Tuesday 15 December 2015

Carry On Christmas Special (1973)

Earlier this month I wrote a blog about the 1969 Thames Television Carry On Christmas special. While the 1969 episode is my favourite of all the television shows the Carry On team made together, the 1973 special is also worthy of a blog post.

After a couple of rather mediocre Christmas shows, the team were back on form in this, the final festive episode the gang would make together. Talbot Rothwell was back at the helm to produce the innuendo-laden script while the cast was full of favourites. Basically, the cast of Carry On Girls, the main film release for the team that year, regrouped for the special. So we get Sid James, Joan Sims, Barbara Windsor, Kenneth Connor, Bernard Bresslaw, Peter Butterworth and Jack Douglas enjoying a festive romp. Also adding support are regular supporting actor Julian Holloway (back after a two year absence) and Girls actress Laraine Humphrys. 

As with the original Carry On Christmas, this show is a series of sketches with Sid as the anchor. This time, with a present day setting, Sid stars as a department store Santa. Sid is fantastic in this role, guzzling his sausage sandwiches and trading barbs with the sniping Mr Smedley, the store boss (Kenneth Connor). The show gets off to a rather naughty start as Joan Sims arrives with her rather well developed daughter, played by Barbara Windsor. The dialogue is pretty near the knuckle and deliciously funny. They couldn't get away with all that nowadays!

The first sketch takes us back to the Stone Age for a Carry On Caveman scenario that gives Talbot Rothwell the chance to air a load of old gags from Carry On Cleo. Sid is at the forefront as Seed Pod with Joan as his wife Senna. Yes, quite. Bernard Bresslaw is superb as Sid's overgrown son while Kenneth Connor is perfectly crumbling and aged as his father in law. In bounces Barbara as the aptly named Crompet. Sid then manages to off load the rest of his family so he can enjoy his "first bit" with Barbara. This line rather aptly leads us into the first commercial break.

The next sketch is an Elizabethan dinner party at a country house. Cue many recycled gags from Don't Lose Your Head, but the audience certainly don't seem to mind! It's fully of ripe innuendo as Sid struggles to keep up with his young wife Fanny (Barbara Windsor) who seems a lot more interested in Julian Holloway! Jack Douglas rather overdoes his prat falling  as Crapper the butler but it's still all good fun. Kenneth and Joan excel as a pair of doddery old relics.

We then move on to the trenches during the First World War. This is a rather lovely scene, as amidst all the usual low grade humour there is great affection for what those brave soldiers endured during that conflict. Sid, Bernard and Kenneth Connor are excellent as the British troops who are cheered up by the arrival of Joan and Barbara as a couple of local French lovelies. Peter Butterworth and Jack Douglas make a late entrance as some German soldiers wishing "peace on you" - as Sid's line "Not from up there mate!" was greeted with such gales of laughter from the studio audience the next line is slightly delayed! Note Peter has used his accent from Carry On Abroad to great effect again here!

We then get a charming interlude featuring all of the gang (minus Sid) in a hilarious ballet sketch. Bernard, Peter and Jack gamely don the tutus although Sid's absence makes me wonder if his renowned hatred of drag was behind his non-appearance.

The final sketch in this special takes us back to the days of Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest. Who else would play Robin, that Sid? Joan makes for a nagging shrew of a Maid Marian while Peter is Friar Tuck, Bernard Bresslaw a towering Little John, Kenneth Connor is Will Scarlett and Jack Douglas Alan A'Dale. Again the innuendos flow thick and fast, especially when Barbara Windsor arrives as a daringly scantily clad Lady Frances. I could have done without some of Jack's songs during this sketch but otherwise it's delicious fare! 

The ending of this, the last Christmas special is also a treat. As Sid's Father Christmas leaves the department store, Joan, dressed as a traffic warden attempts to give him a ticket. Of course Sid's vehicle is a horse drawn sleigh. As the rest of the gang join Sid and Joan, they wish each other and the audience a very merry Christmas. Breaking the fourth wall at the end is a nice touch and the episode ends with a warm glow. 

Sadly this was the last festive special from the team. Times were a-changing and the following year would bring the last original film for Sid, Barbara and Hattie Jacques. Carry On Christmas was one last joyous reminder of the glory days of Carry On. 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan 

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