Sunday 29 May 2016

Life After the Carry Ons - Jim Dale


This is part of a new occasional series of blogs in which I will look at the careers of each of the main Carry On team players once they left the series. Some would go on to appear in many other productions over the years while others would sadly not be so fortunate. Today I am looking at the later career of Jim Dale.

Jim Dale was the boyish clumsy, yet charming romantic lead of many of the 1960s Carry On films. Joining the series with small cameo roles in the likes of Carry On Cabby and Carry On Jack, the former pop star and variety performer quickly moved up the ranks to become a fully-fledged star and a mainstay of the series. Jim has always been a favourite of mine and I think he really did add something unique to the Carry On formula. There was nobody else who could play Jim's parts in the films and I think they did suffer once he left the series in 1969. 

From Horsa in Cleo and Lord Darcy in Don't Lose Your Head to Dr Kilmore and Dr Nookey in Doctor and Again Doctor, Jim Dale brought a delightful sense of comedic timing and eye-catching physicality to all his Carry On performances. He gelled with the rest of the team too. I particularly loved his chemistry with Kenneth Connor in Carry On Cleo and with Sid James in Don't Lose Your Head and Again Doctor. As one of the youngest members of the team, it was obvious that someone of Jim's talent would probably want to go off and do other things. Still, it was a shame he chose to depart after filming his tenth series entry, Carry On Again Doctor in the spring of 1969. Perhaps the writing was on the wall as the previous year had seen Jim miss out of both Khyber and Camping to pursue other roles on stage. Also, the films were becoming increasingly rude and dare I say vulgar by this stage and perhaps this wouldn't have suited Jim's style if he'd continued.


So what else did Jim get up to in his career once his glory days at Pinewood were behind him?

Despite his early screen successes with the Carry On comedies, most of Jim's subsequent career highlights have been on the stage, and many of them on the other side of the Atlantic. It was the pull of live theatre that had persuaded Jim to leave the Carry Ons in the first place. In 1970 Sir Laurence Olivier had invited Jim to join his National Theatre Company, then operating from The Old Vic, years before the famous National Theatre complex would open on London's South Bank. At The Old Vic, Jim created the title role in Scapino. He also played Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. Other plays Jim worked on at this time included The Card, a musical by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall which co-starred Millicent Martin, Joan Hickson and Eleanor Bron. He also played Autolycus in A Winter's Tale and Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream. In 1974 JIm won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance for his role in Scapino.


It was this role that got Jim noticed over in the United States. He would go to play Scapino on Broadway in the mid 1970s. Other stage roles on and off-Broadway have included Joe Egg, Me and My Girl, Travels with my Aunt, Candide, Comedians and The Threepenny Opera. By far Jim's biggest theatrical success was the role of Barnum, which came along in 1980.  Barnum was a musical based on the life of P T Barnum, a showman and circus owner who travelled America with his various acts. The show combined elements of traditional musical theatre and the spectacle of the circus and was ideal for Jim, bringing together his talents in music, comedy and physicality. Jim even learned how to walk the tightrope for this role. Jim starred as Barnum opposite Glenn Close for 854 performances between April 1980 and May 1982. He won a Tony Award for his landmark performance.

In 1995 Jim made a triumphant return London's West End with the role of Fagin in the classic Lionel Bart musical Oliver! This production also co-starred with former Carry On colleague Patsy Rowlands. Jim continues to work on the stage, mainly in New York, however he did of course bring his terrific one man show, Just Jim Dale, back to London's Vaudeville Theatre last year and I was thrilled to be able to go and see it.


Jim did make several further screen appearances after he left the Carry On team, however he never really did continue as a film star as such. Notable performances included the role of a young Spike Milligan in the film Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall in 1973. Jim was joined in the cast by the likes of Pat Coombs, Windsor Davies, Arthur Lowe, Bill Maynard and Spike himself, playing the role of his own father. Also that year, Jim starred with Eleanor Bron, Lynn Redgrave and Donald Sinden in the big screen version of the Peter Nichols' play The National Health. 

Other film roles have included the classic children's films Digby, The Biggest Dog in the World (which saw him working once again with his Carry On leading lady Angela Douglas) and Pete's Dragon, a Disney film featuring the likes of Shelley Winters and Mickey Rooney. In 1977 Jim joined an all star British cast for Tony Richardson's bawdy comedy film Joseph Andrews. Seen as a follow up to Richardson's previous hit Tom Jones, Joseph Andrews featured Jim as the Pedlar. The film also sees Jim sing a number of ballads. Joining Jim in the film were the likes of Peter Firth, Beryl Reid, John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft, Patsy Rowlands, Wendy Craig, Penelope Wilton, Norman Rossington and Kenneth Cranham. Quite a line up!


One of Jim's later screen roles was that of Inspector Crisp in the 1984 British-American comedy film Scandalous. This film saw him working alongside Robert Hays, John Gielgud and Pamela Stephenson. After that, Jim concentrated on stage work although there was one final fling with the Carry On team. In 1992, Jim returned to Pinewood to play the lead in a brave attempt to revive the old Carry On formula. Sadly Carry On Columbus didn't pass muster, despite Jim's spirited turn at the centre of the action.

These days Jim is best known to younger generations as the narrator of the Harry Potter audio books in America. For one of the books, The Order of The Phoenix, Jim managed to create staggering 134 different character voices! It's no wonder that he has won two Grammy Awards for his Potter performances. 


Jim has been resident in New York for over thirty years and still lives there today with Julia, his wife of 36 years. Jim was awarded the MBE in 2003 for his work in promoting English literature to children. Now unbelievably in his 81st year, Jim shows little sign of slowing down thank goodness. Without a doubt, he is one of the Carry Ons biggest success stories and a very talented man. Long may he continue to entertain us.

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


  1. Thank you for this great piece on Jim Dale.
    One small point: I think you'll find the National Theatre started at the Old (not the Young Vic).
    I loved Jim's Autolycus in 'A Winter's Tale'

    1. Thanks Alan, I'm glad you enjoyed the blog on Jim's career. And thanks for the info re: The Old Vic, much appreciated.