Saturday 21 April 2018

Connor Carries On … As Stanley Blunt

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 twelfth role in the series, as Stanley Blunt in the 1972 film, Carry On Abroad!

Carry On Abroad sees a group of eccentric British misfits take off for a long weekend in the dodgy Spanish island of Elsbells. The series was once again tapping into the latest trends, this time for cheap and cheerful package holidays. They were all the rage by the early 190s so what better than sending it all up by sending the gang you'd more typically associate with Brighton off to Spain (well the Pinewood Studios car park). This really was the last classic adventure for the core Carry On team and it's been one of my favourites since I first saw it as a child, recorded late at night on ITV. I still have the original VHS tape somewhere...

Although I have a grudging love of the bargain basement 1975 film Carry On Behind, yet another holiday film, Abroad is the last to feature the full compliment of original cast members (minus Jim Dale who had departed in 1969). Abroad features knockout performances from a host of wonderful Carry On stars, with prime parts for Sid, Joan Kenneths Williams and Connor and a return to a major role for the brilliant Peter Butterworth. It also features one of the best guest casts in any of the Carry Ons - June Whitfield as the uptight Evelyn Blunt, Ray Brooks as the handsome Spanish waiterCarol Hawkins and Sally Geeson as two young holidaymakers on the look out for love, Jimmy Logan as the boisterous Bert Conway and Derek Francis as the stuffy old monk. 


The film also features the last role in the series for stalwart Charles Hawtrey. Sadly, growing problems in Hawtrey's personal life had made him increasingly unreliable. Following a spat about billing for the 1972 Christmas special, with top billing going to the main subject of this blog, Hattie Jacques, Charles left the series and despite making occasional theatre and television appearances until his death in 1988, would never make another film. Another Carry On original, Kenneth Connor, was still part of the main troupe though and would remain so until the last gasp in 1978. Since returning to the series back in 1969, Connor had slotted back in with aplomb, taking on supporting roles in character parts. Without a doubt Kenneth's role in Carry On Abroad was one of his best.

Stanley Blunt typifies the roles Connor inhabited in the latter half of his Carry On career. Bumbling middle class, middle aged men, henpecked and struggling to cope with the changing world around them. In Abroad, Connor is blessed with June Whitfield as his screen wife, Evelyn. It's quite clear she's the one who rules the marriage and their first appearance sees Evelyn striding forth towards the coach, while Stanley struggles along behind with all the luggage. That sets the tone for the film. Evelyn is highly strung, toffee nosed and extremely conservative which quite frankly has left Stanley pent up and frustrated! Quite what the Blunt pair are doing on a cheap package holiday is anyone's guess but it's not long before they are paired up with Vic and Cora Flange, the working class pub owners played by Sid James and Joan Sims.

The four actors take part in probably one of the funniest gags in Carry On history. Over dinner on their first night at the Palace Hotel, Evelyn and Stanley and Vic and Cora get to know each other:

Pure class! It isn't long before Evelyn's tedious behaviour is driving Stanley to look elsewhere and for us viewers, this brings us some lovely scenes between two Carry On stalwarts in Connor and Joan Sims. While Vic is off chasing Barbara Windsor's Sadie Tompkins, Cora forms an attachment to Mr Blunt. Their initial scene over breakfast is hilarious with Connor gently simmering away while Sims plays shocked indignation to perfection. Soon the pair are inseperable, especially as June Whitfield's Evelyn is left behind in the hotel when the rest of the holidaymakers go off to explore the market.

While Stanley is locked up with the rest of the gang for causing a spot of civil unrest, Evelyn gets down to business with Ray Brooks and a few bottles of bubbly back at the ranch. Her cock newly popped, Mrs Blunt is found lying in bed in her frillies when Stanley arrives back and the pair are, shall we say, reunited. While we think of June's main on screen partner being Terry Scott, I think June actually has better chemistry with Kenneth Connor. They would work together again on the following Carry On, Carry On Girls and once again it was a delight. They made for the perfect double act. 

With their marriage reinvigorated, Stanley and Evelyn are soon entering into the spirit of things with the farewell party. Talbot Rothwell has us believe they've spent the afternoon "romping about" which leads them to attack Pepe's beige buffet with extra relish. June and Kenneth have a wonderfully timed dance around an open hole in the ground as the hotel begins to crumble and then they head upstairs for more hanky lanky. This allows Kenneth to give us the sheer joy of his bull impersonation (a ramped up version of the one from Carry On Cruising) as he leaps aboard for more frolics. Unfortunately for them, the bed then go straight through the ceiling and into the dining room below, nearly flattening poor old Peter Butterworth!

I've heard June Whitfield talk of this scene several times and it appears that the actors really did do the stunt themselves and incredibly, did it all in one take. Apparently Kenneth was rather concerned he might leave a foot dangling over as the bed went through the floor, but as with all his comedy performances, he judged it perfectly and thankfully they didn't need to do it again. I bet Peter Rogers was pleased about that as well! Despite the disastrous holiday, Carry On Abroad still offers up probably the most satisfying ending in the entire series. Once the hotel has collapsed and the gang make it back to Blighty, they congregate once more in Sid's cosy pub and, locking the door and calling time, they tuck into a bit of Santa Cecilia's Elixir. Kenneth Connor is front and centre at the bar and quite right too. His role as Stanley Blunt is one of the high points of the film and remains one of his best Carry On contributions.

Stay tuned for my blog on Kenneth Connor's next role in the series, in the 1973 film Carry On Girls.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

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