Friday 4 August 2017

Barbara Carries On ... As Harriet

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 end this series of blogs today with a look back at Barbara's ninth and final Carry On role, as Harriet in Carry On Dick.


Carry On Dick has never been one of my favourites in the series. As a later effort though and one of the last historical films it works fairly well however compared to earlier entries like Don't Lose Your Head and Up The Khyber, Dick is very static and studio-based and some of the cast are starting to show their age. Despite this, the film captures the seedy atmosphere of the times very well and all the scenes set in the Old Cock Inn are brilliant to watch. Dick also provides fans with the last opportunity to see several favourites in a Carry On film. The cast is bursting with team members as all current actors in the gang appear. As well as Hattie, this film is also the farewell for both Sid James and Barbara Windsor. Sid and Barbara would appear in several episodes of the ATV Carry On Laughing series broadcast the follow year (even Hattie would make an appearance) however this would be the last original feature film for all three stalwarts. Also, prolific writer Talbot Rothwell retired from the films after Dick, his health having deteriorated further. Future films in the series would really suffer without his talents.
Carry On Dick tells the well-worn story of highway man Dick Turpin and who else could play Dick but Sidney James. The film follows his gang as they rob the rich and constantly evade capture by Captain Desmond Fancey and Sergeant Jock Strapp (Kenneth Williams and Jack Douglas). Sid's last role in the series is a great one. Dick Turpin is Sid at his twinkly, naughtiest best while the film also provides him with the dual role of the Rev Flasher (!) Dick's cover story as the sedate, understated local vicar. The rest of his gang comprise Peter Butterworth as Tom and Barbara Windsor as Harriet. Sid and Barbara have terrific chemistry throughout and go as near the knuckle as they could possibly go!


Dick is in many ways a sequel to the French Revolution romp, Don't Lose Your Head, almost eight years earlier. In that film Sid also had a dual role as both Sid Rodney Ffing and the Black Fingernail. It allows Sid the actor to really work and show some subtlety in performance (Yes that was possible even in a Carry On). It's a great role for him to go out on even though nobody knew it at the time. He was due to appear in Carry On Behind, however touring commitments in the theatre meant the role written for him eventually went to Windsor Davies. 

Anyway, back to Barbara's role in Dick (as it were). As with Girls before it, Dick is very much about the Sid and Barbara pairing. She is the principal member of his gang (along with a criminally under-used Peter Butterworth) and pops up and pops out with alarming regularity throughout this rather slow moving, static film. Nearly everyone present is really starting to show their maturity. Barbara is by now so important to the Carry On brand that she is even billed above series stalwart Kenneth Williams in this film. For me though, it's not one of her best performances. No chance of subtlety here as Babs is out of the traps and away as soon as the theme music is over. 


The whole film revolves around Big Dick's attempts to woo Barbara's Harriet. This comes at a price when the cast includes such gems as Joan Sims, Bernard Bresslaw, Kenneth Connor, Patsy Rowlands and Bill Maynard. Although this would be the last time a Carry On would star so many well-loved actors, most of them play second fiddle to the two stars of the film. Long gone is the innocent, slightly cheeky charm of Barbara's earlier Carry On roles in the likes of Spying and Doctor; in Dick there is virtually nothing left to the imagination. Ever the trooper, Barbara goes for it, the true professional that she was (and is). However when it comes to seeing her burst out of her blouse for the seventeenth time or do a strip tease in front of his majesty's constabulary, it's all, well a little old hat. No coincidence that the Confessions films were gearing up to provide a major challenge to the Carry On crown with their near the knuckle treatment of nudity and sex. You can see which way the wind is blowing.

Of course Barbara and Sid ARE irresistible together and despite Sid's advancing years, he's still got what it takes in his dual role as the sedate Rev. Flasher and the lusty highwayman, Dick Turpin. Probably the most life in the film are the scenes between Sid and Babs yet I still think their characters, scenarios and dialogue pale into insignificance compared to the delights of previous offerings like Camping, Henry and Abroad. I'm rather sad that Carry On Dick was the last we would see of Barbara in a Carry On. I prefer to think of her as the first class agent, Daphne Honeybutt in the glorious black and white Carry On Spying of ten years before.


Barbara would return to the world of Carry On several times over the next twenty years. Later in 1974 she would begin filming the first of two series of Carry On Laughing for ATV. Barbara was one of the most prolific of all the team to work on this series, which was not a success. Although not making another proper film with the team, in 1977 she returned to Pinewood and reunited with Kenneth Williams to film linking material for the compilation film, That's Carry On. In 1983, Barbara worked again with Kenneth when they fronted a selection of Carry On clips for a special ITV television show. And finally, while remnants of the original team were attempting to breathe new life into the franchise in 1992, Barbara was starring opposite Bernard Bresslaw in the end of the pier show at Blackpool, Wot a Carry On in Blackpool. 

No matter whatever else Barbara has done or will do in her career, she will always be best remembered for those saucy, eye-catching Carry On performances. As Barbara prepares to turn 80 years young, keep a look out for some special celebratory blogs starting on Sunday 6 August.


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