Friday 24 April 2015

My Top Ten Carry On Films: Number 1!

I've been attempting to figure out what my absolute favourite Carry On films of all time are and I've been publishing the results on this blog. It has been a hard task. Some choices have been relatively easy to make, others less so. It has been a struggle leaving some excellent films out! I think my top ten so far has shown a broad cross section of the films, spanning two decades and a whole lot of changes, both within the films themselves and in wider British culture.

Well here it is, the final post and time to reveal my favourite Carry On film of all time. There has been some stiff competition Matron! For me though, there has only ever been one main contender. Coming out on top is Carry On Cabby!

Cabby was one of the first Carry Ons I ever saw and certainly the first black and white entry I watched. As a child I loved the old cars, the slapstick and the big gangster car chase finale. In many ways it isn't really a typical Carry On film at all. It wasn't even planned as an official part of the series. Originally titled Call Me A Cab (which you can pick up on if you hum the theme music), it was meant just as another of the plethora of comedy films released from the Rogers and Thomas stable in the late 1950s and early 1960s. However the powers that be obviously realised they had something special and quickly released it as a fully fledged Carry On.

It is in many ways a "Kitchen Sink" Carry On, reflecting the trend for more honest depictions of the working classes and what life was really like in Britain. It was shot in black and white to give it grit and lead actors Sid James and Hattie Jacques portrayed a marriage on the rocks. It was believable, heartbreaking at times but always with lovely comedic moments running through the script.

And what a script. Cabby was the first film written for the series by the legendary writer Talbot Rothwell. It shows a definite shift away from the cosy 1950s Norman Hudis scripts. Although miles away from the innuendo-laden films that would follow later in the decade, it has a different pace, the performances are more subtle (sometimes) and everything feels more realistic. 

At the heart of Carry On Cabby is the marriage of Charlie and Peggy Hawkins, beautifully brought to life by Sid James and Hattie Jacques. James and Jacques were meant to work together as husband and wife on screen. It was just so right, believable and fabulously entertaining. Peggy is basically frustrated with her lot in life, realising she has much more to offer. Although there is a lot of love in their marriage, she feels neglected by Charlie who is a complete workaholic, not believing Peggy can amount to much other than having the dinner on the table for whenever he can find the time to eat it. So Peggy calls his bluff and sets out to prove otherwise. What follows is a glorious shift in the power game as Peggy sets up a rival cab company, Glam Cabs. Enlisting the help of Flo (Esma Cannon), she employs beautiful young lady drivers and sexy modern cabs to fight the blokes for every fare going. It is joyous, rip roaring stuff.

Sid James is on terrific form as Charlie. He is playing a softer version of his Hancock character. He's still hard drinking, hard working and macho but there are frailties there too. He can't cope without his wife by his side and it's both refreshing and painful to watch. Sid's best mate in the film is played by that reliable stalwart of the series, Kenneth Connor. While backing his friend to the hilt throughout, Connor also has relationship worries with the glamorous canteen manager Sally played by the lovely LIz Fraser. Fraser works really well with Jacques and Cannon as they close ranks on the men.

Charles Hawtrey has a wonderful role as Pint Pot, the hapless, accident prone new recruit who is forever breaking things, creating embarrassing situations with passengers and careering about on his scooter. Hawtrey excels in this part and together with James features in a lovely running gag with an expectant father (the first Carry On for Jim Dale) who's wife doesn't know whether she is coming or going! 

The film, without a doubt, belongs to Hattie Jacques. It is widely known as her favourite role in the series and you can see why. For once she is not the harridan. She is not the stern Matron. She is portraying a smart, sexy, sensitive, intelligent, multi-layered character. Most of all it gives Hattie something proper to act. For most of her long, successful career Jacques was pigeon-holed as the Matron or the funny fat lady. It must have been endlessly frustrating for someone so talented and with so much more to give. While Cabby might just be another Carry On film in the series for some, it at least allowed viewers to see a different side to Hattie and different aspects of her terrific acting talent.

There are also some lovely supporting turns. Milo O'Shea appears in his only Carry On as new taxi driver Len. Scottish actress Renee Houston has a cameo as the owner of the Cab Driver's Cafe Sid and the others are often seen in. Norman Chappell pops up throughout as the irritating shop steward. Bill Owen, in his last role in the series plays Smiley in a few opening scenes. Finally, we get an eye catching appearance from the future Cleo herself, the superb Amanda Barrie as Glam Cab driver Anthea. Barrie is wonderful every time she appears, from the initial Glam Cab drivers line up, her first meeting with Sid and Charles in the cafe to her scenes perched on the bonnet of her cab while an old man changes her tyre. Hilarious stuff.

In the end all is well. Jacques and Fraser are kidnapped by nasty Peter Gilmore and his band of crooks and it is up to Sid, Kenneth and Charles to track them down and rescue the damsels in distress. By the end of the film warring couples are reunited and Charlie and Peggy have some unexpected but lovely news too. Yes I know there are some obvious absentees - no Kenneth Williams or Joan Sims. While it might seem odd to have my favourite Carry On be a film without two of my favourite actors, Cabby just works so well that I don't really miss those that don't appear. 

The film leaves you with a warm, satisfied glow. Yes, I know life doesn't work out that way most of the time but the film has shown different layers to these characters. There are moments for belly laughs, moments of anger and tender moments too. While I love the slapstick, Kenneth Connor in drag and Charles Hawtrey camping about on his scooter, it is the honest portrayals by Sid and Hattie that make this film a bit special and different from any of the others in the wonderful Carry On series. It will always be my favourite. 

You can listen to Eric Rogers' wonderful music from Carry On Cabby here. It includes the glorious "Glam Cabs" theme!

And here is the original trailer for the film:

I hope you have enjoyed the countdown of my all time favourite Carry On films. I have loved writing about them all. 

Wagons roll!

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  1. @Graemen - Fabulous write up. Really enjoyed it. I saw this was on at Christmas but missed most of it. This review makes me wish I'd seen it. I got the sense TV were running all the Carry on films. Do you know if they're available on itv-player or still being repeated?

    Carry on films are a great British franchise and never fail to amuse. Good luck with your nomination for the UK Blog Awards. I review comedy too, but mainly stand up comedy.

    1. Hi thanks for your comment! Glad you enjoyed the blog. ITV3 showed several Carry Ons over the Christmas period - they may be on the player, I'm not sure. Channel 5 also showed many of the early black and white ones. I'm not sure if they have a catch up service?

      Thanks for your kind comment about the awards! I shall take a look at your blog!

      Best wishes

  2. If Renee Houston is always described as "scottish actress" are we supposed to assume that all of the others are English?