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What a Carry On: Don’t Lose Your Head (1966)/ Follow That Camel (1967) ~ Reviews

July 31, 2015

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And so, here we are. Yes, that’s right. This blog’s marathon of Carry On films (incorporating the reviewing, rating and ranking of each and every one in said series) has reached its halfway stage, peeps. ‘Cor blimey! At bloomin’ well last!’ you might say – in a Sid James voice, as would be your wont.

Anyway, we’ve finally got here. But what are the two movies that mark this mid-way point in George’s Journal’s Carry On-athon? Well, like it or not, it’s the intriguing Don’t Lose Your Head and Follow That Camel – intriguing not least because neither’s title carries the usually customary Carry On prefix. And just what has this reviewer got to say about them following their viewing – ‘Coo, what a lovely pair’ or ‘I wouldn’t touch that again with a barge pole’? Well, read on, dear reader, and all shall be revealed…

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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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Short back and sides, not too much off the top

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Screenplay by: Talbot Rothwell; Composer: Eric Rogers;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 87 minutes; Released: December 1966

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The regulars

Sid James; Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Joan Sims;
Jim Dale; Peter Butterworth/ semi-regular: Peter Gilmore

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The crumpet

Dany Robin; Valerie Van Ost; Jacqueline Pearce; Jennifer Clulow

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The setting

Late 18th Century revolutionary France and England; spoofing Emma Orczy’s
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905) and sending up the ‘Reign of Terror’ in general

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The plot

At the height of the Reign of Terror, the chief of the French secret police, the clumsy Citizen Camembert (Williams), oversees the beheading of aristocrat after aristocrat, via the guillotine. That is, until a pair of dandy English aristos Sir Rodney Ffing (James) and Lord Darcy Pue (Dale) learn what’s happening to their French counterparts and, declaring ‘it’s just not cricket’, successfully sabotage the killing spree as disguised vigilantes; Ffing in particular causing notoriety thanks to his nom de plume ‘The Black Fingernail’. Following their rescue of the carefree yet Monarchy-connected Duc de Pommefrite (Hawtrey) and the trio’s escape from France, Camembert, his idiotic lieutenant Citizen Bidet (Butterworth) and his mistress (Sims) adopt false identities of their own and cross the channel to track them down.

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Would you like sauce with that?

Keeping up the series’ mid-’60s custom of getting bawdier each time out, Head ups the sauce stakes on its predecessors, but here naughtiness doesn’t automatically equal amusement. Much of the saucy humour revolves around Joan Sims’ chest, which is, well, unavoidable thanks to the plunging necklines of the women’s costumes. But little of this stuff’s witty or that funny really. Another bawdy bit occurs when an old lady complements Sid’s Sir Rodney on the quality of his balls – his society shindigs, that is. Yep, were plumbing the depths here – as a character in this film might well say of Sims’ décolletage.

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Cross-dressing to impress?

The flick’s most fulfilling Carry On facet has to be this one; Head delivers when it comes to drag, which makes for far from a drag. Not only do we have Sid and Dale disguised as peasant hags with ludicrous false teeth in the guillotine square, but minutes later the former’s again decked out as a woman (possibly the ugliest of the series thus far) only to bizarrely and amusingly arouse Williams. Funnier still, Kenny and Butterworth then mistake for a man Dany Robin’s sexy love-interest for Sid, only because she’s dressed in the latter’s coat and hat – and still aren’t sure when these are removed to reveal she’s wearing very feminine nightclothes underneath. All very daft it may be, but drag done well it also is.

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Catchphrase count

“Yak-yak-yak!” (James): 9; “Oh, hello!” (Hawtrey): 1

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Marvellous monikers

Sir Rodney Ffing (pronounced ‘Effing’)/ ‘The Black Fingernail’ (James); Citizen Camembert (Williams);
Duc de Pommefrite (Hawtrey); Desiree Dubarry (Sims); Lord Darcy Pue (Dale);
Citizen Bidet (Butterworth); Malabonce (Leon Greene)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

Although rather perfunctory, Eric Rogers’ work here nonetheless holds an important distinction within his Carry On repertoire. For this score, at least as far as this humble reviewer can tell, marks the first, albeit brief appearances of two or three melodies that would become synonymous with future series entries (especially those set in the then domestic present, such as Carry On Doctor and Carry On Camping – which will be coming up soon in this blog’s Carry On-athon, of course). Elsewhere, Rogers does a decent job at appropriately recreating the sound of cinematic swashbucklers of old.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

Despite a de rigeur fine turn from Williams and Hawtrey’s pantomimic aristocratic fop – a role he was born to play – too often Head’s humour-blade fails to hit its target. Sure, Talbot Rothwell enjoys himself with a plethora of puns mixing English and French (“I’m Camembert! I’m the big cheese!”), but there’s little of the strong wit he delivers when in full rein and, aside from a moment at a ball when Sid and Dale fear their alter egos have been uncovered and resolve to act inconspicuous only to proceed to dance with one another, good visual gags seem to have gone missing from the guillotine’s basket too.

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Adjuster: -2

“Carry on choppin’!” Williams declares at the start; at times, you wish this one wouldn’t. It has its moments but not enough, plus there’s some noticeably clumsy editing and the would-be swashbuckling swordfight climax just goes on and on. An instance of the series surprisingly creaking during its arguable mid- to late ’60s high, Don’t Lose Your Head just doesn’t really cut the, er, French mustard.

Total Boggles

57/ 100

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The best bit

Hawtrey’s introduction ahead of his sabotaged beheading – sitting on a cart next to a dolly bird, laughing his head off reading ‘the Marquis de Sade’s latest’ and making Butterworth look a lemon

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The best line

“Shall we use the thumbscrews?” (Bastille guard)/
“No. No, no, we’ll wait until Citizen Camembert gets here;
if there’s any screwing to be done he’ll do it –
he’s practically screwed up the revolution already” (Butterworth)

Trivia

Head was originally released without a Carry On prefix in its title owing to the series shifting studios from Anglo-Amalgamated to Rank, the latter not wanting it to carry the prefix as it was so identified with the other studio; however, following a poor box-office showing by this and next effort Follow That Camel, they were both re-released quickly and achieved much better returns with the prefix attached

In the US and other markets, Head was released as Carry On Pimpernel

The primary ‘crumpet’ was played by actual French actress Dany Robin, most famous for Hitchcock thriller Topaz (1969); legend has it that years after Head’s filming, as she was the wife of Sid James’s agent, the couple allowed Sid to stay at their house one night while the husband was away, only for Ms Robin to discover Sid attempting to get into bed with her – twice

In his first draft, screenwriter Talbot Rothwell added alternative titles to be shown in the opening credits sequence (which was a traditional practice in the series, although far from all the movies followed it); inexplicably, none of them made it to screen – they read as follows: Short Back And Sides or Heads You Lost or Death Of A Hat Salesman or Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me A Tourniquet, A Romance Of The French Revolution by Talbot Rothwell or A Script With Cuts In It by Ivor Guillotine.

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It has been truly said, the mind of the white infidel is like the action of the cleanser – clean round the bend

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Screenplay by: Talbot Rothwell; Composer: Eric Rogers;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 91 minutes; Released: September 1967

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The regulars

Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Joan Sims; Jim Dale; Bernard Bresslaw;
Peter Butterworth/ semi-regulars: Angela Douglas; Anita Harris (first film);
Peter Gilmore; Julian Holloway (first film); Sally Douglas

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The crumpet

Angela Douglas; Anita Harris; Sally Douglas

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The setting

The Sahara Desert and the English Home Counties in the early 20th Century;
spoofing P. C. Wren’s Beau Geste (1924) and sending up the French Foreign Legion in general

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The plot

Following an inexcusable faux pas he makes during a cricket match, English toff ‘Bo’ West (Dale) flees the old country for the French Foreign Legion in the Sahara, inevitably escorted by his faithful manservant Simpson (Butterworth). Upon joining their garrison as lowly privates, the pair fortuitously get one over their all-the-angles-playing sergeant Nocker (Phil Silvers), while the somewhat hapless Commandant Burger (Williams) and his underling Le Pice (Hawtrey) try to maintain order. However, none of them are prepared for an imminent attack from local Arabian do-badder Sheikh Abdul Abulbul (Bresslaw), nor the eventual arrival of Bo’s would-be-betrothed Lady Jane (Douglas), whom is journeying to her man’s side, having discovered he was framed and didn’t have to flee in the first place.

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Would you like sauce with that?

Thanks to the debuting Anita Harris’s turn as a sultry belly dancer, Camel takes its bow as undoubtedly the most skin-friendly series entry since the Amanda-Barrie-body-showcasing Carry On Cleo (1964). However, this flick’s flesh count isn’t the main contributor to its sauciness, it’s really the frank humour – some of which emanates from street-wise one-liners delivered by Silvers (something new for the Carry Ons, certainly). However, surely the fruitiest funnies are derived from Douglas’s Lady Jane far from subtly shagging her way across Europe and North Africa thanks to encounters with randy try-it-ons.

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Cross-dressing to impress?

A middling effort. We have to wait until the last quarter-of-an-hour for it and when it eventually comes, it’s hardly a drag-tastic highlight; Butterworth exchanging clothes with Douglas so the latter might escape ‘a fate worse than death’ (having sex with Bresslaw’s Arab brute – even though she’s done that with dubious white cads throughout the film, hmm…) doesn’t exactly set the Sahara alight. But it does mean Douglas dons a soldier’s uniform for the next few minutes. Which is sort of sexy.

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Catchphrase count

“Oh, hello!” (Hawtrey): 2

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Marvellous monikers

Sergeant Ernie Nocker (Silvers); Commandant Burger (Williams); Commandant Le Pice (Hawtrey);
Zigzig (Sims); Bertram Oliphant ‘Bo’ West (Dale); Sheikh Abdul Abulbul (Bresslaw);
Lady Jane Ponsonby (Douglas); Corktip (Harris)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

Sure, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Eric Rogers’ score (and because it doesn’t get in the way of any of the action or jars at any point, one might say everything’s right with it too), yet contrasted with a choice selection of his Carry On efforts, there’s little about his work in Camel that’s genuinely memorable following the closing credits. Mind you, an unkind viewer may say the same about this movie in general; however, this section of the review wouldn’t be the place to make such a statement. Oh no.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

Don’t doubt it, Camel does offer memorable moments that raise a decent laugh (Dale and Butterworth’s master-and-servant routine; Silvers’ first ‘heroic’ return to the fort; cockerels being repeatedly shot or blown up for waking everyone up at dawn), but there really aren’t enough and, although Bresslaw has lots of fun playing his bloodthirsty sheikh, surely for most modern viewers the Muslim-mocking, Arab stereotype-reliant laughs sit pretty darn uneasily. Conversely, much funnier – indeed, arguably top hole – is the opening section that mercilessly takes the p*ss out of upper-class English society.

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Adjuster: 0

With Bilko on lead duties in place of Sid and so many sand dunes, Camel’s something of a curate’s egg of a Carry On. It might also be said to be a broken egg, with Rothwell still searching for form and Williams and Hawtrey’s talents rather wasted. And that’s to say nothing of the awkward constancy of civilised-Europeans-versus-barbarian-Arabs – no wonder you don’t see it on TV nowadays.

Total Boggles

59/ 100

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The best bit

The repetitive lost-in-the-desert-and-seeing-a-mirage gags – culminating in the gang espying in the distance a glamorous hotel offering booze, food, dancing and a swimming pool; the only spectacle they dismiss as a fake and which, of course, turns out to be real

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The best line

“They couldn’t have been regular troops, sir; let me see, they’ve got indigestion tablets, glucose tablets, salt tablets, the pill and… The pill? What do you suppose they used that for?” (Silvers)/
“I can’t conceive” (Williams)

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Trivia

Apparently, Sid James had been intended for the Sergeant Nocker role, but his commitment to ITV sitcom George And The Dragon (1966-68) saw US TV and Hollywood star Phil ‘Bilko’ Silvers replace him – Silvers’ casting was an active effort on the part of the Carry Ons’ studio Rank to secure a US distribution deal with Hollywood’s Paramount Pictures

Silvers was paid £40,000, easily the highest amount of any actor in the series’ entire history

Like its immediate predecessor Don’t Lose Your Head, Camel was initially released without the Carry On prefix in its title; it was released in the US and other markets as Carry On In The Legion

Shooting had to be halted several times during the three weeks spent at Camber Sands in Sussex (doubling for the Sahara Desert) owing to it snowing – no, really.

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Carry On Ranking

(All out of 100; new entries in blue)

1. Carry On Cabby (1963) ~ 85

2. Carry On Screaming! (1966) ~ 83

3. Carry On Cowboy (1965) ~ 80

4. Carry On Cleo (1964) ~ 68

5.  Carry On Nurse (1959) ~ 65

6. Carry On Constable (1960) ~ 63

7. Carry On Spying (1964) ~ 62

8. Carry On Jack (1963) ~ 61

9. Carry On Cruising (1962) ~ 60

10. Follow That Camel (1967) ~ 59

11. Carry On Sergeant (1958) ~ 58

12. Don’t Lose Your Head (1966) ~ 57

13. Carry On Teacher (1959) ~ 56

14. 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/ Legends: Sid, Kenny, Charlie & Hattie (Pt. 2) ~ Kenneth Williams

July 23, 2015

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The unhappy clown

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The last entry in the diary of Kenneth Williams, written on April 14 1988, reads: “Oh, what’s the bloody point?”. One day later he was dead from an overdose of sleeping pills and painkillers. How did this happen? How could this have come to pass? Kenneth Williams had been revered as a brilliant comic performer on the screens big and small, on the radio and on the stage for more than 30 years. He had enjoyed a career many could – and many to come would – only dream of. He had become a beloved national institution – had he lived longer he surely would have been knighted. So how, on this fateful day in the late ’80s in this wasteful way, did his life come to such a sad, untimely end?

Kenneth – known as ‘Kenny’ to those who knew and loved him best – was and remains most famous for his colossal contributions to the Carry On movies, one of the longest ever running British cinematic series and certainly the most popular and most fêted of those that cosily sit in the comedy category of the UK film industry. And it’s for that reason this post about the man is the latest in George’s Journal’s extended run of posts dedicated to those flicks (its ‘Carry On Summer Season’). But, as if that wasn’t enough, there was more to Kenny than the Carry Ons – and that’s why this post also sees him inducted, and absolutely not before time, into this blog’s ‘Legends’ corner.

The truth is, Kenny was a prodigiously talented performer – as evidenced by his best Carry On work, naturally, but also by his extensive and varied work across the entire comedy spectrum. Testament to that is everything from, on radio, his incorrigible innuendo on Round The Horne/ Beyond Our Ken to his delicious ribaldry on Just A Minute and from, on TV, his exquisite aimed-at-kids vocal dexterity on Jackanory and Willo The Wisp to the hilarity of him holding court on the Parkinson chat show.

Over the course of his career he carved out for himself less a niche than a huge cleft of the British comedy firmament. The public adored his work; they didn’t seem to mind a jot, in times far less permissive than those of today, that he was patently gay. But he did. It bothered him greatly – as did many things about both himself and pretty much everybody around him. When it comes down to it, despite all his success and adoration, Kenny didn’t so much enjoy his career (as I wrote above), but endured it. As he did his life, it seems. He was a fantastically funny man, but was also a complicated, flawed, tragic individual; too much of the time, the epitome of the unhappy clown.

As with so many great figures in their field, it’s very difficult to suggest from where Kenny’s clownish talent derived; sadly, it’s far easier to confidently speculate on the source of his unhappiness. He came from humble beginnings, born in February 1926 to a working class mother (Louisa – or Lou) and father (Charlie), the latter of whom was a barber, and grew up in the Barnsbury area of Islington, London. Both parents owed their origins to Welsh ancestors, and you might say there’s something of the Welsh accents’ grandiosity and rhythm in Kenny’s own voice. Not that he got that from either parent though, whom were both Cockneys and, after all, his father couldn’t understand either his son’s desire to go into showbusiness nor why, even at an early age, he adopted a semi-plummy, even mock-upper middle class voice, determinedly rolling his ‘r’s and indulgently enunciating the best words offered by the English language (which fascinated and delighted him in equal measure).

And one can only assume what the elder Williams (a strict Methodist) made of Kenny’s homosexuality, when it became obvious. It’s fairly clear, along with the other differences between the two, what effect it had on the young man yearning for the fame, fortune, glamour and grandeur of thesping – Kenny’s relationship with his father remained strained until the man’s death (more on that later), but he was devoted to his mother until the very end, and likewise her to him (again, more on that later).

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Wicked wit: Williams was a serial diarist for more than 40 years (left); with his mother Lou (middle) and in ‘animated form’ as the unforgettable ’80s children’s TV character Willo The Wisp (right)

In the early days, however, it seems the father’s will won through. His desire to see Kenny ‘get himself a trade’ led to the young Williams becoming an apprentice draughtsman with a London mapmaker. And then, when he came of age (18 years-old), he was pulled into the action of World War Two – sort of. He was called up into the British Army, but ended up doing pretty much what he had beforehand, working on maps as a sapper in the Engineers Survey section.

Unexpectedly, though, as it too had for Sid James (and for other future British comic luminaries), military service proved a God-send for Kenny’s dramatic ambitions, for come the end of the war, he successfully transferred to the Combined Service Entertainment Unit; not only a much better fit because it was more in the direction he wanted to take his life, but also because the experiences it afforded him no doubt helped prepare him for a future performing career. We know for sure that it was during his CSE days he met and mixed with comic TV star-to-be Stanley Baxter (whom became a lifelong friend) and John Schlesinger, the future Oscar-winning director of classic dramas Darling (1965) and Midnight Cowboy (1969).

It was when Kenny was demobbed in 1948 that things really got going, though. He began, as many used to, in repertory, finally making it to the West End and giving a particularly strong performance as the Dauphin in a 1954 production of George Bernard Shaw’s tragedy Saint Joan. Actually, he would go on to tread the London boards throughout his career; on and off, at least. In 1955 he appeared in the great Orson Welles’ Moby Dick – Rehearsed and, during the ’50s and into the early ’60s, in revues alongside great friend and British acting grand dame Maggie Smith (Share My Lettuce), later Carry On co-star Fenella Fielding (Pieces Of Eight) and another Carry On alumnus Sheila Hancock (One Over The Eight). Having befriended the enfant terrible playwright Joe Orton, he had the role of Inspector Truscott written for him in the latter’s Loot and originated it in the classic play’s 1966 debut. He also played alongside Ingrid Bergman in Shaw’s Captain Brassbound’s Conversion (1971) and Jennie Linden in My Fat Friend (1972); later he directed productions of Loot and Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane (1981).

But it was early on, indeed thanks to his turn in Saint Joan, that his dramatic thesping got sidetracked in favour of more lucrative (i.e. regular) comic work; much to his chagrin, it seems. BBC Light Entertainment bigwig Dennis Main Wilson caught Kenny’s performance as the Dauphin and, so impressed was he, offered him a spot in the line-up of a new radio comedy show, Hancock’s Half Hour (1954-61). For followers of this blog who’ve read my similar tribute to the life and career of Sid James, you’ll know Half Hour wasn’t just an era-defining slice of British entertainment, but also proved the making of that particular Carry On icon. What’s less well known is that, thanks to it giving Kenny a chance to hone his unequalled ability at inventing characters with silly camp voices and make his trademark the phrase ‘Stop messin’ about!’, it arguably made him too. In fact, following star Tony Hancock’s decision to change the show’s format, it led Kenny to join the ensemble of another radio show that made him a household name.

Beyond Our Ken (1958-64) – and its sequel Round The Horne (1965-68) – was a sketch-based comedy focused around popular comedian Kenneth Horne, but Williams was undoubtedly its breakout star. Creating and establishing characters like the folk singer Rambling Syd Rumpo, the telephone heavy-breather J. Peasemold Gruntfuttock and, by far most well recalled, one half of the camp couple Julian and Sandy (the other half being Hugh Paddick) allowed Kenny to indulge not just in voices but one of his greatest joys (at least on the surface), bawdy humour and rampant sexual innuendo. The Julian and Sandy sketches, in particular, were notorious for the latter, often incorporating into the double entendres (or, more specifically, acting as a cypher for them) the homosexual argot of the time, Polari.

Owing to the death of its principal performer, Round The Horne came to an abrupt end in 1968, which allowed Kenny to move on to another BBC Radio show, the comedy panel game Just A Minute, which had started a year before; it would eventually become iconic and Kenny proved such a successful and popular participant that he was a regular feature on it for 20 years. As mentioned above, he also gained regular work from BBC TV, narrating children’s stories on 69 episodes of the legendary Jackanory (1965-96), voicing all the characters of the unforgettable Willo The Wisp (1981), standing in as host of the Wogan chatshow for a fortnight in 1986 (during which he interviewed, among others, fellow Carry On-er Barbara Windsor) and, of course, appearing as a brilliantly colourful guest on Parkinson (1971-2004) on eight separate occasions, regaling the host and millions of viewers with wonderfully witty, sometimes lurid, often caustically candid observations and anecdotes (see video clip below).

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Choice extracts from Kenneth Williams’ diaries:

“I was appalled at the picture it paints of me! I sound like a foulmouthed frustrated queer! I suppose it’s authentic enough”

“Went to the film Sodom & Gomorrah but only the latter bothered to turn up I’m afraid! Still, it was quite fun. I got an invitation to the Savoy for the Evening Standard Drama Awards. I wouldn’t attend this kind of sh*t if they paid me”

“Sid James looked as bad as his acting”

“I am beginning to get famous now, which is about bloody time. However, I still hate everyone and everything, and am constantly racked with pain throughout my body, and a cancerous malevolence in my heart. I wish I had someone who would help me. Some people have offered to help me, but they were so diabolically repulsive that I threw a Toby Jug at them”

“Had Sid, Hattie, Joan, Barbara, Bernard & Charlie around for dinner. They were all perfectly awful except for Barbara whom I love more than anything else in the world, & even she is a stupid c*nt”

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Speaking of which, both his enthusiasts and the casually curious alike received a plethora of the above – if not more caustic candour, nay even outbursts of unexpected spite and bile, thanks to the publishing five years after Williams’ death in 1993 of the diaries he wrote for more than four decades of his adult life. In recent years, this goldmine of a revelation into the private Kenny (sometimes feeling like an intrusion into his innermost emotions) has been the crux of a reappraisal of the man; often not being able to make up its mind to be unsympathetic or nostaligic and understanding – take, for example, the memorable Michael Sheen-starring biopic-of-sorts for BBC4, Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa! (2006).

Either way, both the publication of the diaries and excerpts of private letters Williams wrote (in Christopher Stevens’ 2010 biography Born Brilliant) has shed far more light on the real Kenny; admittedly, it may have opened a hornet’s nest. The diaries reveal that he was almost definitely celibate and for many years lived in a poorly furnished flat next door to his elderly mother, with whom he spent most evenings, while another biography claimed that he may have been denied a visa to work with Orson Welles in the United States because police suspected he poisoned his father in October 1962, causing the latter’s death; the official verdict was accidental death, Charlie Williams having supposedly drunk carbon tetrachloride instead of his usual cough medicine by mistake.

However, the diaries and the letters have nonetheless helped us understand Kenny better, learning of his constant bouts of despair and flirtations with the idea of suicide, seemingly driven by a tragically misplaced sense of career failure and an all-too-real personal isolation. Indeed, who couldn’t be moved by this excerpt from a letter he wrote to, it now seems, two of his only true friends, the couple Tom Waine and Clive Dennis? “Living with someone always means a denial of self in SOME way and I suppose I have always known it was something I couldn’t accomplish. So I’ve always stayed on the sidelines. Getting the pleasure vicariously. It’s not wholly satisfactory, but then of course no lives are, and you know what I think about indiscriminate sex and promiscuous trade. I think it’s the beginning of a long, long road to despair”.

In which case then, fans of Kenny inevitably and understandably always come back to his contributions to the Carry Ons. Here, in seeking solace, if you will, you find the Williams the UK public has always loved – the often fussy, usually prudish, almost always hapless and definitely nostril-flaring, innuendo-spouting (and sometimes innuendo-denying) character par excellence; whether he’s going by the name Dr Kenneth Soaper or Dr Orlando Watt, or Julius Caesar or (my personal favourite) W. C. Boggs.

If Sid James was arguably the leader, the hero, of the Carry Ons, then just as arguably Kenny was their heart. Kicking-off in the very first Carry On Sergeant (1958) and concluding with the very last of the original series Carry On Emmanuelle (1978), he appeared in 26 of them, missing just three of the entire series. Nowadays, Kenny’s Carry On persona, real or not, is revered as a sort of camp demi-god, the go-to highly clichéd but much admired caricature of British homosexual humour. There’s nothing wrong with that, there’s maybe nothing necessarily right with it either, but it is what it is; very funny and utterly adorable in – or out – of context of the movies themselves and the sterling work of the equally as iconic members of the ensemble with which he shared the screen. Sometimes, despite the fascination with, and seductive melancholia and truth of the real Kenneth Williams, it’s irresistible and necessary to wallow in the Carry On Kenny; to forget about the unhappy clown and experience the clown. Even if ultimately it’s just messin’ about – and the real Kenny may have denounced us for doing so and demanded we stop it.

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What a Carry On: Carry On Cowboy (1965)/ Carry On Screaming! (1966) ~ Reviews

July 13, 2015

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Believe it or not, but this, George’s Journal’s Carry On-athon (itself the centrepiece of the blog’s ‘Carry on Summer Season’), has reached the mid-’60s. But don’t be fooled. There’s no mini-skirts, beehive hairdos or Mini Coopers in sight; nopes, instead we’re going west (er, young man) and doing the monster mash. For, yes, that’s right, it’s time to relive, review, rate and rank both Carry On Cowboy and Carry On Screaming!. But what’ll be the verdict on these two fairly legendary firmaments of Blighty’s funny heritage? Will it be fangs for the memory or a horse backfiring? Read on and find out, peeps…

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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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Once talked peace with the Sioux, but you can’t trust ’em – one minute it was peace on, the next peace off

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Screenplay by: Talbot Rothwell; Composer: Eric Rogers;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 91 minutes; Released: November 1965

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The regulars

Sid James; Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Joan Sims; Jim Dale;
Bernard Bresslaw (first film); Peter Butterworth (first film)/ semi-regulars: Angela Douglas (first film);
Jon Pertwee; Percy Herbert (final film); Peter Gilmore; Margaret Nolan (first film)

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The crumpet

Angela Douglas; Edina Ronay; Margaret Nolan; Sally Douglas; Andrea Allan

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The setting

The Wild West; pastiching the Hollywood Western

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The plot

The arrival of gunslinger The Rumpo Kid (James) turns Stodge City upside down. Not only does he take over the saloon – much to its owner Belle’s (Joan Sims) amorous agreement – but he also kills people willy-nilly, including the useless sheriff (Pertwee). In desperation, the mayor Judge Burke (Williams) calls on the Washington authorities for a replacement marshal and, in a mix up, is sent Marshall P. Knutt (Dale), a British sewage engineer. In spite of his lack of credentials, Marshall gives the job a go and somehow survives Rumpo’s attempts on his life – one involving the local Native American tribe led by Chief Big Heap (Hawtrey). Although, the girl with whom he arrived in town (Douglas) seems far more competent, having sworn vengeance on whomever it was that shot dead her father – the former sheriff…

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Would you like sauce with that?

Despite offering fewer innuendos than its direct predecessor, Cowboy barely witnesses a fall on the sauce-o-meter. James’s outlaw may be the bad-dude-in-black Western archetype but he’s still a randy bugger, looking to ditch Sims for newcomer Douglas. And the movie takes little time to, well, sexualise the latter’s beauty, plonking her in a bath so he and we might ogle her and set up farcical unrequited lust for our Sid. Plus, despite the drop in double entendres, they still shoot from the hip: “So you’re Belle?”/ “Yeah, my intimate friends call me ‘Ding Dong’”/ “I’d like to give you a clang some time”. Fantastic.

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Cross-dressing to impress?

To be fair, when you have the plummy and effete-as-anything Charles Hawtrey dressed up as a Native American (and Bernard Bresslaw making his series debut similarly attired), not to mention the excellent Western clobber that the rest of the cast dons (who could forget James’s black-clad villain or Sims’ dazzling dresses making the most of her decolletage?), you’d think you wouldn’t miss the complete lack of drag action in this Carry On entry. And, quite frankly, you don’t. Nonetheless, a low score here is unavoidable, I’m afraid.

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Catchphrase count

Aroused growl (James): 5/ ‘Yak-yak-yak’ (James): 4/ ‘Oh, hello!’: (Hawtrey): 2

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Marvellous monikers

The Rumpo Kid/ Johnny Finger (James); Judge Burke (Williams); Big Heap (Hawtrey);
Marshall P. Knutt (Dale); Little Heap (Bresslaw); Annie Oakley (Douglas); Sheriff Albert Earp (Pertwee)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

An excellent effort from Eric Rogers. The Carry On scorer extraordinaire plays a significant role in making the viewer feel like they’ve been thrown slap-bang into the Old West – and occasionally exaggerates things to remind us this is a loving parody poking fun at the Western, not the real thing. Of particular note is the fact that Cowboy contains two songs, both written by Rogers. The first, Carry On Cowboy, is an opening title theme (a perfect home-on-the-range sort of wistful ballad); the second, This Is The Night For Love, is performed onscreen by Douglas in an attempt to seduce Sid’s Rumpo.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

Fair dos, Cowboy is sometimes guilty of substituting the funnies for faithfulness to genre parody, but it also features some unforgettable Carry On characters and moments. There’s Dale’s loveable, slapstick-tastic semi-lead; Williams’ prudish, hopeless ‘Wright-Burke’ of a mayor; Davy Kaye’s shameless coffin maker gleefully taking advantage of his town’s high body count; and, best of all, Hawtrey’s ludicrous be-headdressed lush (his introduction emerging from a ‘tepee toilet’, complete with flushing sound effect, is priceless). When it’s on song, Cowboy certainly hits the high notes.

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Adjuster: +8

The best Western parody you’ll see this side of Hollywood. Containing seaside postcard humour. And Brits putting on Yank accents. And Charles Hawtrey as a Native American chief. Cowboy is so good that at times you forget you’re not watching a real Western. For a few seconds at least. Yes, it could be funnier, but for me it’s every bit as good as that other Western pastiche that came out in its year, Cat Ballou – and that won Lee Marvin an Oscar. Where was Sid James’s BAFTA? All right, don’t answer that…

Total Boggles:

80/ 100

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The best bit

The high-noon showdown between Rumpo and Knutt – a rare instance of a real climax in a Carry On and when the film’s affectionate parody crosses over into genuine genre homage; the twist of Dale’s would-be-hero besting Sid’s villain via the drains is marvellous (so long as you overlook the fact such a Western town would surely never possess an underground sewage system)

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The best line

Williams: “My great-grandfather came over here on the Mayflower – he was the original Burke.
He married into the Wright family and became a Wright-Burke”/
Butterworth:  “The whole family are Wright-Burkes, Marshal”/ Dale: “Charming”

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Trivia

Perhaps making its fine realisation of Stodge City even more impressive, Cowboy contains no sets previously built for a Western movie (unlike Carry On Cleo’s use of sets originally constructed for 1963’s Cleopatra); its Western town was entirely created on the Pinewood Studios backlot – although the main street features a turn at both ends to disguise the fact it’s not surrounded by open country

New to major cinema roles as she was at the time, Angela Douglas claims she was so frightened prior to performing her saloon tune (in her skimpy showgirl costume) that she had to down two brandies beforehand and be practically pushed on camera by Joan Sims

Composer Eric Rogers makes a rare onscreen cameo as the pianist in Belle’s/ Rumpo’s saloon band

Believe it or not, Cowboy marks the film debut – as a stunt rider – of Richard O’Brien, whom would later conceive and star in the iconic cult movie musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and much later host the just as cult British activity-gameshow The Crystal Maze (1990-95).

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Frying tonight!

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Screenplay by: Talbot Rothwell; Composer: Eric Rogers;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 93 minutes; Released: August 1966

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The regulars

Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Joan Sims; Jim Dale; Bernard Bresslaw; Peter Butterworth/
semi-regulars: Angela Douglas; Jon Pertwee (final film); Tom Clegg; Sally Douglas

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The crumpet

Fenella Fielding; Angela Douglas; Sally Douglas

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The setting

Edwardian England; pastiching Hammer horror films and gothic horror in general

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The plot

 Young, attractive Doris (Douglas) is kidnapped in a forest one night by a neanderthal man. Her boyfriend Albert (Dale) accompanies local police detective Sidney Bung (Harry H. Corbett) and his underling (Butterworth) as they investigate the scene. While there, they come across a mansion. Shown in by a tall, malevolent butler (Bresslaw), they meet the owner Dr Watt (Williams), whom tries to dampen their suspicions despite almost giving away the fact he’s ‘undead’ and powered by electricity. In fact, he’s an evil scientist whom, with his seductive sister (Fielding), is responsible for Douglas’s and many other women’s disappearances (via the neanderthal aide) in order to vitrify their bodies and sell them on as shop mannequins. Can Bung and co. crack the case and defeat the spooky duo?

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Would you like sauce with that?

While London was swinging in the summer of ’66 (and England winning the World Cup, of course), the Carry On team were recreating a haunted Edwardian England, but Screaming! certainly doesn’t restrict itself to the social mores of that era. In keeping with the times, it’s possibly the most permissive entry in the series thus far; the sitting-chair chat between Corbett and Fielding bristling with sexual frisson thanks to clever-clever and subtle-as-a-sledge-hammer innuendo, while later on the former forces Butterworth to check out both cheeks of a dummy’s posterior to make sure it’s not that of Angela Douglas. It makes sense in the movie. More or less.

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Cross-dressing to impress?

Following the total lack of a drag act in Carry On Cowboy, the gang deliver the goods here thanks to a good 15 or so minutes’ worth of cross-dressing from Peter Butterworth as he’s ordered to impersonate a woman by Corbett’s detective in a desperate attempt to lure and catch red-handed the neanderthal believed to have kidnapped Douglas. The plan backfires – but of course – yet, because it leads into the film’s climax, we get an extended period of the very masculine-shaped Butterworth crashing about pursued by monsters while decked out in a period dress and petticoat et al. Not bad at all.

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Catchphrase count

‘Oh, hello!’ (Hawtrey): 1

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Marvellous monikers

Detective Sergeant Sidney Bung (Corbett); Dr Orlando Watt (Williams);
Valeria Watt (Fielding); Dan Dann (Hawtrey); Sockett (Bresslaw);
Detective Constable Slobotham (Butterworth); Oddbod (Tom Clegg)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

It’s hard to fault Eric Rogers’ work on Screaming!. The movie’s music is best recalled for arguably the most satisfying and most memorable eponymous Carry On title song. Combining with the jolly opening credits (which pleasingly wobble whenever the screams erupt in the song), it sets the tone for the film to come perfectly. However, Rogers’ score is just as good, if not better, featuring his usual sonorous flourishes to make prominent gags even funnier and finely pastiching the whole history of horror cinema’s reliance on sinister notes and dissonance to help evoke of terror.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

To do film parody well you have to strike a balance between recreating the genre you’re taking the p*ss out of and being funny. Screaming! gets this balance practically spot on. While the look, feel and atmos (mockingly so, the latter, of course) is always reminiscent of turn-of-the-century-set Hammer horror, there’s a constant stream of solid comedy; the cracking Corbett henpicked by Sims’ brilliant battlexe wife and Williams’ effetely insane, pun-making villain, just for starters. But, at its best, Screaming! gets quality humour precisely out of the horror pastiche – Bresslaw’s Lurch-esque butler and the fantastic Fielding turning on Corbett by literally letting off smoke when she asks if he minds her smoking.

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Adjuster: +8

Easily one of the very best of the series’ many genre parodies and historical romps,
Screaming! runs everything including Hammer horror, Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde,
House Of Wax, Frankenstein and The Addams Family through the Carry On circuit,
resulting in an electrifyingly satisfying and often very funny (far from ghoulish) delight.

Total Boggles:

83/100

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The best bit

There’s many to choose from (Williams’ climatic demise and ‘Frying tonight!’, Corbett and Sims’ vitriolic exchanges and the former’s amorous encounter with Fielding), but I’m going to go for the superb scene in which our intrepid heroes first meet Williams and the following dialogue occurs…

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The best line

Corbett: “A young lady has disappeared and we’re anxious to trace her whereabouts”/ Williams: “Oh? Whereabouts?”/ Corbett: “’Ereabouts”/ Dale: “At 10 o’clock”/ Corbett: “Or thereabouts”/ Butterworth: “In this vicinity”/ Corbett: “Or roundabouts”/ Butterworth: “We’re police officers”/ Dale: “Or layabouts”

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Trivia

Surprisingly, producer Peter Rogers didn’t cast Harry H. Corbett as Sidney Bung in place of de facto company lead Sid James because the latter was tied up with other work, but because he’d always wanted to feature Corbett in one of his movies and felt he’d be the perfect fit for Screaming!’s starring role

To lure his services away from the biggest sitcom of the age Steptoe And Son, Corbett was paid £12,000 – a then record fee for a Carry On; speaking of the aforementioned jewel in the BBC’s comedy crown, a few notes from its unmistakeable theme can be heard when, in his monster-transformed state, Corbett rides on the horse-drawn trap to the clothes shop in order to retrieve the Douglas ‘dummy’

Charles Hawtrey was cast as the lavatory attendant Dan Dann at the last minute (the role was originally to be played by Sydney Bromley, whom had portrayed farmer Sam Houston in Cowboy), possibly because American distributors pointed out how popular Hawtrey’s appearances in the series were over the pond; the reason for his original dropping for this movie has never been gleaned

In the opening titles, the performance of the theme song is credited to ‘Anon’; for many years Carry On fans speculated the singer was Screaming! star and former pop heart-throb Jim Dale, but it was actually performed by Ray Pilgrim – although the version that was released as a single was sung by Boz Burrell (later to become bassist for the legendary rock bands King Crimson and Bad Company).

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Carry On Ranking

(All out of 100; new entries in blue)

1. Carry On Cabby (1963) ~ 85

2. Carry On Screaming! (1966) ~ 83

3. Carry On Cowboy (1965) ~ 80

4. Carry On Cleo (1964) ~ 68

5.  Carry On Nurse (1959) ~ 65

6. Carry On Constable (1960) ~ 63

7. Carry On Spying (1964) ~ 62

8. Carry On Jack (1963) ~ 61

9. Carry On Cruising (1962) ~ 60

10. Carry On Sergeant (1958) ~ 58

11. Carry On Teacher (1959) ~ 56

12. Carry On Regardless (1961) ~ 55

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

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Playlist: Listen, my friends! ~ July 2015

July 1, 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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Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye ~
The Ballad Of Cat Ballou/ They Can’t Make Her Cry (1965)¹

Dusty Springfield ~ (They Long To Be) Close To You (1967)

Richard Attenborough and Rex Harrison ~ I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It (1967)²

Creedence Clearwater Revival ~ Run Through The Jungle (1970)

The Free Design ~ Can You Tell Me How To Get To Sesame Street? (1970)

John Kongos ~ He’s Gonna Step On You Again (1971)³

Can ~ Vitamin C (1972)

Uriah Heep ~ Circle Of Hands (1972)

Maureen McGovern ~ We May Never Love Like This Again (1974)4

Paul Nicholas ~ Just Good Friends (1983)5

Sylvester Levay ~ Theme from Airwolf (1984)

Fairground Attraction ~ Find My Love (1988)

Transvision Vamp ~ Baby I Don’t Care (1989)

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¹ As featured – and sung by its performers – in the Jane Fonda/ Lee Marvin comedy Western Cat Ballou (1965)

² From the soundtrack of the notorious Hollywood musical box-office bomb Doctor Dolittle (1967)

³ The original version of the tune that The Happy Mondays, in the late ’80s/ early ’90s Acid House era, covered and made their own as the re-titled Step On (1990)

4 The chart hit that served as the romantic theme for ’70s disaster movie deluxe The Towering Inferno (1974)

5 A synth-tastic full version of the theme tune to the popular BBC sitcom of the same name (1983-86)

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What a Carry On: Carry On Spying (1964)/ Carry On Cleo (1964) ~ Reviews

June 22, 2015

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That’s right, like a bad apple or a juicy pair… er, sorry, a juicy pear, the Carry On-athon is back after a break, mes amis. Yes, it’s time to immerse ourselves once more in the innuendo-flushed frolicking of Sid, Kenny, Charlie and co. as they take us into the espionage universe of the mid-’60s and the political machinations of First Century BC Rome. Or at least something like them.

But what will  be the results of George’s Journal reviewing this couple of comedy flicks – how will they be rated and ranked? Read on, peeps, it’s far from top secret…

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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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I’ve always wanted to see Vienna before I die”/
With a bit of luck, you’ll do both!

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Written by: Talbot Rothwell and Sid Colin; Composer: Eric Rogers;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 84 minutes; Released: June 1964; Black & White

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The regulars

Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Barbara Windsor (first film); Jim Dale/ semi-regulars:
Bernard Cribbins; Dilys Laye; Eric Barker; Judith Furse (final film); Renée Houston; Sally Douglas

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The crumpet

Barbara Windsor; Dilys Laye; Sally Douglas; Marian Collins; Jane Lumb

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The setting

The espionage world of the ’60s; sending up the decade’s spy-fi culture

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The plot

A chemical formula is stolen from British Intelligence by its nemesis STENCH (the Society for the Total Extinction of Non-Conforming Humans), but with all of Blighty’s best operatives tied up around the world, the Chief (Barker) reluctantly turns to an incompetent agent (Williams) to oversee a trio of new recruits (Cribbins, Windsor and Hawtrey). A lead takes the gang to Vienna where, after ineptly connecting with a capable British spy (Dale), they track down the thief, but he’s been fatally wounded by his superiors – after passing on the formula. Moving on to Algiers and although woefully trying to mix in with the locals, the Brits manage to snatch back the intel, only to be immediately captured. Destroying the formula but recording its contents to memory, they’re then transported to STENCH’s top secret HQ…

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Would you like sauce with that?

The fact the series wilfully and wholeheartedly embraces the spy-fi phenomenon here signals that the Swinging Sixties had pretty much arrived, but not quite for the Carry Ons. To wit, despite the ‘sex for dinner, death for breakfast’ norms of the espionage genre, Spying’s perhaps unexpectedly a little coy in its naughtiness. Its redemption here though is Babs Windsor’s debut appearance, the movie making the most of her looks, body and would-be ‘Bow Bells belle’ persona, highlights of which being her belly dancer outfit and her boobs getting in the way of Cribbins helping her on with a shoulder holster.

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Cross-dressing to impress?

Merely three films into his Carry On run and Jim Dale shows true comic versatility in Spying. Often to be used as a mock-matinee idol foil to the other leads, here he’s not just the only competent British spy on show (fittingly 007 handsome as he is), but he also puts on an ever so slightly disturbing drag act when dressed as an Austrian streetwalker in making contact with one of the gang – disturbing because he makes for a rather convincing woman. Later on, Bernard Cribbins is far less convincing, but amusingly so, as a belly-dancing pal for Babs as they try to steal back the formula from a randy enemy operative.

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Catchphrase count

‘Stop messing about!’ (Williams): 3; ‘Oh hello!’ (Hawtrey): 1; ‘Cockney cackle’ (Windsor): 1

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Marvellous monikers

Desmond Simkins/ ‘Red Admiral’ (Williams); Charlie Bind/ ‘Yellow Peril’ (Hawtrey);
Daphne Honeybutt/ ‘Brown Cow’ (Windsor); Harold Crump/ ‘Blue Bottle’ (Cribbins);
The Fat Man (Eric Pohlmann); Milchman (Victor Maddern); Dr Crow (Judith Furse)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

Given the film’s pastiching, Eric Rogers is given the opportunity to have some real fun this time out, but that he does an effective job lies in the fact he doesn’t overindulge himself. While the Vienna scenes with their deliberately noir-ish vibe invites him to throw in some Third Man-nodding zither-like cues and the Algiers setting invites North African touches, he wisely avoids lampooning John Barry’s iconic ‘Bond sound’, instead settling for a mock-murky-espionage-suggesting melody for the main theme. There’s also a couple of tunes, Too Late and The Magic Of Love, sung by femme fatale Dilys Laye.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

Despite sequences when it does misfire (the gang attempting to gain entry to an Algerian brothel and their inexplicably torturous ride on a conveyor belt in STENCH HQ), Spying does raise a fair number of laughs. Williams is always winning in another of his useless administrator roles (cf. Cruising) – indeed, his bent pistol gag is shameless and ridiculous but tittersome – yet much of the funniest stuff arises from the presence of Babs Windsor and her decolletage, which given how ample it and her comedic talents are maybe isn’t surprising. She makes a fine debut and was quite clearly going to be a Carry On star.

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Adjuster: -2

The final black-and-white effort, Spying benefits from its monochrome film noir moments, but a splash of bold colour may have lent considerable oomph to the villain’s lair finale. Nonetheless, although a little demure compared to the Carry Ons just around the corner, it holds up decently – not least alongside those other ‘British’ Bond spoofs, the Austin PowersJohnny Englishes and 1967’s Casino Royale.

Total Boggles:

62/ 100

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The best bit

Williams meets and briefs the trainee agents who’ll be under his command (Cribbins, Windsor and Hawtrey), leaving the audience – if not him – with deep misgivings about Britain’s security in its hour of need; includes the pearler of the line to be read below

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The best line

Hawtrey: “Agent Bind”/ Williams: “James?”/ Hawtrey: “No, Charlie”/
Williams: “Number?”/ Hawtrey: “Double-0… Ohh”/ Williams: “0-what?”/
Hawtrey: “Well, I’ve no idea. They looked at me and said ‘Uh-oh… ohh”/ Williams: “I see what you mean”

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Trivia

Hawtrey’s character was originally going to be called ‘Charlie Bond, Agent 001½’ until Bond producers Albert R ‘Cubby’ Broccoli and Harry Saltzman threatened to sue Peter Rogers; the film’s original poster had to be altered as well, owing to it bearing too much of a resemblance to that of the previous year’s From Russia With Love

Co-screenwriter Sid Colin was most famous for working on the sitcoms The Army Game (1957-59), in which both Carry On alumni William Hartnell and Bernard Bresslaw were cast regulars (Hartnell’s character proving very similar to his in Sergeant) and Up Pompeii (1969-70), on which he also collaborated with Talbot Rothwell

This would be Eric Barker’s last Carry On for 18 years – he’d finally return for Carry On Emmanuelle; Bernard Cribbins completed his two-movie-only stint in the series with Spying – that is, if you discount his appearance in the execrable Carry On Columbus, which was released a full 38 years later

Eric Pohlmann provided the voice of Bond nemesis and SPECTRE chief Blofeld in both From Russia With Love and Thunderball (1965), and played a waiter in The Third Man. He went on to appear in The Return Of The Pink Panther (1975), in which he also played a character called The Fat Man.

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Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Screenplay by: Talbot Rothwell; Composer: Eric Rogers;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 88 minutes; Released: November 1964

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The regulars

Sid James; Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Kenneth Connor; Joan Sims; Jim Dale/
semi-regulars: Amanda Barrie (final film); Jon Pertwee (first film); Peter Gilmore; Sally Douglas

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The crumpet

Amanda Barrie; Julie Stevens; Tanya Binning; Sally Douglas; Wanda Ventham

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The setting

Ancient Rome and Egypt; sending up 1963’s Cleopatra and ‘sword-and-sandal’ epics in general

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The plot:

Sick of the wet weather, Julius Caesar (Williams) and Marc Antony (James) return home early from their British campaign, taking with them captured slaves including the cowardly Hengist (Connor) and the brave Horsa (Dale). Back in Rome, Caesar is reunited with his battleaxe wife Calpurnia (Sims) and her dotty, randy second-sighted father Seneca (Hawtrey). Saved from an attempt on his life by Hengist – although actually inadvertently due to Horsa’s derring-do – Caesar appoints the former his personal bodyguard as he travels to Egypt to seal an alliance with the delectable queen Cleopatra (Barrie), on the recommendation of Antony, who’s already sampled her ample delights. However, lusting after power as well as his lover, Antony in fact aims to bump off Caesar there and seize Rome – and Cleo – for himself.

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Would you like sauce with that?

After toying with its audience for years, the series finally delivers in the sauce stakes here – the bold  colour, costumes and sets of this Carry On are complemented by brasher, fruitier and franker comedy. Taking its cues from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Antony And Cleopatra, Rothwell’s script invites James to finally fully develop his lothario persona, Williams to enter full fuss-pot bureaucrat mode and Hawtrey to twist his persona into his familiar, irreverent semi-sexual deviant; all accompanied by Barrie’s air-head sex-pot empress. There’s only one way this flick’ll end – as a good old bedroom farce.

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Cross-dressing to impress?

Not much to report here really. Apart from the bit when escaped Brit slaves Connor and Dale hide from their pursuers among the comely Vestal Virgins in their sacred temple, forcing them for a few seconds to don, yes, virginal white robes and for the former to put on his desperate drag act (cf. Carry On Cabby). Mind you, one might suggest that’s made up for by all the togas, tunics, swords, sandals, Egyptian head-pieces and flimsy dresses on display.

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Catchphrase count

‘Yak yak yak!’ (James): 3; ‘Oh hello!’ (Hawtrey): 2; ‘Corrr!’ (Connor): 1

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Marvellous monikers

Hengist Pod (Connor); Senna Pod (Sheila Hancock); Marcus and Spencius
(Gertan Klauber and Warren Mitchell); Sosages (Tom Clegg)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

Surely Cleo’s least showy tenet, Rogers’ score does the job fine, but there’s barely a memorable melody to be heard. Fair dues, though, in contributing to the onscreen pastiche, the moments nodding to epic cinema are soundtracked by suitable mock orchestral bombast, full of swelling brass. Plus, there’s a decent would-be love theme in there for the first meeting of Antony and Cleo.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

Contrasted with Carry On Jack (the first period effort), Cleo has a good, ahem, stab at balancing the ancient epic plot norms and production values with the comedy; although, contrasted with some series entries to come, one’s left feeling it could be funnier. Having said that, it nattily takes the p*ss out of not just Shakespeare and Cleopatra, but also 1959’s Ben-Hur and 1960’s Spartacus (check out the galley scene and the slave revolts), while Rothwell’s finding his groove and the leads their much loved personas. Plus, Jon Pertwee, Sheila Hancock and Warren Mitchell all make cracking cameos.

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Adjuster: +3

Iconic and highly popular, Cleo’s a watershed Carry On – the first in which Sid and Kenny properly share lead characters of equal standing, the first in an unbroken string of five period parodies and the first with that trademark brasher, franker tone. It’s littered with historical inaccuracies (it happily admits to ‘taking liberties with Cleopatra’), but it’s also a Roman romp that rarely rests on its laurels.

Total Boggles:

68/100

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The best bit

Cleo presents Sid (Antony) with her poisonous asp, suggesting its use to assassinate Williams’ Caesar, only for the misunderstanding Sid to take it and bite off its head – complete with a marvellously gratuitous sound effect

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The best line

Sims: “Seneca is known throughout Rome as a truly great sage”/ Hawtrey: “Yes, and I know my onions”/ Williams: “I wish you’d been in Britain – they know what to do with sage and onions there!”

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Trivia

Clearly inspired by the success and notoriety of the 1963 Cleopatra epic, Cleo was able to make good use of the sets built at Pinewood Studios for the former film but abandoned when its production upped sticks for Rome’s Cinecittà Studios

Speaking of Cleopatra, in an echo of the controversy generated by Spying’s original poster, Twentieth Century Fox filed for copyright infringement against Cleo’s production over its original artwork blatantly copying that of the Burton-Taylor opus – to be fair, Fox had more than a point

It’s no wonder Cleo set something of a template for the next few Carry Ons, for in a year jam-packed with Hollywood blockbusters (The Sound Of Music, Doctor Zhivago and Thunderball among them), it finished 12th on the list of UK box-office hits

Returning to the Carry On company  after a four-film break (following a rap on the knuckles for an affair with a Pinewood technician during former movies), Joan Sims would now go on to appear in every one of the series until its conclusion with Carry On Emmannuelle (1978)

Kenneth Williams’ notorious and wonderful ‘Infamy! Infamy!’ line (see opening of review) wasn’t actually the work of Talbot Rothwell; remembering it from the radio series Take It From Here, the scribe sought the permission of that show’s writers Frank Muir and Dennis Nordern (whom would later become forever recalled for hosting ITV’s gag-real favourite It’ll Be All Right On The Night) in order to feature it.

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Carry On Ranking

(All out of 100; new entries in blue)

1. Carry On Cabby (1963) ~ 85

2. Carry On Cleo (1964) ~ 68

3.  Carry On Nurse (1959) ~ 65

4. Carry On Constable (1960) ~ 63

5. Carry On Spying (1964) ~ 62

6. Carry On Jack (1963) ~ 61

7. Carry On Cruising (1962) ~ 60

8. Carry On Sergeant (1958) ~ 58

9. Carry On Teacher (1959) ~ 56

10. Carry On Regardless (1961) ~ 55

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

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Playlist: Listen, my friends! ~ June 2015

June 2, 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 Brian Fahey Orchestra ~ At The Sign Of The Swingin’ Cymbal (1960)¹

The Shangri-Las ~ Out In The Streets (1965)

Crispian St. Peters ~ The Pied Piper (1966)

Vanilla Fudge ~ You Keep Me Hangin’ On (1968)

Frankie Howerd and June Whitfield ~ Up Je T’Aime (1969)²

Gianni Morandi ~ Parla Più Piano (1972)³

Blue Swede ~ A Song For You (1973)

Frank Zappa ~ Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow (1974)

Nina Simone ~ Funkier Than A Mosquito’s Tweeter (1974)

Tom Scott ~ Gotcha! (Theme from Starsky & Hutch) (1976)

A Flock Of Seagulls ~ Space Age Love Song (1982)

Cast of Bread ~ Theme from Bread (1986)

David Foster ~ Water Fountain (1987)4

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¹ The original instrumental that owes its iconoclasm to becoming the unmistakeable theme of disc jockey Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman’s Pick Of The Pops radio show, which has run on various stations since 1955 (Freeman taking the reins from 1961 onwards)

² The British comic pair’s delicious spoof of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin’s classic naughty pop hit Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus, which was released earlier the same year

³ An Italian-language version of the hit song Speak Softly, Love, which – written by the film’s composer Nino Rota (and whose melody fittingly bears resemblance to those from at least two operas) – appeared in the Mafia movie epic The Godfather (1972)

4 From the soundtrack of the über-’80s romcom classic The Secret Of My Success (1987)

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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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