Thursday, 19 July 2018

Bernie Carries On … As Ken Biddle


Over the past year I have written a series of blogs covering each of the roles of some of our favourite Carry On stars. I began my looking back at each film role played by the three leading ladies in the series - Joan Sims, Hattie Jacques and Barbara Windsor - and most recently I've written about all of Kenneth Connor's Carry On performances in the run up to the great man's centenary. 

Today I am beginning a new strand of this series by turning the spotlight on that gentle giant of British comedy, the late Bernard Bresslaw. Probably one of the most under-rated actors in the main team, Bernard was a part of the series for ten years and fourteen films, tackling a superb range of crumbling villains and delightfully dimwitted foils to the likes of Sid James and Kenneth Cope. Bernard enjoyed a long career away from the Carry Ons and spent much of his later life wowing audiences in legitimate theatre. However he will forever to remembered for his clutch of hilarious Carry On supporting turns. 

Bernard joined the Carry On team in the mid 1960s and along with Peter Butterworth was the last main team member to join the gang. Along with Butterworth, Bernard played a series of smaller, supporting roles to begin with before graduating to major roles towards the end of the decade. Bernard fitted in effortlessly with the rest of the team and he's the kind of actor who is working hard but making it look oh so easy. A quiet, erudite, thoughtful family man away from the film studios, I often think Bresslaw has never received the credit he's due as like Connor and Butterworth, he didn't ever seek the limelight or splash his life over the front pages.

So today, we'll continue this new series looking at Bernard's role as hospital patient Ken Biddle in his fourth Carry On, a return to the hospital wards, Carry On Doctor in 1967.



This was a momentous film for the series. Carry On Doctor saw one of the biggest cast of Carry On favourites ever to feature in the same film. It also saw the first guest starring turn from the master, Frankie Howerd. Doctor was one of the first films in the series to reference past successes too - the use of the daffodil in the scene between Valerie Van Ost and Frankie is a direct reference to the 1959 smash hit, Carry On Nurse. The presence of the portrait of James Robertson Justice in the hospital lobby is also a direct nod to Betty Box's hugely successful series of Doctor comedies. And Carry On Doctor also saw the return to the series of three main players. 

After a three year absence, Barbara Windsor was back with the gang following her debut in the 1964 film Carry On Spying. Doctor would see Barbara begin a film a year tradition with the team right up until 1974. Sid James was also back, although in a reduced role following a serious heart attacsome months before. His character spends the vast majority of the film in bed. And most importantly of all for this particular blog, Carry On Doctor saw the return of Hattie Jacques after four years away from the series pursuing other projects. Looking back at it now, it's hard to imagine the film without her, however Jacques was obviously far from the minds of the production team as the role of Matron was originally offered to her close friend and co-star Joan Sims. Joan however knew Hattie must play the legendary role so passed over the part and instead took on the supporting role of Chloe Gibson, the hilariously hard of hearing companion to Frankie's Francis Bigger. 



Carry On Doctor is very much a homage to Carry On Nurse. It's broader, cheekier and very much a 1960s version but it remains true to the series' heritage. It's Talbot Rothwell paying tribute to Norman Hudis' landmark script. As with Nurse there is a large communal ward of male patients, lots of lovely nurses and a fearsome Matron. The film follows the story of the charming if accident prone Dr Kilmore who is popular with the patients, less so with the hospital management. Following an accidental yet incriminating situation with Nurse Sandra May (Windsor), Kenneth Williams' Dr Tinkle and Hattie's Matron join forces to see off Kilmore. The patients, upset over this matter, get together to restore the natural order to the hospital.

So what about Bernard's role in the film? Well for Bresslaw comes of age as a Carry On top team member with this film. For the first time in the series he plays a very familiar version of his simple but kindly character from the smash hit sitcom, The Army Game. He's just a down to earth, working class bloke, stuck in hospital sharing a communal ward with many more of the same. I love the interplay between Bernard and the other male patients - Sid James, Peter Butterworth, Frankie Howerd and Charles Hawtrey. It's the heart and soul of the film and their camaraderie is very much reminiscent not just of the film's direct predecessor Carry On Nurse, but also of the barrack room larks in Carry On Sergeant. 



The closeness of the male patients sets up the grand finale of the film when the patients rise up against the corrupt hospital hierarchy of Matron, Dr Tinkle and Sister (Jacques, Williams and June Jago). It's a lovely comedy version of David versus Goliath and it really does give the audience something to root for. After all, the powers that be have been pretty awful throughout the film. Much of Bernard's role in Carry On Doctor surrounds his blossoming romance with female patient Mavis Winkle, played by the delightful Dilys Laye in her third appearance in the series. As Ken Biddle has his leg in plaster it provides a good source of humour as he limps along the corridor between the male and female wards in an attempt to communicate with Mavis. Many of his attempts are thwarted by Matron and it becomes something of a running joke as the hospital staff do not approve of fraternisation! 

I love Bernard and Dilys together on screen. So did the audience of the time and the Carry On producers as they teamed them up again the very next year in Carry On Camping. Much like Kenneth Williams' hospital romance with Jill Ireland in Nurse, there are moments of real pathos between Bernard and Dilys and their scenes are very much played for real. They are obviously two quite lonely people and the characters provide some lovely warm moments in amongst the riotous comedy. There is plenty of comedy in their story though - Biddle's unsuspecting hospital visiting mate Fred (Julian Orchard) gets a stomach full of castor oil while he takes Ken's place in bed so he can visit Mavis is lovely stuff as is Mavis being made to switch beds with elderly patient Lucy Griffiths leading to a major misunderstanding when Jim Dale's Dr Kilmore passes on a note! 


Of course no Carry On is complete without a bit of dragging up and not for the last time, it's Bernard's turn. Something about Bernard's height and stature made the sight of him in drag particularly amusing. When the patients decide to rise up against Dr Tinkle and Matron, Sid sends Bernie into the women's ward to recruit their services to bring down the medical staff. To do this, Bernie drags up in Nurse Clark's uniform (yes, that's right Bresslaw fits into Anita's costume) and manages to fool Sister, despite a wayward pyjama trouser leg! It's a lovely scene and brings together a lot of what the Carry Ons mean to me - innocent, childlike panto comedy delightfully played by a host of irresistibly brilliant actors. 

One thing always frustrates me about Bernard's role in Doctor. I keep seeing a still of Bernard and Dilys leaving the hospital, their characters in the foyer in a scene with Jim Dale and Anita Harris. Obviously the scene was cut from the final print but I wonder why. Perhaps it was over-running and deemed superfluous to the story, but I think it's a shame. It would have been nice to see their story wrapped up in this way at the end of the picture.



So that's my thoughts on Bernard's role as Ken Biddle in Carry On Doctor. Stay tuned for my next blog in this series, as I look back at Bernard's role as another fiendish villain, Bungdit-Din in the classic Carry On Up The Khyber!

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Carry On Blogging Interview: Elke Sommer


It's a huge thrill to be able to bring you an interview with one of the best remembered guest stars ever to grace a Carry On film. In 1975, international film and television actress Elke Sommer travelled to England to head the cast of probably the last successful Carry On film to be made, Carry On Behind. Starring opposite Kenneth Williams, Elke played Russian archaeologist Professor Anna Vooshka in the Dave Freeman scripted comedy, joining a cast which included the likes of Windsor Davies, Bernard Bresslaw, Joan Sims and Patsy Rowlands.

Elke fitted in seamlessly with the rest of the cast and took to Carry On comedy like a duck to water. She had previously worked for Peter Rogers' wife Betty Box and Gerald's brother Ralph Thomas on similar comedies Percy and Percy's Progress so she was on familiar territory. I've long wanted to feature an interview with Elke and indeed had hoped to meet her on a recently planned trip to the UK to attend the Classic TV and Sitcom Classics Day up in Borehamwood. Sadly Elke couldn't attend but certainly intends to fulfil this commitment in the near future. 

So, without further ado, here's how we got on:



Can you tell me what made you want to become an actress in the first place?

Oh my God it is such a long story and one I really want to tell in depth when I visit England. I never really wanted to be an actress at first, I wanted to become a doctor which involved lots of studying to learn Greek, Latin and English.


During your career you have made many films in both the U.S & UK. What do you think are the main differences between the two film industries?

I have worked in many different countries from UK to Sri Lanka & the United States to South Africa and Italy. Every country has their slight differences and way of doing things. In Italy there is a lot of improvisation, in the United States everything has to go like clockwork, to the second and to perfection.

I felt closer to the UK style due to the British sense of humour - we have the same humour and that built a base for good friendships.

Fans in the UK will probably know you best for the classic film A Shot in the Dark with Peter Sellers. What was Peter like to work with on that picture?

Wow, another question that I would easily be able to take half an hour to answer! Peter was a good friend and was always desperate to get married (not to me!). He had the clairvoyant and astrologer Maurice Woodruff with him quite often and this is certainly one for the UK visit! 

We also worked together on the remake of The Prisoner of Zenda which didn't do too well unfortunately.


You worked several times with producer Betty Box and director Ralph Thomas - what were they like to work with?

They were just fantastic! We were great friends, almost family you might say. We always ate together during filming and enjoyed each others company.

You formed a strong friendship with producer Peter Rogers. What kind of man was Peter away from the film studios?

Peter was a gentleman. A typical English gentleman. Extremely funny when he wanted to be. Peter was very intelligent. He never had the same joy in his eyes on set that Ralph Thomas had but the best way to describe him I would say is a kind of grey eminence.


What are your memories of making Carry On Behind with the late great Kenneth Williams?

I had heard about the Carry Ons. Someone suggested I should take part in one but when the offer came in for Carry On Behind I was so busy with other work. In the end Kenny talked me into it. I had a lovely time making that film, it was a blast. It was full of British humour, just like me!

Kenny Williams was a wonderful talent and very funny. I remember they asked me what I would like and I didn't really know what to say apart from I'd seen two absolutely beautiful couches. So they sent them out, one to each home and that was my payment. I still have the couches.

You acted opposite the wonderful David Niven in the 1979 film, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square. What was he like?   

David… He was nice. He was extremely respectful and a complete gentleman. He never became a great friend but we dined together a lot and certainly was a good acquaintance.


From 1970 onwards you have appeared regularly on stage, what has been your favourite role in the theatre and why?

I had many wonderful experiences such as appearing at Chicago's Drury Lane Theatre in 1971 appearing as the lead role in Cactus Flower and also Born Yesterday playing the role of Billie Dawn. I really enjoyed Same Time Next Year at the Grand Dinner Theatre in California.

I feel you have to do the stage/theatre to prove you are an actor.

Some people may not be aware that you are also a hugely successful artist. What has inspired you artwork over the years?

I had painted since I was a child and my grandfather was a good artist. As I was also in show business my artwork was the only thing I could really call all mine and had not been produced or directed by someone else like the films and television I appeared in.

Painting gave me peace and quiet and also allowed me to express my feelings at various times, be it joy or pain. 


What was it like working with The Muppets?

It was Fantastic! Miss Piggy hated me, Gonzo loved me and Bob Mackie made me a stunning dress. And I got to sing Row Row Row on "The Nile" with them.

Do you have a preference out of Theatre/TV & Movies?

I enjoy them all, but theatre commands a lot of respect, you only get one attempt, there are no retakes, it's more challenging. i work well under pressure, you have to be on time and precise. Very German!

Speaking of Germany, did you watch the World Cup?

I did, the Mexico game Germany seemed to play in slow motion and they did not do enough to progress. And Leroy Sane should have been selected!



Elke asked for her love to be passed on to everyone in the UK. I'm so grateful to her for agreeing to answer my questions and I'm also indebted to Rich, the organiser of the Classic TV day at Borehamwood for making all this possible. You can follow Rich on Twitter @sitcomdelights.

And you can find out more about Elke Sommer on her official website

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram 

Carry On Blogging Review: Liz Fraser at the Museum of Comedy


On a rather hot and steamy night I made my way to the Museum of Comedy in Central London to see a legend of British comedy. I've long been a fan of Liz Fraser and her work on stage and screen and finally, after several attempts, I was getting a chance to hear from the lady herself on her long and illustrious career in some of the best loved comedy this country has ever produced.

The lovely Robert Ross, comedy historian and author of many books, most of which you'll find on my shelves, was interviewing his long-time friend and sparring partner Ms Fraser in the intimate surroundings of the Museum of Comedy, a delightful venue and a treasure trove for anyone who loves classic funny stuff. It's definitely worth checking out. Large gin and tonic in hand, I braced myself for the arrival of Liz, aware that quite possibly anything could happen!



Having heard Liz Fraser interviewed many times before, on radio, television and in various audio commentaries with Robert, I know her to be a rather formidable presence well known for speaking her mind. And she didn't disappoint on that score! A hugely talented actress who, as she's keen to point out herself, has worked with everyone (most of everyone now being dead), Liz's career dates back to the 1950s and is still going strong today. A recently filmed guest starring role in Midsomer Murders will be coming to a telly near you soon. 

It's clear that Liz and Robert go back a long way, indeed Liz points out they first met when young Robert approached her and asked for an autograph. They clearly know each other rather well and I think there's scope for a national tour as a double act as their interplay throughout the show kept the audience in stitches. Still sharp as a tack, Liz recounted tales of working with legends such as Peter Sellers, Tommy Cooper, Les Dawson, Benny Hill and Jimmy Edwards. Some of the anecdotes were fairly colourful (you'd expect nothing less) but Liz showed great affection for most of her past colleagues, particularly Sid James and Tony Hancock.



I loved hearing tales of some of the theatrical tours Liz took part in during the 1960s and 70s, seemingly always involving the wonderful one off which was Irene Handl. What a double act they must have made. Another actress Liz seemed incredibly fond of was the late, great Dora Bryan. Again, what talent to see on stage. I was pleased to see Robert asking her about some of her later work too - the Confessions and Adventures of films were briefly mentioned as was Liz's slightly bizarre cameo in the Sex Pistols' 1980 film The Great Rock and Roll Swindle. No, I haven't seen it either, but it brought the likes of Liz, Irene Handl and Julian Holloway into contact with the infamous band and another equally infamous figure in the shape of the late Mary Millington. 


Also discussed was some of Liz's fine, if rarely seen work on the small screen with serious parts in the likes of Miss Marple and Eskimos Do It, opposite Jean Boht. This made me think, once again, just how much Liz had to give as an actress and how true that is to this very day.

Liz Fraser is, quite simply, a force of nature. She says a whole lot of things most of us would think but not dare to say aloud! And I kinda like that spirit in someone. Despite many pithy asides, I think deep down she's soft as butter and a bit of a pussycat. It was a privilege to meet both Robert and Liz at the end of the show. I've known Robert's work since I was a schoolboy and my original Carry On Companion is with me still. We've chatted over email and by phone but not met until now, which was lovely. And to shake the hand of the legendary Liz, well that's something very special indeed.





You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram 

Saturday, 14 July 2018

My Top 20 Favourite Carry On Actors: Number 4 - Kenneth Williams


This is part of a series of blogs where I will take a purely personal look at my favourite Carry On actors. I will be doing a countdown of my top twenty actors and actresses in this, the sixtieth anniversary year of Carry On. So why top twenty? Well top ten didn't allow me to include all my favourites and any more than twenty and I'd be at it forever, as it were.

This top twenty will be a mix of regular top team actors and many of those instantly recognisable supporting actors who popped in and out of the series, adding superb cameos here and there. You will probably agree with some of my main choices and be vehemently opposed to others, but it's meant to encourage debate! 

So we are now half way through my countdown of my all-time favourite Carry On actors. The first half of the list featured mainly supporting actors who popped in and out several times throughout the films, from the likes of Joan Hickson and Cyril Chamberlain to Margaret Nolan and Peter Gilmore. Now obviously the Top Ten is going to focus on the main team members as there aren't any I can conceivably leave out.


So here we go with Number Four: An actor who appeared in more Carry On films than any other actor, quite a feat. Yes it's the legendary, nostril-flaring Kenneth Williams. 




Yes I know, before I start, it's a little lower down the list than you might expect to find Mr Williams and although I do love him dearly, this is purely a personal list and to be honest, there are actors in the team I slightly prefer. It's a hard decision to make but there you have it.  Kenneth, along with Sid and Barbara, is probably the most famous Carry On actor there ever was. Such was his appeal, unique talent and singular appearance that he's very much a case of once seen, never forgotten. Of course he's also very famous for his private life, his much heralded diaries and sadly, the way he died.

Kenneth, along with Connor and Eric Barker, is the only actor to appear in the first and last Carry On of the original run. Williams was a stand out performer in the National Service comedy Carry On Sergeant in 1958 and he rather painfully carried much of Emmannuelle twenty years later. Such was his loyalty to Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas. He was often rather tetchy about being pigeonholed as a Carry On actor and it did inhibit casting directors elsewhere which is a shame as he was a bloody fine actor in his own right. 



I loved Kenneth's early roles in the Carry Ons in particular. In Nurse in late 1958 he was even given a few scenes of genuine romance opposite the young Jill Ireland. Other films like Teacher, Constable and Cruising focussed less on the over the top camp persona which would later come to dominate. That's not to say his more innuendo-laden roles later in the 1960s don't appeal. Quite the contrary, I think Kenneth's Julius Caesar in Carry On Cleo is a work of genius; his Citizen Camembert in Don't Lose Your Head is a memorable turn, paired so beautifully with Joan Sims and Peter Butterworth and his Dr Tinkle in Carry On Doctor is a sublime tour de force.

I think Kenneth hit his Carry On peak with both films he made in 1968. As the rather dubious finishing school head master Dr Soaper in Carry On Camping, Kenneth is on barnstorming form in the company of real life close friends Barbara Windsor and Hattie Jacques. Yet for me, his best performance was already in the can by the time the team assembled in the freezing cold Pinewood orchard. In the Spring of 1968 Kenneth took on the role of the Khasi of Kalabar. It's a full on nostril snorting camp portrayal of pantomime baddie proportions. There are so many beautifully scripted, memorable Rothwell one liners delivered with aplomb by Williams. Surely even he enjoyed making that one?



As a child I was ever so slightly scared of Kenneth Williams. By the time I was a teenager, I was obsessed with his diaries, his life and career. And to an extent I still am today, despite some of the more painful aspects of his life. I treasure his performances in the Carry On films and he'll always be one of my favourites. The question is, who is further up my top twenty list of favourites?

The first of my top three favourites is coming next! 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram 

Friday, 13 July 2018

Carry On Originals: Arnold Diamond


This is part of a new series of blogs looking back at the stars of the original Carry On film, Carry On Sergeant. 2018 marks 60 years since Sergeant was made and released so what better time to turn the focus on all those brilliant actors who brought our favourite series of comedy films to life? 

I'm continuing today with an actor who never quite became a household name, despite almost never being out of work during a career that spanned 45 years,  Arnold Diamond. 

Role in Carry On Sergeant: Fifth Specialist

Other Carry On roles: Arnold returned, in voice only, when he was heard as the Chief Constable on the phone to Eric Barker's Inspector Mills at the end of Carry On Constable.

Other notable film performances: Arnold played Molke in The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958); Moffat in The Frightened City (1961); the Headwaiter in The Anniversary (1968); Charles Dickens in The Best House in London (1969); Major Proudfoot in Zeppelin (1971); Moishe in Fiddler on the Roof (1971) and Lengetti in Madame Sin (1972). 



Best remembered for: Arnold Diamond's best known roles are as Colonel Latignant, one of the few recurring characters in the 1960s Roger Moore series The Saint and as Mr Rabinsky, Alf Garnett's neighbour in the television series In Sickness and in Health. 

Did you know?: Even though he was born in West Ham, London, Arnold spent most of his career being cast as foreign characters. 

What happened to him?: Arnold Diamond passed away in Poole, Dorset at the age of 76 in March 1992.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Bernie Carries On … As Abdul Abulbul


Over the past year I have written a series of blogs covering each of the roles of some of our favourite Carry On stars. I began my looking back at each film role played by the three leading ladies in the series - Joan Sims, Hattie Jacques and Barbara Windsor - and most recently I've written about all of Kenneth Connor's Carry On performances in the run up to the great man's centenary. 

Today I am beginning a new strand of this series by turning the spotlight on that gentle giant of British comedy, the late Bernard Bresslaw. Probably one of the most under-rated actors in the main team, Bernard was a part of the series for ten years and fourteen films, tackling a superb range of crumbling villains and delightfully dimwitted foils to the likes of Sid James and Kenneth Cope. Bernard enjoyed a long career away from the Carry Ons and spent much of his later life wowing audiences in legitimate theatre. However he will forever to remembered for his clutch of hilarious Carry On supporting turns. 

Bernard joined the Carry On team in the mid 1960s and along with Peter Butterworth was the last main team member to join the gang. Along with Butterworth, Bernard played a series of smaller, supporting roles to begin with before graduating to major roles towards the end of the decade. Bernard fitted in effortlessly with the rest of the team and he's the kind of actor who is working hard but making it look oh so easy. A quiet, erudite, thoughtful family man away from the film studios, I often think Bresslaw has never received the credit he's due as like Connor and Butterworth, he didn't ever seek the limelight or splash his life over the front pages.

So today, we'll continue this new series looking at Bernard's role as Sheikh Abdul Abulbul in his third Carry On, the period costume epic, Follow That Camel in 1967.



Follow That Camel was the second film in a row in the series to be released originally without the Carry On … suffix. The Rank Organisation, while keen to release Peter Rogers' successful comedies, were still less than enthused with being linked to a series so associated with another distributor. This foreign legion comedy saw other changes too. Leading man Sid James was out of the series following a heart attack and with Rank keen to boost ticket sales in the United States, international guest star Phil Silvers was drafted in to play Sergeant Nocker. The legendary star of Bilko created much publicity however the jury is out as to just how successful his brand of comedy jelled with the Carry Ons.

Elsewhere it was business as usual, with regulars Jim Dale, Peter Butterworth, Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey all taking major roles in the film. Angela Douglas has probably her best part in the series as Lady Jane Ponsonby; Anita Harris makes her series debut as Cork Tip and Joan Sims pops up for an eye catching cameo as bar owner Zig Zig. Although limited in screen time, Joan makes quite an impression as the busty, earthy character! So what of Bernard Bresslaw?



As Abdul, Bresslaw tackles his first in a run of towering, fearsome villain parts in the series. Bernard pops up throughout the action and is the major thorn in the side of the legion. In league with the beguiling Cork Tip, he plots to drive the soldiers out of town and will apparently stop at nothing to do so! Abdul comes across Lady Jane, who has travelled from England to make amends with Jim Dale's Bo West. Quickly falling for her innocent charms, Abdul kidnaps Lady Jane and adds her to his bulging harem out in the middle of the desert and plans to marry her. 

Silvers and Dale are also kidnapped by Abdul after being lured to the home of Cork Tip. Peter Butterworth comes into his own here, following them all out to Abdul's camp. There are wonderful scenes of Bresslaw duelling funny lines opposite Silvers and Dale here and the script really comes alive. Bernard really does show that being a comedy villain is one of the best parts an actor could hope for and this performance comes straight out of pantomime!



Even though Abdul is defeated in the end by the plucky Brits (Dale, Butterworth and Douglas) he does get the last laugh right at the end of the film. Back in Blighty, Bo and Lady Jane and enjoying a game of cricket on the lawn and up pops Abdul with a classic last line, his flowing robes replaced with cricket whites! While Follow That Camel may not have been the best film in the series, there's no doubt that it helped establish Bernard Bresslaw as a vital component of the team.

So that's my thoughts on Bernard's fearsome performance in Follow That Camel. Stay tuned for my next blog in this series, as I look back at Bernard's lovestruck Ken Biddle as the Carry Ons return to the hospital wards in Carry On Doctor! 



You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram