Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Why didn't Imogen Carry On?


Many Carry On fans love Imogen Hassall in her one and only appearance in the series, as Jenny Grubb in Carry On Loving. She played the role that would normally have gone to the likes of Valerie Leon and most people think she does really well in the part. For me, it's always been a mystery why Imogen wasn't asked back for further films with the Carry On team.

Carry On Loving was an attempt by Peter Rogers to introduce some new, young faces to compliment the established team. By 1970, the Carry Ons had been a fixture of British cinema for over a decade and were at the height of their popularity. However perhaps Rogers thought it was time for a bit of a shake up. Jim Dale, who had handled the youthful romantics for ten of the 1960s series entries had departed after Again Doctor in 1969 to spend more time developing his stage career. While Sid, Kenneth and Joan were still immensely popular and going nowhere, changes in British society meant there was more and more the Carry Ons could openly target and talk about, which needed younger actors. 


Jacki Piper, who had made her debut in the previous film, Up The Jungle, returned for Loving now signed up on a two year contract. Piper needed some younger actors to interact with so in came Richard O'Callaghan and Julian Holloway stepped up for more fun with the team. Julian had been a part of the films in small supporting roles since 1967 and had the opportunity to fill Jim Dale's role in Carry On Camping. I'm not sure what went wrong though as the part of Jim Tanner was eventually drastically cut back. Another female actor was required though and the producers signed up 27 year old Imogen Hassall. Imogen was already widely known, mainly for providing glamorous support in cheap and cheerful British films and television productions. Recent roles at the time of Carry On Loving had included parts in The Saint on television and films such as the horror Incense For The Damned, The Virgin and the Gypsy and When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth.

However Imogen was already becoming more recognised for filling up newspaper columns with gossip from her appearances at celebrity parties and film premieres. This would be a battle Imogen would fight for the rest of her career and one she sadly wouldn't win. Despite all this, I think Imogen gives a great performance in Loving and her scenes with Terry Scott are brilliant fun. She fits in well with the rest of the team and catches on quickly to what Carry On comedy is all about. Why then was she not asked back for more films? 

Was she unreliable? We all know that Peter Rogers, a businessman first and foremost, would cut ties with anyone who didn't play the game according to his rules. If someone cost him money or caused bother, he simply wouldn't use them again. By all accounts though, Imogen was the model professional - sweet, quiet and easy to love. It can't really have been that her performance wasn't up to scratch either as I think we all agree her appearance in the film is one of the highlights. Perhaps there just wasn't room for her to return on a more permanent basis? After all, Barbara Windsor provided the glamour for one Carry On a year and Valerie Leon would be back in 1971 for a run of several more films. 


Sometimes popular actors just couldn't Carry On due to other work commitments, so maybe that's why Imogen didn't come back to Pinewood to work for Peter and Gerald again. However, checking out her career history, she actually didn't make that many more screen appearances before her untimely death in November 1980. There were guest spots in three television series - Jason King, The Persuaders and an episode of the Wendy Craig comedy And Mother Makes Three. There was a one off television film, Images in 1972 and two forgettable films, White Cargo in 1973 (co-starring a young David Jason) and finally, six years later, the action comedy Licensed To Love and Kill, starring Gareth Hunt. Looking at that lot, I cannot see why she couldn't have appeared in the likes of Matron, Abroad or Girls. 

Imogen's story is a sad one as we all know. Yes, she was extremely attractive and glamorous and she capitalised on that in all the roles that she played, however she was also a talented young actress who showed much promise and a real flair for comedy. I guess we'll never really know why she wasn't asked back to Carry On again but I think it's a huge shame it didn't happen.


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