Sunday, 22 October 2017

Life after the Carry Ons ... Sid James


This is part of an occasional series of blogs in which I will look at the careers of each of the main Carry On team players once they left the series. Some would go on to appear in many other productions over the years while others would sadly not be so fortunate. Today I am looking at the later career of Sidney James.

Sid was one of the mainstays of not just the Carry On films, but of British comedy for a generation. His film career in Britain dated back to 1946 and from the late 1950s onwards, thanks to his association with Tony Hancock, Sid became a bankable and dependable star of many films and television series. In late 1959 he joined the team for his first film in the series, playing Sergeant Frank Wilkins in Carry On Constable. Over the next fourteen years he would lead the pack in nineteen Carry On feature films, several television specials and an eighteen month sell out run in Carry On London at the Victoria Palace.

Sid had an incredible work ethic, he was at his happiest when rushing from job to lucrative job. The speed at which the Carry Ons were filmed always suited him as it meant he could fit many other roles in around them. By the mid-1970s he was at the peak of his powers, a massive success on television, on stage and in films. So why was 1974's Carry On Dick his last performance in a Carry On film? Sadly we all know the answer to that one. On 26 April 1976 Sid sadly died of a massive heart attack during a performance of the farce The Mating Game at the Sunderland Empire. His death at the relatively young age of 62 marked the end of an era.

So what work did Sid complete during that short period from the filming of Dick in the spring of '74 and his sad death only two years later?

I don't believe the role of Dick Turpin/Rev Flasher was ever meant to be Sid's Carry On swansong. Only one more Carry On film was made during his lifetime as he had passed away just before England went into production in May 1976. The role of lusty butcher Fred Ramsden in Carry On Behind was written by Dave Freeman with Sid in mind. However Sidney was off touring with one of his many popular stage farces and could not commit to the six weeks' annual fun at Pinewood Studios. While Windsor Davies does an admirable job in the role, Behind does miss Sid's presence. 

 


Sid did make Carry On appearances following the completion of Carry On Dick. During the filming of Dick and right up until early 1975, Sid was joining Barbara, Bernard, Peter, Jack and Kenneth Connor to play to packed houses in the revue Carry On London. The punishing twice nightly schedule was further impacted by daily filming at Pinewood for many of the cast. Sid also appeared in four episodes of the ATV series Carry On Laughing, filmed in late 1974 and early 1975 for broadcast in 1975. All Sid's episodes fitted into the first series and brought him into contact with longtime leading ladies Joan Sims and Hattie Jacques for the very last time.
  
Sid was also busy in another small screen series, albeit a much more successful one than Carry On Laughing. He continued to make a series of Bless This House for Thames Television each year up until his death in 1976. Indeed the final episodes of the last series were broadcast after Sid had passed away. The sitcom was still hugely popular with the public and doing well in the ratings, with a further series of episodes planned for 1977. Sadly that series would not come to fruition due to the loss of its star. 

Away from film and television, Sid was also packing in a relentless and pretty gruelling touring schedule. His main theatre work was the Sam Cree farce The Mating Game, directed by Jack Douglas' brother Bill Roberton and co-starring his fellow South African Olga Lowe. The production toured all over the country, a big success at many provincial theatres. Sid also took productions abroad, proving equally successful in countries like Australia.

 

Sadly this frantic work schedule eventually caught up with Sid James. Amid reports that he was about to cut down on working commitments, James took his final bow on stage in Sunderland in April 1976. Thankfully his legacy lives on and his popularity, together with that of his countless films and television appearances, means there is scarcely a day goes by without the sound of that familiar Sid laugh or the sight of that wonderfully expressive crinkly face. He was a truth original

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and also Facebook

 


  

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Carrying On with Norman: Just My Luck


This is part of a brand new series of blogs looking back at some of my favourite Norman Wisdom films. Although never as fruity or innuendo-laden as the Carry Ons, Sir Norman's films share a similiar feel to many of the early Carry Ons. Indeed they quite often shared the same production base - Pinewood Studios - and Wisdom's films often co-starred some very familiar Carry On faces. 

Norman Wisdom was one of the most bankable British film stars in the 1950s and early 1960s. His stardom lasted long after his peak at the box office too. He appealed to a cross section of society and young and old loved him in equal measure. His cheeky, child-like charm, excellent comic timing and sheer energy catapulted him to fame and he's very clearly one of our most talented comedy stars full stop. 

We're continuing this series of blogs with a look at one of Norman's 1950s film hits - Just My Luck from 1957.


What's it about?


Norman Hackett (Norman Wisdom) is employed in a jeweller's workshop and is innocently preoccupied with dreaming of meeting the window dresser in the shop across the street from his workplace. He wishes to purchase a diamond pendant for her and, after persuasion, gambles a pound on a six-horse accumulator at the Goodwood races. The bookmaker grows concerned when it appears Hackett, after winning on the first five races, could win over £16,000.

 Who's in it?

Another one of Norman's films with an impressive supporting cast, he is joined once again by the glorious Dame Margaret Rutherford playing Mrs Dooley. His regular film sparring partner Edward Chapman also appears, not as Mr Grimsdale this time, but as Mr Stoneway. Just My Luck also co-stars Jill Dixon and Delphi Lawrence.


Carry On faces?

As with the earlier Trouble In Store, Just My Luck features a lovely supporting turn from a pre-Carry On Joan Sims. Joan's film career was gathering momentum by this stage and by the end of the following year she'd had joined the Carry On team as Stella Dawson in Carry On Nurse. Here she plays Phoebe and enjoys an eventful trip to the cinema with our Norman! 

Another glorious Carry On star turning up for fun with Wisdom is the legendary Leslie Phillips as the Hon. Richard Lumb. There are also small supporting roles for early Carry Oners Michael Ward, Cyril Chamberlain and the brilliant Marianne Stone as a Tea Bar Attendant. Of course Marianne appeared in more British films of the era than practically anybody else!

Did you know? 

Regular stooge to Norman Wisdom, the great Jerry Desmonde, appears in an uncredited role as a racegoer in Just My Luck. 




You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Book Now: Fenella Fielding Memoir Shows


Fenella Fielding has some more of her fantastic memoir shows lined up over the coming weeks. On two consecutive Saturdays this month (21st and 28th October), Fenella will be appearing at the Phoenix Artist Club, underneath the Phoenix Theatre on Charing Cross Road in London. And on 23 November, Fenella will be giving a reading at Crazy Coqs in London.

Fenella Fielding is best known for her film appearances in Carry On Screaming (1966), Doctor in Clover (1966) and Carry On Regardless (1961). She was the voice of the Blue Queen in Dougal and the Blue Cat (1970) and the telephone operator and loudspeaker voice in The Prisoner (1967). Her stage credits include the title roles in Hedda Gabler (1969) and Colette (1970). She's fondly remembered for a number of appearances on the Morecambe & Wise Show (1969-1972) as well as playing The Vixen in Uncle Jack (early 1990s). Her most recent TV appearance was Skins (2012).

During her career, Fielding has worked with many of the greats and has known, or at least met, practically everybody else. She has amazing recall and can tell a story about most of the people who were special in the 60s or 70s… Kenneth Williams, Peter Cook, Tony Curtis, Francis Bacon, Joan Sims… the list is endless.

Fielding will be reading chapters from her audio book Do You Mind If I Smoke? - there are stories about innocence, her struggle to get started, family strife, professional jealousies and intriguingly a chapter about London tarts and gangsters. The stories are witty and beautifully observed scenes from her life and all told in that unmistakable and ever alluring voice.

To conclude, there will be a short Q&A with Simon McKay, co-author of the book and a personal friend of Fielding. The book will be on sale at the shows and Fielding will be available to sign copies.



You can buy tickets for the Phoenix shows here and for the Crazy Coqs show please click on this link

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram  

Monday, 16 October 2017

What a Carry On at the London Film Fair!

 

Now into its 45th Year, this event is the continuation of a legacy that started back in the early seventies, and over the years have seen different names and organizers but its roots orginate from the original Collector’s Film Convention’s that were organized by Ed Mason.  Now under new management, the future of the event is secured. 

The event’s are held at London’s Central Hall Westminster, with up to 6 events a year.
The conventions presents dealers from all over the UK, Europe, US, Canada, Australia and South America that specializes in vintage and modern film memorabilia.  Items cover the history of cinema from the silents to the present day blockbusters.

The London Film Fair will appeal to avid film buffs, collectors, archivists researchers and students. A must for anyone with an interest in cinema and cult television!

 

The next Fair takes place on 11 November and the guests announced so far suggest more of a Hammer Horror theme to the event. Rest assured there will still be guests of note for fans for classic British comedy. The delightful Jacki Piper will be present to meet fans and sign autographs. Jacki joined the Carry On team for Up The Jungle in 1969 with further roles in Carry On Loving, Carry On At Your Convenience and finally, Carry On Matron. A long career in film and television has seen Jacki work with the likes of Sir Roger Moore, the Two Ronnies, Eric Sykes and Dick Emery.

Another noteworthy guest is former actress and now hugely successful fashion designer Edina Ronay. Edina forged an eye-catching career in British film in the 1960s before putting all that to one side to follow another of her passions. She first came to our attention in the 1965 comedy film, The Big Job, playing Sally, the daughter of Joan Sims' character alongside the likes of Sid James, Lance Percival and Dick Emery. The same year she made her one and only appearance in the Carry On series, as Dolores, a supporting character in Carry On Cowboy. Edina is part of one of my favourite scenes in the film, engaging in a wonderful cat fight with Joan Sims and Angela Douglas.


Also attending will be actress and Misty Moon Patron Judy Matheson. Judy is a very good friend to this blog so it's great to hear she's attending the Film Fair once again. Perhaps best known for her roles in several 1970s horror films, Judy also appeared in films such as Percy's Progress and Confessions of a Window Cleaner. On stage she worked for the legendary Sir Tyrone Guthrie and spent a year touring with Richard O'Sullivan and Yootha Joyce. On the small screen roles included parts in Coronation Street, Blake's 7, Citizen Smith, The Professionals and The Sweeney. You can read about Judy's greatest influences in the acting profession in her wonderful blog here


 

And finally, small part Carry On actress Angela Grant will also be in attendance. Angela had small but eye-catching roles in a number of Carry Ons - Follow That Camel, Up The Khyber and finally, as Miss Bangor, one of the beauty contestants in the 1973 film Carry On Girls.

More guests to be announced soon, so watch out for that!

The next London Film Fair will take place on Saturday 11 November at the Central Hall Westminster. Further details can be found on the Film Fair Website


You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram
 

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Whatever Happened To Elke Sommer?

 

It may have seemed quite a bizarre piece of casting when German-born Hollywood actress Elke Sommer agreed to lead the cast of the 1975 film Carry On Behind, however this role came about as a result of a long and close friendship with producer Peter Rogers and his wife Betty Box. By the mid-1970s Sommer had built up a strong working relationship with Betty, having first starred for Box and director Ralph Thomas in the 1967 film Deadlier Than the Male. This Richard Johnson/Bulldog Drummond crime caper saw Elke take on the role of "sexy assassin" Irma Eckman.

In 1970 Elke joined a cast including Hywel Bennett, Denholm Elliott and Britt Ekland for the broad big screen comedy, Percy, about the first male member transplant. Playing Helga in this film led to Elke coming back to London to star in the sequel four years later. In Percy's Progress, Sommer played the different role of Clarissa. The following year saw her work for Betty's husband Peter in her sole Carry On film. In Carry On Behind, Sommer plays Russian archeologist and Roman expert Professor Anna Vooshka. Elke made Carry On history by joining American star Phil Silvers as the top earning actor ever to appear in one of the low budget comedies. She made £30000 for her starring role opposite series regular Kenneth Williams, who usually only took home around £5000.

 

Despite the disparity in their wages and their backgrounds, Kenneth's diaries suggest he got on fine with the big, glamorous Hollywood star. With a reputation for being at odds with his leading ladies, you would probably have expected otherwise. His diary records that he joined her for lunch and she was also included in debates with fellow actors Kenneth Connor and Bernard Bresslaw about the UK's membership of the European Economic Community. While the Carry Ons may have been faltering by '75, I have a bit of a soft spot for Carry On Behind. With several series regulars missing from the line up and a more near the knuckle approach to sex and nudity, it somehow still manages to stay in the style of earlier hits. Much of this is down to a very funny script from new writer, Dave Freeman, replacing Talbot Rothwell who had retired in 1974. Elke's role adds a different dimension to the film and there is much humour taken from her foreign misunderstandings of very British situations. I am sure these were also replicated off set! 

Elke Sommer would work for Ralph Thomas one final time towards the end of the decade. In 1979 she had a supporting role in the crime caper, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square. The film, mainly watchable for glimpses of late 1970's London, co-starred Richard Jordan, Oliver Tobias (fresh from The Stud with Joan Collins) and the late, great David Niven. Elke's role doesn't add up to much but she provides some much needed glamour. This film would prove to be Ralph's last as a director.

 

Elke was born in Berlin in November 1940. While on holiday in Italy in 1958 she was spotted by a film director and almost immediately began making films in that country. Born Elke von Schletz, the late 1950s saw her change her surname to Sommer as her career took off. Having moved to Hollywood in the early 1960s, she quickly became known for her looks as well as her talents as an actor. Elke even appeared in Playboy magazine during the mid-1960s. One of her earliest and most fondly remembered roles came in 1964 when she starred opposite Peter Sellers in the comedy film A Shot in the Dark. Sellers was of course playing the legendary Inspector Clouseau. That same year Sommer won a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer in the film The Prize, which saw her work with Paul Newman and Edward G. Robinson.

Throughout the 1960s more leading roles came along, including The Art of Love in 1965 with James Garner; The Oscar in 1966 with Stephen Boyd; Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! in 1966 with Bob Hope and two years later, The Wrecking Crew with Dean Martin. Elke also appeared regularly on American television. She guested on The Dean Martin Show and on various Bob Hope Specials. She was a regular guest on the famous Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and also popped up on the game show, Hollywood Squares.

 

By the 1970s, Elke was appearing more regularly in European cinema once again. As well as her work for Betty Box and Peter Rogers, she could also be seen in the disaster film Zeppelin with Michael York and a remake of Ten Little Indians, directed by Peter Collinson and co-starring Richard Attenborough, Herbert Lom, Oliver Reed and Charles Aznavour. The same year she worked for Ralph Thomas for the last time also saw her reunite with Peter Sellers in the comedy film The Prisoner of Zenda. 

As the 1980s progressed, Elke moved away from acting and concentrated on other areas of her professional life. At one stage she recorded and released several albums but latterly it has been her role as an artist which has garnered most acclaim. She continues to produce artwork today from her home in Los Angeles. 

 

Elke Sommer has been married twice, first of all to Hollywood columnist Joe Hyams however that marriage ended in divorce. She met her second husband several years later - Walther was the general manager of a luxury hotel in New York. The pair were married in 1993 and are still together today. 

To finish here's one of her appearances on with Johnny Carson on American telly from the mid-1970s:




You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram

Friday, 13 October 2017

How should we mark the Carry Ons' Diamond Anniversary?

 

I was reminded the other day in an email from regular reader John Purser that next year marks a very special moment for the Carry On films. 2018 will see the 60th anniversary of the very first Carry On film being made and released to the unsuspecting British cinema-going public! And the rest is history! 

Filming began on 24 March 1958, concluding on 2 May. Released on 1 August the same year, Carry On Sergeant became the third most popular film at the British box office that year. Starring William Hartnell, Bob Monkhouse, Shirley Eaton, Dora Bryan and Eric Barker, the National Service comedy also brought us the very first glimpse in a Carry On of future series regulars Kenneth Connor, Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques and Charles Hawtrey. The film was so popular, surprising producer Peter Rogers and director Gerald Thomas, but they soon capitalised on the runaway success by putting a second film with the Carry On prefix into production later the same year.

 

Carry On Nurse went into production at Pinewood on 3rd November 1958 filming until 12 December. This medical comedy kept the same writer, Norman Hudis, many of the same crew and cast members, with Kenneths Williams and Connor, Hattie and Charles all returning, alongside the first appearance of future stalwart Joan Sims. Nurse was the most popular film at the UK box office for 1959, after its release the follow March. 

I don't know about you, but I think it would be criminal to let the Carry Ons' Diamond Anniversary slip by unnoticed. I know the Carry Ons have had many tributes over the years, with the fortieth and fiftieth anniversaries being marked with special events and television programming, but 60 years of Britain's most successful comedy film series really is special. Sadly all too few of our favourite Carry On stars are no long with us so a big get together is probably out of the question, however surely other events could be planned.

Perhaps one of the main television networks might re-run some of the early black and white Carry Ons in a special season? Maybe we could have a documentary focussing on the early days of the films, telling the story of how they came about and reminding us all just how great the Hudis films are? Or perhaps Sergeant and Nurse could get a special re-release in some of our cinemas? Years ago a museum in London put on a exhibition all about the Carry Ons - I'd love to see something like that again.

So what do you think? How should we mark the 60th anniversary of the very first Carry On films being made? Get in touch and let me know!




You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Betty and Ralph ask: "Anyone for Sex?"

 

The other day I caught a slightly odd little film from the early 1970s. No, not a Carry On and nothing dodgy either. I had vaguely heard of The Love Ban (alternative title: Anyone for Sex?) before but I can't place where and as far as I recall It's never been screened on the telly. Having now viewed most of it I can kind of see why. 

It has a fine pedigree if you skim read the basic statistics. It comes from the sibling Carry On stable of producer Betty Box and director Ralph Thomas - wife of Peter Rogers and brother of Gerald Thomas. The duo are still remembered for bringing the wonderful Doctor series of films to big screen, many starring the likes of Dirk Bogarde, Donald Sinden, James Robertson Justice, Joan Sims and Muriel Pavlow. I've always had a great affection for the Doctor films and think their better production values and lighter touch mark them apart from the Carry Ons. 

1970 had seen the last in the series, Doctor in Trouble (not a favourite of mine) so the Box/Thomas partnership set their sights on new horizons. The saucy Seventies were upon us and the decade began with the duo releasing the first male member transplant comedy film into cinemas up and down the land. The film marked a significant swift in tone for Betty Box and Ralph Thomas, probably much more suited to the times. It featured an enviable cast led by Hywel Bennett, Elke Sommer and Denholm Elliott. Sommer's casting in this film led to a long friendship with both Betty and husband Peter and inevitably led to her joining the cast of Carry On Behind in 1975. 


Percy was successful enough to warrant a sequel, Percy's Progress, in 1974, with Sommer and Elliott returning but with a new lead character played by Leigh Lawson. This film also co-starred future Carry On England star Judy Geeson, Dame Edna's very own Barry Humphries, Harry H Corbett, Vincent Price, Carol Hawkins, Madeline Smith and Judy Matheson. Quite a cast. 

In between these two films, Betty and Ralph brought The Love Ban to the big screen in 1973. Originally written in 1969 by Kevin Laffan, the man who created the ITV soap opera Emmerdale, the play had been called It's a 2'6' Above the Ground World. Laffan was one of 14 children from a devout Roman Catholic family and his critical view on the Church's stance on birth control was a recurring theme of his work. The play starred Prunella Scales in a production at the Bristol Old Vic, and was a hit, moving to the Wyndham Theatre. The story focuses on a married couple with six children experiencing marital difficulties. Wife Kate refuses to sleep with husband Mick until he uses birth control, while their live-in au-pair falls pregnant.

The film is very much of its time I suppose and one of the main plus points must be an opportunity to wallow in a very 1970s domestic sitcom arrangement. The new town living, the furniture, clothes, cars and music. Despite being an interesting idea and featuring a cast of good actors, the film just doesn't come off for me. It all feels rather lame, forced and uncomfortable. Heading the cast is Hywel Bennett once again alongside Nanette Newman, wife of Bryan Forbes and she of the oh so soft Fairy hands. Milo O'Shea provides reliable support as an Irish priest while future Poldark star Angharad Rees plays the au-pair Kate. There's a cameo role for Monty Python and Fawlty Towers star John Cleese as a Contraceptives Lecturer too (!) Also of note is an early supporting role for the instantly recognisable Georgina Hale as Newman's friend Joyce. And the film features support from Carry On faces Jacki Piper, Madeline Smith and a blink and you'll miss her Marianne Stone.

 

My problem with the film is that's it's very formulaic, despite its challenging subject matter and it really just doesn't hang together particularly well, even though it features a host of good actors. It is also fairly sexist in its portrayal of women with Newman and Hale suffering through a running gag about women drivers who keep crashing into each other and various men up to no good. And as Mick, Bennett has regular fantasy moments featuring scantily clad (and even full frontal nude) young ladies. In contrast, Newman's fantasies are all about her husband and are much more innocent. 

To me this film sums up the struggle the British film industry was facing at the time. While Britain was becoming a great deal more liberal, the old establishment was still pretty much in charge, and the film industry was no different. Betty Box and Ralph Thomas had been making films since the early 1950s but seemed all at sea with this new, more open generation. It just doesn't sit right with their earlier body of work and it's no surprise that they would soon call it a day. Just as Peter and Gerald would soon be battling against the Confessions films in much choppier waters, Betty and Ralph were being forced to push boundaries there should probably have left to others. 



If you get a chance, do check out this curious little film. It's not earth shattering by any means and does provide a glimpse into suburban 1970s life but it may not be one you want to add to your permanent collection of classics.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram