Saturday, 18 June 2016
Life after the Carry Ons: Peter Butterworth
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 Peter Butterworth.
Peter has long been one of my comedy heroes and always a high point in the Carry Ons as far as I am concerned. He appeared in sixteen of the films, beginning with Cowboy in 1965 and only ending his association with the franchise when the series itself ended its original run after Emmannuelle bombed in 1978. Peter was a valued member of the supporting cast and made the most of sometimes lowly billed roles or parts with limited screen time or dialogue. He formed memorable screen partnerships with the likes of Sid James and Kenneth Williams and shared touching scenes (showing his great acting talent) with Joan Sims in Carry On Behind.
Sadly Peter was not to live long after partying company with the Carry Ons in 1978. However some of his later screen roles are worth mentioning. Following a hiatus from the Carry Ons following the unpopular England in 1976, Peter featured in small supporting roles in two films directed by Richard Lester. The first was the farce The Ritz, based on a successful Broadway play. The film co-starred Rita Moreno and Jerry Stiller. Also in 1976, Peter appeared as the Surgeon in the film Robin in Marian. He was in starry company, working alongside the likes of Sean Connery, Audrey Hepburn and Robert Shaw.
The following year, 1977, saw Peter launched into more television work. First of all he appeared as a guest in a episode of A Bunch of Fives, a drama series for young people focusing on a group of kids who start a school magazine. It featured future stars Jamie Foreman and Lesley Manville. Later the same year Peter landed a regular role in the short-lived Thames Television sitcom Odd Man Out. Peter played Wilf opposite sitcom favourites John Inman and Josephine Tewson. The show told the story of a man who leaves the safety of his Blackpool fish and chip shop to take over his father's rock factory in Littlehampton! Despite Peter's regular catchphrase "How's your rock, cock?" (!) the series was not a success and didn't make it past the first seven episodes.
In 1978 Peter made a cameo appearance and had a good old wallow in the lowest of low brow comedy - the film What's Up Nurse? A Confessions style comedy, Peter played a Police Sergeant. The film starred a smattering of renowned comedy actors including the likes of John Le Mesurier, Andrew Sachs, Graham Stark and Cardew Robinson. Later that year Peter reunited with former Carry On colleague Jim Dale in the television film The Dancing Princesses. The same year saw the final Carry On film until Columbus in 1992. Peter played Richmond in Emmannuelle and worked for the last time with long-time colleagues Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Connor, Joan Sims and Jack Douglas.
Peter Butterworth continued to work on stage in the late 1970s, a well-regarded and much loved pantomime dame. He would give his last acting performance as dame in panto at Coventry in 1979. Returning to his hotel after a performance he collapsed and died from a heart attack on 16 January 1979. He was only 59 years old. Peter did have two posthumous roles. First of all that of Putnam opposite Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland in the film The Great Train Robbery and finally in the role of My Bywaters in the television play Afternoon Off. Afternoon Off was written by Alan Bennett and directed by Stephen Frears. As final acting assignments go, it sounds a pretty impressive one.
Peter, as with so many of his Carry On colleagues, was taken far too soon. As a reliable, highly talented comedy character actor, we know he would have rarely been out of work following the demise of the Carry On series. It's such a shame he was not given longer to show this. As with many of his contemporaries we must remain grateful for all his wonderful performances we can still enjoy to this day.