Sunday, 13 November 2016
The Pinewood Rep Company - Joan Hickson
One of the joys for me of the Carry Ons and all the comedy films turned out during their long reign was the continuity provided by the reliable Pinewood Rep Company. Oh this was never a formal company of actors, if faces reappeared it was because Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas could trust them to turn up on time, say the words in the right order (and only once) and accept the low pay terms in return for regular work and friendly circumstances.
While the same faces appeared again and again in the Carry Ons, many often also crossed over and worked for Peter's wife Betty and Gerald's brother Ralph on their productions. A quick bit of research shows that during the 1950s and 60s in particular, many actors went back and forth between the two successful stables with somewhat alarming regularity! So let's take a look at one of my own personal favourites: Joan Hickson.
I've often remarked just how much I admire the late, great Joan Hickson. She came into her own as Agatha Christie's Miss Marple in those twelve definitive BBC dramatisations in the 1980s and early 1990s. Yet before that late rise to stardom, Hickson worked tirelessly for decades on television, film and in the theatre and built up an impressive backlog of appearances. We all know that Joan popped up in five Carry Ons - her most significant role being her first, as Sister in 1959's Carry On Nurse. She quickly returned for memorable cameos in Constable at the end of 1959 and Regardless in 1960. After a decade of being busy elsewhere, she came back to Pinewood to play Jenny Grubb's overbearing mother in one of my favourite scenes in the 1970 film Carry On Loving. Three years later she turned up in Girls playing the absent minded Mrs Dukes, hired by Peter Rogers at extremely short notice after Renee Houston had to withdraw due to ill health.
However Joan Hickson also cropped up in numerous other titles produced by both Peter Rogers and his wife Betty Box. In total, she made thirteen films for the couple. Her association with the duo actually lasted nearly twenty years, with her first appearance dating back to the 1954 film Doctor In The House. This was the first in the hugely successful Doctor series and saw Joan play Mrs Groaker, mother to the young Milly, played by rising starlet Shirley Eaton. A year later Joan was back at Pinewood again for the sequel, Doctor At Sea. In this film, another cameo role for Joan, she again played a rather overbearing mother, Mrs Thomas. Her offspring this time was played by none other than Joan Sims. Dirk Bogarde's Simon Sparrow was lodging with the Thomas family and escaped to sea in order to avoid the daughters' advances!
The same year she made Nurse, Joan also played a small role in a colour adaptation of The 39 Steps, made at Pinewood by Ralph and Betty. In this Kenneth More epic she played Miss Dobson. That year was a busy one in the association between Hickson and the Rogers/Box Rep Company. Two more film appearances quickly followed. First of all, as Rosemary in the Betty Box Michael Craig vehicle Upstairs and Downstairs and then later that year she played a rather posh, snobbish saleswoman opposite Ted Ray and Dilys Laye in the undervalued comedy Please Turn Over.
In 1960 Joan once again returned to the Doctor series, for the third time - this time Doctor In Love. Although an uncredited role, Hickson does share several scenes with leading man Michael Craig near the beginning of the film, playing his nurse. The following year Joan had a small part in the Bruce Montgomery music school comedy Raising The Wind. Joan worked for the Pinewood Rep company once again in 1963 when she played the nosy char lady Mrs Wood in the delightfully light district nurse comedy film Nurse On Wheels, starring Juliet Mills, Joan Sims and Esma Cannon.
Joan Hickson was without a doubt a highly prolific character actress in British film at this time, equally adept at light comedy as she was at high drama. Looking back at her performances in these films, however brief, you can see the star quality shining through. She was always a highlight in these films and a sign of quality. No wonder Peter Rogers and Betty Box called on her services so often over the years.
I'll be back soon with another blog in these series looking back at another prolific member of the Pinewood Rep Company.