Friday, 18 November 2016
The Comic Mastery of Connor
Kenneth Connor is a pretty unique actor in the Carry On team. He's also one of those actors I think we take for granted, because of the number of films he made with the gang and his long career. And also because his private life was just that, private. He did not seek out fame and fortune during his acting career so those that did perhaps stole the limelight.
Of course I'm not just a fan of Kenneth because he makes me laugh, which he always does. I think that he achieved a remarkable transformation during his twenty year Carry On career, unlike any of the other male actors who appeared regularly with the team. While Sid James was the comedy King, a stable pair of hands who played the authority figure with a cheeky eye for the ladies and Kenneth Williams played the increasingly camp, outrageous intellectual type, Kenneth Connor transformed from bumbling romantic lead to crumbling character player.
The strength of Kenneth's acting talent meant that this happened almost seamlessly. It should true progression over the years and tested his range as an actor. Connor emerged as the main star of the early Carry Ons, mainly based on the eye catching supporting role as the wimpish Horace Strong in Carry On Sergeant, chased by Dora Bryan's Norah and frightened of just about everything! This role promoted him to the top of the pile for the films that followed, with major screen time in both Nurse and Teacher. He continued to shine in the likes of Constable and Regardless, despite the arrival of one Mr Sidney James. However following his memorable turn as Hengist Pod, inventor of the square wheel in 1964's classic Carry On Cleo, Connor opted out of several further 1960s Carry On capers to concentrate on his stage career.
This break from all things Carry On meant that when he did rejoin his colleagues at Pinewood for Up The Jungle in 1969, the films had moved on and were much less innocent and more more fruity! While Connor's role in Jungle as Frankie Howerd's assistant Claude Chumley is basically an older version of the characters he played in the late 1950s, the roles that came after his return to the ranks displayed a much more varied talent. Connor stayed with the Carry Ons until the very last of the original run in 1978 but his roles became increasingly diverse as the years progressed.
He played a fiendish plotter in Carry On Henry, intent on bringing down the KIng; a frustrated little man with an endlessly pregnant wife in Matron; a sexually frustrated, put upon middle-aged husband with the wife from hell in Carry On Abroad and a petty, small-minded civic dignitary in Carry On Girls. As the years progressed, Kenneth's roles became more surprising and more skillful. After his early years as the star, his later roles certainly had much less screen time but what he achieved with that time was masterful. The crumbling old constable in Carry On Dick is a case in point. I loved his frustrated, randy old Major Leap in 1975's Carry On Behind too. In 1976 he grabbed a rare late top billing role and was just about the only watchable actor in the otherwise dreadful Carry On England.
Unlike many of the other actors, with the exception of the legendary, endlessly talented Joan Sims, he was never pigeon holed as a particular character. I think it is time to reappraise the wonderful Kenneth Connor and enjoy his beautifully played Carry On characters once more.
So what's your favourite Connor performance in a Carry On? Drop me a line and let me know!