Saturday 12 May 2018

Carry On Blogging Interview: Robert Ross on Oh, What A Carry On!

On Friday I had the great pleasure of ringing up Carry On historian extraordinaire Robert Ross for a good old natter about all things Carry On. I've interviewed Robert for the blog before and he's even written something for me on a trip he took with some very familiar Carry On faces but this is the first time I've had a proper chat with him and it really was a joy. Both big self-confessed Carry On anoraks, the conversation flowed and I could've stayed on the phone all day.

Robert has been an influence on me since the mid 1990s when, as a teenager in Scotland, I bought my first ever Carry On book, his Carry On Companion. This wonderful, definitive guide to our favourite comedy films has been pride of place on my book shelf ever since and I still have the handwritten note inside from Robert when I wrote to tell him how much I loved his book. It was therefore a real highlight to talk to Robert about his upcoming projects in this, the 60th anniversary year of the Carry On films.

I wanted to start off by asking a bit about your work as a comedy historian over the past twenty years or so and what have been the highlights so far?

I think one of the best days ever was the day I signed the contract for my first book, the Carry On Companion. It had taken years to get the project off the ground and to find a publisher willing to come on board. As a fan that project brought me into contact with so many of my heroes. I remember writing to Jim Dale in New York and was thrilled when he sent over an old C90 cassette tape he'd used to record his answers to the questions I'd asked. I've still got the tape and it's one of my most treasured possessions. I wrote to him as a fan and I'm proud to say Jim is now one of my best mates. I also got to know Frankie Howerd before he died and years before I even met Kenneth Williams.

Another favourite moment was being able to visit the set of Carry On Columbus in 1992. This was even before I'd had my first book published and I can't believe now I got to go. Peter Rogers' lovely assistant Audrey Skinner rang up and asked if I wanted to have tea with Gerald Thomas on the set one day. It was brilliant to be there, meet Gerald and watch some of the filming. I also went to the premiere of the film at the Odeon Leicester Square on 4 October 1992.  I sat upstairs with Peter, Gerald and Jim Dale and I'll never forget it. The film got a very mixed response but there was still affection from the audience every time one of the old faces appeared. And I still have affection for Columbus and I think it looks beautiful. 

You have several projects on the go at the moment and one I've already written about is your "Oh, What A Carry On" stage tour to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Carry On. Can you tell me a bit more about that?

Well I'm describing myself as a stand up comedy historian with this little tour. There are three dates coming up in Bedford, Sudbury and Deal (more info below) and it will be a celebration of the Carry Ons. It won't be scripted and will change from venue to venue. The show in Deal will of course reference Charles Hawtrey quite a bit as that's where he lived for much of his life. There are people in the town who still remember him as I found out when I visited back in 2014 to mark his centenary. 

You don't need to be a massive Carry On fan to enjoy the show, it won't be too nerdy. It will look at the progression of the comedy in the films and I'll share some rare clips and interviews with some of the stars. One of the joys for me of doing this is the total freedom it will give me. Writing books doesn't give you the chance to talk to fellow fans and to a degree you are at the mercy of your editor. So there will be something for everyone!

You are also doing a show on 16 July at the Museum of Comedy with the legendary Liz Fraser…

Yes indeed. I did a show with Liz a couple of years ago and it went down very well so she wanted to do another one. The title of the show "Confessions of a Carry On Girl" was the original title of her memoir which I was involved with a few years back. I know Liz very well and I've interviewed her many times over the years so it will be a lot of fun. Again the joy of it will be that it won't be structured and we'll have the freedom to talk about whatever we want. I will be focussing on three of the big legends Liz worked a lot with over the years - Sid James, Tony Hancock and Peter Sellers. Liz is one of the few actors still around to have worked with and gotten to know all of them. One of the joys of the Museum of Comedy is that the theatre only seats about 80 people so it's always a pretty intimate gig. Everyone who buys a ticket will also have access to the museum on the day and they have some wonderful items from the best of British comedy there.

One of the things I really love about Liz is how loyal she always is to the memories of some of her co-stars, particularly Sid and Joan Sims, both of whom were very close friends…

Yes she is. Liz and Joan were very close. Sid in particular adored Liz, or Lizzle as he called her. He had a lot of time for her. 

Speaking of Joan, I know you got to spend a lot of time with her towards the end of her life. She's my absolute heroine so I'd love to hear your memories from that time. 

Joan was a sweetheart, a really lovely lady who was quite shy and timid really. I first met her during the recording of the What's A Carry On? documentary to celebrate 40 years of Carry On back in 1998. I remember Peter Rogers had a banner made saying "Welcome Home Joan" when she arrived back at Pinewood to film her interview. We had a drink afterwards in the bar and she mentioned she was thinking of writing her autobiography. I offered to help her record her memories for the book and then I spent many happy times at her flat in Kensington talking about her life and career while we ate cherry cake, drank cola and ordered in Chinese takeaways! 

Joan was very loyal to her friends and a genuinely lovely woman. We kept in touch over the phone and I remember how angry she was when the play "Cleo, Camping, Emmannuelle and Dick" came out. She didn't like the way Sid was being portrayed as it wasn't the man she knew and she wouldn't go and see it or give interviews about it. When the documentary was completed I took a copy round with a DVD player so she could see it and she loved it. She got very emotional towards the end when Eric Rogers' wonderful music played over the role call of all the team members who had left us by that point. She loved them all.

I was in Yorkshire doing Last of the Summer Wine when I heard she had died and I was really sad about it and she's still really missed by so many people.

Before we finish I wanted to quickly ask you about another event you are involved with to celebrate the life of Tony Hancock.

Yes, this is an event being organised by the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society to celebrate Tony's life 50 years on from his death. It will take place on 25 June at his old College in Reading. I'll be on the panel with Liz Fraser and the day will include discussions, screenings and lectures. The impressionist James Hurn will also be there to perform and in my opinion James gives the best, more accurate impression of Sid James I've ever seen. 

It was an absolute joy to speak to Robert and I'm pleased to say I'll be going along to the Museum of Comedy to see his show with Liz Fraser in July. 

Robert will be presenting his special 60th anniversary show on the following dates:
Thursday 14 June, 7.30pm - Quarry Theatre, Bedford
Friday 6 July, 7.30pm - Quay Theatre, Sudbury
Saturday 7 July, 7.30pm - The Astor Theatre, Deal
You can book tickets for the shows here 
Liz Fraser: Confessions of Carry On Girl will take place on Monday 16th July at the Museum of Comedy in London. It kicks off at 7pm and runs for 75 minutes. You can buy tickets here

You can find a lot more information on Robert and his various tour dates over on his website: and of course, Robert is on Twitter

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

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