Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Carry On, Connor

Kenneth Connor is probably one of the most underrated of the regular Carry On actors. I've never been quite sure why this is as he was a prolific performer throughout his long career. 

He worked for years on stage, appearing in many revues and big musicals, such as A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. He appeared on radio opposite Ted Ray in Ray's A Laugh and even co-starred in The Goon Show. On television he appeared in all sorts of shows over the years but is probably best remembered for his later work in the likes of Hi de Hi and Allo Allo. 

In film, away from the Carry Ons he was a big star in the late 50s and early 60s, leading the casts of many well-received British comedy pictures. These included Watch Your Stern, Dentist On The Job, Dentist In The Chair, Nearly A Nasty Accident and What A Carve Up! He also popped up in a cameo in the Ealing classic, The Lady Killers. 

Of course we are interested most of all in Kenneth's Carry On appearances. He appeared in seventeen of the films and was one of a very few actors to span the entire run of the series, making his first Carry On in 1958 and his last, the last of the original run in 1978. There was a five year gap in the mid 1960s when Connor concentrated on work away from Pinewood, but it is nevertheless an incredibly long and fruitful relationship. 

I also think the roles Kenneth was offered during his twenty year association with the Carry Ons are fascinating. It is not often that an actor can go from playing bumbling romantic leads to crumbling old duffers in the same film franchise. Kenneth was in his early 40s when he made his first Carry On, Sergeant in 1958. By the time Emmannuelle was gasping for breath in the late 70s Kenneth was sixty. The contrast in the roles Kenneth played is quite something and shows his wonderful versatility. 

Although I loved his doddery performances in the likes of Carry On Girls or Dick and his randy old major in Carry On Behind, I much prefer Kenneth Connor's earlier Carry On contributions. He was without a doubt the outright star of Sergeant. His Horace Strong was beautifully played, going from annoying wimp to hero and love God in the space of 85 minutes. He brought a lot of subtlety and charm to the role of boxer Bernie Bishop in Carry On Nurse, sharing a lovely, realistic scene with his real life son Jeremy at the end of the picture. Also, his scenes with on-screen wife Susan Shaw were played with touches of pathos which worked excellently. 

Kenneth then went on to play similar parts in Teacher, Constable and Regardless. All shy, bumbling, slightly hopeless types, but always played for real which got the audience on side. In Teacher he was desperate to attract the attentions of fierce schools inspector Felicity Wheeler, played beautifully by Rosalind Knight. Constable saw him play the hapless Constable Constable and go potty for Joan Sims' WPC Passworthy! In Regardless there wasn't the usual love interest. Instead we had the wonderful send up of the 39 Steps, in which Kenneth was sent to Scotland, got into a mess thanks to a bowl of brown Windsor soup and got on the wrong end of Betty Marsden! It was a joyous sequence showcasing all of Kenneth's unique comedy talents.

In Carry On Cruising, Kenneth played the ship doctor, Arthur Binn. Again the bumbling romantic lead, Kenneth fell for the notable charms of newcomer Dilys Laye and they made a delightful pair. Connor also got to show off his tenor voice in scenes where Binn sang outside Flo's window. The following year saw Kenneth join Sid and Hattie Jacques in that wonderful "Kitchen Sink" Carry On, Carry On Cabby. Although more of a supporting role, Kenneth brought a lot of heart to Ted Watson. He was a loyal friend to Sid's Charlie Hawkins and suffered in his romantic dealings with on-screen girlfriend Liz Fraser.

Kenneth's last Carry On role before his mid-sixties break was legendary. As Hengist Pod, inventor of the square wheel, he was at his comedy peak in Carry On Cleo. Saddled with the dreadful Senna Pod as a wife (Sheila Hancock), captured by the Romans and thrown into a life of slavery thanks to Marcus and Spencius, Hengist miraculously ends up as Caesar's bodyguard and forms delightful onscreen partnerships with the likes of Jim Dale, Kenneth Williams and Sid James. Although Hengist was apparently originally offered to Bernard Cribbins, I can only ever imagine Kenneth Connor playing that wonderful role.

I am glad Kenneth returned to the Carry Ons for the rest of their run in 1969. He never turned in a bad performance and was always a welcome addition to a Carry On cast, whether it be film, stage or television. For me though, those early performances in the likes of Nurse, Teacher and Cruising were just the best. 

In Carry On Forever he was labelled the quiet man of comedy, but I think his talent was coming across loud and clear in everything he did. 

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