Monday 3 July 2017

Barbara Carries On ... As Nurse Susan Ball

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 sixth role in the series, as Nurse Susan Ball in Carry On Matron. 

The basic premise of Carry On Matron is an update of previous medical entries (Matron!) The saucy Seventies allowed even more near the knuckle humour and Talbot Rothwell takes full advantage with a script that is part hospital knock about farce and part crime caper. Sid James and his gang of Bernard Bresslaw, Bill Maynard and Kenneth Cope plan a Too Many Crooks like heist on Finisham Maternity Hospital to steal a load of morning after pills. To do this, Sid's screen son Cope goes under cover in drag as a student nurse, attracting the dodgy attentions of Terry Scott's amorous Dr Prodd in the process. Scott is at his most lascivious here in his final Carry On role and he plays the part extremely well. 

Away from the crime caper element, the rest of the film sees three Carry On stalwarts camp about the hospital with innuendo-encrusted delight. Joining Jacques is an on form and over the top Kenneth Williams as Sir Bernard Cutting and Charles Hawtrey in his penultimate role as Dr F.A Goode (!). Although Charles is criminally underused in the film, he does have some priceless moments with Williams during the "newts" sequence and again with Hattie with all the comic misunderstandings as they sit down to watch television together in her room. The appearance of Hawtrey, however brief, could lift any script and this would be proved again and again once he had left the series in 1972.

Barbara's role is probably her smallest part (as it were) in any of the Carry Ons. With Jacques, Williams and co stealing most of the action, Barbara's main role in proceedings is as love interest to Kenneth Cope's Cyril Carter, under cover in the maternity hospital as trainee nurse Cyrile. Despite her lack of screen time, this is one of my favourite of Barbara's 1970s Carry On appearances and definitely her most sympathetic, underplayed role. Barbara works ever so well with Kenneth Cope, the pair have delightful chemistry and it makes a change to see Barbara working alongside an actor other than Kenneth Williams or Sid James. They make for a believable partnership and Nurse Ball proves to be a warm and welcoming presence to the nervous Nurse Carter and then an understanding and sympathetic character when the truth is finally revealed. 

Barbara's involvement in the film does provide at least one stand out moment. When Sid James appears in the nurses home looking for his son (in drag) he gets the shock of his life when he walks in on what appears to be two nurses having rather a passionate snog on the bed. Of course it's Kenneth Cope and Barbara Windsor but Sid's reaction is priceless. It's interesting to see the worldly-wise character of Sid momentarily stunned at what he's seeing! Times were indeed a-changing even if it wasn't quite what he initially thought! 

For a change, relatively little is made of Barbara's assets in Carry On Matron. There is the obvious scene of her in her underwear, but for a change in the 1970s at least, it goes no further than that. Kenneth Cope helps a great deal here as his performance as Cyril is just gorgeous - a wide-eye innocent caught up in his father's dodgy schemes. Barbara convinces as the caring nurse and her scenes with Matron Hattie are beautifully played. Barbara's is obviously concealing her giggles during the innuendo-laden scene at the start of the film featuring Madeline Smith's baby and Joan Sims and her wonky sausage...Moving on...

Nurse Ball's blossoming romance with Cyril isn't the only strand she's involved with in Matron. She also shares several rather fruity scenes with the hospital's resident wandering hands, Terry Scott's amorous Dr Prodd. However, rather than give into temptation with the good doctor, Barbara's Nurse Ball always has the upper hand in their encounters and shows him who is boss! She has obviously come across plenty like him in the past and is wise to his advances! Her dismay at his lascivious behaviour towards his female patients is clear to see and their one upmanship battle is good fun to watch. 

 Sadly Barbara is absent for much of the climatic scenes involving Sid's gang raiding the hospital but she does appear towards the end of the film in the lovely scenes which sees Kenneth's Sir Bernard Cutting finally wed Hattie's Matron. It's a happy ending for nearly all the characters and once again, Barbara and Kenneth Cope share some lovely down to earth moments. In a film bursting with comedy talent and stand out performances, the likes of Joan Sims, Kenneth Connor and indeed Barbara Windsor seem content to take a back seat and allow Scott, Jacques and Williams to dominate. It's a great piece of consistency though to feature Barbara as a nurse in Matron given her strong previous appearances in medical Carry Ons. And no doubt many of the audience members were rather pleased to see Miss Windsor back in a nurses' uniform.

1971 would be the last time two Carry Ons were produced in the same year. The next film in the series, Carry On Abroad would begin a slight slow down in production at Pinewood. However, Barbara would continue with her one film a year commitment, appearing in the next three films in quick succession. Next up is my take on Barbara's role as Sadie Tompkins in what many consider to be the last great classic in the series, Carry On Abroad.  

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  1. It's her straightest Carry On role, she doesn't get much of the funny lines or business, but I remember being surprised by her convincing, warm, understated performance of an unusually normal sort of woman. Her best line: either telling Dr Prodd to "take your shoes and socks off and have a nice paddle" in her urine sample, or of course "I don't fancy being a gangster's moll". Cheeky Tolly!

    1. I agree it's her straightest role and that's probably why i like it. She's v convincing which suggests she should have played such characters more often