Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Carry On Originals: Cyril Chamberlain

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 appearing in countless post-war British films, Cyril Chamberlain. 

Role in Carry On Sergeant: Gun Sergeant

Other Carry On roles: Bert Able in Carry On Nurse; Alf Hudson in Carry On Teacher; Thurston in Carry On Constable; Policeman in Carry On Regardless; Tom Tree in Carry On Cruising and Sarge in Carry On Cabby. 

Other notable film performances: Among Cyril's 160 screen credits are several Doctor films (In the House, At Sea, At Large, In Love) for Betty Box and several other films for Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas, including Please Turn Over, as Mr Jones; a Guard in Upstairs and Downstairs (1959); a Porter in Raising The Wind (1961) and Mrs Webb's Teammate in The Iron Maiden (1962).

Best remembered for: Alongside Kenneth Connor, Cyril was a regular presence in first seven Carry On films. 

Did you know?: Apparently Cyril had a small, uncredited part in the 1964 film Carry On Spying however despite repeated screenings I'm yet to spot him!

Following his retirement, Cyril spent his last years indulging his love of antiques and restoring antique furniture.

What happened to him?: Sadly Cyril died at the age of 65 in December 1974. He was married to the actress Lisa Lee and together they had one child. 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Sheila Hancock stars as Edie

The hugely talented actress Sheila Hancock has a new film coming out later this week. Edie, directed by Simon Hunter, sees Hancock take on a challenging starring role. After her controlling husband dies, an elderly woman embarks on a trip to fulfill her longtime dream of climbing a mountain in the Scottish Highlands.

Sheila Hancock is at her sublime best as Edie, an elderly woman who, in the aftermath of her husband's death, decides to climb Mount Suilven. Against her daughter's wishes, she heads to Scotland and employs Jonny (Kevin Guthrie) to help her get the right equipment and train her for the gruelling climb. AS the pair talk, bicker and have fun, they reveal more about their lives to each other, all set against the stunning backdrop of the Scottish Highlands.

I find Sheila such a watchable, naturally gifted actor and I've been lucky enough to see her on stage several times in recent years. She never disappoints. She is also an entertaining and incredibly eloquent personality off stage, regularly appearing on television and radio and having written several brilliant books. Of course, many years ago Sheila also popped down to Pinewood Studios for her ground breaking role as Senna Pod, wife to Hengist (Kenneth Connor) in the 1964 Carry On epic, Carry On Cleo! And Sheila was one of the few actresses to meet Kenneth Williams head on on stage and come away with a no score draw! The pair starred in a theatrical revue in the early 1960s called One Over the Eight. Thankfully they became lifelong friends.

I think it's very refreshing to see an actress in her 80s take centre stage in a feature film and I certainly cannot wait to check this film out soon!

You can find out more about the film and go behind the scenes via the official website here

Edie is released in cinemas across the UK on 25 May. 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

Monday, 21 May 2018

The Gerald Thomas Archive: Cast Correspondence from Again Doctor

Last month I made a rather delayed trip (thank you British weather) to the British Film Institute on London's Southbank. As I've mentioned over on Twitter, the BFI hold the entire Gerald Thomas archive which is chock full of delightful artifacts from Gerald's long, varied and illustrious career in British film. I was quite frankly dazzled by the array of material on offer and have only managed to flick through a fraction of it, but this blog today is the start of several pieces looking at different aspects of what I've had the very good fortune to see.

Following on from my first blog on Gerald's Scrapbook for Carry On Abroad and my second on the Carry On Abroad Draft Script . I have also, more recently, written a blog about the correspondence between the artist Terence "Larry" Parkes and Peter Rogers about the work he'd been asked to do for the titles of Carry On Doctor. 

Today I'm moving forward a couple of years to another medical Carry On - Carry On Again Doctor, which was filmed in the spring of 1969 and marked Jim Dale's last contribution to the series until his return for Columbus in 1992. As with many of the other films in the archive, I found the correspondence between the actors and their paymasters the most fascinating evidence to read though. And the correspondence over contracts for Again Doctor definitely delivered in spades.

Let's start with the man who brought Dr Jimmy Nookey to life in the film, Jim Dale. Jim was paid £3250 for six weeks work in what was really the starring role in the film. There is considerable correspondence on file regarding a medical claim following an injury Jim had suffered on set. This was either the infamous run away hospital trolley sequence or the scene which saw Dale fall through a rotten floor on a hammock. He really did suffer for his art! A note from Peter Rogers on 7 August 1969 details his position:

Regarding Jim Dale's medical expenses, I don't think that we should be responsible for every pill and laxative if the insurance people don't cough up, do you? Whatever was wrong with Jim Dale was the result of an accident on the floor and I understand that we were covered in this respect. 

Rogers was certainly the money man behind the films and this note gives us a real insight into the serious side of churning out such wonderfully funny, popular films. Part of Peter's note concerns the extra expense involved in the delays caused by Jim's accident and trip to hospital to be checked out. It involved other actors on set - Sid James, Valerie Leon and Elizabeth Knight - being contracted on for extra time, and where Peter was most concerned, extra money too!

Next up is a contract for my favourite Carry On actress, the wonderful Joan Sims. Joan, who was paid her usual £2500 for six weeks playing wealthy widow Ellen Moore, had a clause in her contract which allowed her time out to record episodes of the radio series, then titled "It's Bold" with Kenneth Williams each Monday morning for the BBC. Attached to her contract is a personal letter from Joan, dated 4 May 1969 and written on Joan's own personal stationery:

My dear Peter,

Thank you so much for a really wonderful party on Friday. It was a great send off for us all.

Bless you, 

Love, Joan

The famed camaraderie between the actors and producers of the Carry Ons is justly legendary and even though pay was sometimes an issue, there is no doubting the shared affection and kindness here. Hattie Jacques, appearing as Matron once again in the film, was paid £3000 for the part despite being billed below Joan and actually having less screen time. She too attended the party Joan so obviously enjoyed as can be seen in this charming personal note:

Darling Peter,

I can't begin to tell you how much I enjoyed myself last Friday. Thank you, dearest Guv, for a lovely lunch and a simply gorgeous time. And thank you too for having me in your picture.

Fondest love,


It was quite a moment to handle notes from two of my favourite actresses and also interesting to see how, despite being a regular in Peter's films for over a decade by this point, Hattie still seems thrilled to have been asked to do it. 

Turning the pages, I came upon a type written note signed by none other than the brilliant, iconic and elusive Mr Charles Hawtrey. Written from his home at the time in Kew, he too waxed lyrical about the cast party:

Dear Peter,

Thank you for your wonderful luncheon party at the Mirabelle yesterday. The food - the wines - the company - all of which seemed so appropriate after what was generally agreed to be the happiest production. Whilst you remained, undeniably, our gracious host, you complimented us, not to say delighted, by being one of our motley lot. 

With love from,
Your expected but never let it be said rejected,


Although there were already rumblings of unhappiness from Charles over some aspects of the Carry On experience, at this stage at least, he seems content to be part of the gang. Hawtrey received £3500 for his role as Dr Stoppidge and as usual received his no less than fourth star billing in the film, as stipulated in his contract.

There were further medical concerns around another actor during the making of Again Doctor. Alexandra Dane, probably best remembered for her role as Busti in Carry On Up The Khyber, played a small cameo role as a "Stout Woman" in the 1969 medical comedy. Alexandra was paid the princely sum of £30 for the wordless role which saw her spun round on an out of control weight reducing device. There is correspondence between Dane's agent Max Kester of Foster's Agency and Peter Rogers over an accident on set. Apparently the contraption Alexandra was seen in gave way and she fell, hurting her hip. According to a note included from director Gerald Thomas, Alexandra was sent to the Pinewood nurse who then decided to send her on to Wexham Park Hospital for further treatment.

Max Kester wrote to Peter and Gerald several days later concerning his client's medical expenses and another little matter…

I am presuming that in accordance with our conversation, her name will be included on the actors credit list. It has been included before but was omitted in Carry On Screaming.

I think this demonstrates an agent earning his cut while it also shows up the frailties and little details of being a jobbing actor. Obviously gaining an on screen credit would be very important for a new young actress as it would get her name about, as it were. It was news to me that Alexandra featured in Screaming, indeed I can't ever remember seeing her on screen.

The actress Patricia Franklin, who had made her Carry On debut the previous year in Carry On Camping, was apparently cast as a Night Nurse in Carry On Again Doctor. Her contract is included in the file with it agreed with Busby Smith Management that the actress would receive £30 for the part. The contract has cancelled stamped across it and I couldn't remember seeing her in the finished film. The contract also noted that Miss Franklin was then appearing in a play at the Royal Court Theatre at Sloane Square. When I spoke with Patricia recently (you can read our interview here) she did remember being cast in the role, adding that her agent at the time was Greg Smith, soon to become the producer of the Confessions films. Patricia was not able to take on the role in the end due to her work at the Royal Court in a play by Edward Bond.

Another actress who had debuted in Camping and came back for more fun with the gang was the late Elizabeth Knight. Liz was cast as a casualty nurse in Again Doctor and is only seen very briefly during Wilfrid Brambell's cameo in the film. Apparently the role Knight was cast in was due to be bigger however most of her scenes were sadly cut. She was paid £50 a day for the role with a guaranteed sum of £200 agreed with Peter Rogers. Brambell meanwhile, then a big star thanks to Steptoe and Son, was paid a special one off fee of £100 for his wordless cameo as Mr Pullen.

Peter Butterworth, then a series regular, made the first of several small, often uncredited cameos in the Carry Ons. In Again Doctor he played a shuffling patient in a scene with Jim Dale and Peter Gilmore. Butterworth was given the "special low rate" of £125 for his one day on the film. Patsy Rowlands, who would become a series regular over the course of the next six years, made her debut in Again Doctor as Kenneth Williams' assistant, Miss Fosdick. Patsy was paid £60 a day for this role, with a guaranteed sum of £720 for the entire film. 

Aside from Patricia Franklin's casting issue, there were other problems with the casting for Again Doctor. Apparently an actress called Myrtle Reed was due to play a character called Mrs Rigby at £40 per week - the first I've ever heard of either the actress or the character. Pat Coombs, who was paid £60 over the course of a week to play the New Matron towards the end of the film wasn't originally meant to play that part at all. Pat replaced familiar semi-regular actress Ambrosine Phillpotts although there are no reasons specified for Ambrosine stepping aside from the role. Pat had been cast as Miss Armitage, the troublesome patient who gets an eyeful of Dr Nookey, eventually played by the actress Ann Lancaster. 

Valerie Shute, who had several small roles in the Carry Ons, played a nurse in Again Doctor.    There is a note on file from Gerald Thomas to an Al Shute of Warner Pathe regarding her potential casting in the film:

Thank you for your note and enclosed photograph. I must say it is the most I've ever seen of Valerie! We commence shooting again on March 17th and you can be sure that we will find a nice little 'nurse' part for Valerie.

I was also thrilled to come across a hand written note from one of my favourite character actors of the era, the great Harry Locke. Harry cropped up in countless films during the 1940s, 50s and 60s and featured in three of the medical Carry Ons - Nurse, Doctor and finally Again Doctor. On the lookout for work, Harry wrote to Peter before the casting of Again Doctor:

I was talking to Talbot Rothwell Esq on Sunday about the new script and he said he would mention me when next he saw you…I hope you may have something for me - I have so much enjoyed working with the boys…

Harry was in luck as he was soon cast in the role of the hospital porter, a role than earned him £60. It's intriguing to see actors 'write in' to Peter and Gerald to remind them that they are around and ready to work. In such a fickle business, before the internet and the existence of social media, it must have been an essential part of life as a jobbing actor. 

On a rather sad note, there is also a sad little letter from the actress Lucy Griffiths in the Again Doctor file. Lucy played small parts in quite a few Carry Ons - the trolley lady in Nurse, an excitable neighbour with Leslie Phillips in Constable and a hospital patient in Doctor - and she was once again a patient in bed in a very brief scene in Again Doctor which sees her headphones explode. Lucy wrote to Gerald Thomas about that part on 20th January 1970:

Dear Gerry,

I am delighted to find my 'bit' picked for the trailer of 'Doctor Again'. It happened once before too! So now I really feel perhaps I'm doing a minute 'bit' to help sell the picture and that I belong. I do hope that you will want me more continuously and more often (perhaps bigger bits). It's a happy experience working for you.

…I'm struggling to rebuild my acting career. Spotlight believe in me and are doing their best to help. I can act, I've got to act and that's it.

This letter from Lucy Griffiths provides an example of how tough it can be to survive in the acting profession. Obviously struggling (there are parts of the letter I decided not to share) Lucy is quite determined to continue doing the job she loved and in a not so subtle way hoping Gerry might help her out. Lucy did work for the Carry On people again however her scenes in Loving (filmed the same year she wrote that note) were deleted and her final association with the team in 1975's Carry On Behind, was an uncredited role with no dialogue. You can read more about the life and career of Lucy Griffiths here: Carry On Blogging: Whatever Happened to Lucy Griffiths?

Stay tuned for the next in my series of special blogs on Gerald's archive coming up soon!

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

Meet Valerie Leon at the Film and Comic Con Birmingham!

If you happen to be in or around Birmingham on 2nd June, why not pop along to meet the very lovely Valerie Leon at the Showmasters Collectormania Film and Comic Con? Taking place at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre, Valerie will be appearing on the Saturday only.

Valerie will be signing autographs, meeting fans and taking part in paid photo shoots.

Valerie Leon has been appearing in films, television and on stage since the late 1960s. Her career has taken in all three of the most well-known, popular and long-lasting British film franchises: James Bond, Hammer Horror and of course, Carry On. Valerie appeared opposite the late Sir Roger Moore in the 1977 James Bond epic, The Spy Who Loved Me. Six years later she worked with Sean Connery on the unofficial Bond film, Never Say Never Again.

Valerie took the dual leading role in the classic, cult Hammer Horror, Blood from the Mummy's Tomb in 1971 playing both Margaret and Tera. Valerie first appeared as one of the Harem girls in 1968's Carry On Up The Khyber before returning for roles as a Sales Assistant in Camping, Deirdre in Again Doctor and Leda in Up The Jungle. Valerie returned to the Carry Ons to play pregnant film star Jane Darling in Carry On Matron in 1971 before taking on her final role as Bernard Bresslaw's fiancee Paula in Carry On Girls, undergoing a remarkable transformation half way through the film!

On television, Valerie has appeared in many classic shows over the years. These have included guest roles in The Saint, The Avengers, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), The Persuaders and The Goodies.

So if you fancy the chance to meet one of the most iconic actresses of the 1960s and 1970s, Birmingham is the place to be! 

And you can find out more about Valerie career and what's she up to on her official website

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

Friday, 18 May 2018

Carry On Originals: Bob Monkhouse

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 one of the most legendary figures in post-war British comedy, with a career which spanned, comedy films, straight drama, theatre, television game shows, stand up and writing - you guessed it, the one and only Bob Monkhouse.

Role in Carry On Sergeant: Charlie Sage

Other Carry On roles: Sadly Bob did not return to the world of Carry On after making Sergeant.

Other notable film performances: Bob played David Cookson in two "Dentist" film comedies: Dentist in the Chair (1960) and Dentist on the Job (1961) - both capitalised on the popularity of the Carry Ons by casting the likes of Kenneth Connor, Eric Barker and Shirley Eaton. Other films included A Weekend with Lulu (1961) and She'll Have to Go (1962).

Best remembered for: Despite his great success as a writer, actor, stand up comedian and even singer, Bob is probably best remembered today as the host of many a popular gameshow on television. Hits included The Golden Shot, Family Fortunes, Celebrity Squares and Bob's Full House.

Did you know?: Throughout his career Monkhouse had jotted down jokes, one-liners, sketches and ideas into a series of leather bound books which accompanied him to every single professional appearance he made. In 1995 two of these volumes were stolen and a £15000 reward was offered by Monkhouse himself for their safe return. 18 months later they were returned to him.

What happened to him?: Bob died at the age of 75 in 2003. He had been suffering from prostate cancer.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

Anita Harris joins Celebrity Masterchef

Following on from her appearance in the ITV show Last Laugh in Vegas, actress, singer and all round good egg Anita Harris is set to appear in another reality television show, this time for the BBC.

I saw on Twitter this morning (where else?) that Anita will be starring in the new series of Celebrity Masterchef. Now I admit this is one reality style show that I have watched before and probably will watch again. I'm not a fan of the genre as a whole but I do find this one quite entertaining despite the annoying hosts! I also admit that when I saw the faces of all Anita's fellow contestants, she was pretty much the only one I recognised!

Anita has been an entertainment showbiz legend for decades, first making her mark as a singer back in the mid 1960s. Her fame was galvanised when she starred in two Carry On films, first of all as Cork Tip in Follow That Camel with Bernard Bresslaw and Phil Silvers and then later the same year (1967) as Nurse Clark, mooning after Jim Dale's Dr Kilmore in Carry On Doctor.

I met Anita a couple of years ago at the London Film Fair and she couldn't have been nicer. Warm, welcoming and gentle, it was an absolute pleasure to meet her. 

I wish her all the very best in Celebrity Masterchef and I'll be rooting for her all the way!

You can read my interview with Anita here and you can follow Anita's official account on Twitter

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram 

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Remembering Peter Byrne

As you may have seen last night over on Twitter, I shared The Guardian obituary for the actor Peter Byrne, who has very sadly passed away at the age of 90. Peter enjoyed a long acting career, particularly on stage, working consistently from the early 1950s right up until 2013. Born in West Ham, London, Peter trained at the famed Italia Conti School.

More mature readers will probably remember Peter best for his long running role as Andy Crawford in the BBC television series Dixon of Dock Green. Created by Ted Willis and starring Jack Warner as P.C George Dixon, this police series ran to over 400 episodes over 22 series from 1955 until 1976. Byrne co-starred as Crawford for twenty years before leaving in 1975. 

Peter Byrne also played small roles in several early Peter Rogers Productions. In Watch Your Stern in 1960, the naval comedy starring Eric Barker, Joan Sims and Kenneth Connor, Peter popped up in the role of a Sailor. The following year Byrne appeared as a member of the orchestra (1st Horn to be precise) in the Bruce Montgomery scripted music school comedy Raising The Wind, which starred such names as Kenneth Williams, Liz Fraser and Leslie Phillips.

In 1962 Peter played a Race Starter in the Genevieve-esque comedy The Iron Maiden, directed by Gerald Thomas and written by Leslie Bricusse. The film starred Michael Craig and featured familiar Carry On faces in Jim Dale and Joan Sims. Finally, a year later Peter grabbed his one and only Carry On role when he played a slightly harassed bride groom in my favourite of the series, Carry On Cabby. Appearing in a couple of scenes with stalwarts Sid James and Charles Hawtrey and Marion Collins as his bride, Peter is instantly recognisable and would have been to audiences of the time as he'd already been in Dixon of Dock Green for nearly a decade by then!

Most of Peter's main roles in his career were on stage, with parts in such well-known productions as There's a Girl in my Soup, Boeing Boeing, Run for your Wife and The Mousetrap. 

Peter was married twice, his second wife Renee passed away in 2011. He is survived by two stepchildren. Our thoughts are with Peter's family. 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram