Tuesday 11 October 2016

How They Came to Carry On ... Dilys Laye


The lovely Dilys Laye has always been one of my favourite actors. Throughout her career Dilys tackled almost every aspect of the acting profession, from Carry On comedy to soap opera, live theatre, musicals and even a one woman show. Dilys was such a talented lady and always a cheerful, upbeat presence.

Dilys was also very obviously incredibly proud of her Carry On connections. Speaking on the DVD commentaries for both Carry On Cruising and Spying in 2006, she found the films fresh and funny and clearly loved her association with these low budget, innuendo-encrusted films. She was also full of praise for her colleagues, particularly the likes of Kenneth Williams and her life-long friend, Joan Sims. During her long career, Dilys found time to appear in four Carry Ons and I know many fans agree with me that she should really have appeared in more. Dilys herself said she wished she'd been in every single one as they were so much fun to make.


During the 1960s, Dilys appeared as the tiggerish Flo Castle, looking for a husband in Carry On Cruising; she vamped it up as double agent Lila in Carry On Spying, famous mimicking Kenneth Williams' snide character; she played Mavis Winkle, love interest to Bernard Bresslaw in Carry On Doctor and finally, the following year, she teamed up with Sid, Bernard and Joan to form the fabulous foursome in Carry On Camping. However how did Dilys first come to Carry On? 

The original story, as told by Dilys herself, was that she was brought in to play the role of Flo in Cruising at very short notice, something like two or three days. She told the story of being whisked around the West End of London to buy various outfits for the film, which apparently she got to keep at the end. Surely an uncharacteristically generous move on the part of producer Peter Rogers?! Anyway, the role of Flo was originally written by Norman Hudis for series regular Joan Sims. Joan however was apparently struck down with an illness just before filming commenced so Dilys was drafted in. Although I'd have loved to see my favourite actor play that part in Cruising, for me it's definitely Dilys' part and she fills that film with a youthful exuberance and such jolly high spirits. 

However I wonder what made Peter Rogers think of Dilys as an ideal replacement? Apart from the fact that Joan and Dilys were great mates and had already spent years touring in revues together, Dilys had already built up an impressive range of comedy film parts which must have made her the ideal choice. Most importantly she had already worked for both Peter and his wife, Betty Box.


Dilys made her debut for Peter and Betty in 1957 when she played the supporting role of Jasmine Hatchett in Doctor At Large. In that film her character had to make a play for leading man and matinee idol, Dirk Bogarde as Dr Simon Sparrow. Two years later, Dilys played an Agency Girl in the Betty Box comedy Upstairs and Downstairs, a film that boasted an all star cast of Rogers and Box rep company favourites. Probably the most significant early role for Dilys, which almost guaranteed her future appearance in a Carry On was that of Millicent Jones in one of my favourites, Please Turn Over, which was released in 1959. 

Millicent Jones is a role Dilys herself seemed to really enjoy playing. Millicent was the secretary to lead character Edward Halliday, played by the wonderful Ted Ray. Millicent is in many ways a dual role as at first she is the sweet, reliable secretary but she soon turns into a double-crossing, money grabbing gold digger! It's a delightful performance and must have been huge fun to play! Watching that film again, Dilys is one of the highlights and it's easy to see why Peter Rogers would want to capitalise on that talent and make use of Dilys in future productions.

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  1. Beautiful lady and fine actress. That scene in Carry on Cruising with Liz Fraser and her in their slips and suspenders.........ooft.