Monday, 6 June 2016
98 years ago today a rather unassuming comedy legend was born. On 6 June 1918 the wonderful Kenneth Connor was born in Islington, North London.
I say unassuming because of all the Carry On team, Connor was probably the one of the few who led a fairly normal, down to earth family life. He was first and foremost a character actor and his valuable contribution to British comedy in the post-war era right up to the early 1990s cannot be underestimated. So much is made of the bonkers Carry On team and all their outrageous antics, but for me the quiet backbone of the likes of Peter Butterworth, Bernard Bresslaw and Connor himself really made the films what they were.
Kenneth starred in seventeen pictures in the Carry On team, making him one of the most prolific and longest serving stars of the series. Along with Kenneth Williams and Eric Barker, he was the only actor to appear in the very first and very last film in the series. He was the real star of the early black and white Norman Hudis era, grabbing the best, most memorable parts in the likes of Sergeant, Nurse, Teacher and Constable. His characterisations usually involved bumbling, shy romantic situations although he normally won through to get the girl at the end, whether that be Dora Bryan, Rosalind Knight or Joan Sims. I love Kenneth's roles in these early films - there is such quality to his work in them.
After filming his iconic role as Hengist Pod in Cleo in 1964, Kenneth took a five year break from the series to concentrate on other work, most notably on the stage. He returned to Pinewood in 1969 to play Claude Chumley in Up The Jungle and stayed with the series for a further nine years until the demise of the brand with the woeful Emmannuelle in 1978. By the early 1970s Kenneth's roles in the films had changed. He was now playing a delicious array of middle-aged, slightly crumbling but still bumbling character supports. His wonderful turns as British rail little man Mr Tidey in Matron, Stanley Blunt, frustrated husband to June Whitfield in Abroad and perhaps best of all, Frederick Bumble, mayor of Fircombe in Carry On Girls in 1973. Kenneth's versatility was phenomenal.
Away from the Carry Ons Kenneth Connor had a vibrant career. He played memorable supporting roles in situation comedies such as 'Allo 'Allo and Hi-de-Hi in the 1980s and starred in countless radio productions alongside the likes of Ted Ray and Arthur Lowe. In the early 1960s he was at his busiest in British film, becoming the leading man in a host of comedies, many of which are now classics - think of Watch Your Stern, Dentist On The Job and What A Carve Up!
Kenneth's career took in work with The Goons, Alec Guinness at The Old Vic and sell out performances of the classic musical comedy A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. He was an incredibly versatile, very hard working actor and he enhanced every production in which he appeared. I will always love him best in the Carry Ons though. He never put a foot wrong and the series would have been very much the worse off without his involvement.
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