Thursday 9 November 2017

The Joy of Jon in a Carry On

He's a man who really needs no introduction. A complete legend in the acting world probably best remembered these days for starring roles in television series such as Doctor Who and Worzel Gummidge. Yes, I'm talking about the late, great Jon Pertwee. 

I've always loved Jon's rather unique, eccentric Carry On cameos but until now I've never actually written about them. Jon Pertwee was a perfect fit for the Carry On films. He was larger than life, his performances came bursting out of the screen and really, nobody else could have played his parts quite like he did. Jon appeared in four Carry On films in total, three during the mid 1960s glory days and then a belated return nearly thirty years later, for a quick cough and a spit in Carry On Columbus. We'll gloss over that particular film and I'm sure Jon appeared in that one out of loyalty and friendship.

Back to the glory days though, I think. In the summer of 1964, Jon journeyed to Pinewood Studios for his first ever appearance in a Carry On film and what a film to start on. Carry On Cleo was in production, a very British send up of the very expensive Elizabeth Taylor epic, Cleopatra, which until recently had been filming at Pinewood. Leaving lots of sets behind when they shifted off to Italy, producer Peter Rogers seized on the opportunity to make his own version. It remains a classic of British film comedy over fifty years later and its cast led by Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Connor and Charles Hawtrey have never been better.

Jon appears later in the film, as an eccentric, rather hairy old Soothsayer who is summoned by Kenneth Williams' Julius Caesar to share some visions of his upcoming assignation with Cleo (played with camp relish by Amanda Barrie). Charles Hawtrey's dirty old sage Seneca leads the Soothsayer into the room and at this point his face is completely covered by his hair. It's a brilliant introduction for Jon and what follows is a classic scene where visions are conjured up, as Kenneth says, always missing out the best bits. I love Jon's character, it's spot on and very Carry On. Falling out of character, he turns all Cockney on us at one point, calling the other characters round him with the cry "well gather round and 'ave a butchers!" Excellent stuff! As an aside, Jon would be reunited with the Carry Ons' very own Queen of the Nile the very next year when he co-starred with Amanda Barrie in the Billy Fury musical comedy film I've Gotta Horse. 

Pertwee was back at Pinewood the following year for another period costume epic, Carry On Cowboy. Filming over the summer of 1965, this pretty unique British comedy Western saw most of the regular Carry On cast play very different parts, taking on American accents, riding horses and carrying guns. Crikey. It's probably the first time we actually see proper comedy violence in a Carry On and Sid James clearly relishes his starring role as the menacing Rumpo Kid, who descends on the peace loving Stodge City. Angela Douglas makes her debut in the series as the gun toting Annie Oakley, who arrives in Stodge to settle some old scores, namely to find the man who killed Sheriff Albert Earp, portrayed by none other than Jon Pertwee.

Appearing near the beginning of the film, Earp meets a rather grisly end. Jon excels as the nearly blind, hard of hearing sheriff. Playing some great, farcical scenes with Kenneth Williams as Judge Burke as they bicker and stumble about! Earp more than meets his match when he encounters Sid's Rumpo and it's sadly not long before he is despatched! Another brief role for Jon but as always, he leaves you wanting more! 

Jon would return to Pinewood once more to join the Carry On team and in early 1966 he struck gold with what would become yet another classic in the series. The Hammer Horror spoof Carry On Screaming featured a guest starring role for Steptoe and Son star Harry H Corbett who forms a glorious double act with Peter Butterworth as inept policemen searching for the criminal mastermind who is kidnapping young women and vitryfying them into dress shop dummies! 

Jon pops up as the police doctor, Dr Fettle, and shares scenes with Corbett and Butterworth before receiving a unwelcome visitor in the form of Dr Watt's monster Oddbod! As Dr Fettle regenerates one of Oddbod's missing fingers, he gets a lot more than he bargains for! I loved Jon's eccentric Scottish doctor and although a comedy, as a child it was actually quite a shock when the gruesome discovery is made! Sadly, after this role in Screaming, Jon went on to other things so there were no more Carry On cameos for him. Of course, within a few years he had taken on the role of Doctor Who, a part which he played for four years. 

Jon wasn't the only Pertwee to Carry On. Jon's first cousin Bill Pertwee, best remembered as Hodges, the irritating ARP warden and nemesis to Captain Mainwaring, popped up for two Carry On films. Both small roles, like his cousin, Bill first appeared as a barman who enjoys a quick chat with Jacki Piper and Sid James in Carry On Loving. Three years later he was back for the role of the Fire Chief in Carry On Girls who shares a very funny scene with the Mayor, played by the brilliant Kenneth Connor. Bill did film a small role as the manager of the wonderfully named Whippit Inn for Carry On At Your Convenience in 1971, however, with the film over-running his scenes were sadly cut from the final print. 

Fast forward twenty years and Bill's son James Pertwee had a small role as one of the Inquisitor in the very last Carry On, Carry On Columbus, in 1992. 

So there are quite a few Pertwee connections with our favourite series of British comedy films. For me though, a Jon Pertwee cameo was always a highlight and something to look forward to.

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