Sunday, 19 January 2020

Guest Blog: Carry On Nurse and other myths, by Helena Sage

In a brand new guest blog, regular reader and Carry On fan Helena Sage writes about her love of a medical Carry On and a deeper look at hour nursing staff are represented in these classic comedies.

So in the first instance let me declare my conflict of interest. I am the greatest of Carry On fans, I am a feminist and I am a trained nurse. None of this sits well with Carry On and its treatment of nurses and women and minorities does it?

However I must say a lot of the depictions of nursing in the Carry Ons have a degree of truth. They are not a million miles away from some of my experiences of nursing in the 1980s and nurses that I know that started their careers even earlier say it is very truthful. 

The Carry Ons and also the Doctor at large series with Dirk Bogarde show the hierarchy and sexism which took place in most London teaching hospitals. The stereotype of Sir Launcelot Spratt and Dr Tinkle (played by Kenneth Williams in the Carry Ons) was largely based on a reality, as was the relentless degradation of the house officers and medical students. The Consultants persecuted the junior doctors and medical students and Matron persecuted the ward sister the ward sister tormented the staff nurses in turn the student nurses. It’s just the way it was.

One of my contemporaries describes it this way:

‘These people were relatively prevalent in the 1980s, ‘I worked with quite a lot of them. There were some absolutely superb surgeons and physicians. Really superb but fundamentally flawed. They would put their own social life and personal agendas ahead of their clinical practices. It was an odd thing to watch.’’ says the professor of intensive care medicine at University College London- Hugh Montgomery.

As in many areas of the arts you must ask the question does Art reflect society or create it.

I do not believe that the depiction of woman and specifically nurses by the Carry On films was its own individual creation, it was a reflection of the times. The freedoms that we enjoy as women in this century were not in existence when these films were being constructed. In addition the casual sexism of everyday life was perfectly acceptable in society and in the workplace. No one questioned it especially those in the receiving end of it. Maybe as women we were compliant in a kind of ‘if you can’t beat them join them way.’

I recall as student nurse we hated our uniforms on day one of issue and at the first opportunity we found a seams mistress that enabled us to take them in by a couple of inches and in addition made our uniforms shorter . By the time we had customised them they fitted extra tight which resulted in a Barbara Windsor type of wiggle as we walked about the wards. Make up was frowned on but we all sneaked on some mascara and eye liner.

The porters at the London teaching hospital I trained at had a little lodge based by the main hospital front doors and had a prime view of the coming and goings of the hospital. They would give every nurse a nickname and were not so flattering. They made up  weekly hall of fame (which yours truly made on a few occasions) with categories. I will leave to your imagination what those categories were.

As women there was no thought to be offended and it would have made no difference if one did. They were burly salt of the earth types the porters, cockney London Fulham geezers (think Sid James)  that heckled and cat called as we  swished past the lodge in our navy blue red lined nurses capes with a haughty look on our faces. 

FYI …Being Greek …they named me ‘Goddess’ or ‘H’ and I heard bellowed at me with a wolf whistle  each shift change. I took to giving them a wave and ‘Good Morning/Evening Ian/Bob/Frank/Smithy’. You had to keep on their good side they could be life savers when you needed blood quickly from the bank or a drip stand or even if a body had to be removed pronto as the admissions were coming thick and fast from A&E. The Nurses treated them as irreverent schoolboys and we knew that in their own way they had utmost respect for us. 

There is an episode in the Carry Ons when Kenneth Williams is about to conduct a ward round and the ward staff and patients are in a state of high anxiety trying to achieve perfection in all areas. This was very much how it was for Consultants ward rounds. This scene is by no means fiction

Ward rounds especially by surgeons could result in spectacular humiliation, on anyone the Doc chose to focus their wrath upon. If he (and it was always a he) was displeased by the tiniest of details all hell broke loose. Even the patients were petrified and ridiculously compliant (unlike those on the carry on films). Patients were referred to as ‘the appendectomy in bed 4 or the laparoscopy in room 2’. I myself was at the tail end of the wrath of a professor of arterial surgery when I forgot to remove a bandage on a diabetic foot quick enough. 

Nowadays it would be totally unacceptable.

Fast forward to 2019.Dominance, arrogance, aggressiveness, and egocentricity are out. In are: integrity, honesty, and the ability to recognise stress in yourself and your effect on others. The modern NHS is a place where employment practices and bedside manners are much changed from the depictions in the Carry On Films and the Doctor at Large films. But then society is unrecognisable. Some may say political correctness has gone mad. But one cannot respect women and have a degree of humanity in our health service without drawing a line. It was really bullying and harassment by any other name.

I must have had a rebellious streak in me because I specialised in sexual health; primarily HIV /AIDs care where the hierarchy had been smashed by a largely irreverent non-compliant male gay patient group. No uniforms no deference patients made the rules for doctors and nurse to abide by. Homosexuality was only made legal in 1967 and I was in the job in 1990 so the change was remarkable. Gay men had found a voice and financial and political power despite the ghastly spectre of HIV/AIDs. They made us get rid of our uniforms to preserve their confidentiality and they called us by our names. They made us change our visiting hours and introduced many changes which we work by now.

 There were no camp Charles Hawtrey type characters either. They were educated assertive informed men. The gay community was no longer repressed. I also had the privilege of working with many DRAG artists.

Dressing up as women in the Carry On films is common. Think of Carry On up the Khyber, Carry on Screaming and many more. Dressing up as a woman is done very badly with reluctance and forced upon Bernard Bresslaw or Kenneth Connor or some other and it results in high jinks .The Drags artists I met were beautiful and professional and spectacular performers.

In the Carry Ons having to dress up as a woman was the joke it was the humiliation. Well not in the 1990s; trans was a whole new way of living. I was lucky enough to be invited a few times to Madam Jo Jo in Soho to drag performers in all their glory. Could we ever have accepted in the Carry on decades that this was a chosen way of life, I doubt it so we laugh at that which is not understood. 

Changing the way Film represents, or fails to represent, people who are not white, straight, or male, will require making systemic changes and we continue to change and evolve. We can be smug and point fingers at the past and comment on the sexism racism or homophobia of the Carry on franchise and other films. But as the ‘me too’ movement showed we are still not where we should be despite what we may think.

Much has changed and improved and Carry On was a product of its time .What then does film in 2019 say about our world right now.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

Monday, 6 May 2019

Fancy Being a Guest Blogger? Well Carry On...

A couple of years ago I wrote a guest blog for the wonderful History Usherette Blog which is run by @agathadascoyne . I wrote about the social history of the Carry Ons, comparing Carry On Cruising with Carry On Abroad, highlighting how Britain had changed over that ten year period. This experience got me thinking.

I love hearing from fellow Carry On fans on Twitter. Back in 2015/16 I invited some of you to be my 'Carry On Fan of the Week" answering a few questions on your own personal Carry On favourite moments, actors and films. 

If there are any keen guest bloggers out there with a Carry On related subject you are burning to write about, don't hesitate to drop me a line. I'd love to feature your thoughts on the blog. It can be as long or as short as you like and you can provide photos or I can find some for you. 

You can write about anything as long as it has a Carry On connection.

You can contact me via Twitter by direct message, by using the Contact Form on the blog or by emailing

Carry On Scribbling!

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

Carrying On… On a Weekend with Lulu

The other day I caught the start of a rather rarely screened British comedy from the early 1960s. Featuring a cast bursting with well loved comedy people, A Weekend WIth Lulu is a film I've heard of before but never seen. Despite the array of talent on display and the obvious fact the film's producers were capitalising on the rise of the Carry On phenomenon, I didn't warm to Lulu or take that much of an interest on their collective weekend! Never mind, can't win 'em all...

What's it about?

Young couple Timothy and Deirdre plan a romantic weekend on the coast in pal Fred's ice cream van and towed caravan, affectionately called "Lulu." When Deirdre's mother insists on coming along as her daughter's chaperone, Timothy's plans are somewhat compromised. A ferry boat mix-up further complicates things, and lands the holidaymakers in France where they encounter a variety of irate Frenchmen.

Carry On Faces?

The film capitalises on the recent success of the fledgling Carry On series by casting several instantly recognisable faces from that franchise in leading and guest roles. Original Carry On leading man Bob Monkhouse, who played Charlie Sage in Sergeant, leads the cast as Fred Scrutton, a kind of wide boy Teddy Boy character. Leslie Phillips, at the time fresh from a run of three Carry Ons (Nurse, Teacher, Constable), plays a more relaxed version of his usual toffee-nosed letch with his eye on some alone time with girlfriend Deirdre, played by none other than Shirley Eaton, the original Carry On blonde.

Playing Shirley's mother in the film is the inimitable Irene Handl, who seemed to be in every comedy film of the era. The film also boasts three prominent guest stars, two of whom were leading men in the Carry Ons at this time. Of course they are none other than Sid James as a Cafe Patron and Kenneth Connor as a British Tourist. The third is the superb actor Sydney Tafler, who had recently filmed a cameo in the fifth Carry On to go into production, Carry On Regardless.

Also look out for two other familiar supporting actors from the Carry Ons - Denis Shaw, here playing a Bar Patron and Judith Furse, better known as Doctor Crow in Carry On Spying. Furse turns up as a character named Madame Bon-Bon!

Did You Know?

The film was produced by Hammer Films, better known for their long run of horror features.

John Paddy Carstairs was the director - a man better known for his association with Norman Wisdom's film comedies.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram 

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Carry On Advertising - Carry On Cowboy

This blog is part of a new little series on Carry On Blogging, looking back at the changing face of the Carry On films during their original twenty year run. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the way the films were advertised to the cinema-going public of Great Britain over the years. These days when I do go to the cinema, I try to avoid the trailers as they tend to go on for rather too long, but of course, with Carry On it's a different story!

Thankfully most of the original trailers are now available to peruse on the internet and they provide a unique time capsule of British film history. The changing tastes of mores of the film-going public can easily be traced through these adverts as can the changing face of the British film industry and the social attitudes of the time. It's also fascinating to see how first Anglo Amalgamated and then later on, the Rank Organisation, chose to market and sell these low budget, knockabout comedies. 

Moving on today to the only Carry On produced in1965, the excellent Carry On Cowboy. Cowboy is the most British of Westerns ever made but it's an absolute joy from start to finish. The series was really firing on all cylinders by this point and Cowboy provides plenty of great performances, lots of laughs, delicious set pieces and also a fair amount of action for good measure. The likes of Sid James, Jim Dale and Peter Gilmore get to play out their cowboy fantasies while Joan Sims never looked better as ravishing saloon owner Belle. And series newcomer Angela Douglas adds some youthful vim as the gun-toting Annie Oakley.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Butterworth Carries On … As Mr Smith

A couple of years back I started a regular series of blogs which profiled each of Joan Sims' fabulous 24 Carry On roles. I enjoyed giving each performance a turn in the spotlight so once I completed the mammoth task of writing about everything from Nurse Stella Dawson to Mrs Dangle, I went on to blog about all of Hattie Jacques' roles in the series and then those portrayed by Dame Barbara Windsor.

More recently I have carried out the same task for two of Carry Ons' unsung heroes - Kenneth Connor and Bernard Bresslaw. Now I will turn my attentions to all sixteen of Peter Butterworth's delightful supporting turns in the Carry On series. Peter, along with Sid James and Joan Sims, has long been one of my very favourite comedy actors and favourite members of the Carry On troupe. Sadly, Peter has received scant attention from the wider press, with only diehard fans really giving his acting talent the praise it so rightly deserves.

Peter joined the Carry On team in 1965 for Carry On Cowboy and remained a loyal servant to the series pretty much right through until the end of the original series in 1978. He was also a frequent contributor to many of the team's small screen outings and appeared alongside Sid James, Barbara Windsor and several others in the Carry On London stage farce in the early 1970s. He never put a foot wrong and was the master scene stealer. 2019 marks not only one hundred years since Peter's birth but also, sadly, forty years since he passed away. It therefore seems fitting to devote some blogging time to his wonderful performances.

Follow on from my first blogs in this series on Peter's roles in Carry On Cowboy, Screaming Don't Lose Your Head and Follow That Camel today I'm looking at Peter's performance in the classic Carry On Doctor, made in 1967. 

Carry On Doctor is one of my favourite Carry Ons. The films seemed to lend themselves so well to the hospital setting and Doctor, Talbot Rothwell's tribute to Norman Hudis' iconic Carry On Nurse almost ten years earlier, features the gang firing on all cylinders. Following a trend for period costume Carry Ons (Cowboy, Screaming, Don't Lose Your Head etc) the team were back in the present day for this romp through the wards. Almost all the regular faces of the era feature in the film. Only Kenneth Connor who was at the time on a break from the series, does not appear. It is an absolute joy to see Sid James and Hattie Jacques return to the fold after previous absences; to see Jim Dale take centre stage as the romantic, bumbling hero of the piece; Kenneth Williams on sublime pompous villainous form as Dr Tinkle (!) and the likes of Bernard Bresslaw, Dilys Laye and Charles Hawtrey bring the wards to life. Throw in a delightful cameo role from Joan Sims and a stunning guest starring performance from Frankie Howerd and you have near perfection!  

The basic plot of the film sees the patients of the hospital revolt after the fiendish team of Matron, Dr Tinkle and Sister Hoggett (June Jago) rule over the wards for too long, culminating in the axing of popular Doctor Kilmore (Dale). It's a lovely story that allows the audience to root for the underdog. Of course all is well in the end and the film comes to a satisfying conclusion. Rothwell includes some lovely references to Carry On Nurse, no better than the infamous daffodil sequence which is joyfully brought back to life briefly by Frankie and Valerie Van Ost. Watch out also for a framed portrait of the brilliant James Robertson Justice in character as Sir Lancelot Spratt - it is between the lifts in the hospital foyer. This is of course a tribute to the Doctor series of films, a franchise to which the Carry Ons owe a debt of gratitude. The Doctor films were produced by Peter Rogers' wife Betty Box and directed by Ralph Thomas, brother of Gerald. Peter sought permission to make Carry On Doctor from his wife before going into production.

So what about Peter's role? 

In a cast bursting with talent Peter is given less screen time than his previous couple of outings with the gang. While this a shame, Butterworth still shines whenever he's given any kind of opportunity large or small. Only ever known as Mr Smith, no first name given, he is very much the everyman on the ward. He's there as part of the Greek chorus, reacting to the drama on the wards and the fiendish acts of the hospital senior staff. Peter blends in with his other male co-stars and adds real depth alongside Bresslaw, Hawtrey and James. He's given little to do but plays a full part in the climatic scenes which see the patients rise up and send a clear message to the crooked Dr Tinkle and Matron Lavinia!

Mr Smith's reason for being in hospital is never made particularly clear however for most of the film there are veiled references to a mysterious lump! He eventually has it off (as it were) but remains in the ward for a visit from his irritating wife, played by Jean St Clair in her only Carry On appearance. As she sits and witters on about this that and the other, she fails to take much interest in her husband as she even goes so far to scoff all the grapes she's brought in for him! Peter's farewell to his wife as she leaves is a thing of beauty, clutching the  bare stalk in his hand!

With much of the action revolving around Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques and Jim Dale and big name guest star Frankie Howerd grabbing most of the screen time, the likes of Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims and Peter Butterworth are left to play second fiddle but in a cast where really only Kenneth Connor is missing it must have been hard to give everyone their fair share of funny lines in a film which barely ran to 90 minutes. Where Butterworth excels as ever is stealing scenes with the slightest glance, reaction shot or comedic mannerism. Even his reaction to dropping Kenneth's Dr Tinkle into the ice bath is played beautifully despite it only lasting a couple of seconds. Peter was a gift to these films and his natural flair for comedy and sense of what would make the audience laugh meant he stood out even when, as with Carry On Doctor, his part was fairly small and insignificant. In the hands of a lesser actor it wouldn't be remembered at all. 

Still, compared to his major supporting turns in Camel and Screaming, Butterworth fans may be disappointed by Doctor. Better is thankfully still to come as Peter's next two roles in the series are crackers. Stay tuned for my take on his turn as Brother Belcher in Carry On Up The Khyber coming up next!

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

Sunday, 28 April 2019

70 Years of Ealing Comedies with Art & Hue

Art & Hue has created a new collection of stylish pop art prints to celebrate the 70th anniversary of classic Ealing Comedies.

1949 saw Ealing Studios release "Passport to Pimlico", “Whisky Galore!“, and “Kind Hearts & Coronets”, all within the space of two months, and the British film institution of the Ealing Comedies was firmly established.

In many ways, the Ealing comedies set the groundwork for the Carry On films: an ensemble cast, much like a repertory theatre in that they were employed across different films, and a very home-grown British humour with no concessions made to international audiences. 

Sid James was in "The Titfield Thunderbolt" and "The Lavender Hill Mob", Charles Hawtrey was in "Passport to Pimlico" and "Who Done It?", Hattie Jacques was in "The Love Lottery", Joan Sims and Irene Handl appeared in "Meet Mr. Lucifer", and Liz Fraser's first ever film role was in an Ealing comedy.

Many Carry On actors cut their teeth in the Ealing comedies, for example, the cast of "Passport to Pimlico" included Sydney Tafler, who went on to appear in Carry On Regardless, Reg Thomason from Carry On Cowboy, Jim O'Brady from Carry On Jack, Hyma Beckley from Carry On Cruising, Fred Griffiths from Carry On Loving, and many other crossover connections of supporting cast.

Another example, the Ealing comedy "Who Done It?", starring Benny Hill, featured a whole host of supporting cast members who went on to appear in future Carry Ons, such as Fred Machon, Ernie Rice, Denis Shaw, Pat Ryan, Chris Adcock, Philip Stewart, Rita Tobin-Weske, Ronnie Brody, Mabel Etherington, Anthony Lang, Chick Fowles, Ian Selby, Gey Standeven, and Terence Alexander.

An official collaboration with Studiocanal, Art & Hue has delved into the archives to create these stylish pop art prints, featuring Ealing Studios regulars Alec Guinness, Alastair Sim, Stanley Holloway, Joan Greenwood, Gordon Jackson, and Basil Radford, who all appeared in more than one of the Ealing comedies.

Exclusively by Art & Hue, the collection is available in three sizes and 18 colour options, printed on museum-quality archival card of 310gsm, made from 100% cotton, with fine-art pigment inks for longevity. 

Visit to see the full collection.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Carry On Advertising - Carry On Cleo

This blog is part of a new little series on Carry On Blogging, looking back at the changing face of the Carry On films during their original twenty year run. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the way the films were advertised to the cinema-going public of Great Britain over the years. These days when I do go to the cinema, I try to avoid the trailers as they tend to go on for rather too long, but of course, with Carry On it's a different story!

Thankfully most of the original trailers are now available to peruse on the internet and they provide a unique time capsule of British film history. The changing tastes of mores of the film-going public can easily be traced through these adverts as can the changing face of the British film industry and the social attitudes of the time. It's also fascinating to see how first Anglo Amalgamated and then later on, the Rank Organisation, chose to market and sell these low budget, knockabout comedies. 

Moving on today to one of the series' biggest successes - the triumphant Carry On Cleo. Full colour all the way now and the films were growing in confidence. A sublimely sharp script from Talbot Rothwell poking fun at the recent big blockbuster film Cleopatra, Cleo features a tight-knit cast of class acts - Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Connor, Joan Sims, Jim Dale and Charles Hawtrey, not to mention the star of the show, the amazing Amanda Barrie as Cleo herself. The Carry Ons were rarely as classy, as hilarious and as successful as this. 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram