Wednesday 7 March 2018

Connor Carries On ... As Lord Hampton of Wick!

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 tenth role in the series, as Lord Hampton of Wick in the 1970 film, Carry On Henry!

Henry, the twenty first Carry On film to go into production, was a rather lavish film, at least by Carry on standards. The setting, the costumes, the dance routines, everything was a cut above. This retelling of the story of Henry VIII went into production at an extremely fortuitous time for Peter Rogers, with a renewed interest in the famous monarch in the early 1970s, both on the small and the big screen. The film provides Sid James with one of his best ever roles and as Henry he chews up the scenery was comedic relish, whether it's throwing over tables in the dining room, showing the likes of Terry Scott and Kenneth Williams who is the boss or chasing buxom wenches in the form of Margaret Nolan and Barbara Windsor, Sid is definitely in charge.

The film is a comic retelling of Henry's story, although initial scenes depicting Patsy Rowlands going to the block to have her head chopped off did commence proceedings with a dash of realism. It's not long though before Williams and Hawtrey are mincing about the palace and Joan Sims is attempting to convince the King that garlic is an aphrodisiac... Good luck with that one! Joan plays Henry's new French queen, Marie, and although they get off to a promising start, soon the odour of garlic puts the tin lid on any consummation. So, Henry does what he always does and start to look around for a replacement wife. Of course Marie's French heritage throws a spanner in the works, especially when her brother Francis (Francie!) comes to visit. This provides Peter Gilmore with one of his biggest and most outrageous Carry On supporting turns and his double act with Sid is a joy.

Kenneth Connor meanwhile has one of his smallest roles in the Carry On films. As Lord Hampton of Wick, Kenneth only really appears about half way through the film and the role of Hampton is played pretty straight. The majority of Henry is dominated by the likes of Sid, Joan, Terry Scott and Kenneth Williams. This is not to say Kenneth Connor puts in a bad performance, far from it. He is very believable in the role of Hampton, just unfortunately does not have a huge amount to do. Compared to earlier roles in the likes of Teacher, Nurse and Cruising, Carry On Henry marks a significant seachange for Connor as he transitions from leading man to character player.

As Lord Hampton, Connor is a rather dark, backroom schemer who Kenneth Williams' Thomas Cromwell calls upon to help him oust Queen Marie (Sims) by kidnapping the King (James). Unfortunately the plot is bungled and Cromwell is sent to the Tower. Connor's scenes are mainly with Kenneth Williams and the other members of his gang which include reliable supporting actors Bill Maynard (in his second Carry On) and Norman Chappell (returning the series for the first time since Carry On Cabby in 1963 (although he had filmed a cameo for Carry On Loving which was cut). Connor the serious actor definitely puts in a strong appearance in Henry and the costumes, the sets and his dramatic turn really does add kudos to the production. I just wish he'd had a bigger part, as it were.

At the end of the film, while Williams and Scott meet a sticky end at the hands of a great big chopper, King Sid is reunited with his Queen and Kenneth's Lord Hampton becomes Sid's right hand man.

Stay tuned for my blog on Kenneth Connor's next role in the series, in the 1971 film Carry On Matron. 

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