Friday, 19 August 2016
Hattie Carries On ... As Captain Clark
Having covered every one of Joan Sims' 24 Carry On roles it now only seems fair that I turn the spotlight onto another great and loyal member of the team. Sticking with the wonderful women, I've decided to focus on all 14 of Hattie Jacques' Carry On appearances. Hattie's contribution to Carry On comedy was immense. Although appearing in far fewer films that Joan, Hattie created some iconic roles, none more so that the infamous Matron, a character which came to dominate her later career.
However there was far more to Jacques than that. She played Matron in all four of the medical films but there were ten other roles to enjoy too, from a budgie obsessed housewife to an angry, aggressive Spanish cook! So sit back and enjoy a run of blogs which looks at Hattie's Carry On contribution from the very first film in 1958 right through to her last supporting role in Carry On Dick 16 years later. So where better to kick off that right back at the beginning with Carry On Sergeant in 1958.
Although by far my favourite Carry On, we must always pay a debt of gratitude to Sergeant for being the first in the glorious series and being enough of a success at the box office for more films to follow. The style and content of Sergeant is far removed from many of the later films however it is a charming curio of a Britain that existed many years ago. It depicted a country still recovering from the ravages of war and the subject matter, National Service, was very much of the time. The genius of Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas was to cast a troupe of jobbing actors, not stars. Although the majority of these actors had been working steadily for many years, the cinema-going public were not familiar with their names and as many of them were best known for their radio work, their faces were unfamiliar too.
The main stars of Carry On Sergeant were future Doctor Who William Hartnell, the glamous young starlet Shirley Eaton, lovable character actress Dora Bryan and comedian turned game show host Bob Monkhouse. Of these actors only Eaton would make more Carry Ons and she only appeared in two more in the run (Nurse and Constable). Those who did become long-lasting team favourites hovered further down the cast list - Kenneth Connor, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey and Hattie Jacques. Of the four, Connor grabs most of the action as the beautifully played Horace Strong. Williams and Hawtrey are both on fine form playing more subdued and less over the top versions of the characters that would take centre stage in countless Carry Ons over the next twenty years or so.
Hattie grabs the smallest supporting role out of those familiar names, although it was an eye catching and effective part which played a big role in the film's denouement. As Captain Clark, Jacques plays the first of several medical-themed roles it the series, as the medical officer at the National Service barracks. Hattie's scenes are mainly restricted to her consulting room and she only ever really plays off Connor's Horace Strong. The pair work wonderfully together as Captain Clark slowly loses patience with Kenneth's hypochondriac. Their delightful vignettes pepper the film and gradually build to a climax when Hattie frogmarches Kenneth to see a long line of specialists to prove there is absolutely nothing wrong with him!
Clark cottons on to the romantic tension between Horace and Dora Bryan's canteen girl Norah and sets them up beautifully. With Connor cured of his hypochondria and shyness, he goes on to play a vital role in securing success for the platoon at the falling out parade. It's brilliant stuff which makes the viewer get behind the misfits. It brings a lump to the throat and always makes me feel strangely patriotic. Sergeant clearly demonstrates writer Norman Hudis' wonderful gift for writing every day scenarios and situations which would appeal to the audience while just the right amount of pathos would tug at the heart strings.
Hattie is superb as Clark. She plays the authority figure as tough, no-nonsense and vaguely fearsome always with humanity. Jacques was a genius when it came to portraying the ultimate professional, knowing when to inject a brief glimmer of fun and honesty with the merest twinkle or suggestive glance. Watching Sergeant back, it instantly becomes clear why the likes of Williams, Hawtrey and Connor were called back for more innuendo-encrusted fun at Pinewood. And going on her performance as Captain Clark, it is no surprise at all that Hattie was asked back for more substantial roles in future Carry Ons.
Watch out for my take on Hattie's career-defining role as Matron in Carry On Nurse, coming up next week!