Saturday 23 May 2015

Not Quite A Carry On: Bless This House

I have decided to write about some of the other films Rogers and Thomas made during their prolific careers. Apart from their 31 Carry Ons together, the famous producer/director team also made many other films, particularly during their peak in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I have already blogged about one of my favourites, the sprightly Nurse On Wheels. Now I am going to look at one of their later efforts, Bless This House.

Bless This House, released in 1972, was a big screen spin off feature film of the incredibly popular Thames Television sitcom, starring Sidney James as the family man desperately trying to keep up with his wife and teenage children as the 1970s took hold. Co-starring Diana Coupland, Robin Stewart and Sally Geeson, the series was a ratings smash and probably Sid's most successful small screen outing. It tapped into a more domesticated, relaxed image for Sid and was probably the role most closely aligned to the man himself.

The 1970s saw many sitcoms get the big screen treatment, from Dad's Army and Steptoe and Son to On The Buses and Please Sir, they were all at it. Rogers and Thomas were signed up to capitalise on the immediate success of Bless This House and a film was quickly shot and released in between two Carry Ons, Abroad and Girls. This being the case, Bless This House features a hybrid cast from both these official Carry Ons. It is also interesting as it blends two well known sitcoms together, for moving in next door to Sidney Abbott and family are Terry Scott and June Whitfield, playing the Baines. Scott and Whitfield were already working together on television, however they would begin their own sitcom, Happy Ever After, two years later.

Bless This House fuses together three distinct storylines. One, is the arrival of Sid's new neighbours who he immediately falls out with. Two, the blossoming of a romance between Sid's son and Terry's daughter, causing all kinds of trouble. And three, Sid and Trevor's attempts to make their own booze. So basically what you've got is three sitcom half hours stitched together. Nothing wrong with that really, but for the most part it fails to ignite. I'm not saying it's a bad comedy film, it's just all a bit safe and predictable. Still not too bad for a Sunday afternoon viewing.

While the script might be a bit tired, the cast is terrific. Sid is joined by his television co-stars Diana Coupland, Sally Geeson and Patsy Rowlands (playing next door neighbour Betty). For some reason Betty's husband Trevor, while played by Anthony Jackson for the entire run on television, is played by Carry On regular Peter Butterworth in the film. Not quite sure why this is, but it's always good to see Peter Butterworth and he works well with Sid here. Also missing from the television series is Robin Stewart. For whatever reason, Robin Askwith came on board for the film to bring Sid's son Mike to cinematic life. Askwith would be cast in the next Carry On, Girls, the following year and then would be up and away with the Confessions films. Playing Terry and June's daughter is Carol Hawkins, fresh from Carry On Abroad. Carol of course would return to the Carry On fold three years later for Carry On Behind. 

The supporting cast is littered with familiar faces from the Rogers and Thomas extended Carry On family. We have great cameos from the likes of Bill Maynard, Marianne Stone, Patricia Franklin, Michael Nightingale, Wendy Richard, Molly Weir, Julian Orchard and Frank Thornton. Future Coronation Street regular Johnny Briggs also has a blink and you'll miss it appearance as a tradesman.

Interestingly, Peter Butterworth's real life wife, actress and impressionist Janet Brown, also has a supporting role although sadly I don't think Peter and Janet share any screen time. Also watch out for George A Cooper as a blunt and harassed cafe owner. Cooper would go on to play the janitor in Grange Hill for many years.

The film has loads of slapstick and all the usual cliches. There are domestic squabbles, food fights, and lots of Sid and Terry making fools of themselves while their wives know better. All ends well with a big wedding uniting the two families. If you like easy to watch, undemanding British comedy featuring a host of classy comic performers, Bless This House is definitely for you.

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