It was a brave move on the part of Peter Rogers to bring the Carry On formula to the small screen. Given the decline in cinema revenue at the time, it could have been a shrewd move had the finished product been up to it. By late 1974 there had already been four Carry On Christmas specials broadcast on ITV, most of which had been successful. Making a full on series was a different matter though.
Carry On Laughing comprised thirteen half hours, written by a group of different writers and broadcast over two series on ATV during 1975. They were all costume pieces, which normally worked well for Carry Ons. So what went wrong?
Well certainly not the cast. The vast majority of Carry On regulars appeared in the series. Although we had lost the services of Jim Dale and Charles Hawtrey by this stage of the game, nearly everyone else takes part. The exception was Kenneth Williams who disliked the idea and kept well clear. Perhaps in hindsight this wasn't a bad idea. Still, we have regular appearances from Kenneth Connor, Peter Butterworth, Bernard Bresslaw, Joan Sims and Jack Douglas.
Barbara Windsor appears in the vast majority of the episodes too, in fact I think Barbara actually made more television Carry On appearances than actual films. Sid James appears in some of the earlier episodes and even Hattie Jacques pops up in one and it is probably the best of the bunch. In Orgy and Bess, she plays Queen Elizabeth I opposite Sid James and it's a joy to see these two brilliant actors reunited on screen for one last time.
We also get cameo appearances from other familiar faces, most notably Patsy Rowlands, Marianne Stone, David Lodge, Sherrie Hewson, Carol Hawkins, Diane Langton and Melvyn Hayes. It all sounds good so far, so why didn't the project come off?
Well for me, the whole series just looks a bit shoddy. Compared to the films, the sets and locations look cheap. Most of all though, the writing just doesn't cut it. It feels very much like the whole thing was running out of steam even before the first series was broadcast. Some of the episodes, particularly the Upstairs Downstairs spoofs and one which is pretty much a rehash of Up The Jungle, are pretty woeful and painful to watch.
Like most of the later Carry On films, it feels like a such a wasted opportunity. Despite having a prime cast of regular Carry On actors, it just doesn't work. I guess we should treasure all their appearances on the screen but my copies of these shows have been gathering dust for years. 1975 may have been the most prolific year for the Carry On franchise - a film, two television series and the continuation of the Carry On London stage show - but for me it also clearly signalled the beginning of the end.
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