Monday 31 July 2017

Carry On Blogging Interview: Robin Askwith (Part 2)


It's not every day you end up on the phone to Malta for an hour and a half with the actor Robin Askwith. Robin has been in my life for many years, thanks to his incredibly prolific and diverse acting career across film, television and theatre. Robin's career has come to be dominated by the legendary Confessions series of comedy films, however there is an awful lot more to the man than that. 

Yesterday I blogged Part 1 of our chat, which covered some of Robin's early film work and his time on Bless This House and Carry On Girls. Today we're continuing with a look back at the Confessions films as well as more recent work on the ITV soap opera Coronation Street and his blossoming association with the Misty Moon Film Society.

I have to ask about the phenomenon that was/is The Confessions Films. What's your favourite story from the making of those films?

It's virtually impossible to pick out just one story! Of course the most famous one of all is how busy the studios would get on the "sh*gging days". All manner of crew members would appear that you'd never see on the days I was doing scenes "at home" with Dandy Nichols. 

I remember doing a scene with an actress called Katya Wyeth. At the time such explicit scenes hadn't really been done in mainstream film comedies and that particular scene involved me going under the covers, as it were. The assistant director was a guy called Bert Batt, who had probably just come off a David Lean film or something and he really didn't understand what was happening. He had to be taken aside and have it explained to him and I don't think he came back on the set!

Here's a story I haven't told before. We used to do lots of filming out on location on Borehamwood High Street. There was a props man called Cyril who I'll never forget. He was a war veteran and he had a metal plate in his head. This used to fascinate me. Anyway, one day he mistakenly assumed a policeman out on the street was a member of the film crew and went up to him, insisting that he could have his walky-talky radio on him without a licence. No matter what the policeman said, Cyril wouldn't believe him and eventually grabbed his radio and pulled all the wires out! Nobody would believe he was actually a real policeman.

One of the joys of the Confessions films was the guest cast of instantly recognisable actors from British comedy. How important to the overall success of the films were the likes of Joan Hickson, Bill Maynard and John Le Mesurier?

Oh it was vital to have these actors in the films. At the time you've got to remember there weren't many other films being made in Britain so that's probably why we got all these actors. It was terrific to work with them. I had known Tony Booth for years before and having the likes of Dandy Nichols and Bill Maynard involved was just great. Linda Hayden, who I did a show with recent at the Cinema Museum, she was in two of the Confessions films, but before those she had done a lot of serious work and was a prolific actress. I was actually the last to be cast in that first Confessions film and it was mainly seeing the quality of the cast that made me sign on. 


Irene Handl was another one - I had such respect for her as I'd loved all the comedy films she'd made in the 1950s. She was in Confessions of a Driving Instructor and she always had this little dog with her. She used to keep a toilet roll in her pocket, just for the dog. She came up to me on the first day and told me how much she had wanted to do one of the films and how excited she was. She then whispered in my ear to warn me that "she was still a virgin" which made me wonder what kind of part in the film she thought she was getting! She was hilarious with a wicked sense of humour and knew exactly what she was doing! 

You have appeared twice in Coronation Street - once in a storyline filmed in Malta and more recently at Granada in Manchester. What was it like to join an established show like the Street?

Oh I loved it. The first part I did in the Street happened by accident. They were filming a storyline out in Malta, where I live. They couldn't find a suitable actor there to play this part of a slightly dodgy rep and the director Duncan Foster met me and said he wanted me for the part. I didn't have a lot to do and I remember they made me read for it before they confirmed I had the part. I do remember having a lot of fun working with Simon Gregson (Steve McDonald). He is a brilliant actor and a lovely bloke too. I remember we were getting ready to film a scene and he told me he was nervous about acting with me and I told him not to be as I had no idea what I was doing! 

And then in 2014 the role of the faded rock star Ritchie De Vries came along. At the time the casting director was Janet Hampson and I refused to come over from Malta to do an audition as I felt they knew what I could do. I did offer to send a tape though and filmed myself over here. I sent the tape over and they came back to say they wanted me to come over to Manchester anyway. They wanted me to do a screen test with Sue Johnston. I had to learn a six page scene for the test and I remember being really nervous when I got to the studios to do it. I hadn't had much sleep, I'd travelled a long way and I had always been such a fan of Sue Johnston's work. There was a lot of competition for the role but when I went in to do the reading, I absolutely nailed it. I have to thank Sue a great deal for that as she was excellent in the read through and really made it work well. Everyone at Granada was really encouraging when I went in that day.

I went back to Malta only to receive a call to say I had got the part and could I fly back the next day! To begin with Ritchie was meant to be a love interest for Sue's character however by that stage she had handed in her notice to go off and do other things, which was a shame, but my contract was only for three months anyway. People like Philip Lowrie (Dennis Tanner) and Barbara Knox (Rita Tanner) were so welcoming and kind and great to be with. I loved working with Philip, such a good actor and really good in the show. I really rated him and he was a lovely man too. Such a shame he's not in the show anymore. Barbara was great to work with and felt able to speak her mind on set! 


I did think it was a shame that my role became pretty comedic as originally it was meant to be a bit deeper than that. I think in the end they had me play it a bit like a Confessions actor with lots of humour whereas on my first appearance, when I came through the door the character was much more furtive. Ian Bevitt had me play it like that before turning on the big personality when Ritchie met Dennis. It was much more effective that way. I wish it had developed in more depth but I still loved it. I really got into it and was rewriting storylines in my head while I was there. I got on really well with Kym Marsh and thought it would have been great if Michelle had shown an interest in Ritchie - it would have got right up Steve's nose! People like Kate Ford (Tracy) and Ian Puleston-Davies (Owen) were really friendly and welcoming. Kate kept laughing every time she saw me! She seemed to find me quite funny! 

One of my favourite people was the late Anne Kirkbride, who played Deirdre. We didn't have any scenes together but she was such a lovely presence in the green room. Every time I went in there she'd throw her arms around me and give me a hug. Such a warm lady. I wish I'd got to work with her. I remember her asking if I was staying on and I said my contract was only for three months. She said "they've got to keep you Robin! It's only ink!" which was a lovely thing to say. 

Probably the most mischievious of all was Malcolm Hebden, who plays Norris. I remember just before we were due to shoot a scene he turned to me and told me that his testicles had gone black! He said, "if anyone knows about testicles, it's you Robin!" I loved my time in Coronation Street and would definitely have stayed on longer.

I understand you recently met up with the lovely Judy Matheson at a Misty Moon event. What was it like to catch up with her again after working on Confessions of a Window Cleaner?

Yes it was great to see Judy again at Elstree. She's quite involved with Misty Moon these days. We had known of each other before we met on the set of Confessions of a Window Cleaner so she knows that I was a serious actor before I got into those films. 


Judy often mentions this on Twitter you know...

Does she? I think she was a fan of some of my films before we did the Confessions.

I was in touch with her the other day and she mentioned another of your contemporaries, Richard O'Sullivan...

Oh Richard was a big, big star and a great friend to me. Richard was a good actor and very underrated. At one of the shows I did last year I mentioned him to see what kind of reaction it would get and the audience gave him a round of applause. 

You work regularly with Stuart Morriss from The Misty Moon Film Society. How did that working relationship develop?

First of all, Stuart doesn't have black testicles like Malcolm, he has nice juicy full ones. (Moving on...) I was first approached about doing some kind of stand up show around the time I was tested for Coronation Street but I wasn't keen. I've never enjoyed doing signing sessions or being up there on my own like that so I kept saying no. At an event, Stuart approached me and suggested doing something but I wasn't sure. I was eventually convinced and I did a one off thing at the pub in Ladywell and afterwards my friend Derren Litten (who writes Benidorm) said I should do a one man show. 


Stuart then arranged for me to do something similar at the Gatehouse in London as part of the Camden Fringe Festival. It was a huge success and very popular so the whole thing got on a roll from there. I always thought it would be a risk to go out on my own but my confidence has grown, thanks to Stuart and the reaction from the audiences. We've had some great reviews and people are starting to take notice of it all. Without Stuart, none of it would have happened and whatever happens with it, he'll always be a part of it.

At this point Robin plugs the fact that he has a late night gig scheduled for Tuesday 10 October at the Phoenix Artist Club. He adds that as I've never been to one of his gigs, if I don't attend this one, he'll never speak to me again. Should you wish to attend the gig (I'm obviously definitely going now) you can find out more and buy tickets here

And with that, the whirlwind that is Robin Askwith bade me farewell. It was an honour and a privilege to have a personal audience with the great Mr Askwith, who kept me entertained, answered my questions with thought and flair and was extremely open and approachable. After an hour and a half of unpredictable, fairly ribald chat my mother would once have disapproved of, I staggered off for a large gin. Let's just hope Robin follows through on his Twitter promise. I really do think he could break the internet.

Finally, a massive thank you to Stuart at Misty Moon for helping to set up the interview! 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram

Classic Comedy on Talking Pictures TV this afternoon!


A quick note to remind you that Talking Pictures TV are showing two truly classic British comedy films from the glory days of British film making this very afternoon. If you are a fan of the likes of Leslie Phillips, Sid James or Bernard Bresslaw, read on...

The Fast Lady (1962) 2pm

Murdoch Troon (Stanley Baxter) is a dour Scot living and working for a local government authority somewhere in the south of London. A shy young man, his main excitement comes from cycling. After he's forced off the road by an impatient car driver, he tracks down the owner, only to find that he is Commander Chingford (James Robertson Justice), the domineering and acerbic owner of a sportscar distributorship.

This delightful comedy also stars Leslie Phillips and Julie Christie, in her second film appearance. Watch out for cameos from the likes of Eric Barker, Esma Cannon, Dick Emery and Deryck Guyler.


Too Many Crooks (1959) 4pm

A brilliant comedy film about a bunch of inept crooks who kidnap the wrong woman. It stars George Cole as the leader of the gang, Brenda de Banzie as the victim, and Terry-Thomas as her husband. The film co-stars two future Carry On greats in Sidney James and Bernard Bresslaw. Watch out also for appearances from Vera Day, Terry Scott and John Le Mesurier.

So sit back and enjoy this double bill of classic British comedy or if you get the chance, set the video to record!

You can watch Talking Pictures TV on: Virgin 445 / Freeview 81 / Sky Channel 343 / Freesat 306 / Youview 81

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram

Sunday 30 July 2017

Carry On Blogging Interview: Robin Askwith (Part 1)


It's not every day you end up on the phone to Malta for an hour and a half with the actor Robin Askwith. Robin has been in my life for many years, thanks to his incredibly prolific and diverse acting career across film, television and theatre. Robin's career has come to be dominated by the legendary Confessions series of comedy films, however there is an awful lot more to the man than that. 

Always one to speak his mind, something that's really rather refreshing these days, Robin began our chat by discussing the modern trend of social media. Due to the growing popularity of his one man show performances, Robin is tentatively thinking about developing more of a following on Twitter, despite being wary about the internet. I think Twitter would be a much better place for a bit of Askwith so I hope he, for the want of a better expression, follows through. 

Robin and I spoke at some length so I've taken the decision to split this interview into two blogs. Today, we'll start off with some of Robin's early film appearances as well as his work for Peter Rogers Productions, which brought him into contact with the likes of Sid James, Carol Hawkins, June Whitfield and Margaret Nolan.

I've stitched the interview together from my many pages of notes - as Robin himself admits, he doesn't like formal question and answers, he prefers his answers to drive the questions! Here's how we got on:

One of your earliest film roles was that of Keating in If. It's a really iconic movie – what was it like to be a part of?

If was my first film part. I'd done some bits and pieces before that, like television commercials, but it was the big one. It's actually 50 years next year since we made that film and I'll be celebrating that with a tour I'm doing in 2018. It was an extraordinary film to get as my first role on the big screen. As you know I went to quite a posh public school and I took part in lots of school plays. The director of If, Lindsay Anderson, came to see one of the plays and I had a mishap with the false nose I was wearing. I made a joke of it and was told by the school that they wouldn't have me in another production. Lindsay loved it though and it was that that got me the film. 


Originally I was up for the part Richard Warwick played but they changed the ages of the characters and I ended up playing Keating, which was great as I had more time to learn about the process of filming. I remember having many, many auditions with the casting director, a lady called Miriam Brickman. Lindsay Anderson became a good friend though and I worked for him again in the film Britannia Hospital, playing the same character but in a larger role. He had tried to get me to do a couple of parts on stage at the Royal Court but I was too busy filming in the end. Lindsay Anderson was a great director, mainly in the theatre, but he was a guiding force for me in my early career.

You worked for the Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini in his rather extraordinary version of The Canterbury Tales in 1972. What are your memories of that filming experience?

That part happened by accident. I had worked with one or two Italian film directors by that stage and I was a bit wary of them, not the best experiences. My girlfriend at the time was the actress Cheryl Hall (who eventually started in Citizen Smith and married its star Robert Lindsay). Cheryl was going for an audition with the Italian director, Pier Paolo Pasolini at the Hyde Park Hotel so I went along with her. It was the days of the tight purple trousers, tight t-shirts and love beads. The first thing Pasolini actually said to me was in English - he looked me up and down and said "You look like you use your c*ck a lot". I replied by getting it out and saying "does it look like it?!". He loved it, I was cast in the film and we remained friends until his sad death. 


The same year you appeared with many of the Carry On team in the film version of Bless This House. Was that a fun film to do and did you enjoy working with Sid James?

Bless This House is still such a popular film. Here in Gozo where I live, friends who are parents are always telling their kids that I'm a famous film star and they ask what I've been in - the only film I made that kids can really watch is probably Bless This House and they love it. It's such an English film and I don't know what all these Southern Europeans love about it but they go mad for it. A lot of the fan mail I get these days is about Bless This House and I get sent photos of me from the film. It's incredible, but I guess it's down to the terrific cast in the film and the fun of it all. 

Sid was great to work with, I really respected him and all the work he'd done. He'd made some terrific films, worked on the BBC series Taxi, which I loved and all the radio with Tony Hancock. There was a great deal of respect for Sid and he really was the leading man of the Carry Ons. He spotted me and took to me, he liked what I was doing and it was great to work with him. I did also appear in a one off episode of the series Bless This House, and I was originally considered for the part of Sid's son Mike. It went to Robin Stewart in the end but I think Sid wanted me for the part.  

I loved making the film. There was one sequence in particular, when I'm cooking in the cafe and we did the whole thing in one take - I was just allowed to go for it and it was all really spontaneous. The result was fantastic and Sid James told me it was genuinely the funniest thing he'd seen since the comic Charlie Cairoli. Sadly there was something wrong with the negative from the original take so we had to shoot it again. I was happy with it but it didn't have the edge of the original version. I remember Alan Hume, who was the Director of Photography, being such a giggler. We used to have to go again because he'd broken up laughing at what we were all doing. I think it was that film that made me realise I could do comedy. Until then I had been doing more straight stuff, more realistic. It was Sid's fault really as he kept telling me to go bigger and over react more in performance! And from that film I got Carry On Girls. 

One of your main co-stars in the Bless This House film was Carol Hawkins. I think you went to drama school with her too? What was it like to work with Carol?

I was very friendly with Carol, we got on really well. My agent at the time was a lady called Hazel Malone and her sister ran the Corona Academy, a school which trained young actors, producing the likes of Judy and Sally Geeson, Susan George, Richard O'Sullivan and Dennis Waterman. I had already had quite a serious schooling but I went along to Corona because it was just a great place to be. Also, my school had been a boys' school and Corona had girls! I had already made a few films and done some television at this stage but I got to know Carol before her career got going. We acted together there in a production of Private Lives I remember. 

Carol was responsible for drawing Gerald Thomas' attention towards me when he was casting the film of Bless This House. She had been working on Carry On Abroad with Sally Geeson just before and both Carol and Sally went on to do the Bless This House film straight after. Robin Stewart, who was playing Mike Abbott in the television series, was not going to appear in the film version and Gerald was looking around for a young actor. Carol suggested me. Gerald had no way of seeing what I had done as once one of the films I'd been in had been on in the cinema, it was gone. There were no DVDs in 1972 or even VHS. For instance, just before this I'd done a series for Yorkshire TV called On The House, with Kenneth Connor and Derek Griffiths. Once it was shown it was gone so it didn't really help. So Carol persuaded him to see me. I had Sid, Carol and Sally in my corner and I didn't have to read for the part. I remember as I arrived to meet Gerald, my main rival for the role, Christopher Timothy, was just leaving. He's a great actor but he was ten years older than me and not known for comedy. Gerald was a tremendous man and great to work with. 


In 1973 you played June Whitfield's son in Carry On Girls. You shared a memorable scene on Brighton beach with the lovely Maggie Nolan. Do you have fond memories of filming Girls and working with Maggie?

Carry On Girls was great fun. Originally my part of the photographer had been a wordless role but they built it up for me. I remember Barbara Windsor kept saying "'ere, that Askwith, his part's getting bigger and bigger!" (At this point I compliment Robin on his absolutely stunning Dame Barbara impersonation). June Whitfield was fantastic to work with, she called me "her son" off screen as well as on. She was (and is) a lovely lady and really great. We'd done something before Girls came along and many years later I appeared in panto with her. 

I remember at one stage I used to stay in a great hotel down in Wimbledon run by a man called Ray Slade. June and I had neighbouring suites in the hotel and he used to say he'd know what was going on in the June Whitfield suite and he'd always know what was going on in the Robin Askwith suite! At the time I had a girlfriend who kept budgies and once she brought them to the suite. We had a lot of fun joking about how I had three birds in my suite. 


I have fond memories of working with Maggie Nolan, she was great. That scene on the beach at Brighton was good to do but I was a total professional. I remember she was very political and at the time I think she was married to Tom Kempinski? She tried to sign me up to the Workers' Revolutionary Party but I declined! (I mention the infamous fight sequence in the film between Nolan and Barbara Windsor and tell Robin that Maggie was actually pregnant at the time). I didn't know she was pregnant but now you mention it I do recall she was a bit reticent about doing that scene. In the end I think they both really went for it though. Gerald Thomas wanted me to do more Carry Ons but of course I ended up going off to do the Confessions films, which in a way saw the eventual decline of the Carry Ons. I don't think he ever forgave me for that, which is sad. I got on very well with Gerald for a long time and used to go and see him at his house in Burnham. 

One of your regular co-stars in the Confessions comedies was the legendary Liz Fraser. What was she like to work with?

Liz is a great actress and had made a great many wonderful films. She did the first Confessions film because she was a great friend of Linda Hayden. I remember she was fun to work with, particularly in Driving Instructor when we had that scene in the bath. She was very down to earth and pretty much up for anything. She played the scenes really well and just got on with it.


I hope you have enjoyed the first part of my interview with Robin. Watch out for Part 2 coming up tomorrow when we delve further into the world of the Confessions films, before coming up to date with Coronation Street, a reunion with Judy Matheson and Robin's association with the Misty Moon Film Society.

Finally, a massive thank you to Stuart at Misty Moon for helping to set up the interview! 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram


Setting the tone

For me, one of the greatest successes of the Carry On films was the music, mainly composed by the incredibly talented Eric Rogers. The score of a film sets the tone for the entire film, the story, the characters and the situations. While much of Eric's incidental music is truly excellent, his main theme tunes are the stuff of legend for me.

So here, for no reason other than a good wallow in some British film nostalgia, are my top five Carry On film theme tunes:

First off the rank is the tune from the classic 1971 adventure with the gang, Carry On At Your Convenience. The theme tune for Convenience is spot on for the film that follows. No subtlety, it moves at break neck speed and is full of fun and sauce!

Next up is the theme from my own personal favourite Carry On, Carry On Cabby. Released in 1963, this "kitchen sink" almost feminist Carry On features the first original score from Eric Rogers and the main theme is perfect. Once it gets inside your head you'll be forever humming it.

Going back to the very beginning now is a wonderful piece of music from the original Carry On composer, Bruce Montgomery. Montgomery, who also wrote crime fiction under the name of Edmund Crispin, composed the scores for the first six Carry On films. The original title music was updated and jazzed up as the films progressed and the clip featured below is my favourite, used in Teacher, Constable and Regardless. Montgomery's score was used for the last time in Carry On Cruising (the theme had more of a nautical twist for that film) before Eric Rogers came aboard for Cabby. Rogers continued to write the music for the films pretty much until the end of the run in 1978. 

I think the theme tune from 1975's Carry On Behind is one of the best in the entire series. It is very catchy and sets up the bawdy knock about 1970s comedy that follows superbly. It is also written around the initials of Peter Rogers' film producer wife, Betty Evelyn Box.

My final favourite has to be Carry On Screaming's chilling theme tune! The 1966 comedy horror classic is one of the few Carry On themes to feature an actual song. This comedy song was written by Myles Rudge and Ted DIcks, the duo who worked in theatrical revues and also wrote novelty songs for the likes of Bernard Cribbins and Joan Sims. The singer of Carry On Screaming is credited only as "Anon" and for many years it was rumoured the film's star and former pop singer Jim Dale was behind it. However, it is now credited to a session singer called Ray Pilgrim. 

So those are some of my favourite pieces of classic Carry On music, what are yours?

You can read more about why I love the Carry On film music here

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan

Friday 28 July 2017

What a Carry On at the London Film Convention!

The London Film Convention is now in its 45th year.  The Convention gives fans of classic film and television a chance to meet stars, have photos taken with them and go home with an autograph as a lovely memento.

The next Convention is due to take place on Saturday 16 September 2017 and although it's early days, there have already been some interesting guests announced. I will bring you news of further guest announcements as they come through!  

Leading the field is Carry On, James Bond and Hammer Horror legend, the lovely Valerie Leon! Valerie of course starred in six Carry Ons: Up The Khyber, Camping, Again Doctor, Up The Jungle, Matron and Girls. She also took the lead role in the classic horror film Blood From The Mummy's Tomb and appeared opposite two James Bonds - Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me and Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again. 

Also attending will be the original Carry On girl, Shirley Eaton. Bond girl Shirley starred in Sergeant, Nurse and Constable as well as appearing in the very first Doctor film and the likes of The Naked Truth, What A Carve Up and Dentist On The Job. 

Joining Valerie and Shirley is another class act of British film comedy - Fenella Fielding. Fenella appeared in two Carry Ons, first of all as Penny Panting (!) opposite Kenneth Connor in Carry On Regardless and then several years later in her most iconic role as Valeria Watt in Carry On Screaming. I have been fortunate enough to meet Fenella before and she is an absolute delight.

The London Film Convention will be taking place on Saturday 16 September between 10am-5pm at Central Hall, Westminster, in Central London. You can find out more by visiting their website here

If you attend this event please do get in touch and let me know how it went and who you met!

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram

Live in Colour with Art & Hue's new TV pop art prints

In 1967, the colour was switched on for the first time in Great Britain, literally and metaphorically.

The BBC broadcast the first colour pictures in July 1967 before BBC 2 started broadcasting in full colour from December of the same year.

Additionally, society at large, and the British cultural landscape, seemed more colourful when homosexuality was decriminalised on the July 27th 1967.

Referencing the colourful progress in Great Britain 50 years ago, Art & Hue has created a group of four pop art prints to add style to the iconic rainbow as well as a contemporary take on retro television for your walls.

Available in three sizes and 28 colour options, choose from Rainbow, Pastel Rainbow (a delicate ice-cream palette), RGB (the three colours of the vintage TV screen spectrum), CMYK (the colours of printing), as well as 24 other colour choices.

Exclusively by Art & Hue, all pop art prints are printed on museum-quality archival card of 310gsm, made from 100% cotton, using fine art pigment inks which last hundreds of years.

Visit to see the full collection of pop art prints.


You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram

Thursday 27 July 2017

July 1967 through the eyes of Kenneth Williams


Today marks the fiftieth anniversary since The Sexual Offences Act received royal assent. This piece of legislation decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men, both of whom had to have reached the age of 21. The Act only applied to England and Wales and did not cover the Merchant Navy or the Armed Forces. The law did not come into force either in Scotland until 1980 and Northern Ireland two years after that.

Why am I writing about this on a blog all about the Carry On films? Well, apart from it being a momentous moment in the recent history of the United Kingdom, it also had a real, tangible effect on some of the Carry On cast. While the Carry Ons remained light, fluffy confections of ribaldry, innuendo, boobs and bums, the times were certainly a-changing during their long reign at the box office. The coy post-war era of Carry On Sergeant was definitely history by the time this law was passed nearly ten years later. While gay characters were never really covered in the Carry Ons in any great depth (John Clive and David Kernan being the closest thing we got to any kind of gay couple in the world of Pinewood comedy), leading actors Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey both dealt with being gay and in the public eye at a time when society at large deemed it completely unacceptable.


Kenneth and Charles were never ever gay in the Carry Ons. Yes their characters were always camp and outrageous but the same could be said for Hattie Jacques, Barbara Windsor or Joan Sims. Kenneth's sexuality in the Carry Ons was never touched upon although one had to suspend disbelief when his Carry On Abroad character was seen coupling off with Gail Grainger's Moira at the end of that particular film. Kenneth Williams was usually playing it over the top and it was very camp but it was with a small "c". Charles Hawtrey was camp with a very big "C" but still not portrayed as a homosexual. He was the loner, normally apart from the group and often the mummy's boy. In real life both Williams and Hawtrey took entirely different approaches to their sexuality. 

By all accounts Charles relished who he was and what that meant, becoming a well-known and flamboyant figure when he set up home in the seaside town of Deal in Kent. Hawtrey enjoyed his private life at a time when it was still perilous to do so and although he lived a troubled life, I do hope his freedom to enjoy who he was gave him some light in the darkness. We know more about Kenneth Williams and his attitudes thanks to his infamous, beautifully written diaries, which provide as much of a social commentary on the modern age as any other document. And hardly any other document could be quite so entertaining. Williams, close to his mother, outwardly confident, intelligent and beloved, lived a simple life in private fighting between his strong faith and working class roots and the knowledge that he was always a bit different from those around him. Much of Kenneth's adult life seemed pitched into an inner torment that is sometimes agonising to read about, let alone actually live through. 


I try not to write in too much detail about the private lives of actors I've long been fond of. That's not what this blog is about. You can go elsewhere for biographies, documentaries and dramas that rake over the coals of lives lived. This is and will always be more of a celebration of these wonderful performers who still provide so much entertainment, joy and comfort so long after they have left us. However, on this momentous day, I found myself picking up my rather weathered, well-worn copy of Kenneth Williams' Diaries to see how he reacted to the decriminalisation back in July 1967. 

On Thursday 13 July, Kenneth acknowledged the news that the House of Lords had passed the bill, brought forward by Leo Abse:

The Lords have passed Leo Abse's bill, legalising homosexuality in England: It's all right between two consenting adults in private except the services! and in Scotland. So it won't do any good for the queens of Dundee and the like.

On Sunday 23 July, Kenneth was with the playwright Joe Orton and his longterm partner Kenneth Halliwell at their flat in Noel Road, Islington:

Went up to see Joe Orton & Kenneth. They were v. kind. We chatted about homosexuality and the effect the new clause would have. We agreed it would accomplish little. 

Sadly, none of these men would see the benefits the change in the law would finally bring about. Just over two weeks later, Kenneth Williams received the following news:

John Hussey telephoned me at 4.45, he'd read in the paper that Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell are dead. Apparently it is a murder and a suicide. The BBC wanted me to go on TV and talk about Joe, but the Police will not name Joe Orton as being dead so the programme has been cancelled...I said no to the BBC anyway. I couldn't talk about Joe in public - not at the moment.

Kenneth did eventually talk to the BBC about his association with Orton and Halliwell, in the 1982 Arena programme - A Genius Like Us: A Portrait of Joe Orton. Kenneth discusses how they met, the relationship between the couple and their sad end:

While Orton and Halliwell left this world not long after the law was changed, Kenneth Williams did live on to experience the greater freedoms and changes in culture it brought about. He would witness the liberalisation of many aspects of British life however sadly, for whatever reason could never quite become involved himself. I often wonder what Kenneth would make of the world today - I think we miss his acerbic Willo' the Wisp take on things more keenly as time passes.

While people like Joe Orton were fuelled into creativity by their sexuality both publicly and privately, the likes of Hawtrey, Williams and Frankie Howerd forged careers as part of the establishment, making us laugh until we cried. We all knew they were gay but it was never really discussed. Kenneth's unique stranglehold on camp comedy at the BBC was challenged by the late 1970s as more flamboyant and openly gay performers like John Inman (or that Inman creature as Kenneth called him in 1977) appeared on the scene. However, for me, he will always be the master.


We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to these talented, complex, sometimes troubled and tortured men. Not only have they left us a huge legacy of fun and laughter, but they also paved the way, living through extremely challenging, unfair times and bridging the gap to equality. 

See also: Carry On Blogging: Kenneth and Joe 

AndCarry On Blogging: Carry On ... Camping?

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram

Wednesday 26 July 2017

Favourites in Five: Sarah Miller Walters

This is the first in a new series of blogs where I ask some of my favourite regular contributors and film fans to select five of the biggest influences on their lives from the world of film, television and theatre. These are all very personal choices and I find it fascinating to find out who everyone picks.

We're starting off today with Sarah Miller Walters and although she's been a bit cheeky and chosen six famous faces instead of five, but given her sixth and final choice, I could hardly refuse could I?

Margaret Rutherford 

If British cinema was a ship, the figurehead would be Margaret Rutherford. She would lean out from the prow with a jutting chin and her capes a-flutter.  Everybody knows and loves her. But delve a little deeper and be prepared for surprises. Her father spent time in Broadmoor, and had murdered his own father.  Her mother committed suicide. Combined with Margaret’s own bouts of depression, this was behind her conscious decision to not have children. Remarkably, she decided to dedicate her life to joy instead. I can’t help but think that any modern-day actor would use a history like Margaret’s as an excuse for bad behaviour and drug or alcohol abuse. It seems that her only vices were a fondness for sandwiches and afternoon naps. 

Margaret’s films continue to delight so many people and her face remains known and loved 45 years after her death (sadly just weeks before I was born, how I wish I had been alive at the same time as Margaret!) Her significance to me is simply that I always wanted to be her. I never aspired to glamour. I just wanted the nerve to wear capes and hats with the same aplomb. I wanted to be as knowledgeable a historian as she portrays in “Passport to Pimlico” and to ride a bike with the same exuberance as she does in “Blithe Spirit”. WHAT a gal!


Joyce Grenfell

This is another face that needs no introduction to anyone with at least a passing interest in 20th century British culture.  From the 1940s to her death in 1979, Joyce was a regular on our radio, television, stage and cinema screen. Her most famous film role is Policewoman Ruby Gates from the St Trinians film series, but many will also be familiar with her Nursery School Teacher monologues. 
“George, don’t do that.”

Joyce wrote all of her own monologues - there are so many of these, please do explore beyond the nursery teacher. It is as a writer that she holds particular interest for me. I think that Joyce and I have something in common – and that is a desire to be continually writing things down. She was a prolific letter writer and several absorbing volumes have been published. These offer a unique first- hand account of life in general during a fascinating period of history; as well as an insight into the life of a celebrity. She is both a historical icon and a resource. Follow @CallMeSossidge on Twitter!


Lilian Baylis

Lilian’s name is not as familiar as my previous two choices and this is a great shame. It is unfortunate that those talents not actually there before us on the screen or the stage and therefore not in the public eye are more easily forgotten. Lilian is a theatrical hero and I would like to help keep her legend alive. To this end, I have recently been conducting some research into her life and work.

Lilian was the manager of the Old Vic theatre from 1912 until her death in 1937. During this time she also founded Sadlers Wells and sowed the seeds of what would become the National Theatre. She was determined that theatre was for all, not just those who could afford it. 

Most fascinating is the roll call of names of actors who learned or polished their trade on her stage. Read books and programmes and name after name leaps out at you. John Laurie, Athene Seyler, Eric Portman, Sybil Thorndike, James Mason, Edith Evans, Roger Livesey, Flora Robson. This is just dipping a toe in the water. Better still, Lilian was a Character. A one-off. She had to be to succeed as a female theatre manager in those days. Stories of her eccentricities abound and are the icing on the cake of a fantastic life. Do look her up.


Will Hay

One of my earliest film related memories is of watching the Will Hay film “Where’s That Fire?” I don’t know how old I was – possibly not even old enough to understand some of the jokes.  But I do know that I laughed myself silly at the scenes where Hay and his sidekicks are trying to install a pole in the fire station. And I still do now. One of my favourite ever films is ‘Oh, Mr Porter!’ Again, it never goes stale. Hay’s sense of comedy is timeless, he knew what he was doing. A successful music hall act, he managed to move his act onto the screen – which is probably not as easy as he makes it look.  Away from his performing career he was an astronomer and an extremely intelligent man who died much too soon, aged just 60.


George Formby

To many, George Formby is the ugly feller from Wigan with the ukulele and repertoire of cheeky songs. These can still raise an eyebrow and a smile today. His films are great entertainment too, and they are also a historical resource.  It was my use of Formby’s films in a study of wartime propaganda when I was a student that was behind the idea for my blog, ‘The History Usherette.’ In the 1930s, his films tackled subjects that were relevant to ordinary people. And when war came, he was keen to boost morale through his screen work as well as his concert tours. His films reflect on what would have been common concerns to his audience. As a result, this offers a great insight into the years between 1935 and 1945. I wrote an essay about this in one of my books if you would like to know more (Matinee Musings by The History Usherette).


Kenneth Williams

Those of us who were born in the early 1970s grew up with Kenneth Williams. When we were young, he was that feller on ‘Jackanory’ with the funny voices. Then he was the narrator behind the tea-time cartoon ‘Willo The Wisp’ featuring the hilarious Evil Edna. As we got a bit older, we started to see the Carry On films on television on weekend afternoons, and he was the only guest worth watching on the otherwise boring chat shows that our parents watched. 

I was 15 when he died and was sad about it, while still knowing relatively little about him. Then his diaries were published and I read them – and new vistas opened up. I bought cassettes of ‘Round The Horne’ and ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’; I learned the story behind Julian and Sandy’s bona slang.  Kenneth Williams is a national institution who holds an enormous power to entertain and educate long after he so sadly trolled off and left us, still wanting more. 

I hope you have enjoyed the blog - and thanks again to Sarah for taking the time to do it! You can follow Sarah on Twitter here and there is plenty of wonderful Joyce Grenfell fun @CallMeSossidge

And you can find out more about Sarah's wonderful books here 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram