Thursday 8 February 2018

Connor Carries On ... as Claude Chumley

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 ninth role in the series, as Claude Chumley in the 1969 film, Carry On Up The Jungle!

The basic plot of Jungle involves a group of rather eccentric Brits being guided through the African jungle by the unreliable and very Sid-like Sid James as Bill Boosey. Frankie Howerd and Kenneth Connor play a couple of bickering ornithologists while Bernard Bresslaw also appears as the native guide Upsidasi. Joan Sims plays Lady Evelyn, an upper class English woman looking for her husband and son, lost in the jungle on a previous expedition. Playing opposite Joan is a new young actress to the Carry Ons, the lovely Jacki Piper. Jacki's character June is rather prim and proper at the start of the film but soon enjoys an awakening opposite Terry Scott's Jungle Boy (!)

Of course Terry's character turns out to be Joan's long-lost son (despite Scott being three years older than Sims!) and a late entry from Charles Hawtrey confirms he's Joan's husband Walter. However these days Walter goes under the name of King Tonka, father of countless! This provides Hawtrey with one of his best entrances in the entire run. As always with the Carry Ons, the plot is of little importance, it's the performances we're interested in. Joan takes centre stage for much of the action and is superb opposite her mostly male co-stars. 


Jungle sees our man of the moment, Kenneth Connor, return to the series of films which made him famous after a five year break. Having been a central part of the team for all of the Norman Hudis films and a couple of the early Rothwell scripted films through to the early 1960s, Kenneth decided to move away from Carry On comedy for the majority of the 1960s and concentrate on stage work. He did continue to make appearances on television and radio as well as one or two films, but it seemed like a conscious effort to broaden his career out. As I've mentioned before, it's a real shame that Kenneth missed what many consider to the be the peak of the series as while he was working elsewhere the gang produced the likes of Up The Khyber, Doctor, Camping and Screaming. These films are pretty perfect but I'm sure Connor's name in the cast lists would have enhanced them even further.

I'm not sure how Kenneth came to rejoin the gang in late 1969, whether his agent approached Peter Rogers or if it was the other way around, but whatever happened, I'm just glad it did. Reunited with old colleagues such as Sid James, Charles Hawtrey and Joan Sims, Kenneth also worked with actors new to the series since he'd last carried on - Terry Scott, Bernard Bresslaw, Jacki Piper and star turn, Frankie Howerd. Most of Kenneth's work on the film is with the comic great, Frankie Howerd. The pair form a deliciously bickering, camp double act as a couple of rather dubious bird watchers (say nothing) on the search for a mysterious, near extinct creature. Sid James, on typical alpha-male form, chuckles wearily at their antics and treats Connor's Claude Chumley with a degree of contempt due to his clumsy attempts to woo Joan's Lady Bagley.


Kenneth is on fine form and fitted back into the team as if he'd never been away. His character of Claude is really an older extension of the bumbling little men he played during the Norman Hudis era. Noticeably older, his comic timing and masterful delivery are still are brilliant as ever. His bashful reaction to the wild tribe of women who rescue the band of explorers mid-way through the film is classic Connor and the many years of working together makes the whole film so bright and easy to watch.

One of the better scenes in Jungle is the dinner party sequence, very much a gentle retake of the classic climax in Up The Khyber the previous year. It's eccentric Brits abroad once again, with the very formal dinner and comedy of manners and etiquette jarring with their primitive environment. Of course the scene is full of double meanings and wonderful Talbot Rothwell innuendo and climaxes with a rather near the knuckle gag involving a snake and Joan Sims' skirts! Poor Kenneth receives a smack across the face in a case of mistaken identity!

For me the main success of Jungle is that it very quickly and easily reintroduces Kenneth Connor into the Carry On fold. After this film, Connor would go on to appear in a further eight main features, the vast majority of the films to come, as well as many television episodes and stage shows. He would go on to be one of only three actors to appear in both the very first and the very last of the original run of Carry Ons. 

Next up in this series, I'll be taking a look at Kenneth's role in the superb historical epic, Carry On Henry, made in 1970. 

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