Monday 9 October 2017

Connor Carries On ... as Gregory Adams

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 science master Gregory Adams in the hit film of 1959, Carry On Teacher. 

I absolutely adore Carry On Teacher. It's probably as close to a gentle Ealing comedy that the Carry Ons ever got. The film tells the story of a group of school children who turn mischief makers when inspectors visit the school in the hope it will stop beloved headmaster William Wakefield (Ted Ray) leaving for a new post. Teacher boasts a compact cast of Carry On favourites - Hattie Jacques, Kenneth Williams, Leslie Phillips, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims and of course, Kenneth Connor. There is also the great Ted Ray in a guest starring role which could have led to further parts in the series had Ray not been contracted elsewhere. 

One of the joys of Teacher is the cast of wonderful young actors, led by the cheeky Richard O'Sullivan who would go on to massive success, mainly on television. The skill of Gerald Thomas is clearly seen in this film as he coaxes wonderful performances from so many young actors including O'Sullivan, Carol White and Paul Cole. Thomas had worked on a classic Children's Film Foundation production, Circus Friends with Carol White two years before and obviously knew how to work with child actors. 

Teacher continued the trend of the early Carry Ons under the guidance of Norman Hudis which saw broad comedy and slapstick blended effectively with poignant moments or real pathos and tinges of social commentary. This was often missing from later series entries which I think was a shame. Anyway, on to Kenneth's role in the film.

Kenneth is pretty much the star of the show in Teacher. In those far off pre-Sid days of Carry On, he was the closest there was to a leading man and he always played it so well. A delightful mix of caring teacher and bumbling romantic lead, Connor gets more screen time than any of the other regulars present. Kenneth's role is enhanced by the guest starring role for radio comedian Ted Ray. Ray sadly only made one Carry On but his contract elsewhere left room for Sid to join the fun for Carry On Constable so I suppose we shouldn't be too sad. Ted had played a great leading role in the other Rogers and Thomas release of '59, Please Turn Over. The pair also worked together regularly on Ray's A Laugh on radio so they very obviously had chemistry to exploit.

Most of Kenneth's role in the film surrounds William Wakefield (Ted Ray) and his attempts to soften the severe school inspector Felicity Wheeler by exploiting her very obvious feelings for Kenneth's Gregory Adams. There are some priceless two hander scenes in the headmaster's office between Ted and Kenneth. They are a joy and I wish they'd made more films together. We also get some lovely, gently romantic scenes between Rosalind Knight and Connor which act as a great balancing point with all the knockabout slapstick and childish japes. They make for a very believable couple and in 2015's Carry On Forever documentary Rosalind remembered working with Connor with great affection and clearly found him a joy to be with on set.

Away from the 1950s black and white romantics it's business as usual in Carry On Teacher and Kenneth C is only too happy to be one of the main players when it comes to the slapstick antics and messy pratfalls. He embraces it all like a true pro with rockets exploding into the ceiling, sacks of flour falling from above and super glue and boot polish making a simple phone call practically impossible. He also displays excellent comic timing in the memorable itching powder scene towards the end of the film and there is much humour to be had as he and Joan Sims rub each other up the right way

Connor is also involved in the calamitous denouement as the dreadful little sixth formers cause havoc in the end of term school play. As the sprinklers inevitably shower down onto the stage, Connor takes to the stage and obviously soaked through, straddles the stage curtain as it rises beneath him! Carry On Teacher provides Connor with one of his best leading roles in the series. He shines playing opposite Ted Ray and Rosalind Knight and bickers and camps about with Williams and Hawtrey. 

Stay tuned for my next blog in this series as we take a look at Kenneth Connor's performance as Constable Constable in erm, Carry On Constable! 

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