Friday, 9 September 2016

Hattie Carries On ... As Grace Short

 

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 let's continue our journey today with a look back at Hattie's third role in the series, as Maths Mistress Grace Short in Carry On Teacher.

I absolutely adore Carry On Teacher. It's probably as close to a gentle Ealing comedy that the Carry Ons ever got. The film tells the story of a group of school children who turn mischief makers when inspectors visit the school in the hope it will stop beloved headmaster William Wakefield (Ted Ray) leaving for a new post. Teacher boasts a compact cast of Carry On favourites - Kenneth Connor, Kenneth Williams, Leslie Phillips, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims and of course, Hattie Jacques. There is also the great Ted Ray in a guest starring role which could have led to further parts in the series had Ray not been contracted elsewhere. 

One of the joys of Teacher is the cast of wonderful young actors, led by the cheeky Richard O'Sullivan who would go on to massive success, mainly on television. The skill of Gerald Thomas is clearly seen in this film as he coaxes wonderful performances from so many young actors including O'Sullivan, Carol White and Paul Cole. Thomas had worked on a classic Children's Film Foundation production, Circus Friends with Carol White two years before and obviously knew how to work with child actors. 

 

Teacher continued the trend of the early Carry Ons under the guidance of Norman Hudis which saw broad comedy and slapstick blended effectively with poignant moments or real pathos and tinges of social commentary. This was often missing from later series entries which I think was a shame. Anyway, on to Hattie's role in the film.

Hattie was already known for playing strong, formidable women in the Carry Ons. Both her previous roles had a medical theme but this time around she was the fearsome Maths teacher Grace Short at Maudlin Street School. As always with Hattie, there is a real touch of humanity and a sense of fun behind the fearsome exterior. Hattie's character is all for the traditional forms of punishment in schools and comes up against the more liberal attitudes of Kenneth Williams and Leslie Phillips. It's an interesting premise for a light comedy and that's really down to the great Norman Hudis. It takes a truly great actor like Hattie to get away with that but she does.

There is also a touch of feminist politics in Teacher as the two female school teachers (Joan Sims and Hattie Jacques) try to confirm they are as clever or even more so than the men. They do this by attempting to hunt out the ringleaders from amongst the pupils. While they are not completely successful, it's an interesting diversion in a film that is mainly dominated by male characters and actors. Joan and Hattie were terrific, close friends in real life but rarely appeared together on screen in the Carry Ons. As with Joan and Dilys Laye in later films, the real life closeness of the actresses definitely adds something extra special to these scenes.


My all-time favourite scene sees Grace Short and her pupils run rings around Leslie Phillips' academic in the maths class. Leslie's Alistair Grigg is attempting to play a clever trick on the children but it backfires rather dramatically and it's a super little scene. Hattie plays it relatively straight and low key while Leslie takes centre stage. When Paul Cole catches Leslie out, Hattie's gift for scene stealing looks comes into play as she shows she clearly approves of the children sending up Mr Grigg. It's a lovely moment.

Hattie is also involved in the tear jerking finale which sees Wakefield about to punish the ringleaders who carried out the sabotage on the school play with a few whacks from the dreaded cane. Hattie offers Ray's William Wakefield a few words of advice and it's a real moment of pathos that never fails to bring a tear to my eye. It once again demonstrates what a fine actor she was.

In the end all is well. As always with Carry On finales, warring couples are reunited and everyone gets a happy ending. There is a real surge of happiness at the end of Carry On Teacher that leaves the audience grinning from ear to ear. It's nothing like the bawdy, bra-bursting comedies which would follow in the years to come but I still think Carry On Teacher has a special place in the Carry On cannon. Perfect viewing for a rainy Sunday afternoon and Hattie' role as the firm but fair Grace Short is one of the main reasons for Teacher's success.   

 

Watch out for the next entry in this series looking back at Hattie's roles in the Carry Ons. Next up is Hattie's role as Laura Moon in Carry On Constable. 

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