Monday 13 March 2017

Hattie Carries On ... As Matron (again!)


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 twelfth role in the series, as Matron once again in the 1971 film Carry On Matron.


This film would sadly be the last time Hattie would play the character that made her so famous. While it may have pigeonholed her in a certain kind of role, she is so fondly regarded in these films it is hard to resist. Hattie was a wonderful actress capable of a huge range however it is this role that remains her legacy. Carry On Matron saw Jacques play yet another version of the famous hospital character, which had appeared in six previous Carry Ons to some degree. Without a doubt this permutation was the softest incarnation yet and I like to think Carry On Matron is a tribute to Hattie's wonderful Carry On contribution. She is undoubtedly the star of the film and features prominently throughout. Indeed, although she would make a further two appearances in the series, this is probably her last major role.

The basic premise of Carry On Matron is an update of previous medical entries (Matron!) The saucy Seventies allowed even more near the knuckle humour and Talbot Rothwell takes full advantage with a script that is part hospital knock about farce and part crime caper. Sid James and his gang of Bernard Bresslaw, Bill Maynard and Kenneth Cope plan a Too Many Crooks like heist on Finisham Maternity Hospital to steal a load of morning after pills. To do this, Sid's screen son Cope goes under cover in drag as a student nurse, attracting the dodgy attentions of Terry Scott's amorous Dr Prodd in the process. Scott is at his most lascivious here in his final Carry On role and he plays the part extremely well. 


Away from the crime caper element, the rest of the film sees three Carry On stalwarts camp about the hospital with innuendo-encrusted delight. Joining Jacques is an on form and over the top Kenneth Williams as Sir Bernard Cutting and Charles Hawtrey in his penultimate role as Dr F.A Goode (!). Although Charles is criminally underused in the film, he does have some priceless moments with Williams during the "newts" sequence and again with Hattie with all the comic misunderstandings as they sit down to watch television together in her room. The appearance of Hawtrey, however brief, could lift any script and this would be proved again and again once he had left the series in 1972.

My favourite scene in the entire film sees Kenneth Williams attempt to woo Hattie's Matron whilst Hawtrey hides in the wardrobe. It's pure farce but it is effortlessly played by these three experienced performers who lift it up to a different level. Once again this sequence proves Peter Rogers wrong. It's not "Carry On" that's the star, it's the actors who worked tirelessly to make these films something they otherwise would never have been.  The gags come thick and fast, they were corny and old, even in 1971, but delivered by these experts they are a thing of beauty. 


Jacques plays a kindlier version of her famous Matron persona, working well with Barbara Windsor's Nurse Ball and Jacki Piper's Sister as well as Kenneth Cope as Cyrile (it's a real name) Carter. She is constantly suspicious of Dr Prodd (with good reason) and a reassuringly calm presence as Kenneth Williams endlessly goes over the top as the manic Sir Bernard. In a rather satisfying denouement, Jacques and Williams are finally married off at the end of the film, bringing to a conclusion a storyline that had been on and off since Carry On Doctor nearly five years before. The end scene which sees Matron and Sir Bernard walk down the aisle is a sweet ending and a fitting farewell to one of the Carry On films' most cherished characters. 


The film may be little more than a rehash of previous medical efforts, but the team are out in full force and as the times were a-changing, Carry On Matron provides us fans with many moments to savour. Hattie would only return to Pinewood for a brief role in the next film, Carry On Abroad before her final Carry On performance in 1974's lacklustre Dick (as it were). More on these roles to come soon. 

Carry On Matron gave Hattie Jacques one of her finest roles in the Carry On series. Sure, it’s acting by numbers for the multi-talented Jacques, but it gives the audience what they want and ever the professional, she delivers the goods. Sadly, things would never be quite the same again. Next up in my run through of Hattie’s Carry On contributions is her role as Floella in the brilliant Carry On Abroad.

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