Monday 19 June 2017

Barbara Carries On ... As Bettina


Barbara Windsor will be celebrating her 80th birthday this August. In the run up to this milestone, I've decided to blog profiles of each of her nine famous Carry On roles. Much the same as I did with both Joan Sims and Hattie Jacques, these blogs will take each part in turn and provide my own personal take on them. 

Barbara, or Dame Babs as it is now, is a showbiz legend in the UK, with a career dating back to the 1950s. As the recent Babs drama on BBC1 revealed, things haven't always been easy for Windsor, but her hard work and determination have seen her bounce back time and time again. No matter what else she has done in her career, the Carry Ons will always dominate and from our point of view, as Carry On fans, rightly so! So let's continue today with Barbara's fifth role in the series, as Bettina in the 1970 film Carry On Henry. 


Barbara's role in Carry On Henry is often quoted as her favourite in the entire series and it's not hard to see why really. Henry, the twenty first Carry On film to go into production, was a rather lavish film, at least by Carry on standards. The setting, the costumes, the dance routines, everything was a cut above. This retelling of the story of Henry VIII went into production at an extremely fortuitous time for Peter Rogers, with a renewed interest in the famous monarch in the early 1970s, both on the small and the big screen. The film provides Sid James with one of his best ever roles and as Henry he chews up the scenery was comedic relish, whether it's throwing over tables in the dining room, showing the likes of Terry Scott and Kenneth Williams who is the boss or chasing buxom wenches in the form of Margaret Nolan and Barbara herself, Sid is definitely in charge.

The film is a comic retelling of Henry's story, although initial scenes depicting Patsy Rowlands going to the block to have her head chopped off did commence proceedings with a dash of realism. It's not long though before Williams and Hawtrey are mincing about the palace and Joan Sims is attempting to convince the King that garlic is an aphrodisiac... Good luck with that one! Joan plays Henry's new French queen, Marie, and although they get off to a promising start, soon the odour of garlic puts the tin lid on any consummation. So, Henry does what he always does and start to look around for a replacement wife. Of course Marie's French heritage throws a spanner in the works, especially when her brother Francis (Francie!) comes to visit. This provides Peter Gilmore with one of his biggest and most outrageous Carry On supporting turns and his double act with Sid is a joy.


Anyway, on to Barbara's role in the film. Babs actually doesn't appear until about half way through the action but it's a performance worth waiting for. As Bettina, Barbara is the new object of the King's affections, catching his eye at court when presented by her father (a blink and you'll miss it appearance by Peter Butterworth). King Sid soon installs Bettina as Queen Marie's lady in waiting however his attempts to woo her are clumsy and ill advised, despite the best efforts of his associate Sir Thomas (Julian Holloway). This basically amounts to several scenes in which the pair attempt to disrobe Barbara's character. By now this was par for the course for Windsor in any Carry On however what is probably overlooked is just how much flesh is on display in Carry On Henry! Most of these scenes are completely cut by ITV3 whenever they repeat it by the way...

Barbara plays Bettina as quite a wide-eyed innocent which makes a pleasant change from some of her previous characters. It's actually a performance much more like her debut in Carry On Spying and that makes it a great deal better for me than anything that followed. Barbara plays the part with a delightful simplicity, failing to take the hint from King Sid and misunderstanding his numerous advances. Of course being a Carry On, Sid never does get what he wants and in the end it's Peter Gilmore's French King who departs with Bettina at his side. Henry ends up back where he started with Queen Marie and his new issue, who's parentage is a subject for debate!


It's easy to see why Barbara enjoyed making Carry On Henry. She's working alongside great actors like Sid, Joan Sims and Peter Gilmore and she gets the chance to wear wonderful period costumes. Barbara only ever made two period Carry Ons, this and her final film in the series, 1974's Carry On Dick, but it's this role that shines. She looks terrific throughout and her chemistry with Sid is at its peak. Despite fairly limited screen time in comparison to the likes of Williams, Sims and Scott, Barbara is definitely one of the highlights of the film.

To finish, a couple of Carry On Henry clips. First up is a rather obvious yet fun scene featuring King Henry attempting to try it on with Mistress Bettina, the best Bet in town...ahem:

And as an extra treat, here's some behind the scenes footage of the making of Carry On Henry, showing the cast at work and featuring some lovely little interviews:

Enjoy! Next up will be my take on Barbara's role in the final medical film in the series, the 1971 film Carry On Matron.

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