Friday 24 November 2017

Connor Carries On ... As Sam Twist

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 fifth role in the series, as bumbling new Helping Hands recruit, Sam Twist, in the hit film of 1961, Carry On Regardless.


The basic premise of Regardless is the Helping Hands Agency with Sid James and Esma Cannon at the helm. They employed the regular gang of goons to undertake all kinds off odd jobs and the film that results is really just a collection of loose sketches. It works really well but at some points, because the cast is so big, you forget they are all in it!  Kenneth Connor gets the majority of the film and is superb throughout although this means actors like Bill Owen, Charles Hawtrey and Terence Longdon are criminally underused.

In many ways I think Regardless is probably Kenneth Connor's finest hour. Yes Sid James had got his feet under the Carry On table but at this stage of the game Sid was still the Norman Hudis authority figure that all the maniacs caused chaos around. Norman obviously enjoyed writing for Connor and most of the very best sequences star Kenneth. Whether it be misunderstandings with the voluptuous, bored housewife Penny Panting (seductively played by Fenella Fielding), getting confused amongst a bunch of animated Chinese people expecting a translator, attempting to stay silent in a reading room full of elderly gents or demonstrating the "Bed of the Century" at the Ideal Home Exhibition, Kenneth is on sparkling form and gets to display is full set of joyous comic gifts. 


My favourite scene featuring Kenneth is the fairly long sketch that sees Esma Cannon get the wrong end of the stick following a rather confusing phone call with the imposing Eric Pohlmann (who would return as The Fat Man in Carry On Spying of course). Eric is after a forth at bridge however in a very clever Hudis bit of business, this is misunderstood by Cannon and Connor as a meeting at the Forth Bridge in what becomes Gerald Thomas' tribute to The 39 Steps. Don't forget there had been a version of this famous story produced at Pinewood and starring Kenneth More only the year before Regardless went into production, so it was fairly fresh in the minds of the audience. As an aside, that film was directed by Gerald's brother Ralph, produced by Peter's wife Betty Box and featured such familiar Pinewood faces as Joan Hickson, Sid James and Brian Oulton. 

The Carry On version sees Kenneth Connor don a trenchcoat and hat and pretend to be a subtle super spy, complete with Connor's American-accented voice over and lots of Thomas attention to detail. Once aboard the train bound for Scotland, Kenneth encounters a pair of dodgy looking types played by Victor Maddern and Denis Shaw. It's a brief little vignette but in true Hudis style this underworld meet up turns out to be a simple game of cards in a train compartment. Moving to the buffet car, Connor meets the seductive Russian Betty Marsden, a mistress of accents and voices if ever there was one, thanks to her starring role in both Beyond Our Ken and Round The Horne on radio. More misunderstandings take place leading Kenneth to receive a good sound slap around the chops from Betty before crashing into a bowl full of Brown Windsor soup. This leads Connor to break deliciously from his spy persona to once again become the bumbling little man we know and love.


Of course there is no rendez-vous and when Kenneth jumps from the train on the bridge he ends up completely drenched in a muddy puddle full of goodness knows what. It's typical Carry On fare from the Hudis era but Connor plays it all beautifully and it's honestly one of his best ever sequences on film. The fact that Kenneth is billed above the likes of Sims, Williams and Hawtrey shows just what power and sway he held in the Carry Ons during the early 1960s. He's clearly a pivotal member of the team and an absolute joy to watch.

There is no doubting that Regardless is very much an ensemble piece featuring a stunning cast packed full of the very best of British comedy talent at the time, however it is Connor who rises above the rest and is, for me, the true star of Carry On Regardless.  

Stay tuned for my next blog in this series as we take a look at Kenneth Connor's performance as Dr Arthur Binn in Carry On Cruising. Coming up soon!

And if you want to read more about Carry On Regardless check out Why I love Carry On Regardless and My Favourite Scene: Carry On Regardless  

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