Friday 6 May 2016

Joan Carries On ... As Lady Evelyn Bagley


This blog is part of a new regular series on Carry On Blogging. I'm going to attempt to blog about each of Joan Sims' wonderful roles in the Carry On films. Joan was the most prolific of all the actresses involved in the series, clocking up 24 films. Indeed, only Kenneth Williams made more Carry Ons. 

Today I am going to write about Joan's role as Lady Evelyn Bagley in 1969's Carry On Up The Jungle. Jungle has never been a real favourite of mine but it does have its moments and boasts a cast of classic comedy actors. Joan has a plum role as the leading lady of the piece and works really well with the main cast. She also looks fantastic throughout - as usual the films that required period costume suited her best and I know Joan herself always felt more comfortable in these roles. 

The basic plot of Jungle involves a group of rather eccentric Brits being guided through the African jungle by the unreliable and very Sid-like Sid James as Bill Boosey. Frankie Howerd and Kenneth Connor play a couple of bickering ornithologists while Bernard Bresslaw also appears as the native guide Upsidasi. Joan plays Lady Evelyn, an upper class English woman looking for her husband and son, lost in the jungle on a previous expedition. Playing opposite Joan is a new young actress to the Carry Ons, the lovely Jacki Piper. Jacki's character June is rather prim and proper at the start of the film but soon enjoys an awakening opposite Terry Scott's Jungle Boy (!) 

Of course Terry's character turns out to be Joan's long-lost son (despite Scott being three years older than Sims!) and a late entry from Charles Hawtrey confirms he's Joan's husband Walter. However these days Walter goes under the name of King Tonka, father of countless! This provides Hawtrey with one of his best entrances in the entire run. As always with the Carry Ons, the plot is of little importance, it's the performances we're interested in. Joan takes centre stage for much of the action and is superb opposite her mostly male co-stars. 

As with many of the films, she plays opposite Sid James a great deal and as always, the pair have terrific chemistry. Sid clearly takes a shine to Lady Bagley, that is until Valerie Leon's Leda turns up later in the picture! Sid and Joan engage in several scenes of fairly near the knuckle banter, but in the hands of such pros it's an absolute joy. Joan also shares some deliciously ribald material with returning guest star Frankie Howerd. Joan and Frankie had famously worked together in Carry On Doctor two years before and while they had wonderful screen chemistry together, they struggled to complete their scenes as the often collapsed into fits of giggles! Some footage of this was captured for the BBC's Film Night Special Carry On Forever. 

Rumour has it, indeed I think it is actually in Joan's autobiography, that originally Joan was expected to do the infamous camp shower scene herself. If you recall Lady Bagley takes a shower, with a rather unexpected audience comprising of Kenneth Connor's randy Claude Chumley and a gorilla! Apparently Joan was too nervous about her appearance at the time to go through with the scene so a body double was brought in. I can understand Joan's shyness however it makes me sad to think such a talented, lovely lady lacked so much confidence. 


I think my favourite scene of Joan in Up The Jungle is the one after she is reunited with errant husband Charles Hawtrey. The pair discuss what had happened in the intervening years and also what might have become of their son. While Hawtrey plays the scene for laughs and in his traditional style, as usual, Joan plays it for real. The emotion Joan displays in this scene is completely real and worthy of a dramatic performance. Once again she shows just what a talented all rounder she was and again she proves that she was capable of so much more.

In the end, Lady Bagley is reunited with husband and son, Jungle Boy or Cecil, to give him his proper name, marries June and Frankie and Kenneth Connor track down their infamous Oozalum bird! Up The Jungle is not up there with the likes of Khyber, Camping or Cleo, but it is still a joyous opportunity to revel in the comedy talents of some of our heroes. Despite sharing screen time with such dominant forces as Hawtrey, Howerd and James, Joan steals many a scene in Jungle and puts in a tremendous performance. 


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