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What a Carry On: Carry On Doctor (1967)/ Carry On… Up The Khyber (1968) ~ Reviews

August 31, 2015

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With the Swinging Sixties on the wain and the seductive ideals of free-love and the striking styles of psychedelia turning on the UK youth, it might be said the Carry Ons decided to play it safe with the back-to-back releases of a hospital-housed comedy and a British Raj-based send-up – after all, these were hardly settings a million miles away from what the series had already delivered on more than one occasion.

So then, in this post – the latest in George’s Journal’s ‘summer season’ of offerings celebrating Blighty’s premier saga of big-screen comedy, itself the latest to review, rate and rank each of those flicks – we turn our attention to two of the most well recalled Carry On movies, namely Doctor and Up The Khyber. Are they really just more of the same in an oppugnant era of adolescent self-discovery or something altogether new, daring and, dare one say it, better than ever before…?

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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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Carry on Doctor

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“No bleeding, good”/ “Just like the service round here”

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

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The regulars

Sid James; Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Hattie Jacques;
Barbara Windsor; Joan Sims; Jim Dale; Bernard Bresslaw; Peter Butterworth/
semi-regulars: Frankie Howerd (first film); Anita Harris (final film); Dilys Laye;
Derek Francis (first film); Marianne Stone; Peter Gilmore; Julian Holloway; Valerie Van Ost

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The crumpet

Barbara Windsor; Anita Harris; Valerie Van Ost; Jenny White; Alexandra Dane

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The setting

Contemporary (mid- to late ’60s) Britain; sending up the NHS and TV hospital dramas

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The plot

Evangelical-like life coach Francis Bigger (Howerd) is admitted to the men’s ward of the local borough hospital where he encounters a rag-tag bunch of patients – a workshy skiver (James), a cheery chap (Bresslaw) interested in a girl in the nearby women’s ward (Laye) and an effete man suffering from an acute sympathy pregnancy (Hawtrey) – as well as the staff, including the arrogant registrar Dr Tinkle (Williams) and the warm Nurse Clark (Harris), whom pines for the equally attractive and charismatic Dr Kilmore (Dale). Things are complicated, though, when the latter observes a trainee nurse (Windsor) compromise Tinkle, so the latter and the haughty Matron (Jacques), whom hankers after him, plan to stitch-up the young doctor, not realising it will lead to open rebellion among the patients.

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Would you like sauce with that?

It’s no coincidence Barbara Windsor returns to the series and the sauce-o-meter goes up another notch (Babs: “What a lovely pear”/ Ambulance driver eating a pear while looking at her chest: “You took the words right out of my mouth!”); indeed, there’s even a scene where she strips down to her underwear that’s apropos of nothing. Yet, the bawdiness doesn’t rely on Babs’ assets alone. Take Dale accidentally pulling off Harris’s skirt to reveal semi-saucy underpants before leaping through a window and into a bath with a naked girl (allowing us a peak of side-boob – the Carry Ons’ first partial female nudity?). Factor in Kenny and Hattie’s patter and Sid’s fruity asides to the nurses and, with Doctor arriving just months after the ‘Summer of Love’, we’re catching up with the Swinging Sixties fast.

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Cross-dressing to impress?

The sight of the gigantic Bernard Bresslaw squeezed into Anita Harris’s nurse uniform (all chest hair sprouting over the top), so he might slip past the hospital Sister and into the women’s ward and involve Laye in the male patients’ plan to force Williams and Jacques into confessing they fixed Dale, is certainly tittersome, but does feel like an afterthought of a drag moment – included then just to tick the Carry On cross-dressing comedy box? Maybe. Plus, quite how the Sister would mistake Bresslaw for a real nurse is anyone’s guess. Mind you, it’s probably best we don’t think too hard about that.

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Catchphrase count

‘Yak-yak-yak!’ (James): 4; “Stop messin’ about!” (Williams): 1;
“Oooooh!” (Howerd): 4; ‘Cockney cackle’ (Windsor): 1

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Marvellous monikers

Francis Bigger (Howerd); Dr Kenneth Tinkle (Williams); Dr Jim Kilmore (Dale); Charlie Roper (James);
Mr Barron (Hawtrey); Ken Biddle (Bresslaw); Nurse Sandra May (Windsor); Mavis Winkle (Laye)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

Arguably one of the series’ most fondly recalled entries for music, Doctor boasts an ideal score from Eric Rogers. In a strong nod to the predecessor with which it shares more than a passing resemblance (1959’s Carry On Nurse), the movie opens to the melody by Bruce Montgomery that’s probably most heavily associated with the film series, but hits its real heights with the elegantly grand theme that perfectly fits the flick’s TV hospital melodrama-mocking aspirations and later with the love theme that’s mostly used to soundtrack Dale and Harris’s snatched moments of potential romance.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

Surely only a heavy (or sickly) heart would heavily fault Doctor’s funnies. There’s the wonderful you-push-I-push-you-back Kenny/ Hattie byplay, the bed-bound Sid defying the medical staff and his other half, Dale’s silly but cracking slapstick and the ongoing commentary from Peter Gilmore and Harry Locke’s paramedic pair on all the hospital’s outrageous proceedings. Surprisingly, though, Howerd and Windsor’s contributions leave you wanting more – the former because he could have been given saucier, funnier material, the latter more screen-time – but they’re hardly oversights deserving of a bed-bath.

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Adjuster: 0

Something of a ’60s update of ’50s favourite Carry On Nurse, Doctor – at least for this reviewer – isn’t quite as funny or as good as he remembers it. And yet, it seems cruel to suggest it’s unworthy of classic status within the series (not least because of the strength of its cast; it was the first to star the ‘big five’ – and boasts Frankie Howerd). More a gilded than golden offering then from the golden era of Carry On.

Total Boggles

79/ 100

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The best bit

Babs’ nurse trots through the ward towards Sid, who’s having his blood pressure taken, and stops to greet him with a mock-coy ‘Hi’, causing his reading to sky-rocket and the measuring machine to blow its top

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The best line

“You may not realise it, but I was once a weak man” (Williams)/
“Once a week’s enough for any man” (Jacques)

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Trivia

A booming success with the British public, Doctor was the third biggest hit at the UK box-office in 1968

Surprisingly, given the film’s eventual popularity, producer Peter Rogers believed it would probably be the series’ swansong (owing to the lack of enthusiasm for the Carry Ons from relatively new studio Rank), thus – as it was felt Rogers’ wife Betty Box’s Doctor film comedies were coming to an end too – this effort was intended as a sort of tie-up to both series, hence why a portrait of James Robertson Justice (whom played the formidable Sir Lancelot Spratt in the Doctor movies) hangs in the hospital foyer

Sid James’ character is bedridden for the majority of the movie as he himself was recuperating from a heart attack sustained shortly before shooting; this doesn’t exactly explain away his smoking in the film

The de facto lead role of Francis Bigger, which was filled by Carry On debutant Howerd, was initially offered to Williams, but he apparently balked at the responsibility of ‘carrying’ the movie so instead opted to play the conniving Dr Tinkle

A sign of just how much a tribute Doctor is to Carry On Nurse comes in the scene when a nurse offers to ‘put in’ a long daffodil for Howerd’s character – in claiming “No, thank you, I’ve seen that movie!” (misunderstanding she innocently means putting it in a glass of water for him), he’s referring to Nurse’s memorably risqué closing gag.

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Bring on the dancing girls – get rid of this idiot!”/ “Fakir, off!

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Screenplay by: Talbot Rothwell; Composer: Eric Rogers;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 86 minutes; Released: September 1968

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The regulars

Sid James; Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Joan Sims; Bernard Bresslaw;
Peter Butterworth/ semi-regulars: Angela Douglas (final film); Terry Scott;
Julian Holloway; Peter Gilmore; Valerie Leon (first film)

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The crumpet

Angela Douglas; Wanda Ventham; Alexandra Dane; Dominique Don;
Valerie Leon; Eve Eden; Vicki Woolf; Angela Grant

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The setting

The British-controlled Indian province of ‘Kalabar’ near the Khyber Pass in the 1890s;
spoofing 1964’s Zulu and Kipling-esque adventures, and sending up the British Raj in general

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The plot

The uncomfortable peace between the natives of India’s Kalabar region – nominally under the rule of its Khasi, Randi Lal (Williams) – and the controlling British under the command of the Governor Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond (James) is threatened when marauding Afghan warrior Bungdit In (Bresslaw) from across the Khyber Pass observes that a lowly British private (Hawtrey) dons underwear beneath his kilt, in defiance of his supposedly fearless regiment’s reputation as ‘devils in skirts’. Things quickly get out of hand when it’s then discovered the entire regiment is foregoing its au commando tradition, not least as Ruff-Diamond’s Khasi-enamoured wife (Sims) promises to furnish his opposite number with incriminating photographic evidence. Will the affair lead to full-blown rebellion and, if so, can the outnumbered and frankly deluded British force avoid humiliating annihilation?

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Would you like sauce with that?

It’s hard not to conclude that, finely straddling the line between the suggestiveness of much of the series’ ’60s output and the outright raciness of the later Carry Ons, Khyber gets its ribaldry spot on – from Sid’s exhausting ‘righting of the wrongs (supposedly) done on to him’ with as many of the Khasi’s wives as possible to Terry Scott candidly clasping the naked upper thigh of a harem girl to all those innendos referencing the regiment’s would-be nakedness beneath their kilts. Plus, lest we forget, uniquely this movie even features its own self-contained, superb cypher for sex – who’s up for some ‘tiffin’?

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Cross-dressing to impress?

With a Carry On cast on such good form and a roaring roster of titillating talent, one probably wouldn’t miss any transvestism this time out, but, Khyber being one the series’ best exemplars, don’t worry, drag’s on the menu all right. It comes when, in attempting not to be discovered trying to escape from Bugdit In’s Burpa fortress, Roy Castle, Hawtrey and Scott’s soldiers, Butterworth’s missionary, Sims’ Memsahib and Douglas’s defecting Indian princess don dancing girls’ outfits and try to gyrate their way out. It’s a vain effort, of course, but this many Carry On-ers cross-dressing really is quite the sight.

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Catchphrase count

‘Yak-yak-yak!’ (James): 5

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Marvellous monikers

Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond (James); Randi Lal, the Khasi of Kalabar (Williams);
Private James Widdle (Hawtrey); Bungdit In of Jacksi (Bresslaw); Princess Jelhi (Douglas);
Sergeant Major MacNutt (Scott); Brother Belchar (Butterworth); Major Shorthouse (Holloway);
Private Ginger Hale (Gilmore); The 3rd Foot and Mouth Regiment (fictitious Highland regiment)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

An exquisite take-off of the patriotic bombast to be heard in the celebrated war classics of UK cinema (such as 1955’s The Dam Busters, 1956’s Reach For The Sky and Zulu), Eric Rogers’ score finely fits its flick’s lampooning aims, while most on-screen antics are also perfectly soundtracked – not least the comedic cue for Scott’s Chaplin-esque marching of Hawtrey to Sid’s office to admit his uniform faux pas that sets in motion the whole British military calamity. Admittedly, there could be one or two more of these marvellous touches of musical farce, as in other Carry Ons, but that’d arguably be nit-picking.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

Excellently blending the usual Carry On components of bawdiness, slapstick and – certainly this time – wonderful wordplay (see ‘The Best Line’ and the video clip below), Khyber scores so highly in the comedy stakes because it also succeeds at sending up its subject matter so well (the British Raj, Imperial militarism and indeed Britishness itself) that it spills over into terrific satire. Indeed, its demonstration of the absurdity that’s the relationship between the racial elites, the stiff upper-lip nonchalance of Brits in crisis and, best of all, the latter Army’s unlikely fearsome reputation throughout the Empire – represented brilliantly by kilt-clad squaddies going without underwear – is historical pastiche of the highest order.

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Adjuster: +3

Proof that, at its best, this series is as far from (ahem) comic rank stupidity as Private Widdle is from stoic Victorian cannon-fodder, Khyber is undeniably the cleverest and most consistent, arguably the wittiest and just maybe the funniest of all the Carry Ons. Go on, do yourself a favour, bungdit in the DVD player and wallow in its Khasi-doused delights – you’ll have a tiffin-tastic time and no mistake.

Total Boggles

90/ 100

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The best bit

The climax – Ruff-Diamond calls the troops up into a line and orders them to pull up their kilts (this time sans undies), causing the rebelling natives to howl in fright and scarper (Khasi: “There’s nothing to be afraid of! * looks himself * Ooh, I dunno, though!”)

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The best line

“May the benevolence of the god Shivu bring blessings on your house” (Williams)/
“And on yours” (James)/ “And may his wisdom bring success in all your undertakings” (Williams)/
“And in yours” (James)/ “And may his radiance light up your life” (Williams)/ “And up yours” (James)

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Trivia

Khyber was the second biggest film at the UK box-office in 1969

It’s the only Carry On film to contain scenes shot outside of England – the Khyber Pass sequences were captured in Wales’s Snowdonia, where a plaque now celebrates the fact

The utterly irreverent Fakir character was intended for madcap comedy legend Tommy Cooper, but ended up being scaled back and played by comic actor of stage and screen Cardew Robinson

The final shot of the film (following the foiling of the Khasi’s plan with the revolting Burpas being seen off) features a Union Jack flag flying over the near destroyed Governor’s residence, on which is printed the legend ‘I’m Backing Britain’ – this is a direct reference to a patriotic yet risible economic campaign of the same name that flourished and died in the early months of 1968, hence why Peter Butterworth’s character delivers the final line to the audience: “Of course, they’re all raving mad, you know…”

The movie is held in such high esteem among the Carry On flicks and by the UK film industry that it was voted 99th in the British Film Institute (BFI)’s poll of ‘The 100 Greatest British Films’ (1999)

Indeed, it was celebrated for its humorous sending up of authority (in the shape of the Victorian Raj) and inverted class snobbery in this particularly thoughtful article by academic and filmmaker Colin MacCabe, whom has also named it among his top 10 movies of all-time.

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Carry On Ranking

(All out of 100; new entries in blue)

1. Carry On… Up The Khyber (1968) ~ 90

2. Carry On Cabby (1963) ~ 85

3. Carry On Screaming! (1966) ~ 83

4. Carry On Cowboy (1965) ~ 80

5. Carry On Doctor (1967) ~ 79

6. Carry On Cleo (1964) ~ 68

7.  Carry On Nurse (1959) ~ 65

8. Carry On Constable (1960) ~ 63

9. Carry On Spying (1964) ~ 62

10. Carry On Jack (1963) ~ 61

11. Carry On Cruising (1962) ~ 60

12. Follow That Camel (1967) ~ 59

13. Carry On Sergeant (1958) ~ 58

14. Don’t Lose Your Head (1966) ~ 57

15. Carry On Teacher (1959) ~ 56

16. Carry On Regardless (1961) ~ 55

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

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