Wednesday 23 December 2015

Remembering Gerald Thomas: An affable force of nature

I haven't written in any great detail about the late film director Gerald Thomas so far on Carry On Blogging, which has been a failure on my part. Quite simply the man was a marvel of the British film industry and the Carry Ons would not have been what they were and indeed are, without him. The 10th of December would have been Gerald's 95th birthday so it feels the right time to celebrate the man.

It must be quite a rare thing to have the same director and producer (Peter Rogers) at the helm of an entire franchise of 31 feature films over a 34 year period, give or take the gap between Emmannuelle and Columbus. Rogers and Thomas obviously worked incredibly well together however Gerald's sad death at the age of 72 in 1993 meant that many of the Carry On retrospectives failed to tell his story.

The recent Carry On Forever documentary touched on Gerald's gift as a film editor. As Bernard Cribbins recalled, Gerald edited the film as he went along, knowing exactly how the finished film would be cut from the very beginning. This might be frustrating for the odd actor who likes the freedom to ad lib but what it did mean was that each film was pretty much brought in on time and on budget. Key success indicators for Peter Rogers Productions. 

Gerald Thomas did indeed train as a film editor. Originally destined to become a doctor, the Second World War got in the way and once he was demobbed in 1945, Thomas realised a career in medicine was not for him. Gerald began his career in film at Denham Studios, working as Assistant Editor on films such as The October Man and Laurence Olivier's Hamlet. By 1948 he had risen up the ranks to Editor and was involved in the classic film, The Third Man. 

Soon Gerald was making his first forays into film comedy thanks to his older brother Ralph Thomas, a film director who had formed a productive partnership with producer Betty Box, a rare female presence in that area of the industry at the time. Gerald joined Ralph and Betty as editor on the classic film Doctor in The House, a runaway success in 1954. Box was married to another producer, Peter Rogers. Here Gerald got to fulfil his desire to become a director in his own right. Gerald and Peter first collaborated on the 1956 film, Circus Friends, a Children's Film Foundation production that brought us an early appearance from a young actress called Carol White. Carol would of course go on to appear in Carry On Teacher and the classic television play, Cathy Come Home.

Although Gerald Thomas is most famous as the director of all 31 Carry On films, he directed many other films during his long career. These included The Vicious Circle starring John Mills, The Duke Wore Jeans starring Tommy Steele and Chain Of Events, starring Susan Shaw. He also directed many other classic British comedies in the Carry On style, many of them featuring regular Carry On actors such as Joan Sims, Kenneth Williams and Kenneth Connor. These films included many that will be familiar to Carry On fans - Nurse On Wheels, The Big Job, Bless This House, Watch Your Stern and Raising The Wind being amongst them.

Tales from the Carry On set are the stuff of legend. The films were produced quickly with no mucking about yet from all accounts, there was always a relaxed, jovial atmosphere and this was mostly down to Gerald. He enjoyed the company of many of the actors he regularly employed. I should think Gerald's presence was a major factor in securing so many repeat bookings from so many brilliant actors. Gerald was also a legendary practical joker, most famously spiking Joan Sims' water glass in the wine tasting sequence in Regardless with neat gin. All this at 8.30 in the morning! 

Ever the pro, Joan went for it to avoid a second take! Apparently he also surprised the beauty contestant actresses in Carry On Girls too. Instead of a mild sprinkling of water during the climatic scenes in that film, the likes of Valerie Leon, Barbara Windsor and Margaret Nolan were confronted with hoses!

Thomas also provided the vocal talents in two of the Carry Ons. First of all he appeared as Oddbod Junior in Screaming in 1966. Nearly a decade later he again provided his voice for Joan Sims' foul mouthed mynah bird in Carry On Behind. 

Gerald was most certainly an affable force of nature. He lived until his death in leafy Buckinghamshire with his wife Barbara. Together they had three daughters, Sarah, Samantha and Deborah. Although always calm under pressure, it is without a doubt that the strain of making Carry On Columbus in 1992 took its toll on Thomas. He would die in the November of 1993, aged just 72.

Us Carry On fans owe Gerald Thomas a massive thank you for all his work on these wonderful films. Without his talent as a film editor, his eye for detail and his affable working style, the Carry Ons may not have been, and continue to be such a roaring success. 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan 

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