Thursday 18 February 2016

The genius of the Charles Hawtrey Cameo


There was no other actor quite like Charles Hawtrey. He was a unique screen presence and an extremely clever film actor. By the time he arrived in the Carry Ons, he had been acting in films for over thirty years. He had a wonderful delivery and knew how to appear best in front of the camera. He was a one off. Nobody else could play Charles' parts, as Jimmy Logan found out to his cost in Carry On Girls!

The sheer power of Charles Hawtrey meant that he could leave his comedic mark in a Carry On film with the smallest, briefest of cameo roles. While he was undoubtedly a main team player for over fifteen years, sometimes he had very small parts despite receiving his usual, contracted third or fourth billing. He was of course superb in his larger roles, such as Private Widdle in Up The Khyber, Charles Coote in At Your Convenience and James Bind in Carry On Spying, but I am most impressed with his cameo appearances. Here are some of my favourites.

Dan Dan in Carry On Screaming!


Originally Charles Hawtrey was not even meant to be in this comedy classic. A campaign was fought in one of the national newspapers and Hawtrey was eventually given the role of Dan, Dan the gardening man in Screaming. The role had originally been written for character actor Sydney Bromley who had been a success in his role as rancher Sam Houston in the previous film, Carry On Cowboy. Hawtrey is only on screen for four or five minutes in Screaming before he meets a rather grisly end. His scenes with Harry H Corbett, Jim Dale and Peter Butterworth are superb though and his personality shines through. It leaves a lasting impression and you're left glad that he appears. It feels like a much bigger role that it actually was.

Mr Baron in Carry On Doctor


Another classic. As was often the case, Charles plays away from the main team in this film, operating as a loner. He plays Mr Baron, in hospital suffering from a sympathetic pregnancy as his wife (Gwendolyn Watts) is about to give birth. Hawtrey is really only given a few short scenes in the film but it is a beautifully judged performance. He only gets out of bed a couple of times - once to attend a mothers' PT class (!) and finally to join in with the rest of the patients to seek revenge on the dreaded Dr Tinkle and Matron!

Tonka in Carry On Up The Jungle


Yet again Charles grabs third billing in this film, despite only appearing in the last twenty minutes of the picture. He plays the husband of Joan Sims' character Evelyn Bagley who has journeyed to Africa in the hope of finding her long lost baby and husband. She eventually does find her grown up son (Terry Scott, still in a nappy) but the biggest shock comes after Sims, Howerd, James and the rest are captured by Valerie Leon's all female tribe. When they arrive at their camp, the King of the tribe is given a massive build up as the height of masculinity and a great lover. When he is carried out, up pops Charles with a brilliantly timed "Oh hello!" When Joan cries out her husband's name, Charles exclaims "Oh my God, it's the wife!" Fantastic stuff!

Dr F. A Goode in Carry On Matron

The name alone tells you all you need to know about this character! Charles appears in a just a handful of scenes in the last medical Carry On, made in 1971. It was his penultimate film with the gang but his scenes are superb. Kenneth Williams' manic Sir Bernard Cutting goes to consult Dr Goode about certain problems he's been experiencing (He thinks he's turning into a woman!) What follows is a masterclass in comedy acting with both camp heroes on terrific form. 

Hawtrey also comes between Williams and Jacques' Matron through several comic misunderstandings. Sir Bernard falsely assumes Goode and Matron are having an affair when all they are doing is watching television together. The scene which sets up this gag is full of knowing innuendo with both Hattie and Charles being a pair of proper teases. Charles is at his boyish best in Matron and it culminates in Goode and Cutting bonding over a shared membership of the Newts! As they chant out the Newts' moto, a disbelieving Patsy Rowlands watches on. Wonderful!


So there we have it, some of my favourite Charles Hawtrey Carry On cameos. Those are mine, what are yours? 

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