Monday 31 August 2015

Patsy plays it straight

The internet is a wonderful thing. Patsy Rowlands was forever cast in similar comedy parts in film and on television for decades. Every so often though something surprising came up. It's always lovely to see a familiar face play against type and this brings me to an episode of Juliet Bravo from 1981.

Juliet Bravo was a police procedural series set in Lancashire and ran for five years in the early 1980s. It was unusual at the time as the main character was a woman, played first by Stephanie Turner and later by Anna Carteret. It was devised by Ian Kennedy Martin, who had been involved with that wonderful 70s series, The Sweeney. Stephanie Turner had also played George Carter's wife Alison early on in The Sweeney before the character was rather violently written out...Anyway I digress, back to Patsy.

A scene from Patsy's episode has turned up on Youtube and she gets to play it straight as a rather common, blowsy Northern woman. As usual with Patsy it is an absolute joy. I must track down the full episode. You can view the clip below:

If you come across any other familiar Carry On faces in British television series or other films, please do get in touch with the details!

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Why I love The Kenneth Williams Diaries

Here's a repost from earlier this month. I love Kenneth Williams' diaries - they are never very far from my bedside table. Of all the blogs I published during August this was the most popular so I thought I would share it again...

I grew up reading Kenneth Williams' fantastic diaries. The diaries, edited by Russell Davies and first published in 1993, were a revelation when first made public and continue to entertain, provoke, shock and appeal to us all so many years after they were written. 

I remember very clearly when I first started reading them. I was 18 years old, off on holiday with my parents and picked up a copy at an airport book shop. I wasn't sure I wanted to read them as I was worried the true picture of Kenneth would be unpalatable and the diaries would debase one of my comedy heroes. I persevered though as they were Kenneth's own words, not those of a biographer who never knew him. 

So here are a few reasons why I love the diaries and why you should read them:

They offer a unique insight into the private life of a public figure
It's not often someone in the public eye reveals so much of their private life and private thoughts to us. Although committed to paper for his eyes only, in published form they give us a fully rounded portrait of a much loved man.

They were so well written
Kenneth Williams shows complete dedication to his diary and to writing. Although a published author by the early 1980s, the diaries are his main body of work and his legacy. Kenneth had a fierce intellect, was mainly self-taught and his command of the English language was legendary. In short, Kenneth wrote beautifully.

The extraordinary cast of characters
So many famous faces, both alive and dead, pass through the pages of Kenneth's diaries. Some were close friends - Maggie Smith, Gordon Jackson, Stanley Baxter, Barbara Windsor, Hattie Jacques, Sheila Hancock. Others merely acquaintances or colleagues - Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Dirk Bogarde, Alec Guinness, Billy Connolly, Ingrid Bergman, Edith Evans, Fenella Fielding and Noel Coward.  The diaries span a massive chunk of modern British culture and nearly anyone who is anyone features at some point. Not only do we hear stories about these icons in their prime, we also get Kenneth's unique take on them. Priceless.

What a Carry On
As Carry On fans, the diaries are a wonderful insight into the making of the films, the people involved and Kenneth's general hatred of the finished product! While many of his reactions or nasty asides are obviously committed to paper in the heat of the moment, they also provide a delightful sideways glance at life at Pinewood. From his adoration of Hattie Jacques, Barbara Windsor, Kenneth Connor and Bernard Bresslaw; his apparent love/hate relationship with Joan Sims and his unflattering portraits of Charles Hawtrey and Sid James, they are a joy to behold. I also love it when Kenneth compliments other performers. He wrote some very sweet things about the likes of Gail Grainger and Angela Douglas.

A love of London
Kenneth Williams was a Londoner through and through. Apart from evacuation to Oxfordshire during the war, he always lived within the same confines of the Kings Cross / Bloomsbury / Euston district. Despite his growing hatred at being a star without star money and being constantly recognised in the street, in shops or on the bus, Kenneth always loved his city. He writes beautifully about London, catching glimpses of the twinkling lights from up above at his Farley Court flat or describing long walks through the areas of the city he grew up in. I love it when I find myself in parts of London Kenneth knew well and remain the same today as they were when he was a Londoner.

A social history
Kenneth's diaries record so many major world events during their forty years. They begin in the middle of the Second World War and end at the height of Thatcherism and the rise of the Yuppie. They take in the Queen's coronation, the assassination of both John and Robert Kennedy, the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland, the legalisation of homosexuality in the United Kingdom, the Moon Landing in 1969, Watergate, the Aids epidemic and the Falklands War. They are a fantastic social history document and a time capsule.

Kenneth the man
Not often do we get such a unique and sustained portrait of an individual. From the youthful optimism and early faith in socialism to the wary, weary right wing man he became in maturity. We all change as we grow, develop and move through life, and Kenneth's diaries display this perfectly. While many of his attitudes changed and were informed by life experiences, I do believe Kenneth stayed true to himself until the very end.

Those final words
We all know Kenneth Williams died well before his time at the young age of 62. As the diaries progress, he becomes more and more disenchanted with life and more frequently suffers from pain and various ailments. The last few years of his life are, for the most part, a difficult read. When the end came, it left more questions and than answers, however his last words leave little to the imagination. While we mourn the loss of a comic genius and a true individual, Kenneth's story should make us all think.

I often wonder what Kenneth would have made of the reaction his diaries received on publication. He was quoted in interviews saying he wouldn't mind them being published once he had gone, so I can't imagine he would have reacted badly. Although The Kenneth Williams Letters were published in a collection the following year, the diaries definitely do leave you wanting more. The full transcripts remain locked away in a vault, with only the editor and Kenneth's trustees being fully aware of what was not chosen for public view. I'd love access to the rest of the diaries. Wishful thinking!

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What A Carry On in Blackpool!

With thanks to regular blog reader Jon Buckland for the heads up on this one. The charity Our Disappearing Planet is holding a celebrity charity autograph convention in Blackpool on Saturday 24 October and there is a strong Carry On presence!

Among the long list of attendees are the following Carry On actors:

- Ray Brooks, who played Georgio in Carry On Abroad  

- Kenneth Cope, who starred in both Carry On At Your Convenience and Carry On Matron

- Melvyn Hayes, who played Shorthouse in Carry On England and also appeared in the Carry On Laughing television series in 1975

- Ian Lavender, who appeared as Joe Baxter in Carry On Behind

- Linda Regan, who played one of the ATS girls in Carry On England

- Madeline Smith, who made a cameo appearance as Mrs Pullitt in Carry On Matron

- Nikki Van Der Zyl, who appeared as the Messenger in Carry On Don't Lose Your Head 

If you get along to this event, please do get in touch either through the blog, on Facebook or Twitter or by email at - I'd love to hear how it all goes!

You can find out more about the charity and the event itself by visiting the official website here 

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Sunday 30 August 2015

Carry On Stars At War!

In the latest of the guest blogs written for this site, Sarah has blogged about what some of our favourite Carry On actors got up to during the war. It's a fascinating read and I'm so grateful to Sarah for taking the time to research and write this great blog...

I am of the opinion that the post war period was the golden age of British cinema.  The Ealing comedies and the early Carry On films for example all showcase talent that I don’t think we will ever see the like of again. I can’t think of any modern day actors that can touch the on-screen charisma of our stars from the 1950s. The kind of film that is released today fades from memory overnight; whereas we will be watching ‘Carry on Nurse’ or ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’ for decades to come.

I think that the reason for this lies in the Second World War. This conflict mixed up society and moved people around on an unprecedented scale.  Ordinary British workers came into contact with situations and colleagues that they would never have previously imagined.  It gave them the opportunity to discover and develop strengths and talents that lay dormant or were unappreciated. This is particularly relevant in the case of our actors and entertainers because of the huge need for their talents during wartime.

When war broke out on 3rd September 1939, cinemas and theatres were immediately closed down.   However, it was soon realised that entertainment was essential to morale. ENSA (Entertainment National Services Association) was already in the process of being set up.  This organisation comprised civilian entertainers who toured around various locations including army camps, factories and field hospitals. Later on, a service personnel version called Stars in Battledress would be formed. Think of any household name in the field of entertainment from the post war period, and the chances are that they did their bit for one of these organisations.  Established entertainers also continued to work in cinema and theatre, tirelessly keeping up the spirits of a bombed and worn out nation.

Wartime work such as this was by no means an easy task, and many worked in dangerous situations. During the Blitz, if an air raid siren sounded, the show went on for those that chose to not take shelter.  Actors, singers and dancers all performed near enemy lines and traversed the Middle East and North Africa to get to their audiences. There’s nothing like the sound of bullets and bombs in the near distance to focus the mind on the job in hand! I think that this combination of circumstances gave us the actors and scriptwriters that made British film great in the years afterwards, as that momentum continued.

The Carry On actors can be used as an example of how this worked, and I thought that it would be interesting to have a little look at the Carry On stars at war…what did they get up to?

The most fascinating of war time stories belongs to Peter Butterworth.  At the outbreak of war he joined the Royal Navy.  In 1940 he was captured in the Netherlands and then became a prisoner of war for the duration. He escaped from his first prison camp but was recaptured by a member of Hitler’s Youth movement. Peter was then sent to Stalag Luft III, where he met none other than Talbot Rothwell.  The pair formed an entertainment duo, which was deliberately rubbish.  The ensuing boos and catcalls as they performed effectively masked the sound of tunnels being dug by other potential escapees!

Kenneth Connor was another active serviceman. He was an infantry gunner, but he came from a family that liked to put on shows and he had acted from an early age.  His love of the stage led him to carry out some work for Stars in Battledress.  He was particularly noted for a role in Terence Rattigan’s play ‘Flare Path’.  As soon as he was demobbed he received an invitation to join the Bristol Old Vic.

Sid James served in the entertainment section of the South African army. Biographies describe in detail how he used this ideal opportunity to refine the comic persona that we all know and love. He also produced shows and auditioned participants.  It was his army gratuity that paid for his passage to Britain after the war ended.

Kenneth Williams was a little younger than those mentioned above, and didn’t receive his call up papers until 1944.  By the time he had completed his training the war in Europe was almost over.  He was posted to the Royal Engineers and arrived in India in April 1945. After a while, he secured a transfer to the Combined Services Entertainment (which had taken over from ENSA by then). This is where it all began for Kenneth, as he toured the Far East doing plays, revues and radio shows.  His diaries from this period mention several familiar names including Stanley Baxter (who would become a lifelong friend), John Schlesinger and Pete Postlethwaite. This shows how easy it was to become part of an “old boy’s network” and to make contacts that would prove useful in civilian life. The first entry in his book of post war letters was addressed to Val Gielgud at the BBC, describing his radio experiences and stating that he was “anxious to obtain work in the field of broadcasting.”

Away from the army, Joan Sims was too young to serve, being only nine years old at the outbreak of war. However, in her autobiography she describes her very first acting role as being a wounded casualty at the local St John Ambulance training sessions. Later on in the war, she would keep the spirits of Laindon up by performing in the local amateur drama club.  Hattie Jacques meanwhile was at the sharp end of medical matters, while working as a nurse during the Blitz. It is obvious to draw parallels with her status as Britain’s favourite matron – but I think that these experiences must have affected her profoundly. Hattie must have been witness to some truly awful sights.  I wonder how much these turned her into the apparently compassionate and caring lady that she is often described as – and informed her performances. Matron was never a one dimensional character no matter what the script presented to Hattie – she knew how to make her seem human.  She re-started her acting career in 1944 in revue, after leaving nursing and taking a job as a welder.

Only two of the actors most associated with Carry On were already established in the acting profession in the 1930s. Charles Hawtrey had worked in theatre and film since the 1920s.  He was a conscientious objector, but he continued to perform throughout the war.  Esma Cannon was in her forties and so would not have been required to take on war work, and she continued to tour the country in various plays.  Both probably got the opportunity to tackle a wider range of roles than they had done previously.

So, if it had not been for the war, Sid James might have stayed in South Africa, Kenneth Williams might never have developed his range of radio personas and Peter Butterworth might not have met Talbot Rothwell.  It doesn’t bear thinking about, does it?!

You can follow The History Usherette @agathadascoyne The History Usherette is also on Facebook -

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Saturday 29 August 2015

What a Carry On at the London Film Convention!

The London Film Convention is now in its 42nd year. My attention has been drawn to this by one of my lovely Twitter followers (thanks Michael!) The Convention gives fans of classic film and television a chance to meet stars, have photos taken with them and go home with an autograph as a lovely memento.

The next Convention is due to take place on Saturday 19th September and although it's early days, there have already been some guests announced with strong Carry On connections! Leading the field is Carry On and Coronation Street legend, the lovely Amanda Barrie! Amanda of course starred in two Carry Ons, Cabby and Cleo before going on to spend many successful years working in British theatre and appearances as Alma Sedgewick / Baldwin in Corrie for twenty years.

Also flying the Carry On flag will be the star of the very first film in the series, Shirley Eaton. Bond girl Shirley starred in Sergeant, Nurse and Constable as well as appearing in the very first Doctor film and the likes of The Naked Truth, What A Carve Up and Dentist On The Job. Joining Shirley will be Anita Harris, who guest starred in both Carry On Doctor and Follow That Camel.

And that's not all! You can also meet Margaret Nolan (Cowboy, Henry, At Your Convenience, Matron, Girls and Dick) and Alexandra Dane (Doctor, Up The Khyber, Again Doctor, Loving and Behind).  Also, Oscar winning production designer Peter Lamont will be there - he worked on Carry On Matron.

The London Film Convention will be taking place on Saturday 19th September, between 10am-5pm at Central Hall, Westminster, in Central London. 

If you attend this event please do get in touch and let me know how it went and who you met!

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Carry On Blogging on Facebook and Twitter!

As well as interacting with Carry On Blogging on this blog and via Twitter, there is now a Facebook feed you can follow. 

If you use Facebook you can like the page and follow it for updates, links to all the blogs and photos.

The Facebook page can be found here

The Twitter feed is here: @CarryOnJoan

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Friday 28 August 2015

My top 10 favourite Carry On frocks and Frills‏

I recently asked all my loyal Carry On Blogging readers if anyone wanted to submit their own guest blogs. I'm delighted to say that my esteemed editor over at the Coronation Street Blog, Glenda Young, has taken up the challenge. You can read her first blog here. Here is the second guest blog Glenda has very kindly written for me:

I’m honoured to have been asked to write a guest blog post for the Carry On Blogging site. I’m no Carry On expert, but I know a funny film when I see one and I’ve been a fan of the Carry On films since I was a child.  Here then, are my top 10 personal favourite Carry On frocks and women’s outfits of all time.

1. Valeria’s crushed red relvet dress from Carry on Screaming.  Smoking hot.

2. The perfectly gorgeous Glam Cab uniform from Carry on Cabby.

3. The bath cap from Carry on Cleo. An icon! As worn by Amanda Barrie. An icon!

4. Anita Harris’ costume from Carry on Follow that Camel.  Every time this scene comes on TV my husband starts pretending to have palpitations. At least I think he’s pretending.

5. Joan Sims as Belle in Carry on Cowboy.  That dress is just gorgeous. I’m going to buy one just like it to wear next time I nip out to Sainsburys. Pistol-packing.

6. Hattie Jacques in Carry on Matron. This one isn’t so much a frock as more of a safety blanket, and that’s the very reason I like it so much.  You know where you are with this frock, it’s no-nonsense, demands respect and the NHS should bring them back, right now.

7. Barbara Windsor in Carry on Spying. I love this as it’s one of rare times we see Babs sans boobs hanging out all over the place.  This outfit is sophisticated and glam. Er, just what’s needed for blending in undercover.

8. Carry on Up the Jungle. Never has a chamois leather looked so glam. Which reminds me, I must get to the gym soon.

9. When I saw this for the first time on TV in Carry on Again Doctor I thought it was pornographic. I was shocked! I still am and think it’s one of the filthiest outfits we’ve ever seen on TV.  Only Barbara Windsor could have got away with this one.

10. And finally, Joan Sims in Carry on Abroad. Most of her outfits in this film were middle-England overseas, all buttoned up and covering everything they could.   

Glenda Young
Twitter: @flaming_nora

Many thanks again to Glenda for her wonderful blog. 

If you fancy having a go, please email your blog post to Anything at all with a Carry On theme - get your thinking caps on!

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