery.

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Would you like sauce with that?

You’d think a Carry On on a cruise ship (with all those rooms and cubbyholes in which goings-on might, well, go on) would be just the setting to send the sauce-o-meter up several notches compared to its predecessors, but that doesn’t really happen. There are moments of sauciness, sure, and they are more overt and knowing than those of the earliest in the series (such as Laye coming on to James, Fraser pretending to do so with Connor and the latter hopelessly trying to bring Laye round from a faint only to land on top of her on the floor), but the most suggestive stuff tends to be found in the wit of the script (to, er, wit: “You’re overwrought”/ “I’m underprivileged”).

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Cross dressing to impress?

Following its strong establishment in Carry On Constable (1960) and featuring again in immediately preceding movie Carry On Regardless (see above), it’s a little disappointing nobody dresses as the opposite sex here. That’s not to say there isn’t a good deal of costuming going on, though – after all, we are on a cruise ship. Indeed, Connor decks himself out as a matador to deliver a choice gag (see ‘the best line below’) to Williams, who’s a little curiously dressed as Zorro, while alone in his cabin with a hookah pipe, Percival goes full Lawrence Of Arabia (1962) in cream robes and a headscarf.

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Catchphrase count

‘Yak-yak-yak!’ (James): 5

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Marvellous monikers

Captain Wellington Crowther (James); First Officer Leonard Marjoribanks (Williams);
Dr Arthur Binn (Connor); Glad Trimble (Fraser); Flo Castle (Laye);
Bridget Madderley (Cannon); Tom Tree (Chamberlain)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

Montgomery’s final score for the series isn’t exactly his most memorable. It does the job perfectly admirably, but aside from flamenco-flavoured and oriental-tinged touches at choice moments, when the ship drops anchor at its various Mediterranean stop-offs, nothing really lingers in the bonce. The song with which Connor attempts to serenade Laye (Bella Marie, actually performed by Roberto Carinali) raises a few chuckles, mind you.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

Despite its drawbacks, Cruising is arguably the series’ funniest effort thus far. It’s big on the belly laughs – Laye and Cannon’s drunken encounter in the bar, the impromptu injections in Percival’s posterior and that memorable slapstick-tastic table tennis toss-up between Cannon and Williams. Not to be outdone, though, Hudis’s script is particularly witty too (“That’s why I drink, to forget her”/ “Forget who?”/ “Blessed if I can remember”; “Gentlemen, have I your agreement for a policy of unremitting quasi-teutonic organisational protectionism?”; “Flo! Ebb a bit”). Plus, Percival’s casting is inspired; it’s a shame his unique brand of unpredictable comedy would grace the series only this once – his blowing instead of sucking on a hookah pipe while dressed as a sheik is randomly marvellous.

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Adjuster: +5

Leagues of ocean away from being all at sea, Cruising nonetheless treads water. Mostly because the oft-seen-before narrative of a band of misfits (as ever, including Williams and Connor) messing up in the face of a superior only to put things right come the final reel is starting to feel a little tired. All the same, (more or less) newcomers Percival, Fraser, Laye and Cannon are all on top form and this flick marks an evolution point in the series – Williams’ persona is shifting here from an intellectual to a camp (somewhat) bureaucratic buffoon and, yes, colour has to come to Carry On. And it looks glorious.

Total Boggles:

60/ 100

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The best bit

 Laye and Cannon’s bonding by getting spontaneously sozzled in the ship’s bar – much to Fraser’s chagrin, the barman’s dismay and the habitual drunk’s awe

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The best line

Connor: “Well, my father, he breeds the famous fighting bulls, you know. Every year, 50,000 bulls he sends off by ship to South America”/ Williams: “50,000 bulls?”/
Connor: “Si, si. Also every year, 20,000 more he ships off to France”/ Williams: “That’s 70,000 bulls”/
Connor: “Si, si. One of the biggest bullshippers in the business”

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Trivia

Cruising’s script was based on an idea by early Carry On acting regular Eric Barker

Charles Hawtrey was dropped from the cast for apparently demanding top billing and a star on his dressing room door (he would have played Percival’s role); Joan Sims was also nixed, and wouldn’t reappear until Carry On Cleo (1964), owing to a dalliance with a Pinewood Studios carpenter (yes, really), which allowed Dilys Laye to make her debut in the series – the latter joining the shoot after just four days’ notice

This was Hudis’s last Carry On, after which he left the UK to take up job offers Stateside following the US success of Carry On Nurse (1959); his subsequent work included writing for TV shows The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68), The Wild Wild West (1965-69) and Hawaii Five-0 (1968-80)

At one point in the film, Percival’s chef character Haynes tasks a subordinate with breaking eggs, but when the underling complains it’ll take too long, Haynes demonstrates that he can place all the eggs in a large container, drop it on the ground and strain out the egg shells – this scene inspired a methodology (the ‘Haynes Technique’) used in modern-day data processing and systems design that describes any simple low-tech solution or method which would normally be overlooked because it appears to be counter-intuitive.

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carry_on_cabby

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The men haven’t got your advantages, dear –
just flash your headlamps at them

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Screenplay by: Talbot Rothwell; Composer: Eric Rogers;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 85 minutes; Released: June 1963; Black & White

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The regulars

Sid James; Charles Hawtrey; Hattie Jacques; Kenneth Connor; Jim Dale (first film)/
semi-regulars: Liz Fraser; Esma Cannon (final film); Amanda Barrie (first film);
Bill Owen (final film); Cyril Chamberlain (final film); Judith Furse (first film);
Renée Houston (first film); Valerie Van Ost (first film); Peter Gilmore (first film)

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The crumpet

Liz Fraser; Amanda Barrie; Carole Shelley; Valerie Van Ost; Marian Horton

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The setting

Contemporary (early ’60s) Britain; sending up the taxicab industry and ‘the war of the sexes’

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The plot

Charlie (James) runs the only taxicab company in town. Things are going so well that he and his manager Ted (Connor) have to recruit new drivers, including the enthusiastic but inept Hawtrey. Yet, all’s not well in paradise, as Ted’s at loggerheads with his on-off girlfriend, the cabbies’ café girl Sally (Fraser), and, worse, Charlie’s wife Peggy (Jacques) feels neglected. The final straw comes when Charlie misses their anniversary because he’s carting a man (Dale) and his expectant wife to and from hospital, so with her friend Flo (Cannon), Peggy secretly sets up a rival taxicab company to make him notice her and strike a blow for womankind. Soon ‘Glamcabs’ – featuring a bevy of leggy beauties in a fleet of Ford Cortinas – is not only stealing Charlie’s custom, but threatening to put him out of business.

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Would you like sauce with that?

With the first half of the film’s emphasis on marital strife, the opportunity for bawdiness properly comes in the second half when things shift to chauvinism and proto-women’s lib in the workplace – and, even then, the titillation amounts to shots of the ‘Glamcabs’ girls’ legs, close-ups of a clothed breast or two, the girls briefly stripping to their underwear and (mostly) Amanda Barrie’s coy sexual suggestion (on picking up a ‘fare’: “I know what to do – I’ve been picking up men since I was 17”). But, like with other strong early Carry Ons, it would be to Cabby’s definite detriment were the sauce stronger.

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Cross-dressing to impress?

Poor old Kenneth Connor, for it’s his turn to get the transvestite treatment this time, but you’ve got to hand it to him, he does his duty with bells on. Forced by his boss to impersonate a ‘Glamcab’ cabby to infiltrate their garage so his cronies can sabotage their vehicles, he goes the whole hog of not just donning the uniform, a wig and lipstick, but also the lingerie underneath. And, even better, he does make for a truly ugly woman. Of course, he gets his comeuppance – being faced with having to undress in front of all the other girls and, in his escape, ending up in what appears to be a drum full of oil.

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Catchphrase count

‘Yak-yak-yak!’ (James): 7; ‘Corrr!’ (Connor): 1

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Marvellous monikers

Charlie Hawkins (James); Terry ‘Pintpot’ Tankard (Hawtrey); Peggy Hawkins (Jacques);
Flo Sims (Cannon); Smiley Sims (Bill Owen); Punchy (Darryl Kavann); Tubby (Don McCorkindale)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

Promoted from producer Peter Rogers’ wife’s/ director Gerald Thomas’s brother’s Doctor movie series to the Carry Ons, composer Eric Rogers makes a masterful debut. His main theme is irresistible – a breezy but smooth melody with a harmonica solo (in fact, the film’s original title Call Me A Cab can be easily sung to its tune). Elsewhere, all the hallmarks of his scores to come can also be delightfully heard: a full-out brassy theme that oozes glamour for the ‘Glamcabs’ girls and the humorous wheezing touches used to wonderfully underscore, nay highlight, bawdy moments for eager punters everywhere.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

Arguably one of the series’ most consistently funny flicks, Cabby is a thorough success when it comes to amusement. The first third’s ‘kitchen sink’ set-up pays dividends with Sid and Hattie (so used to such stuff from years of sitcom work) relishing all the brilliant domestic (non)bliss of Rothwell’s cracking script – see video clip below. And the move then to cab firm versus cab firm/ gender war of the movie’s second third is marvellous farce, while the cabby chase of the last third (orchestrated by Sid like a general marshalling ex-squaddies, which his drivers are all supposed to be, of course) is equally terrific.

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Adjuster: +10

A cast-iron Carry On classic, thanks not least to new scribe Rothwell’s pacy, social comment-rich script, Cabby’s a delight from its first fare to its closing kiss-off line. Cruising may have brought colour to the series, but the real sea-change occurred here – look at all the ‘regulars’ either debuting or departing (see above), while Rothwell’s writing points to his future plots’ similar flexiblility, daring and bawdiness. No question, everyone’s at the top of their game here, especially Sid and Hattie. Come the closing credits, who wouldn’t want to see a sitcom featuring the further adventures of Charlie and Peggy and co.?

Total Boggles:

85/ 100

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The best bit

There’s so many brilliant bits in this one, but for me it may just be the opening scene (incorporating, over the titles, Rogers’ terrifically buoyant theme), in which we see the birth of Sid’s cheeky Cockney Carry On persona (‘yak-yak-yakking’ in his cab and enjoying himself immensely as he insults a chauffeur) – it ebulliently announces the arrival of the Rothwell/ Rogers-era… and how

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The best line

Sid: “In no time at all, you find that you’re about as popular as a wickerwork seat in a nudist camp –
and you know what sort of impression that makes on people”

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Trivia

The first Carry On to be written by Talbot ‘Tolly’ Rothwell (whom would go on write every subsequent one except the last three), Cabby was actually based on a play by early Morecambe and Wise scribes Dick Hills and Sid Green named, as noted above, Call Me A Cab – indeed, the film went by that title until halfway through production, at which point the decision was made to include it in the Carry On series

Initially, Charles Hawtrey couldn’t drive so had to learn within a week (having three one-hour lessons a day), passing his test the day before shooting commenced

This was the first film in the series that Kenneth Williams missed; out of all 29, he would only miss a further three – the first of which came all of seven years later in the shape of Carry On Up The Jungle

The filming of this specific Carry On is recreated in the TV movie biopic Hattie (2011), in which Ruth Jones plays Jacques; apparently, her role in this movie was Jacques’ favourite of all her Carry Ons

As Cabby was released in cinemas, Sid James was appearing on the small screen in a BBC comedy drama called Taxi! (1963-64) – in which his character, yes, ran a taxicab firm.

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carry_on_jack_title

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What’s all this jigging in the rigging?

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Screenplay by: Talbot Rothwell; Composer: Eric Rogers;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 87 minutes; Released: November 1963

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The regulars

Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Jim Dale/ semi-regulars: Bernard Cribbins (first film);
Percy Herbert (first film); Peter Gilmore; Sally Douglas (first film)

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The crumpet

Juliet Mills; Vivian Ventura

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The setting

Early 19th Century England and at sea; sending up seafaring Napoleonic War adventures

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The plot

Following the death of Admiral Nelson, the British Navy realises it needs more men pronto. This urges the promotion of the incompetent Albert Poop-Decker (Cribbins) to a midshipman. Assigned to the ship HMS Venus, Albert – advised by a porter (Dale) – visits an inn to sow his wild oats before setting sail. There, however, serving wench Sally (Mills) steals his clothes and stowaways aboard the Venus with the aim of finding her seafaring childhood sweetheart who’s presumed lost in Spain. Press-ganged into the crew along with the similarly useless Walter (Hawtrey), Albert struggles to convince Williams’ captain – named Fearless, yet who’s anything but – and the officers (Herbert and Donald Houston) of his true identity and that the ‘lad’ (Sally) claiming to be Midshipman Poop-Decker is an impostor.

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Would you like sauce with that?

Taking a back-step here, if you want to look at it that way, compared to the immediately preceding entry, Jack is, well, a little coy in its treatment of the sexy stuff. The most risqué section of the movie – the scenes in the inn – sees the characters sheepishly refer to intercourse as ‘what’ (rather than with a nudge-nudge-wink-wink code-word that’s actually funny). At least later on, Williams’ utter shock at witnessing Cribbins and Mills (the latter still dressed as a young lad) snogging is amusing, given he’s so surprised he doesn’t even have the capacity to be appalled. But, frankly, it’s all pretty innocuous.

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Cross-dressing to impress?

Although the only man-dressed-as-woman action we get is Cribbins wearing an inn wench’s frilly dress (admittedly for an extended period), Jack scores particularly well in this category because – extremely rarely in this series – we get some woman-dressed-as-man action. It’s a doozy as well, given it’s Mills impersonating poor Cribbins’ personage for the majority of the movie (and mighty fetching she looks in a naval uniform too). Unusually for a Carry On, there’s something almost Shakespearean about the cross-dressing here – bringing to mind Twelfth Night. Or maybe more accurately ‘Bob’ from Blackadder II.

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Catchphrase count

Perhaps due to the lack of so many regular cast members or because this was the first historical effort in the series, Jack features no Carry On catchphrases at all.

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Marvellous monikers

Captain Fearless (Williams); Walter Sweetley (Hawtrey); Midshipman Albert Poop-Decker (Cribbins); Mr Angel (Percy Herbert); Captain Roger/ Patch (Peter Gilmore); Hook (Ed Devereaux)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

In his second effort for the series, Eric Rogers certainly does an admirable job in aping the self-satisfied, grandiose feel of so many adventure yarn scores, but it must be said there isn’t an abundance of his terrific trademark flaring flourishes (often the musical equivalent of a wink at the audience), but then that may be a reflection of the relatively low bawdiness on offer – see above. Indeed, the onscreen less-is-more approach doesn’t exactly get the most out of Rogers’ scoring, let’s be honest.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

With more than an eye on its historical setting (and so a little over-faithfully following the beats of the Napoleonic-era naval romp?), Jack may be be a tad underwhelming when it comes to humour – it ought to be noted, though, that this was also Rothwell’s ‘first’ script of the series (see ‘Trivia’ below) so he was yet to hit his groove. All the same, the leads are all very good value, the plot’s turnarounds always comedic and Williams’ captain’s insistence on a cow being aboard to provide the men with milk instead of rum (which ends up sharing an ‘escape boat’ with the leads) is classic Carry On absurdity.

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Adjuster: +8

Truth be told, before this viewing, I wasn’t overly familiar with Jack, but it pleasantly surprised me. Taking a risk by going historical, the Carry On team nail their colours to the main-brace and go for the new direction whole heartedly. Although it could do with a few more zingers and too often the bits with the strait-laced Houston and Herbert lag, once we hit the second half and the plot twists and turns about mimicking a good old pirate story, there’s certainly fun to be had. Meanwhile, Cribbins is a winning comic hero, Williams relishes his authority idiot and Juliet Mills makes for a lovely leading lady.

Total Boggles:

61/ 100

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The best bit

The sight of at least a dozen Spanish guards filing, one after the other, into the Cadiz prison cell holding the captured Venus crew, followed by the sounds of a skirmish, then, straight after, the sight of the British crew filing out, one after the other, dressed in the guards’ uniforms

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The best line

Jimmy Thompson (as Nelson): “Kiss me, Hardy”/ Anton Rodgers (as Hardy): “I beg your pardon, sir?”/ Thompson: “Kiss me, Hardy”/ Rodgers: “Are you mad? What will they say at The Admiralty, sir?”/ Thompson: “They’ll only be jealous”

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Trivia

Jack’s was the first of Talbot Rothwell’s screenplays to be read by producer Peter Rogers and gain his approval, even though the script that would turn out to be Carry On Cabby (see above) was filmed first

Before becoming Carry On Jack, the first historical entry in the series went through several titles, including Carry On Sailor!, Carry On Mate and the decidedly non-Carry On alternatives Admiral Poop-Decker R.N. (possibly the title of Rothwell’s original script) and Up The Armada – which, rumour has it, may have fallen foul of the British censors

Juliet Mills had previously appeared in Rogers and Thomas’s comedies Twice Round The Daffodils (1962) and Nurse On Wheels (1963), both of which are similar in style to the early Carry Ons and the former of which is based on the same play (Ring For Catty) as was Carry On Nurse (1959)

Extensive use was made of a period-ship set built for the British adventure movie H.M.S. Defiant (1962)

Apparently, the reason why established regulars Sid James, Hattie Jacques and Joan Sims didn’t appear in Jack is because there simply weren’t suitable roles for them, while, at the urging of her agent, Liz Fraser had decided to move on from the series and Kenneth Connor’s absence was due to him appearing alongside future Carry On-er Frankie Howerd in the original West End run of musical A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.

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Carry On Ranking

(All out of 100; new entries in blue)

1. Carry On Cabby (1963) ~ 85

2. Carry On Nurse (1959) ~ 65

3. Carry On Constable (1960) ~ 63

4. Carry On Jack (1963) ~ 61

5. Carry On Cruising (1962) ~ 60

6. Carry On Sergeant (1958) ~ 58

7. Carry On Teacher (1959) ~ 56

8. Carry On Regardless (1961) ~ 55

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Keep calm,
the Carry On reviews
will, yes, carry on

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What a Carry On: Carry On Sergeant (1958)/ Carry On Nurse (1959)/ Carry On Teacher (1959)/ Carry On Constable (1960) ~ Reviews

April 23, 2015

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Right then, let’s get down to it (oo-er, missus!). Yes, as promised in my last post – which introduced this blog’s Summer Season of Carry On-ness – it’s time for us, each and every one of us, to collectively gird our loins as George’s Journal throws itself, like a randy Sid James into a harem of buxom beauties, into an arguably incongruous, maybe inexplicable, almost certainly inglorious Carry On-athon.

Yes, that’s right, it’s the opening salvo of a dedicated viewing, reviewing, rating and ranking of each and every entry in the all-time most popular British comedy movie series, which focuses on its first four flicks – Carry On Sergeant, Carry On Nurse, Carry On Teacher and Carry On Constable. And with that then, folks, it’s chocks away! (As they may well have said in Carry On Flying, had they ever made a film taking the p*ss out of Ryanair)…

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How it works:

  1. The ‘Carry On-athon’ takes in all 29 cinematically released Carry On films, chronologically from Carry On Sergeant (1958) right through to Carry On Emmannuelle (1978), excluding the compilation-clip-comprising That’s Carry On! (1977) and Carry On Columbus (1992), whose inclusion in the original series might be said to be a bit tenuous
  2. The reviews consist of 10 categories or movie facets, the inclusion of which tend to define a Carry On film as a Carry On film (‘the regulars’; ‘the crumpet’; ‘the setting’; ‘the plot’; ‘sauciness’; ‘cross-dressing’; ‘catchphrases’; ‘character names’; ‘music’ and ‘overall amusement’), each of which are rated out of 10, thus giving the film in question a rating out of 100, which ensures all 29 films can be properly ranked – the ratings are made up of ‘Boggles’, after Sid Boggle, Sid James’s utterly iconic character from Carry On Camping (1969)
  3. There’s also an ‘Adjuster for each film’s rating (up to plus or minus 10 ‘Boggles’) to give as fair as possible a score according to its overall quality as a film.

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Your rank?”/ “Well, that’s a matter of opinion

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Screenplay by: Norman Hudis; Composer: Bruce Montgomery;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 81 minutes; Released: August 1958; Black & White

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The regulars

Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Hattie Jacques; Kenneth Connor/ semi-regulars:
Shirley Eaton; Eric Barker; Terry Longdon; Bill Owen; Norman Rossington; Terry Scott

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The crumpet

Shirley Eaton

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The setting

Contemporary (late ’50s) Britain; sending up British National Service

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The plot

Being just one bunch of new recruits away from retirement, platoon trainer Sergeant Grimshaw (William Hartnell) makes a bet with his army pals his final group will be the one that earns him the single thing that’s eluded him his entire career – the ‘champion’ platoon plaudit come the barracks’ turn-out parade. His wager and peace of mind look doomed, though, immediately he meets his recruits, which include an educated snob (Williams), an effeminate waste-of-space (Hawtrey), a smoothie womaniser (Longdon), a hapless hypochondriac (Connor) – whom visits the barracks’ doctor (Jacques) daily – and a lovelorn unfortunate (Bob Monkhouse – yep, that Bob Monkhouse) whose primary concern is to consummate his marriage with his sweetheart (Eaton), having been somehow called up on the day of his wedding.

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Would you like sauce with that?

The very first Carry On isn’t really about sex at all (excusing Monkhouse and Eaton’s clumsy clandestine attempts at becoming lovers as well as man and wife in the film’s first third – and even that’s subtlely handled), thus bawdy humour is barely present at all. Which, in its way, is actually somewhat refreshing for a comedy featuring several Carry On legends. Indeed, for right or wrong, it’s not even hinted at that Hawtrey’s character may actually be gay, while we only have Longdon’s word for it he’s a ladies’ man. Connor does deliver a good old ‘Corrr!’ at one point, mind.

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Cross-dressing to impress?

The closest Sergeant gets to cross-dressing is the moment in the flick when the new recruits are supplied with their drab khaki-dominated kit and forced to dress-up as soldiers for the first time; almost symbolically suggesting, and smartly so, that from this point on there’s no way back – they’re definitely, as Status Quo would put it, in the army now.

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Catchphrase count

‘Ohhh, hello’ (Hawtrey): 1; ‘Corrr!’ (Connor): 1

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Marvellous monikers

Sergeant Grimshaw (Hartnell); Horace Strong (Connor); Charlie Sage (Monkhouse);
Peter Golightly (Hawtrey); Captain Potts (Eric Barker); Corporal Copping (Bill Owen)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

Suitably marching-band-based, the score from Bruce Montgomery (whom, incidentally, was also a successful crime novelist) was performed by the Coldstream Guards. Its light martial-mocking style fits the setting and content perfectly and, it must be said, the main theme itself is amiable and memorable – even adding an effective slice of sentiment to the proceedings (not least the final scene).

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

Compared to (or, rather, contrasted with) the vast majority of Carry On entries, Sergeant’s humour is particularly mild and understated; if one were being cruel they might say it’s subdued. That’s not to say it’s either subtle or high-brow, but it’s light-years away from the loveably bawdy, broad-brushstroke stuff for which the series would become notable in years to come. It’s also very inoffensive – definitely by today’s standards – lightly sending up, as it does, British Army culture and traditions rather than out-right mocking or trying to satirise them. All the same, Barker’s easily distracted, plummy captain is good value, as are undoubtedly the quartet who’d go on to become Carry On regulars.

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Adjuster: +8

Arguably not even the Carry On film in its genesis, Sergeant is nonetheless a perfectly likeable comedy, nicely and sparsely telling its tale of a a rag-tag band of martial misfits whom, come the climax, might just be able to pull off the impossible and do their superiors – and themselves – proud. As you’d expect, Williams, Hawtrey, Connor and Jacques pass-out with highest honours, but there’s also an effective, nay pleasantly surprising, light emotional punch come the very end.

Total Boggles:

58/100

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The best bit

Connor being put through a conveyor belt of medical examinations by Jacques to discover that he is, indeed, absolutely fit as a fiddle; possibly a perfect physical specimen

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The best line

Barker: “What’s the first thing that comes into your head?”/ Longdon: “Women, sir”/
Barker: “You’re a soldier by tradition and instinct”

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Trivia

Originally based on the novel The Bull Boys by R. F. Delderfield, Sergeant was never at all intended as the opener to a film series – indeed, its title derives from a common army saying

Hartnell was familiar to audiences for playing a sergeant major in the popular ITV sitcom The Army Game (1957-61), which co-starred Hawtrey and future Carry On regular Bernard Bresslaw; the former would, of course, go on to achieve immortality as the original TARDIS dweller in Doctor Who

Although Sergeant was the first Carry On film, by coincidence a movie named Carry On Admiral had been released just one year earlier (starring Mary Poppins’ David Tomlinson and James Bond’s Eunice Gayson, as well as future Carry On-er Joan Sims) and in 1937 a film called Carry On London, whose cast had featured Eric Barker

Sergeant hit a high of #3 at the UK box-office, ensuring it would be followed by…

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It’s Matron’s round”/ “Mine’s a pint!

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Screenplay by: Norman Hudis; Composer: Bruce Montgomery;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 83 minutes; Released: March 1959; Black & White

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The regulars

Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Hattie Jacques; Joan Sims (first film); Kenneth Connor/
semi-regulars: Shirley Eaton; Terence Longdon; Bill Owen; Leslie Phillips; (first film); Joan Hickson (first film); Cyril Chamberlain; Rosalind Knight (first film); June Whitfield (first film)

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The crumpet

Shirley Eaton; Jill Ireland; Susan Stephen; Susan Beaumont; Ann Firbank

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The setting

Contemporary (late ’50s) Britain; specifically a men’s hospital ward, sending up the NHS

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The plot

Newspaperman Longdon checks himself into an NHS hospital to have his appendix out, in doing so being immediately struck by his ward’s beautiful Staff Nurse (Eaton) and getting to know those occupying the other beds – a high-minded intellectual (Williams), a boxer who’s broken his hand (Connor), a fey radio obsessive (Hawtrey), a labourer with a broken leg (Owen), a City banker (Chamberlain) and a gambling old Colonel in his own room (Wilfred Hyde White). In time, they’re joined by a lothario (Phillips), whom is desperate to have his operation as soon as possible to make a rendezvous with his latest paramour (Whitfield). All the while, the gang are looked after by the ward’s nurses (Sims, Stephen, Hickson, Beaumont and Firbank), whom live in fear of the formidable Matron’s (Jacques) daily round.

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Would you like sauce with that?

Contrasted with its forerunner Carry On Sergeant, there’s noticeably franker fruity moments in Nurse. For instance, there’s no question what Sims is talking about when she comments that Longdon’s ‘a big boy’ as she helps him into the bath and we get a shot of his feet. And, of course, there’s that famous final scene in which the nursing staff get their own back on Hyde White’s pestiferous Colonel by ‘taking his temperature’ via the insertion of a daffodil into his you know what. This is a family film and it’s the late ’50s, so we don’t see anything, of course, but back then it certainly wouldn’t have been a joke for prudes.

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Cross-dressing to impress?

Just two films into the series and we get our first man-dressed-as-a-woman and, don’t doubt it, it’s a memorable one, coming as it does during the sequence when the boys surreptiously attempt to perform Phillips’ operation during the night and, as part of the scheme, Hawtrey dons the night nurse’s uniform, sitting in her place on the ward as a lookout. Indeed, he appears to be in his element, even happily stepping forward when the plan’s foiled and a superior calls ‘Nurse!’, momentarily forgetting who he is.

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Catchphrase count

‘Stop messin’/ muckin’ about!’ (Williams): 1/ ‘Corrr!’ (Connor): 3/ ‘Ding, dong!’ (Phillips): 2

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Marvellous monikers

Oliver Reckitt (Williams); Humphrey Hinton (Hawtrey); Bernie Bishop (Connor); Dorothy Denton (Eaton); Percy Hickson (Owen); Student Nurse Nightingale (Knight)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

As it would be for practically the entire series to come, the Carry On scoring goes full orchestral here – and Montgomery suitably injects a playfulness to proceedings; rightly so too, especially for the farcical moments. Also, the sentimental theme from Sergeant makes a welcome reappearance in the more romantic scenes (basically those between Longdon and Eaton).

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

If Sergeant maybe doesn’t properly feel like the first Carry On, then Nurse is closer to the mark. Why? Well, for one thing, there’s more malarkey. The humour’s far from dominated by farce, but there’s more physical farce (often at the centre of which Sims is terrific in her debut as a put-upon, clownish nurse), while as mentioned above there’s bawdier gags too. The wit isn’t bad either, thanks in no small part to the sheer class of Hyde White and Jacques in her first Matron role – in short, she’s brilliant. Of course.

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Adjuster: +3

Upping the innuendo ante, the slapstick and the totty quotient compared to Sergeant, Nurse is a highlight of the early Carry Ons. Like its predecessor, a genuine affection and respect for its subject matter (the nursing profession) underlines all the humour and admirably so, yet it doesn’t quite pull off its scatter-gun approach to storytelling – the lack of a satisfying resolution for all in the character ensemble does grate a little in a movie more rigid and less absurd than, save Sergeant, any other in the series. All the same, Nurse is eminently entertaining and ably comes up smelling of, yes, daffodils.

Total Boggles:

65/100

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The best bit

Jacques’ Matron brushing off being put in her place by Williams’ reasoning over her pernickety ward rules by ordering Hickson’s sister to carry out a pointless task, which – irritating each nurse – gets passed down the chain of command to Sims, whom can only take out her grievance by having a go at the lowest of the low, Mick the orderly

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The best line

Eaton: “Mr Bell?”/ Phillips: “Ding dong, you’re not wrong!”

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Trivia

Nurse was based on a play entitled Ring For Catty written by Jack Beale and Patrick Cargill, the latter would later play the lead in the ITV sitcom Father, Dear Father (1968-73)

It’s believed Nurse is the most successful – or, at least, on its release, the most popular – Carry On effort, thanks to achieving in excess of 10 million cinema admissions, which ensured it was 1959’s #1 film at the UK box-office; it made $1.5 million on release in the US

The movie actually features Bernard Bresslaw’s debut in the series – uncredited, his feet double as Longdon’s when the latter’s character stands in a bath

She may make her first Carry On appearance here, but June Whitfield wouldn’t make another in the series until Carry On Abroad – a full 14 years later.

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Are you satisfied with your equipment, Miss Allcock?”/
Well, I’ve had no complaints so far

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Screenplay by: Norman Hudis; Composer: Bruce Montgomery;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 83 minutes; Released: August 1959; Black & White

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The regulars

Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Hattie Jacques; Joan Sims; Kenneth Connor/
semi-regulars: Leslie Phillips; Rosalind Knight (final film); Cyril Chamberlain

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The crumpet

Joan Sims

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The setting

Contemporary (late ’50s) Britain; sending up the teaching profession and schools in general

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The plot

William ‘Wakey’ Wakefield (Ted Ray) is acting headmaster of Maudlin Street Secondary Modern and, nearing the end of the year, has his sights set on moving to the countryside to become head of a new school. To achieve his aim, he requires his teachers to demonstrate they can ably handle the student body during an end-of-term, week-long visit by school inspectors (Phillips and Knight). Wakefield’s staff – numbering a literary snob of an English teacher (Williams), a self-composing music teacher (Hawtrey), a hard-discipline advocate of a Maths teacher (Jacques), a word-muddling but resourceful science teacher (Connor) and a rather nubile, enthusiastic PE teacher (Sims) – assure him there’ll be no hiccups, yet reckon without the inexplicable act of sabotage the pupils enact as soon as the inspectors arrive.

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Would you like sauce with that?

Despite its setting (thus ensuring more than half of the cast are adolescents), Teacher manages to push the sauciness a notch higher than the series’ first two entries. This most memorably concerns Sims’ flirting with Phillips via (at least for the early Carry Ons) pretty overt innuendos – see video clip below. However, Williams’ English Lit class deliberately goading him by demanding to know why the potentially sexy bits in Romeo And Juliet have been removed from school study (imagine that happening today!) is also arguably franker stuff – albeit in a wordy, smart way – than we’ve so far encountered.

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Cross-dressing to impress?

Zilch. Although there is decent clothing-related humour with Sims ripping her over-tight gym shorts – again see the video clip below. And the younger members of the cast all get dressed up in Shakespearean-esque garb to perform their disastrous play in the film’s final third, but, yes, to say that’s, like those gym shorts, stretching it in this category is putting it mildly.

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Catchphrase count

‘Ding dong!’ (Phillips): 1

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Marvellous monikers

Edwin Milton (Williams); Michael Bean (Hawtrey); Grace Short (Jacques); Sarah Allcock (Sims); Alistair Grigg (Phillips)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

A big score here because, three films in, we finally get the classic Carry On theme, which would become synonymous with pretty much the whole of the rest of the series, making its debut over this movie’s opening titles. Elsewhere, Montgomery does a decent job, for sure – the outbreak of a rumba-inspired melody during the major characters’ ‘itching dance’ is inspired.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

I’ll be honest, in watching all the Carry Ons in chronological order as I am (or at least having started to), it wasn’t until I reached Teacher that I had my first genuine guffaw. Contrasted with its two predecessors, this one then certainly has laugh-out-loud bits – in addition to the fine smirk-worthy moments that generally characterise this series in its genesis. To wit, the five regulars inadvertently getting nissed as pewts and the itching outbreak in the headmaster’s office are slapstick of the highest order.

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Adjuster: +10

Far from ridiculous, Teacher nonetheless escalates the level of absurdity in the Carry On comedy brand (the lack of despair, let alone discipline in response to the school kids’ ever more destructive and disrputive pranks is a bit incongurous), but, hey, this is Carry On and the leads are clearly becoming more relaxed and, thus, truly starting to bring out the best in each other. Moreover, throwing into the plot a pair of school inspectors (whom have differing views on child psychology and teaching philosophy) adds a level of sophistication to proceedings that helps ensure this isn’t just Carry On St. Trinian’s.

Total Boggles:

56/100

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The best bit

Connor’s pet project, a scale-sized rocket, unexpectedly blasting off up through the school lab’s ceiling

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The best line

Jacques: “There’s only one thing to do – whack!”/
Williams: “Extraordinary theory – you bend a child double in order to get an upright character”

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Trivia

Teacher’s setting, Maudlin Street Secondary Modern School (which was really Drayton Green Primary School in Ealing), is alluded to in former Smiths frontman Morrisey’s song Late Night, Maudlin Steet (1988) – Morrisey is a self-confessed lifelong fan of Charles Hawtrey

Star-to-be of ITV sitcom Man About The House (1973-76) Richard O’Sullivan appears as one of the school’s pupils, Robin Stevens, the leader of the ‘Saboteurs’, while Carol White – whom would achieve iconoclasm a few years later as the lead in Ken Loach’s classic TV film Cathy Come Home (1966) – plays his cohort Sheila Gale

Future actress Francesca Annis, who would become a fixture with the RSC and memorably appear on the big screen in Dune (1984), apparently appears as an extra in the climactic crowd scene.

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Look in on Mrs Bottomley at No 24. She’s complaining of suspicious activities in the rear of her premises

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Screenplay by: Norman Hudis; Composer: Bruce Montgomery;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 86 minutes; Released: February 1960; B&W

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The regulars

Sid James (first film); Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Hattie Jacques; Joan Sims;
Kenneth Connor/ semi-regulars: Shirley Eaton (final film); Leslie Phillips; Eric Barker;
Joan Hickson; Terence Longdon; Cyril Chamberlain; Esma Cannon (first film)

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The crumpet

Shirley Eaton; Jill Adams; Diane Aubrey

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The setting

Contemporary (early ’60s) Britain; sending up the UK police force

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The plot

Short-staffed owing to a flu outbreak, a police station is forced to call on the services of five brand new constables – a would-be-intellectual with delusions of grandeur (Williams), a posh former playboy (Phillips), a superstitious paranoiac (Connor), an effeminate special constable (Hawtrey) and an efficient female PC (Sims). Threatened by the station’s bumbling chief (Barker) with transferral unless performance improves, the new recruits’ sergeant (James) fears for his future and his worries are soon realised as the useless newbies predictably muck things up – unwittingly asking burglars the way to the station, losing control of the police dog and walking in on and acting as counsellor to a bombshell (Eaton) over her marriage fears. Can the plucky quartet put things right before they get the boot?

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Would you like sauce with that?

Constable doesn’t necessarily offer more in the way of innuendos than immediate predecessor Carry On Teacher, but does push up the sauce-o-meter reading thanks to Shirley Eaton’s introduction being merely her bare back as she stands up in a bath and most famously, the sight of Williams, Hawtrey, Connor and Phillip’s posteriors as they run screaming from an unexpectedly cold shower – note: this is the very first instance of nudity in the series. And, actually, coming back to the innuendos, there are one or two top ones (read ‘the best line’ below; Sims’ response to Hickson viewing the parade of bare behinds).

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Cross-dressing to impress?

One may argue the great Carry On tradition of cross-dressing really begins here, as an entire sequence seems to have been conceived and executed to raise transvestic laughs – Williams and Hawtrey going undercover as women to catch department store thieves red-handed, resulting in them accidentally shoplifting and having to make a run for it. In fact, so at ease do they seem playing dress-up, it feels like the filmmakers are indulging the pair. No question, after this there was no going back – any future Carry On in which all men were dressed as men at all times would be a cause for disappointment.

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Catchphrase count

‘Corrr!’ (Connor): 1

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Marvellous monikers

Special Constable Timothy Gorse (Hawtrey); Sergeant Laura Moon (Jacques); Constable Charlie Constable (Connor); WPC Gloria Passworthy (Sims); PC Tom Potter (Phillips); Herbert Hall (Longdon)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

Montgomery’s work is perfunctory this time really; maybe the only really memorable bit being the fun ‘plodding’ cue as the constables march in line, starting their rounds of the neighbourhood under the watchful eye of James’s sergeant. Although, another Carry On tradition is arguably set thanks to this score, with the welcome reuse of the main theme established in Teacher – again, it would rightly reappear over and again throughout the rest of the series.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

Increasingly unbelievable though the new recruits’ attempts at being proper policemen may be, there’s no question they usually hit the funny bone – even if the idea of Hawtrey finding the urge to have a go on a scooter just too much to resist is ridiculous. And, yes, Connor’s astrological anxieties may become a little one-note, but James’s exacerbation at his hapless inferiors and crap superior is finely judged and very smirk-worthy, while Hickson’s regularly incarcerated, well-to-do intoxicator is great value.

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Adjuster: +3

Arguably the most memorable opening era Carry On for two reasons – its bare-faced cheek of showing bare cheeks in an early ’60s family comedy and its featuring a totally solid-debuting Sid James as its lead – Constable’s also a success because it ups the funnies and the bawdiness and delivers a satisfying conclusion. It’s a fair cop, guv – as it entered the ’60s, the Carry On brand was developing nicely.

Total Boggles:

63/100

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The best bit

Sims arrives on her first day having already arrested Hickson’s local alcoholic, whom requests her favourite cell in the basement – only to witness the station’s staff scarpering starkers from the shower

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The best line

Sims: “Well you did ask for a cell with a southern exposure

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Trivia

The lead role of Sergeant Wilkins was intended for Ted Ray, whom had played the main character in directly preceding film Carry On Teacher, yet Ray was under contract to ABC – a rival UK studio to Anglo-Amalgamated, maker of the the Carry Ons – and, as ABC wouldn’t release Ray a second time, Sid James was cast, thus beginning his long, iconic association with the series

Screenwriter Hudis drew inspiration for his script from a real flu outbreak at Slough police station, which had occurred during a visit he’d made there for inspiration.

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Carry On Ranking

(All out of 100)

1. Carry On Nurse (1959) ~ 65

2. Carry On Constable (1960) ~ 63

3. Carry On Sergeant (1958) ~ 58

4. Carry On Teacher (1959) ~ 56

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Keep calm,
the Carry On reviews
will, yes, carry on

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What a Carry On: Carry On Summer Season

April 15, 2015

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Cor, blimey!Ooh, Matron!Stop messin’ about! … Ohhh, hello! … And, of course, Yak-Yak-Yak!

We all know the Carry Ons, don’t we? Or, at least, if you’re from the UK and of a certain age, you’re highly likely to know the Carry Ons. As British as fish and chips, wet holidays in Skegness, old blokes in flat caps walking whippet dogs and Bond films on the telly on Bank Holidays, the Carry On comedy movie series hailing (mostly) from the ’60s and ’70s has been pretty much ever since it began an indelible, undeniable part of the texture of UK culture.

To know your Carry On is as much to be from these islands as it is to complain about the weather, bet on the Grand National and wonder why we bother not only to enter but also watch Eurovision every year. And, don’t doubt it, it’s much more British than it ever would be to vote for bloody UKIP (up yours, Farage! – cue Sid James laugh).

In which case, as we approach (what could well be, let’s be honest, another wiped-out-by-rain ‘comedy’) summer, what better time of the year and reason to celebrate the Carry On series? Yes, following on the heels of its previous celebrations of the cinematic James Bond and the golden anniversary year of Doctor Who, here’s notice then that George’s Journal from here on until its end (no, not that sort of end) will be – like an underwhelming village fête featuring drooping sandwiches and sozzled uncles – celebrating Sid, Kenny and co.’s contribution to the comedy and cinema firmament.

But, you may ask, do the Carry Ons really deserve celebration? Aren’t they the poor relation in cinematic terms to the classic Ealing comedies of the ’40s and ’50s? You could say that perhaps, if you were being über-critical. And, in comedic terms, aren’t they – filled, as they are, with leching old men, gay stereotypes, mother-in-law jokes and dolly birds with big bazoomas – really only a notch higher on the bed post (if you will) than the naughty seaside postcards of Donald McGill? Well, the fact is, and has always been, that with the Carry Ons it’s all about taste. They’re not for everyone; they never have been. And those without an appreciation of post- (and even pre-) WWII British culture will find it difficult to catch what they tap into – let alone find them funny. But, I guess, the point is, millions do. And millions have and will always find them funny.

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The Carry Ons

The regulars: Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Hattie Jacques, Barbara Windsor, Joan Sims, Kenneth Connor, Bernard Bresslaw, Jim Dale and Peter Butterworth (variously)

Directed by: Gerald Thomas

Produced by: Peter Rogers

Written by: Talbot Rothwell, Norman Hudis and Dave Freeman (variously)

Scored by: Eric Rogers and Bruce Montgomery (variously)

The original series: Sergeant (1958); NurseTeacher (1959); Constable (1960); Regardless (1961); Cruising (1962); CabbyJack (1963); SpyingCleo (1964); Cowboy (1965); Screaming!Don’t Lose Your Head (1966); Follow That CamelDoctor (1967); Up The Khyber (1968); CampingAgain Doctor (1969); Up The JungleLoving (1970); Henry; At Your Convenience (1971); MatronAbroad (1972);
Girls (1973); Dick (1974); Behind (1975); England (1976); Emmannuelle (1978)

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Indeed, a handful of the Carry Ons may actually be wittier, smarter and more intriguing than you recall – with their historical settings, pastiching tones and sharp, nay near satirical commentary on contemporary times. Plus, let’s not forget, conceived, as they were, by burgeoning film producer Peter Rogers (whose wife Betty Box, incidentally, produced the somewhat similar Dork Bogarde-starring Doctor film comedies) and directed – yes, every one of them – by helmer Gerald Thomas (whose elder brother Ralph Thomas directed those Doctor comedies), they boasted the cream of British comic talent in the shape of Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Hattie Jacques and Barbara Windsor. As well as many a legendary guest star – the likes of Frankie Howerd, Terry Scott, Leslie Phillips, Bernard Cribbins, June Whitfield, Patsy Rowlands, Harry H Corbett, Shirley Eaton, Liz Fraser, Elke Sommer and even Phil Silvers. And, although made on an extreme shoestring (Williams once claimed he made more from filming a British Gas advert than a Carry On film), their financing and filming – yes, all 29 of them – was 100 percent British.

But anyway, enough of all this Williams-like nostril-flaring nattering… on to the matter, er, in hand. For this post is merely an introduction. Yes, an introduction to a whole season of bawdiness, er, cheapness and general silliness. What’ll be coming your way? Well, like Babs’ bra springing off and into Kenny’s face, you’ll very soon be enduring… er, sorry, I mean enjoying the start of a marathon viewing, reviewing and ranking of the movies themselves – yes, in chronological order; that is, an (ahem) Carry On-a-thon – as well as articles on the ‘Legends’ that are the five main cast members (and what fascinating life stories will you find therein), plus, well, maybe one or two, er, titillating pictorial celebrations of the series’ ‘Talent’.

And with that then, folks, let’s fire the gun… er, I mean, let’s blow up the balloon… er, I mean let’s erect that tent-pole… er, I mean… well, you know what I mean – let’s bloomin’ well Carry On, shall we…?

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Playlist: Listen, my friends! ~ April 2015

April 7, 2015

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In the words of Moby Grape… listen, my friends! Yes, it’s the (hopefully) monthly playlist presented by George’s Journal just for you good people.

There may be one or two classics to be found here dotted in among different tunes you’re unfamiliar with or have never heard before – or, of course, you may’ve heard them all before. All the same, why not sit back, listen away and enjoy…

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CLICK on the song titles to hear them

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Carmen McRae and the Dave Brubek Quartet ~ Take Five (1961)¹

The Moody Blues ~ Tuesday Afternoon (1968)

Alan Hawkshaw and Keith Mansfield ~ She (1968)

Cat Stevens ~ Lady D’Arbanville (1970)

Hot Butter ~ Pop Corn (1972)

Harry Nilsson ~ Spaceman (1972)

The London String Chorale ~ Galloping Home
(Theme from The Adventures of Black Beauty)
 (1972)

Tom Rush ~ No Regrets (1974)²

Sutherland Brothers and Quiver ~ Arms Of Mary (1976)

John Barry ~ Downtown Walker (1976)

Jimmy Bo Horne ~ Spank (1979)

Francis Monkman ~ Theme from The Long Good Friday (1980)

Sting ~ Someone To Watch Over Me (1987)³

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¹ A rare version of the jazz standard featuring vocals – from legendary chanteuse Carmen McRae

² The original country version of the tune, which would become a huge hit for The Walker Brothers a year later, performed here by its writer and featuring one Carly Simon on backing vocals

³ From the soundtrack of 1987’s cop-as-bodyguard-of-Manhattan-socialite thriller of the same name

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Coming s007n: the history of the James Bond teaser poster

March 29, 2015

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A little tease: detail from teaser posters promoting Bond movies from each of the six different 007 eras

So have you caught it yet? Are you trying to figure out what Blighty’s finest’ll be off doing this time? Theorising just how the mystery behind the new criminal organisation’ll pan out? And wondering just how much of Hans Landa Christoph Waltz’ll channel as Franz Oberhauser? Yes, I am, of course, asking whether you’ve checked out the brand-spanking new teaser trailer for James Bond’s official 24th adventure SPECTRE, which went online just over 24 hours ago (watch it at the bottom of this blog post if you haven’t). Teaser trailers are exciting things, for sure – and none more so than for Bond movies. However, there is an important part of the pre-release marketing mix for practically every 007 flick that usually surfaces before any trailer: the teaser poster.

Yes, this type of poster (the very first poster for a Bond movie, which often features little visual clue of what’ll come in the film proper – because, yes, it’s a tease) often summons up as much excitement in Bond fandom – and, its only fair to say among media bods and sometimes the mass public – as its equivalent trailer. And Eon Productions, the company that owns the Bond brand and makes the movies, have always been very keen to enlist its use. Indeed, the history of the Bond teaser poster goes as far back as the mid-’60s (yes, really) and, so far, only four of the series’ flicks haven’t been preceded by one.

In which case then, peeps (if you’ll indulge me), here follows a pictorial post celebrating and dissecting the different – often very different – teaser posters we’ve been gifted and enjoyed from Bondom down through the years. You may not agree with my judgments on all of them, of course, and naturally I don’t expect you to read my thoughts on every single one of them. My suggestion is to dip in and out of them as you see fit; in fact, rather like you might with your Bond DVD collection…

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1965 ~ Thunderball
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Appropriately enough, the very first teaser poster – or advance poster, as they were referred to back then – was an effort for the movie that opened during and sustained the mid-’60s ‘Bondmania’ era, the Caribbean cruise-athon that’s Thunderball. Offering something of a rearrangement of the separate images that would make up the flick’s main poster (albeit with a different final image – here in the bottom left corner), its detail-heavy and visually rich, while the triple repetition in the four-part tagline (nattily incorporating the 007 logo) hits the spot like a bolt from Connery’s harpoon gun.

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1967 ~ You Only Live Twice

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Sleek, smart and oh-so efficient, You Only Live Twice’s advance effort perfectly reminds cinemagoers of what they’ve already enjoyed from Bond (specifically, detail from posters of his previous four adventures – cleverly tying them in with that ever increasing-in-size marketers’ dream that’s Connery’s mug), until at the bottom delivering the next film’s title in the terrific typeface-image-combo that’ll adorn the main posters to come. If this didn’t bait your breath for Bond in ’67, nothing would have – ‘Coming!’, indeed!

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1969 ~ On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

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Faced with the quandary of, for the first time, having to sell a Bond film without Sean Connery, the Eon marketing machine took the interesting decision with the advance poster (left) for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to, er, ignore altogether the fact there was a new actor. Not only does new boy George Lazenby not even get a mention before the bottom of the poster (his name can be found down there among the detritus of the flick’s principal credits), but also his face at the centre of the poster is entirely obscured by the legend ‘James Bond 007 is back!’. Perversely, this merely exaggerates the fact Connery’s absent and a new no-name’s filled his Saville Row duds. Matters too aren’t helped by the image giving the impression the new Bond’s some sort of muscle-man-giant with an eerily enormous right hand. Even more interesting is the concept art on the right, which was created but ultimately not used for the teaser poster campaign. Again, it’s focused not on selling the new star-in-waiting but the unique content of this 007 film – Bond and his bride-to-be. It’s also fantastic, pop art-like monochrome photography work.

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1971 ~ Diamonds Are Forever

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A bit of a letdown, this one. With Connery back as Bond, you’d assume the teaser poster for Diamonds Are Forever (left) would absolutely go out of its way to stress the fact, but it doesn’t. Clearly this UK advance was an afterthought – its image is cobbled together from the artwork of the main poster to come and, yes, while it definitely features the big draw that was The Big Tam, it doesn’t even bother to spell out the fact he’s back in the role in its wording. Let’s face it, it’s just pants. Conversely, to the right is a fascinating insight into what Diamonds’ teaser poster could have been. It’s concept art again (carrying the wording and typeface that would be used for the main poster campaign), but just how cool is that loose, languidly rendered image of Connery’s Bond? Where’s he off to? Why’s he got half a smirk on his face? What’s in his briefcase? So many questions – what a great tease that would have been…

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1974 ~ The Man With The Golden Gun

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A curate’s egg of a teaser within Bondom ’tis the one on the left. It’s very good (easily better than the film it promotes), but as an advertising wheeze a wee bit wordy – it looks more like a full-page magazine ad, but apparently it was a proper advance poster for The Man With The Golden Gun; albeit released in December ’74, the month at the end of which the movie itself came out. Still, like I said, the poster’s a good ’un, explaining and displaying the ingredients that make up the ingenious golden gun wielded by the titular character, which when assembled means he’s ‘ready to assassinate James Bond’. Again, the flick’s second advance effort (right) is better than the flick. Also released in December ’74, it sets up baddie Francisco Scaramanga as a match worthy of 007 by associating him with the greatest villains our hero’s previously faced. A top idea finely executed – mind you, the way in which it references Oddjob’s murderous techniques does make one wonder just how many other deadly hats the world has seen…

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1977 ~ The Spy Who Loved Me

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Come 1977, Bond had been away from the big screen for three years (at that point in the series an unnervingly long time) and, in order to reassure fans he’d lost none of his chutzpah, his return in The Spy Who Loved Me was big, brash entertainment. Also come 1977, it was, of course, the age of John Travolta and The Bee Gees. Both of these things can be seen in the advance poster for Spy. Don’t be deceived by that grey background (greys, browns and beiges were strangely popular and effective in ’70s design) because this is bold, starkly simple marketing – Roger Moore’s Bond looking at his most dapper and confident, flanked by Barbara Bach’s equally self-assured drop-dead beauty (now, she looks like a Bond Girl, all right!); both of them derived from the artwork of the main poster. And then there’s that tagline, which would also bless the main posters – raffishly cocked at an angle and sounding vaguely disco-naff, it pronounces this is Bond in the ’70s, very much loving it and inviting you to do so too.

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1979 ~ Moonraker

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In 1975, so the legend goes, the phenomenon of the summer blockbuster was born with the release of Jaws – and was only consolidated by the even bigger release of Star Wars two years later. From then on Hollywood studios fell over themselves to outdo each other with bigger and more bankable adventure blockbusters-to-be each summer – and naturally Bond slipped as comfortably into this bracket as does his Walther in its shoulder holster. Eon and Bond studio United Artists were obliged to follow the new summer blockbuster marketing trend and unleash advance posters earlier than ever before for their latest 007 epics and Moonraker’s teasers (and the movie itself) is a prime example of this. Released in early ’79, the main advance poster (left) for the unashamedly Star Wars-influenced sci-fi fantasy not only leaves the viewer in absolutely no doubt Bond will, yes, enter space, but also informs them he’ll be ‘blasting off next summer!’. Talk about whetting the appetite months and months in advance. Which is a moot point because the alternative teaser for the US market (right) totally fails to do that; frankly, it’s dull as dishwater – even the Moore imagery’s borrowed from the Golden Gun campaign of five years before.

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1981 ~ For Your Eyes Only

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Despite appearing to be a mere forerunner to its main poster, For Your Eyes Only’s advance US effort in fact turned out to be arguably the most infamous of them all among Bond fans. Why? It’s all about that girl with the crossbow (whom, of course, suggests the movie’s leading female character, the vengeful Melina Havelock). Yes, like the poster’s general composition, its fonts and its tagline (if not the figure of Bond’s Moore in the centre and the neutral grey background), the girl’s legs, shoes and backside would all be repeated again on the flick’s main poster that came out just a month or two after this one. But, for some reason and not a little peculiarly unlike for the main poster, that panties-clad posterior caused a real, er, rumpus in America’s more conservative states, which decreed the revealing intimates be replaced by something more substantial. Thus, denim-like shorts were superimposed over them. Yes, really. By today’s standards it all sounds like a storm in a teacup – not even over a g-string, you might say.

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1982-83 ~ Octopussy

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Octopussy, the Bond flick that, more than any other, harbored hard-nosed Cold-War aspirations, was the series’ first to offer up a truly ‘super advance’ teaser poster a whole year before it opened, in the shape of the effort on the left. With a background daubed in almost Berlin Wall-like bland grey and featuring a practically outfitted and troubled, nay anxious-looking 007 (rare in the Moore era – not least on his posters), it’s nonetheless dynamic stuff, informing audiences the movie’s excitedly just started filming at Berlin’s notorious Checkpoint Charlie, with Bond shooting at an unseen opponent whom appears to have let off several shots at our man – and nearly hit him. The message is clear: this Bond movie means business. Meanwhile, a later teaser poster (right) for some inexplicable reason plays up the fact Octopussy will be the series’ 13th by showing a full 13 Rog’s up against the titular Bond Girl. Is it effective or just a bit odd? Good question (which could be asked of the movie itself), but it’s certainly memorable.

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1985 ~ A View To A Kill

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For many, A View To A Kill is the nadir of the ’80s Bond (gotta admit, for me it’s anything but), yet surely all must agree its first teaser poster (left) is a doozie. Stark and simple but unquestionably elegant, the black tuxedo-clad, mature Sir Rog back-to-back with the near opposite that’s the equally stylish but hot-to-trot-modern Grace Jones, both set against a white background, makes for a hell of an image. And per the tagline, it really does make us wonder if Bond may actually have ‘met his match’ – boy, do we want to ‘find out this summer’. By contrast, the poster that came out in early summer ’85 for the US market (right) is, well, a bit weird. Sure, again it gives us the dynamic Jones – rightly one of Kill’s biggest selling points – and sets her and Moore against an Eiffel Tower-featuring Paris backdrop, but Jones’ villainous May Day skydiving towards Rog, while the tower (after it’s correctly narrowed from the bottom) widening towards its top leaves the perspective distractedly askew. Plus, what’s up with Moore’s hair? Why’s it so wide? And, let’s be honest, the tagline at the top’s pretty crappy. All in all, not much of a French fancy.

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1986-87 ~ The Living Daylights

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The late ’80s brought a new Bond, Welsh Shakespearean heavyweight Timothy Dalton – and a (supposed) re-commitment to the series’ origins, Fleming’s hero of the books. In promoting this new direction, the marketing bods seemed to want to tap back into the simple, sharp but elegant sophistication associated with Fleming’s 007, to be seen in the posters for Timbo’s debut The Living Daylights. The first advance effort coincided with the start of filming in ’86, its strategy presumably to prepare audiences for the directional shift and to highlight the fact Eon’s Bond was about to celebrate his silver anniversary. Fittingly then, this poster (top) is an elegant tease in silver and dark hues featuring one of the movie Bond’s most elegant icons, the Aston Martin DB5. The later teasers for the US (bottom left) and UK (bottom right) would take this theme and run with it, utilising perhaps the greatest – certainly the coolest – publicity shot ever captured of Dalton as 007 and stamping on them taglines emphasising his ‘dangerous’ credentials. Of the two, the US version’s better, in fact for me it’s a classic.

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1989 ~ Licence To Kill

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Although moderately successful with the previous film, the ‘darker’ Dalton gamble hit the skids with Licence To Kill. Those fond of it blame its weak marketing campaign, but the flick’s crapness is most culpable. Still, there’s no doubt the publicity was pants too, not least its posters. The image that blesses the US teaser poster (left) is decent enough; a sophisticated but dressed-down Bond (i.e. he means business) holding in the ‘classic pose’ his Walther PPK – which may be either a golden stand-in or looks gold due to a trick of the light. Yet, when you notice it’s really a repeat of Daylights’ US teaser with a clumsily worded tagline again highlighting his ‘dangerousness’, you’re left underwhelmed. Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t the teaser poster’s first concept. The original (right) returned to a painterly approach, highlighting the movie’s darker tone and bloodthirsty content via its blacks and reds and sharpness (more of that concept art can be seen here). Yet, despite its dynamism, the cocked-at-an-angle, squashed wording in a mix of fonts makes the whole thing inelegant – a lot like the movie.

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1995 ~ GoldenEye

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Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to my favourite Bond teaser poster. Why? Well, because while I think it’s smashing, I also have quite the emotional attachment to it – more so than to any other teaser poster. Come the mid-’90s, Bond had been away from the big screen for six years, which for a teenager (as I was then) felt like an eternity; so much so, I’d actually given up missing new 007 adventures coming out at the cinema. Suddenly, of course, all that changed with the arrival of Pierce Brosnan as Bond and his gloriously fun opening gambit, GoldenEye. Still a fan, despite Eon delivering me nothing new in more than a half-decade, I was signed up to this new escapade from the off – and a big contributor to that was this teaser poster. I first espied it outside the Odeon Leicester Square cinema (the home of Bond premieres) in summer ’95 and it bewitched me, with its mix of cool, uncluttered ’90s digital design (the black and white two-halved split is beautiful) and irony (the tagline ‘You know the name, you know the number’ is so inspired it quickly became a fave with 007 fans and surely eventually influenced the 2006 Bond flick Casino Royale’s main tune You Know My Name). It’s simply a perfect teaser poster.

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1997 ~ Tomorrow Never Dies

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After the highs of GoldenEye’s teaser, the equivalent from Brosnan Bond Movie #2, Tomorrow Never Dies, is a bit of a comedown (again, the same could be said of the film really). Whether one could blame its lack of artistry and impact on what was going on during the flick’s filming (script re-writes, leading man and Bond Girl not seeing eye-to-eye etc.) is anyone’s guess, but this effort really doesn’t offer much oomph or any eye-catching, unforgettable component. Which is a shame because, in its way, it does effectively convey something that Tomorrow turned out to be full of – a blossoming confidence in the Bond of the ’90s; building on the indefatigable success of GoldenEye and consolidating it. Look at Brosnan there front and centre, holding his new Walther P99 pistol for all to see, as the tagline boldly boasts the movie’s makers are now ‘shooting around the world’. Actually, I tell a lie, there is one arty touch about this poster I admire, the fact that the much-loved Bond film gunbarrel appears to be made up of an ‘oriental’ wooden screen-like background (suggesting the film’s South East Asian locales).

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1999 ~ The World Is Not Enough

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A firm fan favourite, The World Is Not Enough’s several-month-in-advance poster is, surely all must agree, a bit of a classic. An excellent execution of a concept via digital design, it doesn’t bother to tell us the name of the upcoming movie it’s advertising because it doesn’t need to, for we get the message from what it simply and perfectly contains without it. To wit, we know it’ll be a new Bond film thanks to, yes, the inclusion of the 007 logo but also thanks to, more esoterically, the semi-silhouette of Brosnan’s Bond holding his Walther, ‘fitting’, as it does, the outline of the pseudo naked fiery filly whom also carries a Walther, and whose appearance is reminiscent of the sort of visuals beloved of Bond movie opening titles and embodies all the cool, glamour, exoticism and faux eroticism of Eon’s film series. Outstanding.

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2002 ~ Die Another Day

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james_bond_teaser_posters_die_another_day james_bond_teaser_posters_die_another_day_us

Those of a rude disposition may say Die Another Day’s first ‘smoking gun’-themed teaser (left) was a ‘smoking gun’ for the movie to come, arguably the worst and certainly the most ridiculous Bond film for up to 30 years, but I shan’t be so rude. For me, although it may not be up to the quality of GoldenEye or The World Is Not Enough’s advance efforts, this poster for Brosnan’s fourth and final frolic as 007 is one for which I have a soft spot. The cool, sleek silencer-attached Walther pistol is always synonymous with Bond and it, smoking and therefore hot as it would be, melting the top of some kind of giant ice cube there doesn’t just suggest the vaguely bizarre exotic of the cinematic 007, but also stylishly sets the audience up for the fact this adventure will very much feature a wintry ‘cold’ location (Iceland, to be exact). Conversely, the follow-up teaser poster (right) proved to be the movie’s true ‘smoking gun’ highlighting, as it does, the filmmakers’ desire to (sort of?) headline Halle Berry’s ill-conceived NSA agent Bond Girl alongside The Brozzer’s Bond – notice how her gun-wielding pose and stern expression exactly echo his. In short, this pretty much suggests there’s a Bond film on the way of which to be wary.

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2006 ~ Casino Royale

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The casting of Daniel Craig as the the post-9/11 Bond indicated one of the biggest changes in direction Eon would ever take, as did the announcement his debut in the role would be a more-or-less faithful adaptation of Fleming’s first novel, the dark and downbeat Casino Royale. In a move to underline these facts then, the very first poster of the Craig era, the above teaser, is one quite unlike any previous effort. Stressing the moodier, harder-edged tone, even hinting at the complex storytelling of the upcoming movie, it communicates with us the undeniable fact Casino Royale will be a thriller; the image’s muted colours and lugubrious blue wash even lending it a melancholic, period film noir feel. Yet the featuring of the new 007 dressed in a black tux in the familiar environs of a casino as he reaches for his trusty pistol (what danger is it he senses?) confirms too this unquestionably will be a James Bond film.

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2008 ~ Quantum Of Solace

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The teasers for Royale’s sequel Quantum Of Solace said less of what was to come in their movie than did the teaser for the former flick – but, one might argue, like Tomorrow Never Dies’ teaser following GoldenEye’s, they didn’t necessarily need to. Again, like Tomorrow, Quantum is a movie all about consolidation; a new direction, a new Bond and sating an audience wanting more of that. So much so that both Quantum teasers echo the final scene from Royale – 007 holding aloft a bloody big gun having finally got the best of an elusive baddie and having finally ‘become Bond’. In doing this, the best of the two is the first (left), which whets our appetite by merely showing us the silhouette of Bond with his gun on a hard, broken (back)ground. The second – and later – poster (right) repeats the theme, this time with our hero walking towards us and alongside it the film’s title in its official typeface (which, again, echoes that used for Royale). So, effective? Yes, both are. But a bit one-note and underwhelming like their movie? Again, yes. Really, its a pity we didn’t get something more original like this fan art attempt.

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2012 ~ Skyfall

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A lot was riding on the shoulders of Skyfall. Not least was it the first time Bond had been on the big screen after another several-year gap, it also followed the (generally considered) too-sombre-for-Bond Quantum Of Solace and thus had its makers promising a return to the ‘Classic Bond’ feel of old. Oh, and there was the little matter of it coming out in the 50th year of the Eon series – it would thus be forever after recognised as the golden anniversary Bond movie. In which case, every pre-release move made by Eon was scrutinised, discussed and cogitated by the mass media and fan base with an intensity stronger than for any previous 007 flick, and that ensured its teaser poster was genuinely a big deal. In this scenario, almost any teaser poster was maybe going to be anti-climactic (surely not everyone would universally love it?), but to be fair, few Bond fans loved the one put out for Skyfall (above). On one level, yes, it advertises the film adequately, but on another it simply underwhelms. A rather blandly dressed Bond with a rather bland expression walking towards us out of a bland looking gunbarrel? Hardly setting the, ahem, Skyfall house on fire, is it? Not least because the whole thing is given that neutral grey wash. And what’s with that clumsy ‘walkway’ effect emerging from the gunbarrel behind Craig? Even something as simple and easy to conceive as this fan art effort would have been better.

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2015 ~ SPECTRE

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james_bond_teaser_posters_spectre_teaser_poster_1 1$_V?_Job Name

And so here we are, right up to the modern day and the next Bond film, SPECTRE – to be released this November. And what teaser poster has been unleashed on us to promote its coming? Well, as they often have been in the past (which I hope I’ve proved), Eon have been canny. For, the first teaser poster they gave the waiting, baited-breathed world, in the wake of the announcement of the flick’s title and reveal of its cast, wasn’t even supposedly a teaser poster. Because, yes, this poster (left) found its way online just moments after a ‘motion poster’ (a clever film-title-revealing video animation) was seen by all and sundry during Eon’s live stream of the official SPECTRE title/ cast reveal event. In which case, the question of whether it’s artistically any good may be moot, because it works very nicely as part of a wider, very specific campaign – reminding us, as it does, of the motion poster, which wonderfully informs us of the title and eerily suggests the rise of the new SPECTRE villain organisation via its animation of the classic SPECTRE octopus logo being created by a bullet hole cracking icy/ frosted glass. However, like Skyfall’s equivalent, the recently released official teaser poster (right) hasn’t been received fantastically well – indeed, for right or wrong, the particular togs in which Craig is outfitted have drawn inevitable comparisons to Roger Moore’s look in the climax to Live And Let Die. No question, it lacks imagination, wit and playfulness, but then most teaser posters – indeed, posters of all kinds – for (so called) Hollywood blockbusters nowadays do, sadly. One thing we can reassure ourselves with, though, is that SPECTRE’s just released teaser trailer surely doesn’t disappoint. Does it…?

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