Sunday, 21 August 2016
Unexplained Carry On Departures
It's always a shame when a good thing comes to an end. The Carry On films were at their best when the team was complete. Everything was firing on all cylinders - a complete team of regular actors who worked well together and a regular writer in Talbot Rothwell, churning out reliable, funny scripts in the same style year after year.
There was a golden era for the Carry Ons which lasted nearly a decade from the mid 1960s until the mid 1970s. Then things sadly began to slide. Part of that can be put down to the changing cinematic landscape. Comedy was changing, taboos were being explored in more detail and the British film industry was in a state of flux. For many years the Carry Ons bucked a trend but it couldn't be sustained. I put a lot of this decline down to the inevitable break up of the classic Carry On team.
A precious few of the Carry On regulars lasted until the last gasp of the original series in 1978. Only two actors - Kenneths Williams and Connor - were still present and correct twenty years after the very first Carry On was released in 1958. By the late 1970s, the dream team had been greatly reduced to just Williams, Connor, Sims and Butterworth. Jack Douglas was there too but I still struggle to count him as one of the main team. Some of the other actors who departed the series before the end had reasons that were self explanatory. Others less so.
Jim Dale was the first leading actor to leave the series, after Carry On Again Doctor in 1969. Jim is on record saying that he was offered the role of Jungle Boy in the next film, Carry On Up The Jungle but turned it down, unimpressed with the lack of dialogue. I am sure JIm would have been great in the part, the physicality suiting him perfectly but never mind. He went off to forge a highly successful stage career and never looked back (until Columbus that is). The team would make several very successful films without Jim Dale, but sadly they never quite managed to replace him. He was unique in the team.
Next to leave, and more significantly, was stalwart Charles Hawtrey. Having only missed one film since the inception of the series in 1958, Charles' departure due to personal reasons in late 1972 left a gaping hole. Hawtrey was quite simply a one off and a gifted film actor, despite his issues. The films that followed felt his absence keenly. He was one of those actors who could make a massive impact through only a handful of scenes.
Carry On Dick was the major watershed. By 1974 the original team was begin to show signs of wear and tear. The youthful exuberance of earlier films was missing from Dick and it was painfully obvious things were running out of steam. Dick saw the last film for Sid James, Barbara Windsor and Hattie Jacques. Sid's departure is, sadly, easily explained. I was never quite sure why Barbara and Hattie never appeared in a Carry On film again after 1974. Hattie made one final Carry On appearance in Carry On Laughing while Barbara appeared in many Carry On Laughing shows as well as That's Carry On in 1977. Neither starred in an original film though. Perhaps Barbara did not want to appear following Sid's sad death in 1976? I know that Hattie's health was an issue however she continued to appear in the Sykes series for the BBC until 1979 so she was still working.
Losing these stalwarts inevitably hurt the Carry On franchise. A mixture of new faces and returning favourites held things together for the next film, Carry On Behind, but this film also saw departures. Reliable series regular Bernard Bresslaw did not return after Behind, despite a ten year association with the films. I have no idea why Bernard walked away from the Carry Ons at this point. Likewise, although never an official regular, Patsy Rowlands was very much part of the gang. Playing Bernard's wife in Behind, Patsy also left the series at this point. Both were familiar, reliable comedy actors who provided much needed continuity for the audience so it seems such a shame they were allowed to slip away.
So some of these departures remain a mystery. If anyone can shed any light on some of the unexplained departures, do get in touch and enlighten me!