I think we would all agree that Charles Hawtrey played a major part in the Carry On films and their success. He appeared in the very first film in the series in 1958 and went on to star in 23 of the films in total.
His star quality and individual talent is obvious. Even in the films where he is frustratingly limited to brief cameos, such as Screaming or Loving, he makes such memorable appearances that he practically steals the film! His talent as a screen actor was unique, his Oh Hello catchphrase, delivery and even the way he positioned himself in front of the camera, made him an actor that stood out from the crowd. Yes, he had his own personal problems but right to the end of his association with the Carry Ons he had something extremely valuable to contribute.
One of the main reasons for the success of these films was that Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas constructed a team of very individual and gifted actors who, when they came together as a whole created dynamite. You knew immediately which would be the Sid James part, which would be the Joan Sims part and of course, what part Charles would play. Therefore, could a great deal of the Carry Ons' undoing in the mid to late 1970s have had something to do with Hawtrey's legendary dismissal?
I don't want to blog about the nature of that sad end to a great film career. It's been well documented. I am more interested in the effect his absence had on the films and the team. While Peter Rogers always stated that no one actor was indispensable and that the only star was "Carry On" you can't help but wonder whether the gradual break up of that team harmed the films that followed. So did the Carry Ons start to go down hill once Hawtrey departed? And was that merely a coincidence?
One could say that the team began to break down even before Hawtrey left in late 1972. Jim Dale had been a big success in his role as the Carry On romantic lead in ten films during the 1960s. When Jim departed after Carry On Again Doctor in 1969, sadly nobody came along to fill his impressive shoes. Jim certainly provided a lot of energy and physicality that no other member of the team was able to deliver. Somehow though, Hawtrey's departure feels more of a crisis point, as while various actors (Kenneth Cope, Julian Holloway, Richard O'Callaghan) came along to take on the roles Jim would have played, no actor even attempted to play Hawtrey's parts. You only have to look at poor Jimmy Logan's role as Cecil Gaybody in Carry On Girls to see that.
The films that followed Hawtrey's exit were decidedly ropey on the whole. I'm no fan of Carry On Girls at all and it suffered as the first film in the series to be without both Hawtrey and Kenneth Williams. Carry On Dick is average and not at all the final swansong one would have hoped for given it was the final original Carry On for Sid, Hattie and Barbara Windsor. Carry On Behind was probably the best of the post-Hawtrey films. Anything after that doesn't really warrant or deserve much discussion.
So did the Carry On decline come about mainly because the team was broken up by Hawtrey's farewell? Or was it inevitable given the changing times we lived through in the late 1970s? The nudge nudge wink wink humour of earlier Carry Ons was certainly unfashionable in the age of Robin Askwith's bottom and assorted other films in the genre letting it literally all hang out.
Whatever you think led to the end of the Carry Ons, it's just very sad they ran out of steam. I often wish that they had ended the series at Carry On Behind, rather than continue to chase changing cinematic tastes. Thankfully, we still have so many wonderfully ripe Carry On films from the glory days featuring the firing on all cylinders cast of favourites.
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