Thursday 1 February 2018

Peter Butterworth, limited? You're having a laugh!


I've written several times on the blog how much I admire the performances of the late actor Peter Butterworth. A few weeks ago I was engaged in a conversation via Twitter about the great man when the audio commentary Peter Rogers took part in for one of the Carry On DVD releases was mentioned. I confess I have never listened to Peter's commentaries all the way through as I found them rather dry and terse to say the least.

Anyway, apparently Peter Rogers at one point refers to Peter Butterworth as being "limited" as an actor. Although I can't confirm this, it doesn't surprise me really as the Carry On producer frequently spoke his mind without fear of retribution. Obviously I respect the opinions of the man who masterminded my favourite series of comedy films, however I struggle to understand why anyone would think Peter B was at all limited as an comic actor! 

For several years I've wondered why Peter Butterworth's roles in some of the Carry Ons were so small. After a series of stunning supporting turns in the likes of Screaming, Don't Lose Your Head and Follow That Camel, Butterworth was restricted to some annoyingly brief and sometimes even uncredited cameo roles in films like Again Doctor, Loving and Henry. He did, of course, return for bigger roles in some of the later films but I don't think any other main team member was ever restricted to cameos like this. I also heard that Peter turned down the role played by Bill Maynard in Carry On Matron, but again I'm not sure if there is truth in this.


Whatever the truth, there's no mistaking the loyal service Peter Butterworth gave Peter Rogers Productions over a period of 14 years. While some of his roles are regrettably small or receive very poor billing, Butterworth was the master at stealing scenes from under the noses of other actors through sheer natural born comic skill and timing. He was quite simply always "on" and some of his reaction shots, asides or funny looks are just superb. Peter appeared in sixteen Carry On films, the big screen version of Bless This House, three of the Carry On Christmas television specials, nine episodes of the 1975 ATV Carry On Laughing series, the eighteen month run of the Victoria Palace Carry On London revue and the 1976 Carry On Laughing at the Slimming Factory show in Scarborough. Quite a Carry On contribution. If Peter Rogers did find Butterworth limited, it certainly didn't stop him employing him!

Who can forget Peter's stand out performances in the Carry Ons? His Slowbotham in Carry On Screaming - second in command to Harry H Corbett, full of knowing looks, double takes and of course, that wonderful drag sequence in Hokum Woods! Or his superb manservant Simpson, working so brilliantly with Jim Dale in Follow That Camel? Possibly his two best remembered Carry On roles came in the same year, 1968. Peter provided priceless support as Brother Belcher, the only person apparently aware of the destruction around them during the climatic dinner party in Up The Khyber. Later that year he also played skinflint, money grabbing campsite owner Mr Fiddler ('Your name certainly suits you, Mr Fiddler!") in Carry On Camping. 

For me though, Peter Butterworth's best Carry On role was his triumphant return to a major role in the series in 1972's Carry On Abroad. As Pepe (or is it Mario?!) Peter puts in a tour de force as the frantically stressed hotel manager beset with problems as a bunch of eccentric British tourists descend on him and his domineering wife, a fiery Hattie Jacques. It's a stunning central performance and Peter works so hard in this film, taking part in an endless stream of stunts, slapstick and memorable innuendo-encrusted scenes. He really suffered for his art but it's all worth it.

So, never mind what Peter Rogers may have said or thought about Mr Butterworth, for me he's one of the most priceless and essential parts of the Carry On success story. And nearly forty years after his sad, early death, Peter is still making us laugh. Quite a legacy. So tell me, what's your favourite from all of Peter's Carry On performances?

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  1. Never heard of him, but then that's the joy of the Internet these days and blogs like this...something to YouTube and fill my day with some entertainment. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Nothing beats Brother Belcher watched Carry On Up the Khyber 100 times just to see Brother Belchers opening scenes