Sunday, 1 May 2016
The most iconic Carry On performances: Number 10!
This is the beginning of a new series of blogs in which I attempt to decide which, out of the many hundreds of performances the Carry On films produced, are the most iconic. I am limiting myself to a list of the top ten and I hope you'll get involved, whether you agree, disagree or think I've missed your favourite out!
In deciding on my top ten, I will be judging both on a personal level and from a more general view point. Which performances capture the essence of the films and also which were my own preferences. It's an argument that could go on for ever but I hope to produce my definitive list. Feel free to comment on my choices as we go along and of course suggest your own alternatives.
Today I am starting out with number 10 on my list. I couldn't complete a list of my favourite performances without including one of the very best, most consistently flawless comedy actors - the glorious Kenneth Connor. Kenneth provided wonderful support in many Carry Ons over a twenty year period, being one of the very few contributors to appear in both the first and the very last of the original run of films (albeit including a five year gap in the mid 1960s). Kenneth has a unique place in the Carry Ons as his roles changed over the years. His early black and white films saw him take centre stage as the bumbling, awkward romantic lead. Returning in the late 1960s, he took on more interesting character parts, still with hints of awkwardness but also a growing sense of middle-aged frustration.
My favourite of all his appearances, and Number ten in my list here is that of Hengist Pod in the classic Carry On Cleo. This was Kenneth's last role of his original stint before leaving the series to go off and do other things. He had appeared in eight out of the ten films made by this point so was a pretty permanent fixture. As I've said, his early roles in Sergeant, Nurse and Teacher saw him as the star however by the mid 1960s that wonderful, combustible double act of Sid James and Kenneth Williams had started to take top billing. However I still think Hengist is Kenneth's finest contribution.
Hengist Pod is a weary, naive, put upon British husband, forever henpecked by his nagging wife Senna (the glorious Sheila Hancock). Hengist is the inventor of the square wheel. Need I say more! His life changes forever when he, together with Jim Dale's Horsa, are captured by the Romans. Connor and Dale make a superb comedy partnership in this film and it's a shame it was the only time they really worked together, Connor being absent from all of the following films in which Jim starred. They are really chalk and cheese in Cleo, with Jim the adventurous have a go hero and Kenneth the cowardly, timid one. Thanks to a comedic misunderstanding, Hengist becomes Caesar's bodyguard and is therefore all that stands in the way of Mark Antony's attempt to dispose of Julius and make off with Amanda Barrie's dippy Cleopatra.
In a film so jam packed with classic, quotable performances, Kenneth really does stand out. His Hengist is a mix of the characters he had become known for playing - there are echoes of Horace Strong and Charlie Constable - but there is also a slight shift towards the middle-aged henpecked husbands of the 1970s in his marital goings on back at the cave with Senna. In the end Hengist wins the day and returns home to Britain a new man, thanks to a nip or two of Cleo's love potion!
It's a rip-roaring performance in this most British of British comedies and Kenneth is right at the centre of the action. It is easy to be captivated by the likes of Sid, Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey when they are firing on all cylinders, but for me, Kenneth is right up there too. And when you think he wasn't even the first choice to play the part (it was originally offered to Bernard Cribbins), it's really hard to envisage anyone else in the role. All credit to Kenneth for that.
So do you agree that Kenneth Connors turn as Hengist Pod deserves to be in the top ten of the most iconic Carry On performances ever?