Saturday 4 July 2015

Carrying On, On Stage

So far this blog has concentrated very much on the films the Carry On team produced during their mammoth twenty year run. However, the team was, in various forms, busy in other mediums during this period too. As well as the 30 films made between 1958 and 1978, they made four Carry On Christmas TV specials and two series of Carry On Laughing, broadcast on ATV in 1975.

There were also a couple of attempts at bringing that famous brand of Carry On innuendo to the stage. The most well known example of this was Carry On London, which enjoyed an eighteen month run at the Victoria Palace in London from 1973 until 1975. This was a right ragbag of a revue, bringing together classic Carry On scenes, sketches, musical numbers and dancing girls. The cast featured several prime Carry On actors from the period, namely Sid James, Peter Butterworth, Bernard Bresslaw, Barbara Windsor, Kenneth Connor and Jack Douglas. Sketches were contributed by Talbot Rothwell and Dave Freeman and the show was directed by Jack Douglas' brother, Bill Roberton.

Legend has it that Sid did not want Jack to be in the show as he saw Douglas as primarily a comedian, well used to working a live audience. In the end, all worked out well and Sid put on a great show for the paying punters. Barbara Windsor also had to be persuaded by Sid to join the cast, perhaps not keen on a long theatrical run. It must have been a gruelling schedule for the principal actors, all of whom were involved in making Carry On Girls, Carry On Dick and the series Carry On Laughing while London was playing eight times a week. 

A few years later and on a lesser scale, another attempt was made to bring that Carry On formula to the stage. Carry On Laughing: The Slimming Factory ran for the summer season at the Royal Opera House in Scarborough during that incredibly hot summer of 1976. The show was written by Sam Cree (who wrote The Mating Game) and directed again by Bill Roberton. Sadly Sid James had died shortly before this play opened so many of the other Carry On regulars were unwilling to be involved. The show, a farce set in ahealth farm, starred Jack Douglas, Peter Butterworth and Kenneth Connor. Liz Fraser, having returned to the series the year before for Carry On Behind, also starred, as did Anne Aston. 

The nature of the show can be judged by Peter Butterworth's character's name - Willie Strokes. Enough said.

There was one final attempt at bringing all things Carry On to the stage and that came much later, in 1992. While Jim Dale and Leslie Phillips were gamely carrying on at Pinewood as Columbus went into production, Barbara Windsor and Bernard Bresslaw reunited for a glorious seaside romp called Wot A Carry On in Blackpool! Running from May until October, this end of the pier show brought many old music hall delights out of the vaults and onto the stage. The show was written by Barry Cryer and Dick Vosburgh. 

I remember being on holiday near Blackpool as a child while this show was playing and we desperately tried to get tickets, sadly to no avail. I wish our luck had been in for this would be the last chance to see Bernard Bresslaw in anything Carry On-related as he very sadly died the following year at the age of just 59. 

Were any of you lucky enough to see any of these Carry On shows? If so I'd love to hear your memories!

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