While the Carry Ons are well known for showcasing the talents of Joan Sims, Barbara Windsor and Hattie Jacques, there were a number of other actresses who starred, perhaps less prominently in the films. While Barbara, and to some extent, Joan played bubbly blondes and later Joan and Hattie played nagging wives or matrons, other ladies joined the Carry On team and added a little more sophistication.
I do think there was a place for more refined comic actresses during the prime Carry On period of the mid to late 1960s. Yes to a certain extent the films were low farce and knockabout antics, but there was always a cleverness to the scripts that raised the barrier just that little bit higher.
The first of these actresses was probably Shirley Eaton. Shirley appeared in three of the very early Carry Ons, most notably the first in the series, Carry On Sergeant in 1958. Shirley was the romantic love interest for the likes of Bob Monkhouse and Terence Longdon and was always classy and dignified. Following Shirley's departure from the series after Constable in 1959, Liz Fraser joined the team for a run of three pictures in the early 1960s. Long before Liz dabbled in the saucy seventies sex comedy scene, she played rather more elegant characters in the likes of Carry On Regardless and Cruising.
Liz was asked to play the role of Sally in Carry On Jack, although it subsequently went to the lovely Juliet Mills. Juliet was another actress in the tradition of the Shirley Eaton leading lady, shining amongst all the innuendo and slapstick going on around her. The next main proponent was the delightful Angela Douglas who clocked up four leading Carry On appearances during the mid 1960s. Angela was probably the finest example of the innocent, more refined leading lady and she excelled in the costume, period Carry On films, such as Cowboy, Follow That Camel and Up The Khyber.
Probably the last true example of this kind of Carry On actress was Jacki Piper, who pretty much replaced Angela Douglas in the series from 1969 until 1971. Jacki played similar young leading lady roles in Up The Jungle, Loving and At Your Convenience although even by that time, the tone of the films was beginning to change. There were fewer taboos and the jokes were beginning to be nearer the knuckle than earlier outings for the gang. Nevertheless, Jacki continued the tradition of the demure leading lady.
Although later films featured the likes of Sally Geeson, Carol Hawkins and Judy Geeson, the films quickly became bawdier and less innocent. I can't imagine Shirley Eaton, Juliet Mills or Angela Douglas returning to the series in the mid-1970s. Although later films like Abroad and Behind and real favourites of mine, I can't see some of the earlier actresses fitting in with the broader material, can you?
I really do believe these wonderful actresses should be celebrated for their contribution to our favourite British comedy film series.
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