Thursday, 1 June 2017

Barbara Carries On ... As Babs!


Barbara Windsor will be celebrating her 80th birthday this August. In the run up to this milestone, I've decided to blog profiles of each of her nine famous Carry On roles. Much the same as I did with both Joan Sims and Hattie Jacques, these blogs will take each part in turn and provide my own personal take on them. 

Barbara, or Dame Babs as it is now, is a showbiz legend in the UK, with a career dating back to the 1950s. As the recent Babs drama on BBC1 revealed, things haven't always been easy for Windsor, but her hard work and determination have seen her bounce back time and time again. No matter what else she has done in her career, the Carry Ons will always dominate and from our point of view, as Carry On fans, rightly so! So let's continue today with Barbara's third role in the series, as Babs in the 1968 film Carry On Camping


Carry On Camping really needs no introduction. Everyone knows it, everyone has seen it. Even those poor souls who don't enjoy the Carry Ons as much as we do have seen Carry On Camping. It's quite simply part of modern British culture and our way of life. It sums up a certain kind of life in Britain that both once was and to a certain extent still exists. Rubbish holidays, failed dreams and the realities of everyday life but of course, we see the funny side of everything. The film has no real plot, it's just a bunch of classic British eccentrics coming together to share in the dubious delights of a camping holiday in the glorious British summer time. Of course being a Carry On, British summer time is actually November in the Pinewood Orchard. As with Up The Khyber made earlier the same year, Camping topped the box office for 1969 and remains one of the biggest money spinners in the entire series.

It's not hard to see why. The film features countless classic sequences and performances that have gone into legend from a prime cast of favourites. Everyone is playing their classic Carry On persona to the hilt, from Sid James as the lusty Cockney on the make, Bernard Bresslaw as his dim-witted accomplice, Hattie Jacques as the ample Matron, Charles Hawtrey the slightly peculiar loner and Kenneth Williams the upper class, pompous know it all. When most people think of Carry On they think of Camping and for many reasons, rightly so.


The first half of the film sees all the main character groups make their way to Peter Butterworth's Paradise Camp. They include Sid's gang (Bresslaw, Joan Sims and Dilys Laye) who wrongly believe Paradise is a nudist camp; Kenneth's charges from the Chayste Place finishing school (more of this later) and the Potters (Terry Scott and Betty Marsden) a dreadfully middle-class pair, Scott on fine form as a bored husband with a wife who never listens to a word he says. Add in wonderful cameos from the likes of Brian Oulton as an imperious shop owner, Valerie Leon as his glamorous assistant ("we don't sell toothpaste sir"), Amelia Bayntun as Joan's irritating mother and Derek Francis as a suspicious farmer and you have ninety minutes of innuendo-laden British film joy. It's a massive warm hug of a film.

Barbara Windsor takes certain stage in more ways than one in Camping. Following her return to the series with Carry On Doctor the previous year, Barbara secured her most iconic role in the series as Babs, the saucy Chayste Place girl on the make and on the take! Together with co-conspirator Fanny (Sandra Caron), the two girls run rings round Dr Soaper and Matron, not to mention Sid and Bernie. Full of memorably saucy one liners, Babs fights with the other school girls, embarrasses her teachers with suggestive questions and flirts outrageously with much older men.
Of course the classic sequence involves the girls doing their early morning exercises with Kenneth's Dr Soaper. It has gone down in film history and is probably the most repeated scene from any of the Carry Ons. Barbara's bra-bursting antics proved incredibly successful and proved a seminal moment for many a young cinema-goer! It was first hint of the future of the series and there was increasing amounts of mostly female flesh in many of the later series entries. Barbara has never lived this scene down and it came to define her Carry On career and influence how she has been perceived since. She has often told the story of what a low-tech solution was used to hoik that bikini top off (a fishing line with a hook and a Pinewood backroom lad). Allegedly it took several attempts to get it right and the first two involved Babs hitting the mud. Suffering for her art again...


I think it's a wonderfully funny scene, mainly due to the dialogue and the reactions of both Kenneth and Hattie. However it started a trend towards saucier behaviour which eventually led to the tendency for a more Confessions like approach to the comedy. However it did its job at the time and became a must see for millions. Towards the end of the film, everything is wrapped up in a very satisfying way. Alright Sid and Bernie didn't make it with their clandestine party with Babs and Fanny, but Joan Sims and Dilys Laye proved themselves rather interested after all. Last shot of Barbara is being carried off on the back of a low loader with the rest of the Chayste Place girls, a bunch of local hippies and Charles Hawtrey! 

So there you have it. Not much in the way of character development. Not much in the way of a storyline. Not much in the way of production values. Yet Carry On Camping is still seen as a classic of the genre, filled to the brim with memorable moments and beautiful comedy performances from some of our greatest comedy actors. That film will forever be linked to the bubbly blonde from Shoreditch and why not? Next up will be Barbara's fourth Carry On, as Maude Boggins/Goldie Locks in Carry On Again Doctor. But for now, I'll leave you with that wonderful bra-popping scene from Paradise Camp. Matron, take them away!


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