Wednesday 12 July 2017

Barbara Carries On ... As Sadie Tomkins

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 Barbars's role as Sadie Tomkins in Carry On Abroad.


Many people consider Carry On Abroad to be the last great Carry On film ever made. In 1972 a full roster of classic team members flew off for a long weekend package holiday to the delightful Spanish island of Elsbells. Ahem. As with many of the best films in the series, Abroad excels because it gently lampoons something currently in the public consciousness. In this case, the trend for foreign travel and the cheap package holiday. 

All the gang put it terrific performances and Abroad is surely one of the purest Carry Ons - it's innuendo followed by sight gag followed by witty one liner followed by full on slapstick throughout. There is none of the pathos that even Convenience managed the year before. In a cast littered with team members and memorable guest turns (particularly June Whitfield and Jimmy Logan) Barbara puts in a strong performance as Sadie.

The main plot (if it can be called that) circles around Vic Flange's attempt to sneak off on holiday with Sadie behind wife Cora's (Joan Sims) back.Sid and Joan work tremendously well together in Abroad and look so right behind the bar. Their relationship on screen, although highly comedic, is also truthful and believable. Cora is afraid of most forms of travel so Vic is used to travelling alone, only this time he fancies a bit on the side with Sadie Tomkins (Barbara Windsor). Vic's fiendish plan is sabotaged by an unknowing Jack Douglas and Cora ends up tagging along for the holiday. With fellow holidaymakers including Kenneth Connor, June Whitfield, Bernard Bresslaw and Charles Hawtrey, it was never going to be plain sailing! 

Before talking more about Barbara's role in the film, special mentions must go to three outstanding performances. Kenneth Williams is on deliciously manic form as Wundatours courier Stuart Farquhar while Peter Butterworth and Hattie Jacques are sublime as the inept owners of the Palace Hotel, which quickly crumbles around the British guests. It really is an all guns blazing film and due to Hawtrey's imminent departure at the end of the year, it would be the beginning of the end.


Barbara very much plays to type in Carry On Abroad (no surprises there). She's the cockney blonde with the big bust and the suitcase full of skanties ready to burst open as soon as she claps sight of Jimmy Logan. Originally planned as a bit of fun with Vic, Sadie's holiday romance turns out to be Scottish good time lad Bert Conway (Logan). There is much comedy gleaned from the rivalry between Logan and James for Barbara's affections while Joan Sims lurks in the background as the ultimate put upon wife. Sid and Barbara work extremely well together in this film and their chemistry is irresistible, although as always I think Sid and Joan are the far better partnership. Full marks also to Jimmy Logan for his spirited turn as Bert. As a known entity, coming into a long established film series must have been a challenge but I love Logan and it's great to have a Scottish actor involved. (I wish I could speak so positively of his follow up performance as Cecil Gaybody in Girls). 

I like Windsor and Logan together - they make for a believable couple and even if their on again off again relationship is a bit tedious, it only gets brief coverage due to Abroad's constant requirement for endless double entendres and slapstick. Barbara holds her own against the latest flock of new young Carry On actresses in the glamorous shapes of Sally Geeson, Carol Hawkins and Gail Grainger and while the role doesn't test her acting credentials (no surprise there) it's reassuringly Babs. There is the usual bra popping sequence with Sid in a hotel corridor with Joan watching on which is par for the course, however there is also a rather memorable (if not necessarily for the right reasons) shower scene featuring the same actors. Quite a lot of Barbara is on display in this scene and it's all for the benefit of a rather lame sight gag. It feels cheap and rather nasty to be honest and it highlights yet again how the formerly innocent Carry On brand was being stretched by this period in their history. Things would only deteriorate further once they had the Confessions films to compete with.


In the end all the couples are reunited or get together and a happy ending is guaranteed in what must be one of the most satisfying finales of any Carry On. All the main characters gatherered round the bar in Sid's pub. Barbara's Sadie Tomkins gets together with Logan and all is well. Joan and Sid are once again solid as a rock and the screen fades to black on surely the best collection of British comedy talent ever to grace the silver screen.

Abroad is probably the last great outing for the gang. Barbara would return for just two more films in the series, neither of which are particular favourites of mine. However, I shall attempt to put those feelings to one side as I continue this series with the next of Barbara's roles - as Hope Springs in the 1973 film, Carry On Girls. 

To finish, here's some classic innuendo from Carry On Abroad, featuring Barbara and Sid:


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