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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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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul S permalink
    April 27, 2015 3:10 pm

    I haven’t seen many of the older Carry On films but your categories had me cackling like the legendary Sid. Looking forward to the next batch!

    • April 27, 2015 3:12 pm

      Great to hear, Paul – I’m working on the next four reviews right now. Thanks for your comment… 🙂

  2. August 17, 2017 2:04 pm

    I have seen a few of the Carry On movies, but not nearly enough. I enjoyed your rating system and categories greatly. I’m going to seek more of these movies out.

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