Wednesday 25 October 2017

Connor Carries On ... As Constable Constable!


Next June will mark Kenneth Connor's centenary. This feels like the right time to celebrate the man's legacy and what better a legacy that his seventeen glorious performances in the Carry On films. As I've already done with the three main leading ladies of the series, I plan to embark on a series of blogs profiling each of Kenneth's roles in the Carry Ons, giving my own take on his contributions.

Kenneth is another one of those actors who worked steadily, prolifically and across all mediums throughout his career. From his very early days in film before the outbreak of World War Two, through the 1950s which saw him become an integral part of British radio comedy to the Carry Ons and his unforgettable roles in several 1980s sitcoms, Connor was an incredibly gifted actor. He worked right up until his death at the age of 75 in November 1993. However unlike Sid, Kenneth Williams or Barbara Windsor, I feel that Connor never really got the credit he deserved. He didn't have an outrageous private life, no scandals to be told. He shunned the limelight and his many performances as the ordinary man in the street mirrored his own life away from the cameras. 

Kenneth was also one of the precious few actors who's career spanned pretty much the entire run of the Carry Ons. He was there at the very beginning in Carry On Sergeant and, a five year gap in the mind 1960s aside, remained loyal to the films until the very end of the original run in 1978. Connor, along with Williams and Eric Barker were the only actors to appear in the very first and the very last of the series. Kenneth was still around when Columbus was made in 1992 but declined to take part, probably very wisely. This new series of blogs will be a celebration of all those wonderful comedy performances in the Carry Ons - from bumbling romantic lead through to crumbling character parts, Kenneth could play them all.

So let's continue with Kenneth's third role in the series, as bumbling new police recruit, the aptly named Constable Constable in the hit film of 1960, Carry On Constable.


The series was definitely on a role by the time Carry On Constable went into production at the end of 1959. With a strong team coming together and regular actors now part of the happy band, the Norman Hudis formula of team antics with familiar faces and a strong story packed with hilarious situations, slapstick and pathos, the Carry Ons could do no wrong. Constable followed a familiar pattern of gently sending up well known British institutions. We'd already had the army, the National Health Service and the teaching fraternity, now it was time to turn the spotlight on the police. 

Constable, as with most Carry Ons, has very little story to speak of. And that's not a criticism. Following a bad flu outbreak, a local force is heavily depleted and calls upon the services of some newly qualification constables - namely Leslie Phillips and Kenneths Williams and Connor. Throw in special constable Gorse, played by Charles Hawtrey and you have the recipe for bumbling twits causing havoc wherever they land. Constable was in many ways a continuation of what made the Carry Ons great but with one important new addition - Sidney James as Sergeant Frank Wilkins. It's clear from the start that Sid's arrival is a new direction for the films and while from the beginning until the very end the Carry Ons were a team and an ensemble, Sid was very much the linchpin and their leading man. Kenneth Connor still grabs most of the funny situations and is a crucial factor of Constable's success but Sid is the star. Sid's down to earth straight man is the latest authority figure for the bumbling incompetents like Connor to bounce off and it works brilliantly.


Connor is introduced with perfect comic timing as Constable Charlie Constable. So very obvious but it's like poetry when delivered by the best in the business. Kenneth interacts beautifully with his co-conspirators - Williams, Hawtrey and Phillips - and as the superstitious, frightened little man, he's probably the least suitable policeman you'll ever seen on film! Partnered with the raffish Phillips, Connor's character is cajoled out of his comfort zone and made to realise that WPC Gloria Passworthy is the woman for him. However, going about the matter proves less than straightforward. 

Kenneth works wonderfully well with Joan Sims as Gloria. She is everything he is not. Efficient, on the ball and totally career-minded. All she wants is to be the best WPC in the business and nothing is going to get in her way, especially not a bumbling constable! His attempts to woo her are farcical and end in disaster but thanks to a helping hand from Hattie Jacques' Sergeant Moon, he finally overcomes his superstitious twaddle and makes his move. Kenneth and Joan are great together and would prove so time and time again over the many films that followed.

Of course in the end Connor and the rest of their new recruits prove themselves when they somehow manage to apprehend a bunch of crooks. The scenes that see them disturb the crooks in the abandoned old house are full of comedic touches and farcical action and work extremely well. Sadly that amount of action is something some of the later Carry Ons lacked and it showed. More than anything, it's clear that the male actors involved are having a whale of a time acting up as policeman out on the beat. This film features more on location filming than many other of the early Carry Ons and it really benefits from it. 


While Kenneth Connor had been slightly robbed (pun intended) of his Carry On leading man crown with the arrival of Sid, Constable is still a really important film for him and he puts in another flawless performance. He would never be billed above Sid James again and it was the start of the most important Carry On era but Connor's skills as a leading character player would ensure he played a vital role in the Carry On's enduring success. The next film in the series, very much an ensemble, episodic adventure featuring one of the biggest supporting casts ever to appear in a Carry On, probably features one of my very favourite of all Kenneth's performances, so watch out for that.

Stay tuned for my next blog in this series as we take a look at Kenneth Connor's performance as Sam Twist in the 1961 film, Carry On Regardless. 

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