Friday 1 January 2016

The Gorgeous Mrs Glam

I adore Mrs Glam. Or Peggy Hawkins, to give her her proper name. I honestly think Peggy was the best role Hattie Jacques was ever given in the Carry Ons and it is therefore her best performance.

Everyone immediately thinks of Matron when Hattie is mentioned. That persona and those performances are both so strong and part of British culture. Of her fourteen Carry Ons, Hattie played Matron on five occasions (Nurse, Doctor, Camping, Again Doctor and Matron) as well as her other medical roles in Sergeant and in Regardless. The bombastic, unfeminine, shrill Matron was by all accounts as far removed from the real Hattie as you could get. I can imagine that role getting her down and I wouldn't really blame her.

No, for me Hattie's starring role in Carry On Cabby is just sublime. Apparently it was her favourite in the entire series and you can see why. There are no jokes about her size (the only faint whiff of one is delivered by Hattie herself). The character is grounded in reality. It's not a stereotype - Hattie is playing a real woman. Peggy is passionate, loving, intelligent, fierce at times but also vulnerable and flawed. This multi-layered character (yes, the Carry Ons were capable of this!) gave Hattie a wonderful opportunity to act, not just deliver a load of cheesy old jokes.

I cheer Peggy on when she grows tired of Charlie's dimwitted ignorance, sticking her in a corner and relying on her only for a hot meal and a word or two of comfort. The scenes which see Peggy and Flo (Esma Cannon) set up the Glam Cabs business to rival Sid's firm are just glorious. You can't help but cheer her on, even if she does feel guilty for deceiving her husband. It's classic stuff and I never grow tired of it.

You believe in the marriage of Charlie and Peggy Hawkins. Hattie and Sid James worked so well together on screen and their relationship is at a peak in Cabby. I admit, I always preferred Sid and Joan Sims as a couple in the Carry Ons but Hattie comes a close second. I love them together in this film. Their marriage hitting the rocks makes me love them both even more. I sometimes wish the Carry Ons had attempted more "kitchen sink" type comedies like Cabby. It really brought out the best in the team and ably demonstrated that these were comedy actors first and foremost.

For Hattie, the role in Cabby was temporary respite in a career that may have been long and successful but ultimately resulted in few starring roles, few parts that moved away from her weight or pushed her professionally. She was forever pigeon-holed as the fat lady, the shrewish Matron or the comedy support. 

This must have been really frustrating for an actress who clearly had so much more to offer. Hattie was talented in so many ways it was almost bursting out of her. I wonder if things would have been different if she'd had her time today?

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