Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Carrying On with You Rang M'Lord?


I have recently been enjoying repeats of one of the later Perry and Croft comedy series on GOLD. You Rang M'Lord? was originally broadcast on the BBC in the early 1990s and spanned three series, following a pilot in 1988. Focussing on life above and below stairs in a  respectable London house in the 1920s, this was their comedic take on the classic period drama, Upstairs Downstairs.

The series starred several actors who were by then well known for their work with Jimmy Perry and David Croft. Hi-de-Hi stars Paul Shane, Jeffrey Holland and Su Pollard all played key members of the below stairs staff. I remember the series with great fondness, watching it as a child when it was first shown. While not as popular as some of their earlier hits, I think the show has aged rather well. The production values are high, the period is an attractive one and the comedy works on several levels. There is the broad knockabout slapstick we've come to expect, there is a regular suggestion of innuendo and also some more subtle pokes at the class divide and issues from the era. It's still a satisfying watch although I believe when it was first shown, audiences were slightly put off by its longer running time (almost an hour) and some of the main characters being portrayed as not 100% loveable. Paul Shane's head butler is rather a rogue!


Despite this, I maintain a fondness for the series and have fallen in love with it all over again. There are also a number of significant Carry On connections in You Rang M'Lord? so without further ado, let's take a look!

Let's begin with a Carry On connection we can hear but never actually see in You Rang M'Lord? The rather catchy theme tune, written by Jimmy Perry and Roy Moore and performed with an authentic 1920s style orchestra, was sung by none other than Bob Monkhouse. It's only through watching the repeats that I've realised that was Bob although I don't know why I'm surprised as we all know what an endlessly talented man he was. Over thirty years earlier Bob had starred in the very first Carry On, Carry On Sergeant.

Of the main cast, several played notable roles in the Carry On series. Playing the head of the household, Lord Meldrum, was the late actor Donald Hewlett. Donald is probably best remembered today for his role in the Perry and Croft classic It Ain't Half Hot Mum, in which he played Colonel Charles Reynolds. Back in 1975, Donald had appeared in the cameo role of the University Dean in Carry On Behind. He starred in an early scene outside Maidenhead Town Hall with Kenneth Williams and Elke Sommer. Playing Hewlett's love interest in You Rang M'Lord was a lovely actress called Angela Scoular. While Angela never actually appeared in a Carry On, she was married to the legendary star Leslie Phillips from 1982 until her sad death back in 2011. 


The wonderful actor Bill Pertwee, probably most famous as ARP Warden Hodges, the thorn in Captain Mainwaring's side in Dad's Army, was a series regular in You Rang M'Lord? Bill played neighbourhood policeman, Wilson. Bill appeared in two Carry On films back in the early 1970s. In 1970 he played the role of the barman who encounters Jacki Piper, Richard O'Callaghan and Sid James in Carry On Loving. Apparently Bill was back at Pinewood the following year to play the owner of The Whippit Inn in Carry On At Your Convenience but his scenes were cut as it was felt the role was too similar to his part in Loving. Despite this Bill did go on to make one more Carry On. In 1973 Bill played the Fire Chief in Carry On Girls in a scene which saw Kenneth Connor's Mayor Bumble lose his trousers!

Another You Rang M'Lord? regular who had a small role in Carry On Girls was the actress Brenda Cowling. Brenda, in something of a homage to Hattie Jacques, played the maternity hospital Matron in Girls. Brenda returned to Pinewood two years later for an uncredited role as a lady in the audience at Professor Crump's (Kenneth Williams) accident prone lecture at the start of Carry On Behind. In You Rang M'Lord? Brenda played the wonderful role of Mrs Lipton, the cook. 


You Rang M'Lord? also boasted a fine array of guest actors during its three series run. Two mainstays of the Carry On series guest starred in the series. Appearing in two 1991 episodes as the character of Myrtle was none other than Barbara Windsor. Barbara of course starred in nine Carry On films between 1964 and 1974. The other Carry On legend to pop in for a guest role was the superb Kenneth Connor. Following on from his work as Sammy Morris in Hi-de-Hi, Kenneth was asked to play the role of Professor Heinrich Van Manheim in the 1990 episode "Labour of Love". Kenneth was one of the longest serving Carry On actors, starring in seventeen of the films. He was also one of only three actors to span the entire run of films from 1958 to 1978, the others being Kenneth Williams and Eric Barker.

Playing the part of Perkins in the 1993 episode "Come to the Ball" was reliable character actor Norman Mitchell. Norman had enjoyed a long association with the Carry On films dating back to 1963 when he played a bespectacled businessman in Carry On Cabby. The following year Norman played a Native Policeman in Carry On Spying. Later in 1964 Mitchell played a Heckler in the classic Carry On Cleo. In 1966 Norman played Joan Sims' Cabby in the Hammer Horror pastiche Carry On Screaming. After many years away, Norman rejoined the team for the last of the original run in 1978 film Carry On Emmannuelle, playing a drunken husband.


The wonderfully talented and much-missed Geoffrey Hughes, probably best remembered for his role as bin man Eddie Yeats in Coronation Street and Onslow in Keeping Up Appearances, guest starred as Fred Kendall in You Rang M'Lord. He appeared in the episode "Royal Flush". Twenty years earlier Geoffrey had played the supporting role of factory employee WIllie in Carry On At Your Convenience. Fellow Convenience actor Davy Kaye played King Boris of Dalmatia in the very same episode. As well as playing Sid's bookmaker Benny in Convenience, Davy had also co-starred as the rather enthusiastic undertaker Josh in Carry On Cowboy.

One final Carry On connection before I go and it's not in front of the camera this time. Jeremy Connor, the son of the legendary Kenneth worked on two series of You Rang M'Lord? In 1991 he worked as the Assistant Floor Manager while two years later Jeremy was the show's Production Manager. As well as being Kenneth's son, Jeremy also acted in the Carry On films in his own right. Way back in November 1958 at the age of three Jeremy played Bernie Bishop's son in the closing scenes of Carry On Nurse. Bernie was of course played by Kenneth Connor. Sixteen years later Jeremy returned to the series for a run of three further films. He played a Footpad in the Dick Turpin adventure Carry On Dick in 1974, an accident prone student with an ice cream which ends up in Alexandra Dane's dress (!) in Carry On Behind and finally in 1976, Jeremy was Gunner Hiscocks. 


So there you have it, some cracking Carry On connections with a really great, classic British comedy series. So why not check out the reruns of You Rang M'Lord? on GOLD? It's definitely worth a watch!


You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

The Carry On Connections with the BFI's 100 Best British Films


My recent work researching the Gerald Thomas archive at the British Film Institute has led me to review their famous Top 100 British films list. This list was compiled back in 1999. The BFI surveyed 1000 people from the world of British film and television and voters were asked to choose the 100 films they saw as "the most culturally British". 

At the time, certain critics were amazed that a Carry On film was featured on the list. Carry On Up The Khyber comes in at 99, one above The Killing Fields. Of course as a Carry On fan, I have no problem with this decision and I'm proud one of our favourite films is on that list for the world to see. However, having looked through the rest of the list I was pleased to see films featuring so many other Carry On links. 

For a start, The Belles of St Trinian's is on the list at 94. This classic comedy features familiar Carry On names in Joan Sims, Irene Handl, Beryl Reid, Renee Houston, Sid James and Richard Wattis. Several places up the list at 88 is the Beatles' film A Hard Day's Night. This Richard Lester film co-stars Wilfrid Brambell as Paul McCartney's father and Norman Rossington as the band's manager, Norm. Deryck Guyler also stars as a Police Inspector. If you look out, you can also spot uncredited appearances from familiar Carry On faces such as Julian Holloway, John Bluthal and Margaret Nolan. 



Two places up the list at 86 comes one of my all-time favourite films, Genevieve. As well as featuring small roles for Fred Griffiths (as an ice cream seller) and Michael Medwin (as a father to be), the dance numbers featured in the film were scored by none other than Carry On music man extraordinaire, Eric Rogers. Even the controversial Stanley Kubrick picture A Clockwork Orange (No. 81) has a couple of Carry On connections as Carry On Abroad and Dick actor John Clive appears as a Stage Actor while Philip Stone (who appeared in Carry On Loving) co-stars as Malcolm McDowell's father in the film. Margaret Nolan is another Carry On link in the film which comes in at 70 - the classic James Bond film, Goldfinger. Margaret not only plays Dink in the film but also features in the film's memorable title sequence. Original Carry On leading lady Shirley Eaton also stars, playing Jill Masterson who meets a memorably grisly end.

The classic children's adventure film The Railway Children comes in at 66 on the BFI list and this one features a whole host of Carry On actors. Leading the way is the wonderful Bernard Cribbins who plays Albert Perks. Also appearing are Ann Lancaster (Again Doctor), David Lodge, Amelia Bayntun, Brenda Cowling and William Mervyn, who plays the Old Gentleman. Charles Hawtrey is the Carry On star to appear in the next film, coming in at 63 is the Ealing comedy Passport to Pimlico. He plays Bert Finch in that classic film from 1949. Another very different classic is A Taste of Honey, the film of Shelagh Delaney's ground breaking play, made in 1961 and starring the amazing Dora Byan, who three years before had brought much joy in the original Carry On, Carry On Sergeant.



Tony Richardson's film of the Henry Fielding novel Tom Jones comes in at number 51. This Albert Finney adventure comedy features two wonderful British actresses, still well known for their time with the Carry On team. Playing Mrs Fitzpatrick in the film is Carry On Teacher star Rosalind Knight. And adding her own special brand of magic in the role of Honour is the brilliant Patsy Rowlands. The film was released in 1963. Coming in at number 47 is one of my very favourite British comedies, the Boulting Brothers' sparkling satire I'm All Right Jack. Made in 1959, it launched the career of future Carry On actress Liz Fraser and also co-starred a host of recognisable faces including Irene Handl, Brian Oulton, Esma Cannon, Victor Maddern and Terry Scott. 

The entry at 36 is a classic comedy crime caper, directed by Peter Collnson and starring the one and only Michael Caine. Yes, it's The Italian Job. This swinging sixties epic from 1969 co-stars the ever wonderful Irene Handl in a brilliant cameo as Miss Peach. John Clive, a familiar face from Carry On Abroad and DIck, appears as the Garage Manager while the ever glamorous Valerie Leon pops up as a Hotel Receptionist. Further up the list at 19 is another brilliant Ealing comedy, the classic film The Lavender Hill Mob, from 1951. This film features an early leading role for future Carry On legend Sid James, here playing Lackery Wood. There are also small roles for the likes of Richard Wattis, Cyril Chamberlain and Sydney Tafler.



Another Boulting Brothers' classic, this time a gangster film noir from 1948, comes in at number 15. Brighton Rock, which stars Richard Attenborough, features future Carry On Sergeant actor William Hartnell in the role of Dallow. Keep your eyes peeled too for the wonderful scene stealer Marianne Stone, who graced many many films, here playing a lazy waitress! Another film with strong Carry On connections comes in at number 13 - The Ladykillers stars Carry On Jack guest star Cecil Parker as Major Claude Courtney and also boasts Frankie Howerd as a barrow boy and future Carry On great Kenneth Connor as a taxi driver. Legendary director Lindsay Anderson's iconic sixties film If... came along in 1968 and it comes in at number 12. This film gives future Carry On Girls actor Robin Askwith one of his earliest screen roles, playing Keating. 

At number 2 on the BFI list comes the classic 1945 film Brief Encounter. Directed by David Lean and written and produced by Noel Coward, the actor Cyril Raymond plays Celia Johnson's husband. Over fifteen years later he played a cameo role in the "39 Steps" parody sequence in Carry On Regardless, opposite Kenneth Connor. Brief Encounter also sees Irene Handl in an uncredited role as an organist and future Carry On Cowboy supporting actor Sydney Bromley, playing a soldier called Johnnie. 



And so we come to the top film on the BFI's list of 100 best British films. It's no surprise that coming in in first place is The Third Man, the Carol Reed masterpiece starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten. And yes, there are Carry On connections with this great film too. Carry On Nurse guest star Wilfrid Hyde White plays the role of Crabbin, while Carry On Regardless and Spying supporting actor Eric Pohlmann plays the role of a waiter. And finally, future Carry On directing legend Gerald Thomas worked on The Third Man as an assistant editor. Many years later, Gerald would pay tribute to the film when making 1964's Carry On Spying, particularly during the sequence in Vienna. 

So there you have it, the talent collected in the Carry On films clearly knew no bounds! 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Carry On Originals: Eric Barker


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 made his name on radio but went on to hold a unique place in the Carry On cannon, Eric Barker

Role in Carry On Sergeant: Captain Potts

Other Carry On roles: Eric returned to play a leading role in Carry On Constable - Inspector Mills, another authority figure. Barker was again in charge when he played The Chief in Carry On Spying in 1964 and returned one more time for the last film in the original run, Carry On Emmannuelle in 1978 where he played the wordless cameo of an Ancient General. Eric was also one of only three actors to appear in both the first and the last of the original run (the others being Kenneths Williams and Connor).



Other notable film performances: Eric played Culpepper Brown in three of the St Trinian's films between 1957 and 1966. He also starred alongside Carry On alumni Bob Monkhouse, Kenneth Connor and Shirley Eaton in two of the Dentist film comedies. Other films for Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas included Watch Your Stern (1960) and Raising The Wind (1961). He played the police doctor in the Norman Wisdom film On The Beat (1962) and teamed up with Leslie Phillips and Stanley Baxter for both The Fast Lady (1962) and Father Came Too! (1964).

Best remembered for: Playing authority figures and army types in some of the best post-war British comedy films.

Did you know?: Eric Barker won the BAFTA for best newcomer in film for his role as Alec Blair in the 1957 comedy Brothers in Law.

Eric's daughter Petronella married fellow actor Anthony Hopkins in 1967. Together they had a daughter, Abigail, who is now an actress and singer.

Carry On Cruising, although written by Norman Hudis, came from a story by Eric Barker.

What happened to him?: Eric died aged 78 on 1 June 1990. His wife, the actress Pearl Hackney, survived him and lived on until she passed away in September 2009 at the age of 92.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Connor Carries On … As Stanley Blunt


Next June will mark Kenneth Connor's centenary. This feels like the right time to celebrate the man's legacy and what better a legacy that his seventeen glorious performances in the Carry On films. As I've already done with the three main leading ladies of the series, I plan to embark on a series of blogs profiling each of Kenneth's roles in the Carry Ons, giving my own take on his contributions.

Kenneth is another one of those actors who worked steadily, prolifically and across all mediums throughout his career. From his very early days in film before the outbreak of World War Two, through the 1950s which saw him become an integral part of British radio comedy to the Carry Ons and his unforgettable roles in several 1980s sitcoms, Connor was an incredibly gifted actor. He worked right up until his death at the age of 75 in November 1993. However unlike Sid, Kenneth Williams or Barbara Windsor, I feel that Connor never really got the credit he deserved. He didn't have an outrageous private life, no scandals to be told. He shunned the limelight and his many performances as the ordinary man in the street mirrored his own life away from the cameras. 

Kenneth was also one of the precious few actors who's career spanned pretty much the entire run of the Carry Ons. He was there at the very beginning in Carry On Sergeant and, a five year gap in the mind 1960s aside, remained loyal to the films until the very end of the original run in 1978. Connor, along with Williams and Eric Barker were the only actors to appear in the very first and the very last of the series. Kenneth was still around when Columbus was made in 1992 but declined to take part, probably very wisely. This new series of blogs will be a celebration of all those wonderful comedy performances in the Carry Ons - from bumbling romantic lead through to crumbling character parts, Kenneth could play them all.

So let's continue with Kenneth's twelfth role in the series, as Stanley Blunt in the 1972 film, Carry On Abroad!



Carry On Abroad sees a group of eccentric British misfits take off for a long weekend in the dodgy Spanish island of Elsbells. The series was once again tapping into the latest trends, this time for cheap and cheerful package holidays. They were all the rage by the early 190s so what better than sending it all up by sending the gang you'd more typically associate with Brighton off to Spain (well the Pinewood Studios car park). This really was the last classic adventure for the core Carry On team and it's been one of my favourites since I first saw it as a child, recorded late at night on ITV. I still have the original VHS tape somewhere...

Although I have a grudging love of the bargain basement 1975 film Carry On Behind, yet another holiday film, Abroad is the last to feature the full compliment of original cast members (minus Jim Dale who had departed in 1969). Abroad features knockout performances from a host of wonderful Carry On stars, with prime parts for Sid, Joan Kenneths Williams and Connor and a return to a major role for the brilliant Peter Butterworth. It also features one of the best guest casts in any of the Carry Ons - June Whitfield as the uptight Evelyn Blunt, Ray Brooks as the handsome Spanish waiterCarol Hawkins and Sally Geeson as two young holidaymakers on the look out for love, Jimmy Logan as the boisterous Bert Conway and Derek Francis as the stuffy old monk. 

 

The film also features the last role in the series for stalwart Charles Hawtrey. Sadly, growing problems in Hawtrey's personal life had made him increasingly unreliable. Following a spat about billing for the 1972 Christmas special, with top billing going to the main subject of this blog, Hattie Jacques, Charles left the series and despite making occasional theatre and television appearances until his death in 1988, would never make another film. Another Carry On original, Kenneth Connor, was still part of the main troupe though and would remain so until the last gasp in 1978. Since returning to the series back in 1969, Connor had slotted back in with aplomb, taking on supporting roles in character parts. Without a doubt Kenneth's role in Carry On Abroad was one of his best.

Stanley Blunt typifies the roles Connor inhabited in the latter half of his Carry On career. Bumbling middle class, middle aged men, henpecked and struggling to cope with the changing world around them. In Abroad, Connor is blessed with June Whitfield as his screen wife, Evelyn. It's quite clear she's the one who rules the marriage and their first appearance sees Evelyn striding forth towards the coach, while Stanley struggles along behind with all the luggage. That sets the tone for the film. Evelyn is highly strung, toffee nosed and extremely conservative which quite frankly has left Stanley pent up and frustrated! Quite what the Blunt pair are doing on a cheap package holiday is anyone's guess but it's not long before they are paired up with Vic and Cora Flange, the working class pub owners played by Sid James and Joan Sims.

The four actors take part in probably one of the funniest gags in Carry On history. Over dinner on their first night at the Palace Hotel, Evelyn and Stanley and Vic and Cora get to know each other:



Pure class! It isn't long before Evelyn's tedious behaviour is driving Stanley to look elsewhere and for us viewers, this brings us some lovely scenes between two Carry On stalwarts in Connor and Joan Sims. While Vic is off chasing Barbara Windsor's Sadie Tompkins, Cora forms an attachment to Mr Blunt. Their initial scene over breakfast is hilarious with Connor gently simmering away while Sims plays shocked indignation to perfection. Soon the pair are inseperable, especially as June Whitfield's Evelyn is left behind in the hotel when the rest of the holidaymakers go off to explore the market.

While Stanley is locked up with the rest of the gang for causing a spot of civil unrest, Evelyn gets down to business with Ray Brooks and a few bottles of bubbly back at the ranch. Her cock newly popped, Mrs Blunt is found lying in bed in her frillies when Stanley arrives back and the pair are, shall we say, reunited. While we think of June's main on screen partner being Terry Scott, I think June actually has better chemistry with Kenneth Connor. They would work together again on the following Carry On, Carry On Girls and once again it was a delight. They made for the perfect double act. 



With their marriage reinvigorated, Stanley and Evelyn are soon entering into the spirit of things with the farewell party. Talbot Rothwell has us believe they've spent the afternoon "romping about" which leads them to attack Pepe's beige buffet with extra relish. June and Kenneth have a wonderfully timed dance around an open hole in the ground as the hotel begins to crumble and then they head upstairs for more hanky lanky. This allows Kenneth to give us the sheer joy of his bull impersonation (a ramped up version of the one from Carry On Cruising) as he leaps aboard for more frolics. Unfortunately for them, the bed then go straight through the ceiling and into the dining room below, nearly flattening poor old Peter Butterworth!

I've heard June Whitfield talk of this scene several times and it appears that the actors really did do the stunt themselves and incredibly, did it all in one take. Apparently Kenneth was rather concerned he might leave a foot dangling over as the bed went through the floor, but as with all his comedy performances, he judged it perfectly and thankfully they didn't need to do it again. I bet Peter Rogers was pleased about that as well! Despite the disastrous holiday, Carry On Abroad still offers up probably the most satisfying ending in the entire series. Once the hotel has collapsed and the gang make it back to Blighty, they congregate once more in Sid's cosy pub and, locking the door and calling time, they tuck into a bit of Santa Cecilia's Elixir. Kenneth Connor is front and centre at the bar and quite right too. His role as Stanley Blunt is one of the high points of the film and remains one of his best Carry On contributions.







Stay tuned for my blog on Kenneth Connor's next role in the series, in the 1973 film Carry On Girls.


You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram