Wednesday 6 January 2016

From the Archive: Not Quite A Carry On - Nurse On Wheels

Away from the main Carry On series, producer Peter Rogers and director Gerald Thomas made many other films, particularly during the late 1950s and early 1960s. I want to start blogging about some of these other pictures, many of which are pretty much unofficial Carry Ons, featuring familiar faces, situations and writers. While some of them are not up to the Carry On standard, they are still close to my heart.

Let's start off with one of my favourites, Nurse On Wheels, released in 1963. This film was one of a glut of economically made British comedies that came on the back of the Carry Ons' growing success and attempted to tap into this lucrative market. It may not be particularly well known today but it boasts a cracking cast and is actually a very sweet film.

Nurse On Wheels tells the story of a district nurse who, having passed her driving test, takes up a new position in a small English village. The film follows her comic misadventures with the colourful local residents as well as her blossoming romance with a handsome local businessman. It is pretty twee but thanks to a good script, excellent performances and a cracking pace, it moves along well and is charming.

At the heart of Nurse On Wheels are the characters of Joanna and her mother, played brilliantly by Juliet Mills and Carry On regular (at that time) Esma Cannon. Juliet Mills, who would go on to star in Carry On Jack had previously worked for Rogers and Thomas in Twice Round The Daffodils and was obviously moving up the ranks. She is great in Nurse On Wheels, but my absolute favourite is Esma Cannon, who dithers, twitters and runs amok with wonderful comic timing. It is one of her most substantial film roles but sadly it would be her last as she retired not long afterwards.

The film also boasts supporting performances from other well known Carry On faces such as Joan Sims, Joan Hickson, Norman Rossington, Renee Houston and Jim Dale. Not a bad line up! We also get wonderful performances from Irish actor Noel Purcell, classic stage actress Athene Seyler, George Woodbridge, Deryck Guyler and Raymond Huntley. Playing the romantic lead in the film is Ronald Lewis, fresh from Twice Round The Daffodils. Lewis is effective in the lead role again and it's a shame we didn't see him in more films for Rogers and Thomas as he makes an excellent handsome hero.

The film meanders along and nothing major happens but it is charming and shows an old fashioned life long gone. Everyone acquits themselves well and the scenery is lovely. A perfect Saturday afternoon film to relax and enjoy.

Sadly, there is one downside to Nurse On Wheels and it's nothing directly to do with the finished film itself. Originally Joan Sims was asked to play the lead role of Joanna in the film and apparently Joan was thrilled to have a starring role at last. Unfortunately before filming started, Peter Rogers wrote to Joan to tell her the part had been recast and now Juliet Mills was starring. 

According to Joan's autobiography it had been agreed that she wasn't slim enough for the leading role. One can only imagine what a blow this must have been for Joan, particularly given how fragile her confidence could sometimes be. Although I like Juliet Mills, it would have been fantastic to see Joan take top billing in a film like this. Joan may not have been as slim, but she was still a gorgeous, funny, extremely talented actress and she certainly didn't deserve to be sidelined. 

Anyway, I digress. Although Joan didn't take the lead role, I still love Nurse On Wheels. It's a prime example of an early 1960s feel-good British comedy film, something of the like we don't see much of these days. Check it out next time you see it in the television schedules or hunt it down on DVD.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan

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