Thursday 23 March 2017

Hattie Carries On ... As Floella

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 penultimate role in the series, as Floella in the 1972 film Carry On Abroad.

Carry On Abroad sees a group of eccentric British misfits take off for a long weekend in the dodgy Spanish island of Elsbells. The series was once again tapping into the latest trends, this time for cheap and cheerful package holidays. They were all the rage by the early 190s so what better than sending it all up by sending the gang you'd more typically associate with Brighton off to Spain (well the Pinewood Studios car park). This really was the last classic adventure for the core Carry On team and it's been one of my favourites since I first saw it as a child, recorded late at night on ITV. I still have the original VHS tape somewhere...

Although I have a grudging love of the bargain basement 1975 film Carry On Behind, yet another holiday film, Abroad is the last to feature the full compliment of original cast members (minus Jim Dale who had departed in 1969). Abroad features knockout performances from a host of wonderful Carry On stars, with prime parts for Sid, Joan Kenneths Williams and Connor and a return to a major role for the brilliant Peter Butterworth. It also features one of the best guest casts in any of the Carry Ons - June Whitfield as the uptight Evelyn Blunt, Ray Brooks as the handsome Spanish waiter, Carol Hawkins and Sally Geeson as two young holidaymakers on the look out for love, Jimmy Logan as the boisterous Bert Conway and Derek Francis as the stuffy old monk. 


The film also features the last role in the series for stalwart Charles Hawtrey. Sadly, growing problems in Hawtrey's personal life had made him increasingly unreliable. Following a spat about billing for the 1972 Christmas special, with top billing going to the main subject of this blog, Hattie Jacques, Charles left the series and despite making occasional theatre and television appearances until his death in 1988, would never make another film. Hattie Jacques was still a vital part of the Carry On team though, although her future with the gang was also in doubt at this stage due both to commitments elsewhere and her own health issues. Indeed after this role in Abroad, Jacques would miss the next film returning for the last time in 1974 to play Harriet in Carry On Dick.

Anyway, back to Hattie's role in the joyous Carry On Abroad. Originally meant to have fifth billing and a much larger role in the film, Hattie's filming commitments were drastically cut back to just one week due to her involvement in the return of Eric Sykes' sitcom to the BBC. Sykes had last aired in black and white in 1965 and was now back for what would turn out to be a seven year run, in full colour, with Eric, Hattie, Richard Wattis (until his death in 1975) and the wonderful Deryck Guyler. This series and her association with Eric would keep Hattie busy until the end of her life in 1980. Despite Hattie's role in Abroad being filmed in such a short space of time, it's still one of my favourites. It's so unlike anything else she played in the series and is miles away from her stereotyped role as Matron. 


As Floella, wife to hotelier Pepe (or is it Mario?!) and mother to Georgio (Brooks), Hattie spends almost her entire time on screen in the hotel kitchen, destroying the guests' meals and giving her husband hell! Hattie's broken Spanish and fiery exchanges with Butterworth are a joy to behold! Constantly struggling with the "cock stove", moodily grumbling at his incompetent husband and sneering at the British guests, it's a masterclass in comedy acting and I love it. I only wish she'd had more screen time and more interaction with the rest of the cast. I love Peter and Hattie together, they share wonderful comic timing and have great chemistry. I really wish they had worked together more often in the films. Butterworth is an absolute joy in Abroad and puts in the best, more energetic, hilarious and challenging role in the film. The poor man must have been exhausted by the end of it all!

Only at the very end of the film does Floella relax and enjoy the fun of the film. After several of the guests spike the punch(ings) with Santa Cecila's Elixir, everyone gets roaring drunk and most of the guests pair off. Floella joins the party at this point and loosens up after a few swigs. This leads to one of my favourite moments in the film when Hattie dances outrageously with Derek Francis' Brother Martin! Floella does her rampant charging bull impression and Hattie is clearly have the most magnificent time! 


The end of the film sees the holiday in complete chaos, the hotel in ruins and the holidaymakers happier than ever. All marital discord is resolved, characters are happily partnered off but who knew what happened next for Floella and Pepe? Surely Peter Butterworth and Hattie Jacques deserved a spin off as the hopeless hoteliers? They are an absolute joy. Carry On Abroad remains one of my favourites in the series because it is pure comedy gold from beginning to end. There is no let up in the double entendres, slapstick scenarios and outrageous action. Despite having one of her smallest roles in the series, Hattie is on brilliant form as Floella and it remains one of her best and most unique contributions to the Carry Ons.

Coming up next is my blog on Hattie's last ever role in the Carry On films, as Martha Hoggett in the 1974 film, Carry On Dick, a film which would see several other key contributors bid farewell to the iconic series.   

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