Saturday 24 October 2015

Whatever Happened To ... The Stars of Carry On Sergeant - Shirley Eaton

I started a new series of blogs a few weeks back which aim to look back at the careers of the stars of the original Carry On film, Carry On Sergeant. Released back in 1958, it took the cinema going public by storm and led to one of the most popular, successful and long-lasting film franchises in British cinema history. We owe a great debt to the original stars of Carry On  as without them we wouldn't have all those films that followed.

I have already written about the original romantic lead of the Carry Ons, the gentleman that was the late Terence Longdon. Today I am going to write about a lady who is familiar to us all, not just from the Carry Ons but also many other terrific films from that period: Shirley Eaton.

Shirley Eaton was the original Carry On glamour girl. She created a character which was sweet, innocent yet also rather alluring, not only to the male characters in the films but also to the cinema going public. Shirley was the first in a long line of Carry On blondes that went on to include the likes of Liz Fraser, Angela Douglas and of course, Barbara Windsor. Shirley was probably the most innocent, mainly due to the relatively coy, cosy early Carry Ons in which she appeared. Probably Angela Douglas comes closest to replicating those parts in the later films.

Shirley only appeared in three Carry On films, but she left a lasting impression. She took the lead roles of Mary Sage in Sergeant (opposite Bob Monkhouse) and later in 1958, Nurse Dorothy Denton in Nurse (opposite Terence Longdon). After these major turns in the first two Carry Ons, Shirley returned in late 1959 for her last appearance in the series, a cameo role as Sally Barry in Constable. After Constable, sadly we never saw Shirley in the Carry On films again. As with many of her early contemporaries, Shirley decided she didn't want to be pigeon-holed as a Carry On actor and pursued other projects. The actress has also said many times that she wouldn't have wanted to appear in some of the later, less innocent series entries anyway. I can't see her fitting into the likes of Carry On Dick or Behind either so probably just as well.

Shirley Eaton was born in January 1937 in Edgware, North London. She acted from an early age, having gained a place at the Aida Foster Stage School (where fellow Carry On actress Barbara Windsor also learned her craft). Shirley stayed at Aida Foster's until she was 16, although she made her first professional appearance in Benjamin Britten's Let's Make An Opera. Shirley made her West End debut in 1954 in Going To Town. 

Shirley first appeared in films as early as 1954, playing an uncredited role in You Know What Sailors Are. This led to her big break in her role as Milly in the smash hit film Doctor In The House, produced by Betty Box, directed by Ralph Thomas and starring Dirk Bogarde. This role led to many other films around the same time. They included a further Doctor film, Doctor At Large in 1957; The Love Match with Arthur Askey and Thora Hird (1955); Three Men in a Boat with Jimmy Edwards (1956); Sailor Beware with Peggy Mount (1956); The Naked Truth with Peggy Mount, Terry-Thomas and Joan Sims (1957); A Weekend With Lulu with Kenneth Connor (1961); Dentist On The Job with Bob Monkhouse (1961) and What a Carve Up! with Kenneth Connor, Sid James and Esma Cannon (1961).

After such a long run of comedy films, Shirley then moved on to more serious fare, the most legendary of these parts being the role of Jill Masterson in the James Bond epic, Goldfinger, released in 1964. Shirley was famously covered in gold paint for her part in the film, even making the cover of Life Magazine. Other parts around this time included a role in Ten Little Indians in 1965, Eight on the Lam with Bob Hope and The Million Eyes of Sumuru in 1967.

Shirley spent most of her career on the big screen, however she did occasionally appear on television. One of her earliest roles was a recurring part in the Terry Scott/Bill Maynard series, Great Scott! It's Maynard in the 1950s. Shirley also made three appearances in the classic 1960s series The Saint, opposite Roger Moore. 

By the end of the 1960s, Shirley Eaton had retired from acting, deciding life with her family was more important. She had married Colin Rowe in 1957 and together they had two sons. Colin died in 1994. Since her retirement from acting, Shirley has kept busy with regular appearances on television, talking about her life making films. She regularly attends film conventions to meet fans and has also written several books about her life and career. As one of the few remaining survivors of Carry On Sergeant and all those classic 1950s British comedy films, it's always great to hear from Shirley Eaton. 

You can visit Shirley's website here

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and also Facebook

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