Sunday 23 July 2017

Barbara Carries On ... As Hope Springs


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. So let's carry on today with a look back at Barbara's eighth and penultimate Carry On role, as Hope Springs in Carry On Girls.


I've written about Carry On Girls before and I'll reiterate now that it's probably one of my least favourite films in the entire series. The film misses Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques and Charles Hawtrey keenly while I disagree with the promotion of Barbara over Joan Sims at a time when Sid and Joan's on-screen relationship had hit a new level of fabulousness in Carry On Abroad. Girls is rather a shoddy looking film, and I know it's supposed to be set in a down at heel seaside resort but still... Girls, which tells the story of Fircombe's attempts to generate publicity and income with a beauty contest, pushed the series nearer the knuckle than ever before. It's much bawdier than any previous film in the series and it really does reflect changing times both in society and the British film industry. 

There are good points in the film of course. The cast includes sold turns from reliable actors like June Whitfield as the feminist Augusta Prodworthy, Kenneth Connor as the bumbling Mayor and Joan Hickson as the absent-minded hotel resident Mrs Dukes. Best of all is the superb Patsy Rowlands as the mayor's wife Mildred. Rowlands enjoys better than average screen time in this film and it's great to see her grab a proper comedy role in the series. Apart from that, Girls is really the Sid and Barbara show. Sid is Sidney Fiddler, the mastermind behind the contest while Babs is Hope Springs, his love interest and the main contestant. 


Barbara gives the role of Hope Springs all the gusto she's got but if ever there was a Carry On Babs parody part, this is it. She cackles, sticks her boobs out and over-acts like there's no tomorrow. However, for such a bawdy film, there's less Windsor flesh on display than some previous films. Girls features more glamorous young actresses than any other film in the series - the likes of Wendy Richard, Angela Grant, Laraine Humphrys, Margaret Nolan and Valerie Leon all parade around in skimpy bikinis throughout the film. Despite this, Barbara is the main focus and in every line up it is she who stands out. Testament to her irresistible star quality I guess! 

The film is full of over-egged set pieces, none more so than the publicity photo call which descends into farce thanks to a rather full on cat fight between Barbara and Maggie Nolan. The two actresses really go for it which is all the more surprising given Maggie's revelation in 2015's Carry On Forever documentary that she was actually pregnant at the time! This fight sequence pushes the Carry On humour as far as it can go and a bit further over the fence. I'm no fan of it and I think certain bits were actually cut to pass the film with an A rating. These days it's not much more than what we see in your average soap opera but compared to delightful Carry On comedies like Cleo, Cowboy and Doctor, this move towards ruder scenes does leave a bad taste in the mouth.


Barbara's chemistry with Sid James is undeniably what keeps the film going. They are great together and really sparkle on the screen. Hope Springs has plenty of spirit and Sidney Fiddler has the usual, albeit more mature Sid twinkle. Sid is clearly in his element in this starring role although I much preferred him in his other main role of this era, as the put upon father in Bless This House. One of my favourite sequences in Girls sees a reluctant Bernard Bresslaw drag up to add some spice to a photo shoot. The scenes where Barbara helps Bernie get ready are funny, natural and believable. I just wish more of Girls had been like that. 

Of course Augusta Prodworthy's band of feminists ruin the big beauty contest finale with their flour and soot bombs and it looks like they did it for real as Barbara and the other actresses really suffer for their art! Again, Peter Rogers was making the most of current events with protests against Miss World, but for me it's a step too far for the films. Sid and Barbara make their escape from the angry mob on her motorbike and while a stunt double was very obviously used on the pier, the final "The End" credits sequence does feature a very nervous looking Babs riding the motorbike down a dual carriageway with Sid gripping on tightly behind


Carry On Girls will always be one of my least favourite films but nobody can deny that Barbara gives it all she's got. Bearing in mind most of the principal cast were appearing twice nightly in the Victoria Palace revue, Carry On London at the same time, they must have been exhausted! Girls did mark a sea change in the Carry Ons and the next few entries gradually moved further towards the market occupied by the new and hugely popular Confessions films. I'll be blogging more about that soon when I take a look at Barbara's very last original Carry On film, with her role as Harriet in Carry On Dick, a film that would mark the end of an era in more ways that one. 

To finish, here's a reminder of that infamous fight sequence between Barbara and Maggie Nolan:


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

No comments:

Post a Comment