Wednesday 14 June 2017

Carry On Bob?

There was a reminder of the late Bob Monkhouse on Twitter this week as his birthday was marked. Bob died back in 2003 at the age of 75. He was a legendary presence in British light entertainment - from acting on the big and small screen, numerous game shows and his ultra-slick stand up routine, Bob was a star for decades and an influence on many. 

I've never really written about Bob Monkhouse's Carry On contribution before now which is perhaps a little odd. He was after all the main star name in the very first in the series, Carry On Sergeant way back in 1958. As Charlie Sage, he was called up for National Service on his wedding day although his bride (Shirley Eaton) quickly followed him to the camp. This story formed the "straight" back drop to the slapstick shenanigans and rather tame innuendo of the film and while most of the other stars of this film went on to make further apeparances in the series, Monkhouse did not return. 

Bob did go on to make other films, most notably Dentist in the Chair, Dentist on the Job and A Weekend with Lulu, most of which reunited him with Carry On co-stars such as Kenneth Connor, Shirley Eaton and Eric Barker. I've read that Bob later admitted he'd regretted not making more Carry Ons but to be honest, I could never see him being a main feature of the team. He was very much his own man, a solo performer rather than one of a gang. I also doubt he'd have put up with the pay and conditions experienced by many of the other Carry On regulars down the year. I don't see that being his style. 

I think Bob's stand up routine and flair for gag writing and delivery was too slick for the Carry Ons and his humour was actually quite different. More importantly, his performance isn't the most memorable thing about Carry On Sergeant. It's those who hover further down the cast list who really shine, and it's no surprise that the majority of them became Carry On mainstays - Kenneth Connor giving a beautiful performance as bumbling hypochondriac Horace Strong; Hattie Jacques in an early prototype version of her later barnstorming medical Matron persona; Charles Hawtrey as the effete loner of the group and Kenneth Williams as the snooty intellectual. 

All stood out and all came back many more times. For me Connor was the best and he was matched by the gorgeous Dora Bryan as his insatiable love interest Norah. I only wish Dora had been tempted back for more Carrying On at Pinewood, however perhaps if she had Joan Sims would never have joined the gang.

Anyway, back to Bob. I don't know why he didn't come back for Carry On Nurse - he probably asked for more money and Peter Rogers saw him off. I'm an admirer of much of Bob's later work however as far as the Carry Ons go, he was no Connor, James or Dale. So what do you think of Bob Monkhouse's Carry On contribution? Did you enjoy his role in Sergeant and do you wish he'd gone on to make more adventures with the gang?

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  1. Early in his career in the '50s, he was in Dublin for a standup routine in the Theatre Royal with my Dad, Noel Purcell, who was the resident comedian there.
    Bob to Noel: I need a very stiff drink!
    Noel: Why?
    Bob: I'm going to tank. I'm English, and I'm Jewish and I don't think the audience will like me.
    Noel: There are 3 things wrong with what you just said:
    1. You're not going to tank
    2. You're going to be fine
    3. You're coming out with me afterwards and we'll both have a stiff drink!
    And that's how it worked out!
    I have a video recording of Bob recounting this tale, but I don't know how to edit it out of a larger video Would you like me to try?

    1. Hello Patrick! Thanks so much for getting in touch, I'll contact you directly via email!