Saturday 23 April 2016

Carry On Casanova


Leslie Phillips is a favourite actor to many. His career spans decades and includes everything from Carry On and Doctor comedies to high drama and tragedy. He is a real trouper and although we don't see much of him these days, it is always worth remembering what a wonderful career he has had.

Leslie has frequently talked about his reasons for moving away from the Carry On series in the early 1960s, afraid of being too typecast as the upper crust lothario. While this persona may have stuck, it certainly didn't seem to harm his career in the slightest. While I am a big fan of a lot of Leslie's work, some aspects leave me cold (any film involving Brian Rix or Ray Cooney for example). There was another curio from Phillips' lengthy career that I had often heard about but never actually seen. That is until yesterday.

In 1973, Leslie made a television series called Casanova '73. It's pedigree was good. It was a BBC comedy series written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. Masters of their craft who wrote some of the best scripts imaginable for the likes of Tony Hancock and Steptoe and Son. However, I can't help but think they all came a cropper on Casanova '73. It's all fine with the benefit of hindsight, sitting here in the enlightened 21st century, however the content of this comedy series really does raise a few eyebrows.


The basic premise is that Henry Newhouse, a successful middle aged businessman, is continually attracted to and becomes involved with a succession of lovely young ladies, despite Newhouse being supposedly happily married. The series really did take the Carry On type comedy to a whole new level (!) Despite the obviously morality issues at play here, the whole thing feels particularly tired and it probably did even in 1973. Leslie Phillips puts on his usual polished performance and does a good job at carrying the show and it does raise a few laughs but the episode I saw really was a painful experience, focusing as it did on a beauty contest. Shades of Carry On Girls I'm afraid.

The series did feature some interesting names in supporting roles - none other than Maureen Lipman appeared in one episode as a character called Gloria. Hugh Paddick, a legend from the radio series Round The Horne also appears, as a beauty contest compere. Some of Leslie's glamorous lady friends are played by the likes of Madeline Smith and Gail Grainger. Henry's wife is brought to life by actress Jan Holden (who went on to play Lipman's boss in the series Agony). 

It just doesn't work though. Well not for me anyway. I don't want to appear on the same side as legendary campaigner Mary Whitehouse here (she hated the series) but I can't help but wonder what the BBC were thinking. The series was heavily criticised by Whitehouse and many of the episodes were eventually broadcast at a later time slot. This move helped boost the popularity of a little quiz show called Mastermind. I wonder what happened to it? After the initial seven episodes were broadcast, Casanova '73 was quietly dropped.

So am I being too hard on this programme? Do any of you remember it with great fondness and wish more series had been made?  

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and also on Facebook

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