Friday 7 October 2016

Hattie Carries On...As Peggy Hawkins


Having covered every one of Joan Sims' 24 Carry On roles it now only seems fair that I turn the spotlight onto another great and loyal member of the team. Sticking with the wonderful women, I've decided to focus on all 14 of Hattie Jacques' Carry On appearances. Hattie's contribution to Carry On comedy was immense. Although appearing in far fewer films that Joan, Hattie created some iconic roles, none more so that the infamous Matron, a character which came to dominate her later career.

However there was far more to Jacques than that. She played Matron in all four of the medical films but there were ten other roles to enjoy too, from a budgie obsessed housewife to an angry, aggressive Spanish cook! So sit back and enjoy a run of blogs which looks at Hattie's Carry On contribution from the very first film in 1958 right through to her last supporting role in Carry On Dick 16 years later. So let's continue our journey today with a look back at Hattie's sixth role in the series, as Peggy Hawkins, alias Mrs Glam in my favourite Carry On of all, Carry On Cabby.


Out of all Hattie's roles in the series, the central role of Peggy Hawkins in Cabby was her very favourite and it's not hard to see why. For once, Hattie wasn't playing the bombastic, severe Matron and nor was she the but of all the jokes about her size. Peggy Hawkins was a passionate, intelligent woman who wanted to progress herself in life, with or without the support of her husband. Frustrated by Charlie Hawkins' obsession with his taxi firm and rather old fashioned views on women in the workplace, Peggy goes behind his back and sets up a rival cab firm which employs only women. Glamcabs soon steals most of the business "from under their smug male noses". 

Carry On Cabby is the first film in the series to be written by the legendary Talbot Rothwell, the man who would steer the series further into the land of double entendres and much nearer the knuckle than his predecessor Norman Hudis ever dared to go. Cabby didn't even start off as a Carry On, it was Call Me A Cab, made cheaply in black and white. However once Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas realised just how good a film they had on their hands, it was quickly retitled Carry On Cabby. The film features a host of familiar Carry On faces - Kenneth Connor as Sid's right hand man, Charles Hawtrey as naive, clumsy trainee driver Pintpot, Esma Cannon as the diminutive but strong-willed Flo Sims and Liz Fraser as Hattie's best friend Sally. Cabby also sees the debut of important names in the young Jim Dale as a rather nervous expectant father and an eye catching turn from Amanda Barrie as GlamCab driver Anthea.


Carry On Cabby is the closest the series comes to a dramedy - comedy and drama brought together in an effective mix. At the centre of Cabby is the delighful, deep and extremely believable relationship between husband and wife Charlie and Peggy - beautifully brought to life by Sid and Hattie. While I always prefer Sid and Joan Sims together on screen, Sid and Hattie are just irresistible together in Cabby. When their marriage comes under strain, it feels genuine and the performances heartfelt. This takes Cabby some way from the usual Carry On fare and miles away from most of the films that followed. Don't get me wrong, Cabby still has many of the qualities fans admire in the series - plenty of saucy humour, classic comedy performances, slapstick and lots of lovely GlamCab drivers...

Hattie is an absolute joy as Peggy. The film is most definitely hers. It's a performance of terrific spirit and energy and Jacques dominates the film. Apart from her wonderful relationship with onscreen husband Sid, Hattie also works really well with Liz Fraser - they make for very believable best friends. Hattie is also great with the lovely little Esma Cannon and the two form a formidable double act. It's so refreshing to see Hattie given a role that allows the gifted actress to emerge and show the audience just how good she was. Of course Hattie's next role in the series would see her return to the comfortable confines of her memorable Matron, but Peggy Hawkins will always tower above all the rest.


At the end of the film, Peggy and Sally are put in peril by a fiendish bunch of criminals and it's Charlie and Ted (Connor) to the rescue. All is well in the end and the film gets the usual happy Carry On finale. Does this mean Cabby is not a feminist Carry On after all? I doubt the Carry Ons could ever be described as feminist films although without question the female characters are much sharper and more on the ball while the men are all a bit thick! Cabby is the closest the series comes to grit and kitchen sink drama, popular themes at the time of release. That's not why I love it though. I love Carry On Cabby for the strength of the story, the warmth of the performances and the joy of seeing Hattie grab a role that allowed her talents and quality as an actress to shine.

Sadly Cabby would be the last film Hattie Jacques made with the team for over four years. The popularity of her role in the Eric Sykes BBC comedy series "Sykes And A..." together with a desire to pursue other projects meant that the next seven films in the franchise would lack her own very special comedic gifts. You won't have to wait four years for the next entry in this series of blogs though - coming up sooner than that is my take on Hattie's return to both the Carry Ons and the role of Matron in 1967's rip-roaring hospital comedy, Carry On Doctor.


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