Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Keeping The British End Up!

Keeping The British End Up: Four Decades of Saucy Cinema is a fascinating book in which author Simon Sheridan has compiled an exhaustive list of the very best, worst and everything in between that the British film industry produced in all things naughty. My primary interest is of course the Carry On films, so a lot of the content of Simon's book was completely new to me.

I confess straight away that I prefer my comedy a bit more innocent than some of the smut discussed here. I love the saucy seaside postcard humour of the early Carry Ons and my favourite aspects of all these films is neither the situations or the corny gags, but the wonderful casts of classic British character actors who give quality performances again and again. That's probably the one thing the best of the Carry Ons have in common with naughtier films in the genre - somehow they all managed to attract high quality actors.

I'm still amazed that so many classic character actors agreed to appear in what were, let's face it, pretty low budget, pretty badly written and sometimes pretty downright dreadful films! Yet throughout the course of reading Simon's book the roll call of familiar names is a striking feature. They include the likes of Joan Hickson, Diana Dors, Christopher Timothy, Irene Handl, Liz Fraser, Lynda Bellingham, Joanna Lumley, Joan Collins, Roger Lloyd Pack, Warren Mitchell, Jill Gascoine, Leslie Phillips, Chic Murray, Arthur Askey, John Le Mesurier, Judy Geeson, Harry H Corbett and Pamela Stephenson. Quite an array! 

Simon Sheridan's book provides a great introduction as to why the British have a long tradition of saucy humour and double entendres. We then get a run down of all the major cinematic releases in the genre between 1958 and the early 1980s before a discussion of why the saucy film industry died a death after that point. The final main chapter of the book gives us great potted biographies of the main players in the films featured, including many of the actors, actresses, writers, directors and producers. It was fascinating to read and learn so much about some of these extraordinary people.

Of course when we think of this particular genre, we immediately summon up an image of Robin Askwith's cheeky grin, incorrigible antics and sometimes a lot more besides! I love to hate the Confessions films. While they were almost certainly a phenomenon at the time and proved incredibly successful I ultimately loathe them for both stealing the Carry Ons' thunder and forcing the antics at Pinewood to become a lot more explicit. Away from the Confessions pictures, others of the genre included the handsome Barry Evans kick starting the Adventures of... films and Barry Stokes in the rather dreadful Ups and Downs of a Handyman (which also featured Carry On actresses Valerie Leon and Alexandra Dane). 

These films captured the spirit of the time and Simon Sheridan really understands them. You can tell he's a fan and appreciates them for what they are. There's a great deal of affection for the films, the stars and their legacy. As part of this book, Sheridan writes about some of the more X-rated examples which although fascinating to read about, are probably not for this blog!

The Carry Ons are mentioned in Simon's book - Emmannuelle is profiled as probably the only series entry that can be classed as seriously naughty. Thankfully Simon agrees with me that the film is pretty dreadful and the likes of Butterworth, Williams, Connor and Sims are not only out of place but completely wasted in that mess of the movie. While the Carry Ons obviously set the tone for the relaxing of attitudes in British cinema, Barbara Windsor's bra popping in Carry On Camping quite quickly lost its shock value as the 1960s ended the saucy 70s came along.

I would recommend Keeping The British End Up to all fans of British cinema and classic British comedies. It's a wonderful time capsule and provides a really entertaining social history of a climatic period in our recent history. As always, the films produced at a certain time really do speak volumes about the times in which they were made.

Thank Simon, and long may he keep his end up! 

You can visit Simon's website here: www.simonsheridan.com 
Simon is also on Twitter: @SJASheridan 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and also Facebook

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