Tuesday 13 March 2018

Connor Carries On ... As Mr Tidey!


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 eleventh role in the series, as Mr Tidey in the 1971 film, Carry On Matron!


The basic premise of Carry On Matron is an update of previous medical entries (Matron!) The saucy Seventies allowed even more near the knuckle humour and Talbot Rothwell takes full advantage with a script that is part hospital knock about farce and part crime caper. Sid James and his gang of Bernard Bresslaw, Bill Maynard and Kenneth Cope plan a Too Many Crooks like heist on Finisham Maternity Hospital to steal a load of morning after pills. To do this, Sid's screen son Cope goes under cover in drag as a student nurse, attracting the dodgy attentions of Terry Scott's amorous Dr Prodd in the process. Scott is at his most lascivious here in his final Carry On role and he plays the part extremely well. 

Away from the crime caper element, the rest of the film sees three Carry On stalwarts camp about the hospital with innuendo-encrusted delight. Joining Jacques is an on form and over the top Kenneth Williams as Sir Bernard Cutting and Charles Hawtrey in his penultimate role as Dr F.A Goode (!). Although Charles is criminally underused in the film, he does have some priceless moments with Williams during the "newts" sequence and again with Hattie with all the comic misunderstandings as they sit down to watch television together in her room. The appearance of Hawtrey, however brief, could lift any script and this would be proved again and again once he had left the series in 1972.


Kenneth Connor gets bottom billing for Carry On Matron although the film is an important one for Kenneth as it seems him properly move over to the kind of middle-aged, slightly crumbling character parts that would dominate the rest of his Carry On contributions. As Mr Tidey, Connor is generally outside the main action of the film. Tidey is an increasingly desperate expectant father, forever being called to the hospital for false alarms and seen in the waiting room with the other fathers to be. Connor is blessed with Joan Sims as his screen wife and it's a lovely little running gag which sees Sims enjoying the hospital experience, the constant food and the chance to put her feet up. She's in no hurry to give birth despite her husband's fretting. Unfortunately Connor and Sims don't actually share any scenes in the film which I think is a great shame. As they are playing husband and wife, it seems rather strange!

Connor is mainly seen with Hattie Jacques' softer Matron in the film. She is constantly hectored by Mr Tidey for news on the arrival of his little bundle of joy. His job as a train conductor for British Rail also provides much comedy with Hattie making a very funny crack about the problems with the trains at the time! I also love Kenneth's interaction with Sid's character, who is only in the waiting room to check the hospital out before carrying out his heist. Sid is brilliantly droll and plays up to Kenneth's twitching, nervous, innocent character to perfection. The gag about chickens is a fine example of the more near the knuckle brand of Carry On comedy Talbot Rothwell was producing in the early 1970s. 


As with some of Kenneth Connor's later Carry On performances, his screen time is quite limited but the skill of the actor means he always makes the most of the scenes and the material he is given. In many ways Mr Tidey is simply an older version of Kenneth's early Hudis era creations - the befuddled, tentative little man that we all know and love. The characterisation would become more grotesque as the films progressed, notably in the likes of Carry On Girls and Dick. The crumbling, frustrated every man became Connor's calling card and we loved him for it.

Stay tuned for my blog on Kenneth Connor's next role in the series, in the 1972 film Carry On Abroad.

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