Monday 13 February 2017

Dilys Laye: Her Carry On Story

Dilys Laye has always been one of my very favourite Carry On actors. She was always eye-catching, bright, bubbly and vivacious with great comedy timing. Her background and training in revue and a wide range of theatre made her a perfect addition to the Carry On team. So let's look back at Dilys' involvement with the Carry On films.

As a long-time friend of regular Joan Sims, it made sense that Dilys should take her place at the last minute in Carry On Cruising. Joan had fallen ill and Dilys was the ideal replacement, taking on the role of Flo Castle with very little time to rehearse, learn the part or be fitted for costumes. Nevertheless, Dilys was a natural and the part of Flo fitted her like a glove. It's no surprise really. Before her turn in her first Carry On, Dilys had become a popular choice in classic British comedy films of the 1950s and early 1960s. She had worked for Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas before, playing the dual role of sweet secretary and grasping gold-digger in the lovely 1959 comedy Please Turn Over. Dilys really stood out as Millicent Jones and worked well opposite Ted Ray.

Laye had also worked for Peter's wife Betty Box in the 1957 comedy, Doctor At Large, and she frequently told the story of having to seduce DIrk Bogarde, the star of the film, at 8.30 in the morning when in her own words "he really didn't fancy me at all!" Quite! Dilys also worked for Betty and Ralph Thomas in the Michael Craig comedy Upstairs and Downstairs. Other roles in film comedy included The Bridal Path with Terry Scott, Blue Murder at St Trinian's with George Cole, Petticoat Pirates with Charlie Drake and On The Beat with Norman Wisdom. A Carry On film was the natural next step.

Despite being a newcomer to the Carry Ons, Dilys grabs a substantial role in Cruising. Obviously the part was written for Joan Sims, then the leading lady of the Carry Ons and there was no time to change it. Dilys attacked the role with relish, forming a superb double act with the gorgeous Liz Fraser, frightening Sid James' Captain Crowther with her amorous advances and eventually falling for the charms of bumbling doctor Kenneth Connor. So good were Dilys and Kenneth together that many people actually thought they were married in real life. Dilys also shines in the stand out scene which sees her character get rather tipsy with Esma Cannon's Bridget Madderley. It's a joy and a fairly rare opportunity at the time for women to be drunk and funny on screen! 

Going by the strength of her performance in Carry On Cruising, it was no surprise that she was asked back. However for some reason she had to wait a further two years. When it came though, it was a great part - that of a triple agent femme fatale in the classic 1964 Bond parody, Carry On Spying. As Lila, she has fairly limited screen time, popping up in cameos until towards the end of the film. She shines as the glamorous spy and impresses with her performance of two stand out songs during the Cafe Mozart sequence. Dilys matches Kenneth Williams in all their scenes together, even cheekily adlibbing his famous catchphrase "stop messin' about" during the film's climatic scene.

There was a gap of another three years before we'd see Dilys in another Carry On. Again it was a supporting part, but as ever, she lights up the screen whenever she appears. As hospital patient Mavis Winkle, Dilys provides the romantic interest for Bernard Bresslaw's Ken Biddle in Carry On Doctor. They share several beautifully written scenes together and their obvious chemistry meant they would be paired up again in a future film. Dilys is sadly restricted to a few scenes in Doctor, mainly due to the large cast of favourites including the likes of Frankie Howerd, Sid James, Jim Dale, Barbara Windsor, Hattie Jacques and Charles Hawtrey. However she comes up trumps in the finale, aiding Bresslaw in the patients' revolt against the corrupt hospital staff. In a glorious scene, Dilys leads the charge against Hattie's formidable Matron, attacking the "bed bath" sequence with gusto! 

Dilys would only appear in one further Carry On, in the autumn of 1968. However it was a classic, Carry On Camping. Teamed with Bernard Bresslaw again, she joins Sid James and her old friend Joan Sims to make up a delicious comedy foursome on a trip to Paradise Camp! Of course all does not work out as planned and Sid and Bernie are tempted to stray with the young and nubile Babs and Fanny. All works out well in the end as Bernie and Dilys' Anthea finally get it together. Dilys always spoke fondly of making Carry On Camping, obviously enjoying working so closely with her friends Sid, Joan and Bernie, despite the awful conditions in which they filmed!

Dilys enjoyed a prolific career both on screen and on stage for over fifty years. It was diverse, tackling everything from the Royal Shakespeare Company to radio with Frankie Howerd and television in Coronation Street. She was always well-liked and admired by her peers without really becoming a huge star. Recording a couple of DVD audio commentaries for the Carry Ons in the 2000s, it was clear how proud she was to have been a part of the films and the affection she felt towards her old colleagues. She also claimed she wished to have appeared in every single one of the Carry Ons as they were such fun to make. It's always great for fans to hear this kind of thing as we hope the actors enjoyed making the Carry Ons as much as we enjoy watching them. 

Sadly Dilys left us in 2009 after a brave battle against ill health for several years. Thankfully we have many wonderful performances to enjoy and remember her by.

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  1. I think it's a testament to how great Dilys Laye is that in Carry On Doctor I always think of her as one of the main stars, when in reality she probably only gets 4 or 5 scenes.

    1. Yes, she doesn't have a big part (as it were). Wish she'd been in it more

    2. Yes there were deleted scenes where her and Bernard left Hospital together at the end, which would have been lovely if it'd been kept in the film. I'm glad we get that early scene though where Matron moves Mavis bed, which set up the dislike they have for each other nicely.

    3. I've seen a still of them leaving the hospital at the end and agree it's a shame it was cut :/