Thursday, 21 April 2016
Life After the Carry Ons: Kenneth Connor
This is a new occasional series of blogs in which I will look at the careers of each of the main Carry On team players once they left the series. Some would go on to appear in many other productions over the years while others would sadly not be so fortunate. Today I am looking at the later career of Kenneth Connor.
Kenneth Connor is often regarded as the quiet man of Carry On. He was a hugely talented actor although he didn't have the public persona of the likes of Sid James or Kenneth Williams nor did he ever court publicity. He was a family man who worked solidly in the acting profession throughout his adult life. Kenneth's performances in the Carry On films are unique and his trajectory through the years from bumbling romantic lead in the black and white films right down to his later roles as crumbling eccentrics make his association with the series particularly fascinating.
Kenneth was the star of many of the early films, grabbing plum roles and much screen time in the likes of Nurse, Teacher, Constable and Regardless. Having been a mainstay in eight of the early films, he left the series after Cleo in 1964 to pursue other acting roles on stage and screen. Thankfully he returned to join in the fun at Pinewood for Carry On Up The Jungle in 1969 and became a regular once more, appearing consistently right up until the last gasp of the original run with Emmannuelle in 1978. By then, the middle-aged Connor was playing character parts - frustrated husbands, doddery civic dignitaries and faded figures of authority. He always excelled, convinced and entertained.
So what form did Kenneth Connor's career take after the demise of the Carry On franchise in 1978? Well, like many of his fellow co-stars, Kenneth moved more into television roles. The British film industry was in the doldrums in the late 1970s while telly reigned supreme. I remember Kenneth for three ongoing television roles in particular. Probably his most famous post-Carry On performance was as Monsieur Alfonse, the elderly funeral director in the classic BBC sitcom 'Allo 'Allo! Written by Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft, this innuendo-laden comedy series was a huge success, focusing on the French resistance during the Second World War. Kenneth played Alfonse from 1984 until the series ended in 1992. His character was known for his romantic designs on Madame Edith (Carmen Silvera) and for constantly bemoaning his "dicky ticker".
Kenneth also appeared in another highly successful 1980s BBC comedy show. Between 1986 and 1988 he played Uncle Sammy Morris in the Perry and Croft sitcom Hi-de-Hi! This 1950s-set holiday camp comedy starred the likes of Su Pollard, Ruth Madoc and Paul Shane. Kenneth's character was a children's entertainer who had fallen on hard times. Connor also played a character called Whatsisname Smith in the children's series Rentaghost between 1983-1984. The early 1980s were very busy for Mr Connor!
Kenneth also made guest appearances in a host of other shows at around this time. These included one of roles in the Mollie Sugden comedy series That's My Boy, an appearance in the Perry and Croft comedy You Rang M'lord? and a particularly memorable episode of Blackadder The Third in 1987 in which he co-starred with fellow veteran Hugh Paddick. In 1989 Kenneth worked once again with fellow Carry On colleagues Barbara Windsor and Jack Douglas in the television movie, Norbert Smith: A Life. This was the brainchild of Harry Enfield, with Connor, Windsor and Douglas appearing in a send up of the Carry On films.
Sadly Kenneth Connor passed away at the age of 75 in November 1993. Working right up until the end of his life, he appeared as a guest on an episode of the Noel Edmonds' game show Telly Addicts just a few days before he died. Kenneth's last acting performance was broadcast posthumously in 1994. He played Mr Warren in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes episode "The Red Circle". Perhaps rather fittingly, this acting assignment brought him back to work with a familiar face from one of the early Carry Ons. Playing Kenneth's wife was the brilliant character actress Betty Marsden. The pair had worked so well together in the 39 Steps sequence of Carry On Regardless when Betty had played the Mata Hari character opposite Connor's Sam Twist.
There is no doubting what a talented comedy actor Kenneth Connor was. While he will always be chiefly remembered for being an integral part of the Carry On team, he was equally prolific elsewhere. Out of all the team members who continued to work after the demise of the series, Connor was surely one of the busiest and most successful.