Friday, 14 October 2016
Hattie Carries On ... As Matron in Carry On Doctor
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 seventh role in the series, as Matron, in the 1967 film Carry On Doctor.
This was a momentous film for the series. Carry On Doctor saw one of the biggest cast of Carry On favourites ever to feature in the same film. It also saw the first guest starring turn from the master, Frankie Howerd. Doctor was one of the first films in the series to reference past successes too - the use of the daffodil in the scene between Valerie Van Ost and Frankie is a direct reference to the 1959 smash hit, Carry On Nurse. The presence of the portrait of James Robertson Justice in the hospital lobby is also a direct nod to Betty Box's hugely successful series of Doctor comedies. And Carry On Doctor also saw the return to the series of three main players.
After a three year absence, Barbara Windsor was back with the gang following her debut in the 1964 film Carry On Spying. Doctor would see Barbara begin a film a year tradition with the team right up until 1974. Sid James was also back, although in a reduced role following a serious heart attack some months before. His character spends the vast majority of the film in bed. And most importantly of all for this particular blog, Carry On Doctor saw the return of Hattie Jacques after four years away from the series pursuing other projects. Looking back at it now, it's hard to imagine the film without her, however Jacques was obviously far from the minds of the production team as the role of Matron was originally offered to her close friend and co-star Joan Sims. Joan however knew Hattie must play the legendary role so passed over the part and instead took on the supporting role of Chloe Gibson, the hilariously hard of hearing companion to Frankie's Francis Bigger.
Carry On Doctor is very much a homage to Carry On Nurse. It's broader, cheekier and very much a 1960s version but it remains true to the series' heritage. It's Talbot Rothwell paying tribute to Norman Hudis' landmark script. As with Nurse there is a large communal ward of male patients, lots of lovely nurses and a fearsome Matron. The film follows the story of the charming if accident prone Dr Kilmore who is popular with the patients, less so with the hospital management. Following an accidental yet incriminating situation with Nurse Sandra May (Windsor), Kenneth Williams' Dr Tinkle and Hattie's Matron join forces to see off Kilmore. The patients, upset over this matter, get together to restore the natural order to the hospital.
It's a basic premise for a film but it plays out beautifully and you really root for the patients as they get their own back on Tinkle and Matron. Hattie plays Matron superbly and moves the character on from it's last major outing nearly ten years before. She is still the strict, severe character most patients fear but she is also allowed to show more of Matron's human side in her longing for Kenneth's Tinkle (as it were). The seduction scenes featuring a glamorous Hattie in her negligee, hair down, bottle of champagne to hand, are glorious and it begins an on off romance strand for Kenneth and Hattie which runs through several films, culminating in similar characters getting married at the end of Carry On Matron.
Hattie also has to endure a rather vigorous blanket bath at the hands of the female patients as part of her punishment for helping to get rid of Dr Kilmore. Dilys Laye is on barnstorming form as chief agitator Mavis Winkle and really seems to get into the part! It's great fun to watch and Hattie was an excellent sport - "Miss Bedpan 1968!" The role of Matron in Carry On Doctor is iconic and I can't overestimate that point. Hattie's career had already become dominated by her comedy persona, both in the Carry Ons and as part of Eric Sykes' television repertory company. That was already clear. However Carry On Doctor confirmed Jacques in the role of Matron as far as the general public were concerned and also within the industry. While we love the role, the film and Hattie's performance, by 1967 she had been well and truly typecast.
Carry On Doctor would see Hattie's permanent return as part of the Carry On team until her swansong in 1974's Carry On Dick. Stay tuned for the next in this series of blogs as I tackle another of Hattie's iconic Carry On roles, another Matron, this time in Carry On Camping!
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