Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Carry On Faces in Different Places: For Better For Worse

 

Here we go with a brand new series of blogs looking at some of the cream of British comedy film making from the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Although this blog is all about the Carry Ons, believe it or not, there were some other joyous comedy films made away from Peter Rogers Productions. However, given the quality of the actors Peter employed to make his series, it's no wonder that most of them popped up elsewhere.

We're starting off today with a classic gentle comedy from 1954, For Better For Worse, written and directed by J Lee Thompson.

Who's in it?

The film stars Dirk Bogarde, Susan Stephen, Thora Hird, Dennis Price, Cecil Parker, Athene Seyler and Eileen Herlie.

 

Carry On Faces?

Carry On Nurse actress Susan Stephen heads the cast opposite Bogarde while future Carry On leading man Sidney James pops up for a cameo towards the end of the film as a removal man. Watch out also for Carry On Jack actor George Woodbridge, Peter Jones (England, Doctor) as a car salesman and of course, the great Cecil Parker playing Stephen's father. Cecil also guest starred in Carry On Jack.

What's it about?

For Better For Worse is a gentle, light, frothy comedy of its era - the 1950s. Despite this it retains much of its freshness in the 21st Century. This is mainly due to the deftness of touch from the experienced cast and the fast moving direction. The story revolves around young couple Tony and Anne who plan to marry and set up home together. The film follows their trials and tribulations as they gain the approval of Anne's parents, find work and somewhere to live and make their way in the world. It's all rather twee and old fashioned ("my husband believes a woman's place is in the home") as we follow their money worries, efforts to impress the inlaws and battles with their range of neighbours, which include eye-catching turns from Dennis Price and Athene Seyler. Reliable character actress Thora Hird also pops up in a memorable role as an interfering char lady. It's a glorious showcase for some of Britain's finest light comedy actors and you should definitely check it out.

 

Best bit?

There's a beautifully chaotic scene which sees Susan Stephen's Anne attempt to prepare a dinner party to impress her parents which all hell breaks loose around her. A leak from above, a busy body char lady, James Hayter's annoying plumber and Athene Seyler's constantly interrupting neighbour Miss Mainbrace, who continually wants to use the telephone. It's lovely farce played expertly by a handful of super performers.


Did You Know?

This film version comes from an original play of the same name, by Arthur Watkyn. The play had been a huge hit in the West End, running to over 500 performances and starring future Miss Marple Geraldine McEwan and Carry On favourite Leslie Phillips. Sadly neither actor appeared in the film version.


 


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Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Happy Birthday Jim Dale!


It feels incredible even to be writing this, but Carry On legend and all round entertainer Jim Dale celebrates his 82nd birthday today!

The ever youthful, energetic star is still on top form. Watching him on stage in London back in 2015, it was hard to believe he could even be anywhere near this significant milestone! Jim is a wonderful actor with an impressive and diverse career spanning seven decades and both sides of the Atlantic.

It was a joy to see him live on stage and truly special to relive some of those terrific career highlights, including of course eleven Carry On appearances. I've always had a real soft spot for our very own Dr Nookey and here's hoping he'll be entertaining us all for many more years to come.

 

Happy Birthday Jim!





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Monday, 14 August 2017

Carrying On with ... The Bill


There has been a bit of publicity around the ITV police drama series The Bill recently. The Drama Channel are, from today, showing the entire series from the very beginning again. Following a successful pilot with "Woodentop" in 1983, a full series was commissioned and began broadcasting in weekly hour long episodes from October 1984. The Bill would become and remains one of the most successful home grown, long running drama series, lasting until 2010 even if it had gone through many changes in the intervening years. 

Over 2000 episodes were produced and the actors who appeared became household names. The show also featured many familiar faces before they were famous with the likes of David Tenant, Keira Knightley and Sean Bean making early appearances. However for the purpose of this blog, I'm not interested in those that became Hollywood stars or big names in current television. Given that The Bill ran during the 1980s and 90s, it's almost a certainty that it featured many a familiar Carry On face. So let's take a look back at some of the well-known Carry On actors who turned up in Sun Hill over the years. 


I must start with the most prominent of all The Bill actors to have starred in the Carry Ons. Larry Dann was a series regular as Alec Peters from the very first episode in 1984 through until 1992. Larry appeared in four Carry Ons during his career - an early part as a school boy in Carry On Teacher, followed by roles in Behind, England and most (in)famously Emmannuelle, playing Theodore Valentine. 

Carry On favourite Carol Hawkins has made four separate appearances in The Bill during the 1990s as characters Mrs Giles in 1991, Mrs Sterry in 1995, Mrs Rose in the 1997 episode Downfall and finally a character called Lynn Archer in the 1999 episode Foreign Body. Carol is known to Carry On fans for her starring roles in Abroad and Behind as well as two episodes of the ATV Carry On Laughing series. Linda Regan, who appeared in Carry On Again Christmas for Thames Television and then the 1976 film, Carry On England, played no less than five different characters in The Bill over a decade between 1988, when she played Burnside's girlfriend and a barmaid in 1998.

Another actor to appear on five separate occasions is Don McCorkindale. Don was a recruit in the very first film, Carry on Sergeant in 1958 and then played Tubby, one of Peter Gilmore's gang in Carry On Cabby. In The Bill, Don played Potter in a 1990 episode called Angles, Sergeant Masters in the 1992 episode A Friend in Need and also guest starred in 1996, 1998 and 1999. In the series five episode N.F.A (1989), acclaimed character comedienne Betty Marsden played Mrs Foster-Adams. Betty, best known for being part of the Round The Horne team on radio, played Mata Hari in Carry On Regardless and Terry Scott's wife Harriet Potter in Carry On Camping.


Patricia Franklin, who played roles in Carry On Camping, Loving, Girls, Behind and England, also cropped up in The Bill no less than five times. First appearing as a Neighbour in the 1990 episode Lies, Patricia would go on to appear in two episodes in 1993, play a Cafe Owner in the 1997 episode Confidence and Mrs King in Bad Chemistry the following year. Legendary actor and personality Peter Jones appeared in The Bill as Mr Greg Montieth in the 1998 episode S.A.D. It would be one of his last acting roles. Peter, a longtime panel member with Kenneth Williams on Just A Minute played cameo roles as the Chaplain in Carry On Doctor and the Brigadier in 1976's Carry On England.

Another actor to be invited back to The Bill more than once was Liz Fraser. Liz is well-remembered for starring roles in Carry On Regardless, Cruising and Cabby as well as a cameo role in Carry On Behind. In The Bill she played Mrs Lister in 1989 in the episode Suffocation Job and then five years later was back in Sun Hill for the part of Grace Walsh in Good Days. Fellow veteran Kenneth Cope first appeared in The Bill in 1992 for one episode playing P.C Derton. Over a decade later he was back for a special two part story in 2006 in which he played Jimmy Hastings. Cope is best known for roles in Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Coronation Street and two Carry Ons - At Your Convenience and Matron.


Kenneth's co-star in Carry On At Your Convenience, Jacki Piper, has made two appearances in The Bill. She first played Mrs Leston in the 1991 episode Turning Back The Clock and then six years later turned up again as Mrs Cox in Accomplice. We all remember Jacki for her four Carry Ons. As well as Convenience in which she played Myrtle Plummer, Jacki also played June in Up The Jungle, Sally Martin in Loving and Sister in Matron. And last but not least is one of my favourites, the late great Patsy Rowlands. Patsy guest starred in just the one episode back in 1995 but it's actually one I remember from original broadcast. I was so used to seeing Patsy playing comedy that it was quite a shock to see her in what was actually a really serious, sad story. The story centres around a family of hermit barricaded into their own home with Patsy playing Rachel Armfield and Annette Badland playing Pearl. 

One final Carry On connection before i go. Peter Butterworth's son Tyler Butterworth has appeared in four episodes of The Bill between 1995 and 2004, including a two part episode in 2002 in which he played a character called Kelly. I'm sure his dad would have been very proud.

I loved The Bill when I was younger, although after writing this piece I can't get the bloody theme tune out of my head! While the series was great, the coppers of Sun Hill will never match those new recruits from Carry On Constable in my eyes...


Do check out my interview with the lovely Ben Peyton who played PC Ben Hayward. You can read that here



And while I'm at it, The Misty Moon Film Society will be hosting a special The Bill Reunion event on Saturday 9 September at the Cinema Museum in London. You can find out more about that here.


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Happy Birthday Liz Fraser!



Many happy returns to the wonderful Liz Fraser who is celebrating her birthday today. I know it is not the done thing to give away a lady's age but Liz rather staggeringly turns 87 today. It's hard to believe!

Liz is a real favourite of mine. I love all her Carry On appearances, not to mention so many of her other classic film and television roles. Liz provided great comic support in the likes of I'm All Right Jack, Two Way Stretch and Double Bunk. She is a legend of British cinema and I cannot praise her highly enough. It's always great to hear from her and it's just a shame we no longer see her tackling acting assignments.

Whatever Liz is up to today, I hope she is celebrating in true style! 

Happy Birthday Liz, and many more!


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Sunday, 13 August 2017

Life After the Carry Ons: Barbara Windsor

 

This is part of a new occasional series of blogs in which I will look at the careers of each of the main Carry On team players once they left the series. Some would go on to appear in many other productions over the years while others would sadly not be so fortunate. Today I am looking at the later career of Barbara Windsor.

One of the last survivors of the original main Carry On team, Barbara has endured longer than many of her contemporaries, but it hasn't always been plain sailing. From the late 1970s until the early 1990s, Barbara's career sagged in the doldrums while casting directors failed to see past the image of bubbly, frothy Carry On blonde. While this image may have worked well for her in the 1960s, by the time the actress hit middle age, you could understand why she might want to do other things. Although only appearing in nine feature films with the gang over a ten year period, the persona she created was so strong and memorable that even now she is forever linked to the cheeky giggle, saucy innuendos and bra-popping antics in the Pinewood orchard. 

However Barbara is a survivor and a tough cookie. She has freely admitted in the past that her life (both professional and personal) has been a complete roller coaster and it certainly made for interesting headlines in the tabloids. So what turns did Barbara's career take after she parted company with the Carry Ons?

Amazingly, Barbara made her last original Carry On film over forty years ago. In Carry On Dick, the sauciest and possibly dirtiest of the series to date, she bade farewell. She had risen up the billing by that stage to be, in effect, the Carry Ons' leading lady, Rogers and Thomas clearly seizing upon her undeniable chemistry with Sid James. Although Barbara wouldn't return for another full film with the team (she missed Behind due to a theatre tour, England due to Sid's recent death and Emmannuelle because she thought it was filth - she wasn't wrong) she did front the 1977 compilation That's Carry On, filming for several days in a editing suite at Pinewood with Kenneth Williams. 

Indeed, Barbara's relationship with the Carry On legend ever since has been somewhat chequered. Despite her lack of further appearances in the films, she would be a prolific star of the ATV series Carry On Laughing in 1975. Theatre tours in the late 1970s would capitalise on her Carry On fame with "Carry On Barbara" being the name of several ventures. She returned to film linking footage for a compilation for television in 1983 although has failed to take part in many of the tribute documentaries that have materialised since. In 1992, she turned down a role in Carry On Columbus, only to sail forth in an end of the pier revue at Blackpool with Bernard Bresslaw, which boasted a strong Carry On theme.

 

Away from the Carry Ons, the 1970s and 1980s saw Barbara's fame maintained by her personal life. There were many theatrical tours though and Barbara grafted in endless regional pantomimes over the years. She also worked with Carry On colleague Kenneth Williams on a production of the Joe Orton play Entertaining Mr Sloane in the early 1980s. An unusual but well received departure for Windsor. The 1980s and early 1990s saw some interesting television work. She had a recurring role as Saucy Nancy in the series Worzel Gummidge alongside Jon Pertwee. She popped up in sitcoms such as You Rang M'Lord? and One Foot in the Grave and even sent up her old Carry On persona, co-starring with Jack Douglas and Kenneth Connor in Harry Enfield's Norbert Smith: A Life.

All this was a far cry from the 1960s starlet who took Joan Littlewood's Stratford East by storm. However Barbara's luck would change in 1994 when she was cast as Peggy Mitchell in the BBC 1 flagship soap opera, EastEnders. Barbara spent sixteen years in Albert Square and was one of the show's biggest and best loved actors. She was extremely prominent throughout her mammoth stint, regularly silencing critics with her spirited portrayal, gritty storylines and impressive performances. There is no doubt that EastEnders saved Barbara's career and completey turned around her fortunes.

These days, Barbara is a fully fledged national treasure. She has been given the freedom of the City of London, won countless awards, had portraits of herself unveiled all over the place and even been made a Dame. She epitomises Britishness and we must all respect her grit, determination and lust for life. She's leading a quiet life these days compared to the previous decades although I doubt she'll ever fully retire and I hope she never will. Barbara seems to have found lasting happiness with Scott, her husband of 16 years and good for her. 

 

Barbara's return to EastEnders ended another chapter in her long career and I think for many, due to the nature of her exit, it was very painful to watch. Whatever comes next, it's bound to be unexpected, colourful and very, very Barbara!

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and also on Facebook