Friday 19 January 2018

Connor Carries On ... As Ted Watson

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 seventh role in the series, as taxi driver Ted Watson in Carry On Cabby, released in 1963.

Hattie Jacques plays Peggy Hawkins, a passionate, intelligent woman who wanted to progress herself in life, with or without the support of her husband. Frustrated by Charlie Hawkins' obsession with his taxi firm and rather old fashioned views on women in the workplace, Peggy goes behind his back and sets up a rival cab firm which employs only women. Glamcabs soon steals most of the business "from under their smug male noses". 

Carry On Cabby is the first film in the series to be written by the legendary Talbot Rothwell, the man who would steer the series further into the land of double entendres and much nearer the knuckle than his predecessor Norman Hudis ever dared to go. Cabby didn't even start off as a Carry On, it was Call Me A Cab, made cheaply in black and white. However once Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas realised just how good a film they had on their hands, it was quickly retitled Carry On Cabby. The film features a host of familiar Carry On faces - Kenneth Connor as Sid's right hand man, Charles Hawtrey as naive, clumsy trainee driver Pintpot, Esma Cannon as the diminutive but strong-willed Flo Sims and Liz Fraser as Hattie's best friend Sally. Cabby also sees the debut of important names in the young Jim Dale as a rather nervous expectant father and an eye catching turn from Amanda Barrie as GlamCab driver Anthea.

Carry On Cabby is the closest the series comes to a dramedy - comedy and drama brought together in an effective mix. At the centre of Cabby is the delighful, deep and extremely believable relationship between husband and wife Charlie and Peggy - beautifully brought to life by Sid and Hattie. While I always prefer Sid and Joan Sims together on screen, Sid and Hattie are just irresistible together in Cabby. When their marriage comes under strain, it feels genuine and the performances heartfelt. This takes Cabby some way from the usual Carry On fare and miles away from most of the films that followed. Don't get me wrong, Cabby still has many of the qualities fans admire in the series - plenty of saucy humour, classic comedy performances, slapstick and lots of lovely GlamCab drivers...

After a run of leading parts in the early Carry Ons, Kenneth Connor is much more a supporting player in his role as Ted in Cabby. That's not to say he's not great, he always is, but much of the action is divided up between warring couple Sid James and Hattie Jacques. Kenneth is very much Sid's second in command and what we do get are some lovely, very down to earth and believable scenes of Sid and Kenneth being two middle-aged, beleaguered blokes, wondering what is going on around them. Kenneth's Ted is a good mate to Sid's character and the pair commiserate about their failing relationships on several occasions and it brings a new quality to the Carry Ons. 

Kenneth's character also has the delights of an ongoing relationship with Liz Fraser's Sally. Although we don't see as much of them together as I'd like, they are also a very believable pairing. Sally, much like Hattie's Peggy Hawkins, is fed up with her man taking her for granted and being let down as his job takes precedence. They do share some lovely fiery scenes as Sally shows her displeasure at being cancelled on for some extra work Ted takes on! I'd have liked to have seen more of that. Liz and Kenneth didn't work together that often on screen so it's good to see them playing together here. 

Ted Watson is a relatively straight role for Connor, which must have made a lovely change following on from so many bumbling little man roles in the earlier films. He does share a wonderful one up-manship relationship with harping shop steward Norman Chappell, and Ted obviously enjoys taking the mickey out of the sober-sided character whenever he gets the chance. Better still is the sequence which sees Connor's character go undercover at the Glam Cabs garage to sabotage some of their sparkling new Ford Cortina cars. Being a Carry On, this naturally ends in complete farce and disaster for the men. But not before Kenneth gets into drag as a rather dubious looking new recruit!

The scenes of Kenneth unveiling himself to his mates in the cab driver's cafe, complete with frilly underthings and tumbling blonde wig are absolutely priceless, combining Kenneth's shame and embarrassment with Sid's complete joy and raucous laughter! Better is to come when Esma Cannon's Flo Sims knowingly sets him up by sending him into the Glam Cabs changing room, confronting him with lots of gorgeous girls in their underthings. The highlight comes with Amanda Barrie's Anthea appears and asks Ted to help her out of her essentials. Connor's reaction is absolutely hilarious and it looks like Amanda and Esma both struggled to keep a straight face!

Cabby remains my ultimate Carry On mainly due to the strength of the story and the performances. Seeing some of our favourite Carry On funsters showing their serious acting chops is refreshing and irresistible and Kenneth certainly adds some wonderful support to the film. 

Stay tuned for my next blog in this series which will look back at one of Kenneth Connor's finest Carry On contributions, as Hengist Pod, inventor of the square wheel, in Carry On Cleo! 

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