Friday, 15 April 2016
Joan Carries On ... as Lady Joan Ruff-Diamond
This blog is part of a regular series on Carry On Blogging. I'm going to attempt to blog about each of Joan Sims' wonderful roles in the Carry On films. Joan was the most prolific of all the actresses involved in the series, clocking up 24 films. Indeed, only Kenneth Williams made more Carry Ons.
Today I am going to write about what must surely be the crowning glory of Joan's Carry On career. In 1968 Joan was cast as the majestic Lady Joan Ruff-Diamond in Carry On Up The Khyber. Khyber is frequently quoted as the finest of all Carry Ons so it is therefore only fitting that the film provided stalwart Joan with one of her best roles. The film is a glorious send up of all those stiff upper lip British war films. The Carry Ons were at their best when gently poking fun at an established institution.
The film is focuses the Devil's In Skirts and the Khasi of Kalabar's (Kenneth Williams) attempts to prove that the British soldiers are not the fearsome opponents they claim to be. He does this with the help of Private Widdle (Charles Hawtrey) and the revelation that the Devils wear underwear under the dreaded kilts! Lady Ruff-Diamond, fed up with her good for nothing, womanising husband (who else but Sid James?) takes a photograph as proof and runs away to Jacksi (!) and into the arms of the Khasi. While soppy Joan thinks the Khasi has romantic intentions, the fiendish Khasi is just using her for his own ends!
Thankfully Lady Ruff-Diamond escapes with the help of Captain Keene and Princess Jelhi (Roy Castle and Angela Douglas) and returns to make amends with her errant husband. What follows is the one of the finest climaxes to any Carry On - the wonderful dinner party scene. No finer example of the classic British stiff upper lip than continuing with a dinner party while the natives are destroying the residency! The film is absolute joy from beginning to end with a cast of Carry On favourites (particularly Peter Butterworth, Kenneth Williams and Bernard Bresslaw) on outstanding form! And Joan is right up there amongst them.
Joan demonstrates very clearly in Khyber why I see her as the female Kenneth Williams in many ways. She manages the same swooping vocal characteristics from affected posh to common as muck in the blink of an eye and it never fails to make me laugh. Lady R-D is no better than she ought to be but takes full advantage of her position, as it were. As always Sid and Joan make for an excellent comedy double act. Whatever the situation you really do believe they are husband and wife. You can also tell that the two actors really did get on and enjoyed working closely together.
Joan also enjoys a wonderful on screen relationship with Kenneth Williams. The two actors were lifelong friends, even sharing the same agent and they have delicious chemistry. Their love scenes together in Khyber are fantastic, the dialogue bouncing back and forth between two pros at the top of their comedy game. I also love that legendary story of Kenneth Williams' blowing off (as it were) in between takes. When Kenneth said that even Valentino used to let one go, Joan quickly replied with "Yes, Kenny, but they were silent films!" The stuff of legend!
The climax to Khyber is, as I've already mentioned, a highlight not just of the film but of the entire series. The dinner party sequence features really strong performances from Sid, Peter and the rest of the gang but for me, Joan steals the show with what appears to have been an adlib. As stuff falls from the collapsing ceiling, Joan, wine glass in hand, comments "I seem to have got a little plastered!" as a large lump of plaster falls on her head! It's a priceless moment, surely the result of Joan's revue training. It quite clearly catches co-stars Julian Holloway and Roy Castle by surprise as their shared laughter seems completely genuine!
At the end of the film, the eccentric Brits cling on to power, Sid and Joan are reunited with the closing line, as they view the debris and destruction "don't worry, we'll clear it all up in the morning!" Khyber typifies the Carry Ons' naughty, down to earth humour and Joan is surely at her very best when right at the heart of it.