Thursday 20 August 2015

What a Drag!

One of the most definitive and long running gags in the Carry On series was the bloke in drag. It's one of the oldest jokes going and most closely links the films to that other great British tradition, the pantomime.

It doesn't matter how many times we see it. The sight of a burly man dressed up in a frock and high heels always makes us laugh. It's a joke that appeals to all ages and is at its funniest when it's so obvious that it's a man under the wig and make up. From the early black and white days right up until the 1970s, many a Carry On film featured one of the regular characters dolled up for whatever spurious, daft reason. There were occasions where it went vice versa but to me, a female character dressed as a man was never half as funny. We had the likes of Liz Fraser in Regardless or Juliet Mills in Carry On Jack - neither could top Bernard Bresslaw or Peter Butterworth!

So here, in no particular order, are my top five favourite drag sequences from the Carry On films.

1. One of the first ever in the series - Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey fully embraced the high camp of their undercover disguises in Carry On Constable! It was an absolute joy to behold. As Agatha and Ethel they are more than a little convincing as the two dotty old dears who go on the job to catch a thief in Brian Oulton's department store. The sight of them hightailing it down the street is just wonderful!

2. Kenneth Connor in Carry On Cabby. A superb supporting turn that is often overlooked by the power house central performances from Sid James and Hattie Jacques. Kenneth plays Ted Watson, Sid's righthand man and a loyal friend through many comedic scrapes! There are none funnier than Sid's plan to infiltrate the Glam Cabs yard at night. Connor's character is forced to don the sexy Glam Cabs uniform and teeter across the street to his brightly coloured Ford Cortina. The funniest moment of all is when Amanda Barrie's Anthea asks Ted to unhook her unmentionables in the changing room! 

3. Sid James was notorious for hating drag. While others like Jim Dale and Peter Butterworth embraced and relished the experience, Sid was always fuming when the scene appeared in a script! Truth is he makes a very good woman! Although he is seen several times in drag in Don't Lose Your Head, my favourite Sid in Drag moment comes in 1971's Carry On At Your Convenience. Sid drags up as the gypsy fortune teller and tells Patsy Rowlands and Kenneth Williams a right load of old cobblers! As Joan Sims stands guffawing behind the curtain, Sid convinces Mr Boggs he's about to become a father all over again! The highlight comes at the end of the scene when Joan joins Sid in the tent and amidst hysterics, pops one of his balloons!

4. Kenneth Cope is superb in both his Carry On starring roles, however my favourite is the softer performance he gives as Cyril Carter in Matron. Going undercover as a nurse in a maternity hospital to help his dad (Sid James) steal some birth control pills was never going to go to plan! Along the way Cyril attracts the attentions of the filthy Dr Prodd (Terry Scott), helps Jane Darling (Valerie Leon) give birth to triplets and falls for Barbara Windsor's Nurse Ball. All the way through Kenneth plays the part as a masculine guy and this works so well as a contrast to the nurses outfit and feminine wig. Apparently Cope got so used to the uniform he used to stay in it at lunchtime and visit the Pinewood canteen!

5. My last favourite is Bernard Bresslaw in Carry On Girls. Although I thoroughly dislike this series entry, Bernard plays Sid's right hand man superbly. In an attempt to create much needed publicity for his beauty contest, Sid plants Bernard in drag in a line up and alerts Augusta Prodworthy (June Whitfield) that a man has entered the competition! This is a winner from the off given Bernard's stature and physique. You can't help but crack a smile seeing him in the line up of girls alongside the likes of Margaret Nolan and Wendy Richard. Priceless stuff!

I know I said top five, but I have to include one final, glorious performance. In 1969 the Carry Ons filmed their first television Christmas special for Thames. Adding some festive sparkle was guest star and one of my ultimate comedy heroes, Frankie Howerd. Frankie steals both sketches he appears in, most notably the utterly fantastic pantomime at the end of the show. Mugging like mad alongside Charles Hawtrey and Barbara Windsor, he makes an incredible swinging sixties Fairy Godmother! It really is quite something and thoroughly outrageous!

So there you have it, my favourite Carry On drag appearances. What are yours?

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  1. What a great blog! So happy to have stumbled upon you, looking forward to catching up and carrying on... Thanks!

    1. Thank you so much! I'm glad you are enjoying it! G