Tuesday 8 November 2016

A Lesson in Camp: The Genius of a Michael Ward Carry On Cameo


Michael Ward is an actor I'm always pleased to see in a British film or television series. Sadly Michael passed away in 1997 at the grand old age of 88, however thankfully we still have his many appearances in the very best of British film and telly to enjoy and to remind us of what a talented character actor he was.

Michael Ward appeared in many films and shows during his acting career and often managed to make his mark with very little screen time. He was adept at the camp, slightly waspish cameo without ever really being as flamboyant as Kenneth Williams or Charles Hawtrey. His career dates back to the post-war film industry, starting off mainly in bit parts or uncredited roles. He's one of those actors you can bank on seeing and take great joy in spotting, even if he has nothing much to do. 

Michael appeared in several of the Norman Wisdom comedy films of the 1950s, popped up in the classic film I'm All Right Jack as a reporter, formed a bizarre double act with Irene Handl in Doctor In Love and appeared on television with a wide range of comics such as Charlie Drake, Dick Emery, Jimmy Edwards and The Two Ronnies. He also had the role of the gloriously named Adrian Fondle, neighbour to Morecambe and Wise in their 1970s BBC series. 


Michael acted regularly until a stroke forced him to retire following the filming of Revenge of The Pink Panther in 1978. He would spend the next two decades out of the limelight and unable to perform, which I think is a great shame. Of course my favourites out of all his performances came in the Carry On films. Michael only appeared in small roles in five of the films however he was one of those actors who you feel starred in many many more. His first role came in Carry On Regardless, made towards the end of 1960. He had a brief scene as a photographer, teaming up effectively with the diminutive actor Ian Wilson for a comic scene involving Kenneth Williams and a bee keepers mask!

Michael was obviously a hit with Peter and Gerald as he was asked back for a further cameo over two years later in my favourite Carry On, Cabby. Michael filmed a memorable scene on location in Windsor with Kenneth Connor. Having exited Connor's cab, Kenneth calls after him that he has found a pearl earring in the back seat. Connor tentatively asks if it belongs to Michael, who turns and with peerless timing replies "A pearl earring? What...with tweeds?" Classic stuff!


The following year Ward was back at Pinewood for a supporting turn as Archimedes in the classic costume romp, Carry On Cleo. Appearing in several scenes at Cleopatra's palace, Michael exudes the haughty attitudes of a senior servant and quite clearing looks down on their Roman guests! 1966 saw Michael make two more and sadly final appearances in the Carry Ons. First up was a brief, almost wordless turn as "poor Mr Vivian" in Carry On Screaming. He appears in the sequence which sees Frank Thornton's dress shop broken into my Oddbod. Later Ward is seen in the background as Peter Butterworth is transformed from bumbling police officer to genteel lady in the hope it will help catch the creature in Hocombe Woods! 

Michael Ward made his final Carry On appearance later in 1966 as Henri in the lavish costume epic, Don't Lose Your Head. He appears at the very start of the film as a very foppish, bewigged dandy opposite Sid James and Jim Dale. Another brief, yet satisfying cameo from a truly great character actor. I have no idea why Michael did not continue appearing in the Carry Ons after 1966 so if anyone can enlighten me, do get in touch! He continued to appear regularly in films and television for the next decade so he definitely could have added his own special brand of magic to some of the later Carry Ons.


Anyway, despite only making five small appearances, Michael Ward will always be one of my favourite Carry On supporting actors. If anyone has any more information on the life and career of Michael, please do get in touch. 

Stay tuned tomorrow an exclusive interview with James Hogg, a man who knew Michael Ward well in the last years of his life and has also set up a website in his memory.  

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