Thursday 19 January 2017

Patsy Rowlands: Her Carry On Story


Patsy Rowlands was a great addition to the Carry On team. Although technically never classed as a full member of the gang, for me she always will be. Her appearances were always a high spot and her comedic gifts lent themselves perfectly to the Carry On brand of humour. Usually appearing alongside either Sid James or Kenneth Williams, her roles varied dramatically in size during her tenure, but her supporting turns were eye catching and her comic timing superb.

Patsy joined the team for the first of her nine appearances well into the series run with the 1969 medical adventure, Carry On Again Doctor. Patsy was already an experienced television and film actresses specialising in comedy roles. She had made her name on the stage, working in musical theatre, revues and at the legendary Players Theatre with fellow Carry On star Hattie Jacques. In Again Doctor she played Miss Fosdick, assistant to know it all surgeon Frederick Carver, played by Kenneth Williams. Patsy mainly featured in the early part of the film, proving herself a natural opposite the likes of Williams, Charles Hawtrey and Hattie Jacques. Patsy ends the film as Gladstone Screwer's (Sid James) only wife, on his tropical island. 


Despite missing the next film in the series, Carry On Up The Jungle, Patsy had obviously made a favourable impression with the team as she was soon back in a featured role in the 1970 marriage bureau comedy, Carry On Loving. Only appearing in the last few scenes of the film, it is still a memorable role for Rowlands. As Percival Snooper's downtrodden housekeeper Miss Dempsey, Patsy shines in the part, transforming from dowdy to glamorous vamp in a bid to snatch Snooper away from Hattie's Sophie! The scene which sees Patsy wheel the hostess trolley into the dining room is beautifully played with Patsy at her slinkiest best! She also gets to bring the brutish Gripper Burke to his knees before tossing the wrestler, played by Bernard Bresslaw, over her shoulder and out of the window! Patsy also gets to take part in the memorable cake flinging finale, later recalling that they had to go back to the scene the next day and during the break all the cream cakes had gone off! The glamour of filming!

I never quite understood why Patsy was sometimes limited to such brief, blink and you'll miss them cameos. Her third role in the series, as the Queen at the very beginning of Carry On Henry is one her tiniest, sharing just a few lines of dialogue with Terry Scott before sadly losing her head! According to Patsy, she had quite a long serious speech to deliver in that scene but it was cut as it was thought to be far too serious for a Carry On! She faired better with the next romp, Carry On At Your Convenience, released in 1971. In this film Patsy gained her only official star credit, billed with the main gang. She played Kenneth Williams' secretary Hortense Withering and yet again the pair shared terrific on screen chemistry. She yet again has a mini-transformation in this film, slinking about in a negligee at the end of the film once Kenneth's W.C Boggs wakes up in her bedroom after the memorable trip to Brighton. It was great that Patsy was included in this filming and she has some great moments, hurtling round the pier with Charles Hawtrey and the gang, starring in the wonderful fortune teller scene opposite Sid James in drag! 


It was back to a brief cameo role later that year when she was once again cast as Kenneth Williams' secretary, this time Miss Banks in Carry On Matron. Patsy only pops up twice in this film and both are very brief appearances, culminating in her having her dress ripped off during a rather camp fight between fellow Newts Charles Hawtrey and Kenneth Williams! Another very small role followed in the Spring of 1972 when Patsy played Miss Dobbs, an employee at WundaTours, the package holiday company tasked with whisking a rather rum bunch of holidaymakers off to Elsbells for a long weekend they'll never forget! Patsy shares some rather obvious dialogue with both Kenneth Williams and Sid James and it's a fairly unremarkable appearance, although I've heard that she did film several other scenes with the likes of Gail Grainger and Bill Maynard, which were cut as the film was running over. 

1973 saw one of Patsy's best roles in the entire series. Rowlands was cast opposite Kenneth Connor as his screen wife Mildred Bumble, forever drearing around as the Mayor's wife in search of a ladies convenience! She shares some beautiful sitcom scenes with Kenneth Connor and together they are the real highlight of an otherwise humdrum, rather tacky Carry On. Eventually the downtrodden Mildred sees the light and joins Augusta Prodworthy's Women's Lib, finally getting her own back on her bombastic little husband during the climatic beauty contest! The following year Patsy played another very brief role as the elderly, yet still apparently pretty frisky Mrs Giles alongside George Moon in Carry On Dick. She pops up in the Church Jumble Sale scene.


1975 saw Patsy's ninth and final Carry On appearance and it was quite a good one to go out on. In Carry On Behind, what I consider to be the very last, half decent series entry, Patsy grabs a decent sized role as Linda Upmore, blessed with Bernard Bresslaw as her screen husband and Joan Sims and Peter Butterworth as her parents/ This despite the fact that Joan was only slightly older than Patsy! The actors work extremely well together in this knockabout, near the knuckle Carry On Camping update! Patsy also went on to appear in one episode of the ATV Carry On Laughing series, playing Miss Dawkins in the 1975 episode, The Nine Old Cobblers. 

For me it will always be a mystery both why Patsy left the series after Carry On Behind and why some of her roles weren't larger, given her considerable talents. One lovely little legacy that came from Patsy's Carry On association was that through working alongside Sid James in Again Doctor and Loving, he subsequently recommended her for the part of Betty, his next door neighbour in the classic ITV sitcom, Bless This House. 


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