Sunday 13 May 2018

Connor Carries On … As the Constable!

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 fourteenth role in the series, as the Constable in the 1974 film, Carry On Dick!

Carry On Dick has never been one of my favourites in the series. As a later effort though and one of the last historical films it works fairly well however compared to earlier entries like Don't Lose Your Head and Up The Khyber, Dick is very static and studio-based and some of the cast are starting to show their age. Despite this, the film captures the seedy atmosphere of the times very well and all the scenes set in the Old Cock Inn are brilliant to watch. Dick also provides fans with the last opportunity to see several favourites in a Carry On film. The cast is bursting with team members as all current actors in the gang appear. As well as Hattie, this film is also the farewell for both Sid James and Barbara Windsor. Sid and Barbara would appear in several episodes of the ATV Carry On Laughing series broadcast the follow year (even Hattie would make an appearance) however this would be the last original feature film for all three stalwarts. Also, prolific writer Talbot Rothwell retired from the films after Dick, his health having deteriorated further. Future films in the series would really suffer without his talents.

Carry On Dick tells the well-worn story of highway man Dick Turpin and who else could play Dick but Sidney James. The film follows his gang as they rob the rich and constantly evade capture by Captain Desmond Fancey and Sergeant Jock Strapp (Kenneth Williams and Jack Douglas). Sid's last role in the series is a great one. Dick Turpin is Sid at his twinkly, naughtiest best while the film also provides him with the dual role of the Rev Flasher (!) Dick's cover story as the sedate, understated local vicar. The rest of his gang comprise Peter  Butterworth as Tom and Barbara Windsor as Harriet. Sid and Barbara have terrific chemistry throughout and go as near the knuckle as they could possibly go! 

Dick is in many ways a sequel to the French Revolution romp, Don't Lose Your Head, almost eight years earlier. In that film Sid also had a dual role as both Sid Rodney Ffing and the Black Fingernail. It allows Sid the actor to really work and show some subtlety in performance (Yes that was possible even in a Carry On). It's a great role for him to go out on even though nobody knew it at the time. He was due to appear in Carry On Behind, however touring commitments in the theatre meant the role written for him eventually went to Windsor Davies. 

Anyway back to Kenneth Connor's role in Carry On Dick. Well, to be honest, there's not an awful lot to say really. Kenneth's role in the film is probably his smallest part in any of the Carry Ons. For a start, he doesn't appear until over half way through the film and when he does, he is simply known as "the Constable" - he isn't even given a name! Kenneth is an amazing spectacle of crumbling age and decrepitude in Dick. It's about as far removed from his earlier, black and white juvenile romantic leads in the like of Carry On Sergeant and Nurse. Such is the talent of the man as a character actor that he can pull this off and be almost completely unrecognisable. 

Kenneth forms part of the bumbling law enforcement agencies who are attempting to track down and capture the infamous Big Dick Turpin. Joining Kenneth Williams, Jack Douglas and Bernard Bresslaw, they are an inept bunch who Sid James' Dick has no problem double crossing at various points during the course of the film. Although old and crumbling, Kenneth's Constable is still fairly energetic as is seen on his first appearance in one of his own cells with a rather buxom wench! 

Connor has little to do in Carry On Dick but it is really just reassuring to see him there in the mix, especially given the film saw the final appearances of Sid James and Hattie Jacques, actors Kenneth Connor had known and worked with for many, many years by this point. Dick is the last in the series to boast anything approaching a full cast big name Carry On stars. All the current regulars are present and it's only fitting that Kenneth should be a part of it.

As an aside, Kenneth's son Jeremy returned to the Carry Ons for the first time since his charming little cameo in Carry On Nurse back in 1958. Jeremy played a footpad in Dick and is briefly seen early on in the film. This would mark the first of a run of three roles in later Carry Ons for Jeremy.

Stay tuned for my blog on Kenneth Connor's next role in the series, in the 1975 film Carry On Behind. 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

1 comment:

  1. Although his role was so small in Dick, I actually think that Connor got the least amount of actual screentime in Carry On Henry. Anyway yes it was a bit disappointing for me that he had such small parts in both movies. Connor was great.