Saturday, 12 January 2013

Oh, MATRON!...


...And what better way to kick-start the old Blog back into coughing, spluttering life after the New Year, than with an in-depth look at the Cultural Issues affecting modern life?. With a hasty, ill thought-out skim-over of the Carry On films, that's what...


With 31 films from 1958's Carry on Sergeant to the last Carry on Columbus in 1992, the series ranks second only to the James Bond films in durability – and if you were like me, i.e. British, white and born anywhere around the late sixties, chances are you grew up with these classics on the telly. The style of humour in the Carry Ons is best defined as 'saucy seaside postcard' and music hall – that end of the pier British humour with busty girls and lusty gents. Wey-HEY!.
The team of Producer Peter Rogers and Director Gerald Thomas hit on the idea of a series of low-budget, (The lead players were paid just £5,000 a film) low-production value gag-fests, each featuring the same basic cast members – the 'Carry On Gang' – in a different set-up; they're Doctors and patients in a hospital, they're Explorers in the Jungle... the main purpose of the plots seemed to be to cram as many silly, hackneyed and genuinely hilarious gags into the whole thing as possible. It was a national phenomenon. Whole generations of British movie-goers trooped in to see these films. Art-house producers must have wept...
ABOVE: CARRY ON CAMPING Terry Scott gets a pain in the arse for once... and Below: Mike Myers wasn't the first...


The core of the Carry On Gang?; Sidney James, Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, Kenneth Connor, Bernard Bresslaw, Barbara 'Babs' Windsor, Jim Dale and Peter Butterworth. Only a few of these names are still in the land of the living – Barbara Windsor's bubbly blonde bombshell was until fairly recently Peggy Mitchell of Eastenders fame. The names in that list cover just about the whole spectrum of British vintage comedy – Sid James made his name on Hancock's Half Hour with Tony Hancock, as did Kenneth Williams, who specialised in different characters and voices before his run on Round the Horne. Another Hancock regular was Hattie Jacques, famous for her Matron characters. Aside from the Carry Ons, Jacques found fame with Eric Sykes, working with him for many years, including her final role, in the comedy short Rhubarb Rhubarb released after her death.

The flavour of the series comes largely from Talbot Rothwell's scripts; he wrote twenty of the films before retiring with exhaustion to Worthing in West Sussex. (My two 'Lames' to fame here are apart from living in Worthing, as a kid when we lived in Surrey I was almost run over by the horribly unfunny Terry Scott in his Rolls Royce) A WWII fighter pilot, Rothwell was shot down and was held in the notorious Stalag Luft III, the camp famous for The Great Escape. While there, he met future Carry On regular Peter Butterworth who performed in Rothwell's early plays – covering the noise of the tunneling below!. 
 
SID JAMES
Solomon Cohen was a Johannesburg hairdresser – changing his name to Sidney James he went into acting. After some serious roles, he went into comedy – almost always playing characters called Sid or Sidney. His trademark was a dirty laugh and 'Cor, blimey!' (Pronounced; BA-limey!). Famously, he carried on with Babs Windsor, whose husband Ronnie Knight was a leading figure in Gangland. Rumour has it Knight threatened Sid, whose other obsession was gambling – a life-long gambler he would often be found on the phone to his bookie, losing thousands. He collapsed onstage with a heart attack in 1976.

How you perceive the Carry Ons largely depends on your age and background – today they are seen as howlingly unfunny, cliche'd sexist and racist by turn. For example – in various films Bernard Bresslaw turned up as either a native African, an Arab, or as an Afghan warlord. These days a white Englishman blacked up would provoke howls of outrage – especially as, in the first example he was surrounded by actual black actors. No surprise here; I see these films as a product of their time, films made without malice for the entertainment and enjoyment of the audience of that time. The far-off daze when Britain seemed more innocent are long gone, sadly. I grew up with these films and they are GREAT – the jokes are groan-worthy and brilliant one after the other, all tongue-in-cheek and the very best of British post-war humour. Judging films made forty years ago by society's mores today is just madness – it doesn't work; instead of tut-tutting, sit down and watch these gems – enjoy seeing the Britain of the sixties and seventies (Even the 'foreign' ones were never filmed farther afield than Wales) and have some laughs!.

ABOVE: Two more from 'Camping'. The redhead fighting Barbara Windsor is Anna Karen - Olive from the long-running British Sitcom On the Buses...


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