Saturday 25 July 2015

Confessions of a Carry On Fan

I do have a confession to make actually. Here goes...I have a grudging respect for the Confessions series of films. Those broad, rude, extra-bawdy, low-budget British sex comedies from the mid to late 1970s which made a star of Robin Askwith. Quite.

Saying I have a grudging respect for them doesn't mean I actually like or enjoy the four films they produced. Far from it, I find them crude, cheap and derisory for the most part. However somehow they captured the hearts of the British cinema going public at the time and those at the helm gave their audiences what they wanted. Within a very short time they had made the Carry On films almost completely redundant. A crying shame I'm sure you'll agree but you must admire how they came along and swooped in for the lion's share of the market.

The Confessions films look incredibly dated now but at the time they must have been a revelation. There was an explosion of sex in the cinema in the 1970s with long held taboos finally biting the dust. Robin Askwith and co brought a certain style of cinematic soft porn into the mainstream, added a few Carry On innuendos and made heaps of money at the box office. While the Confessions series ran for a fraction of the time the Carry Ons ruled, they were still a major success at a time cinema attendance was well on the slide and the British film industry in tatters. 

One film critic likened Askwith to a charmless young Sid James and there is a cheeky Sid like quality to his performances. The fact Robin had played Sid's son in the big screen version of Bless This House and then followed that up with a supporting role in Carry On Girls must have had something to do with it. Robin Askwith was definitely no Sid but he was certainly the star of these comedies and did very well from them. His shameless brand of humour and naughty antics won him legions of fans at the time and well done to him for making the most of it all.

I really don't like the Confessions films though. They feel cheap and nasty for a start. Yes I know the Carry Ons were hardly epics but the crews at Pinewood somehow managed to lift the tight budgets and limited locations and make the very most of them. The Confessions films also took a more "liberated" approach to sex and nudity however most of the time the jokes came from not seeing what was going on as opposed to have it all out and shaking it about! It just really doesn't work for me.

Somehow though, the Confessions films attracted a wonderful array of classic British character actors. Over the course of the four films made up at Borehamwood, the following renowned actors popped up in one of more of these pictures: Joan Hickson, Richard Wattis, Irene Handl, Carol Hawkins, Peter Jones, Windsor Davies, Lynda Bellingham, Jill Gascoine, Bill Maynard, Doris Hare, Dandy Nichols, Ian Lavender, Liz Fraser, Lance Percival and John Le Mesurier. Quite a roster of well known faces, although how much of what else was going on they knew about we'll never know!

I'm not sure if the Confessions films are solely responsible for the demise of the Carry On films. Tastes were changing anyway and fewer people were going to the cinema as more and more was available on their television sets at home. Also, the backbone of the main Carry On team were sadly starting to fade away. I'm pretty sure that even without the Askwith comedies, the Carry Ons would have been a thing of the past by the end of the 1970s anyway. 

I always think it's such a shame Rogers and Thomas decided to compete with these raunchier comedies. It really didn't pay off for them did it?

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