Monday 21 May 2018

The Gerald Thomas Archive: Cast Correspondence from Again Doctor

Last month I made a rather delayed trip (thank you British weather) to the British Film Institute on London's Southbank. As I've mentioned over on Twitter, the BFI hold the entire Gerald Thomas archive which is chock full of delightful artifacts from Gerald's long, varied and illustrious career in British film. I was quite frankly dazzled by the array of material on offer and have only managed to flick through a fraction of it, but this blog today is the start of several pieces looking at different aspects of what I've had the very good fortune to see.

Following on from my first blog on Gerald's Scrapbook for Carry On Abroad and my second on the Carry On Abroad Draft Script . I have also, more recently, written a blog about the correspondence between the artist Terence "Larry" Parkes and Peter Rogers about the work he'd been asked to do for the titles of Carry On Doctor. 

Today I'm moving forward a couple of years to another medical Carry On - Carry On Again Doctor, which was filmed in the spring of 1969 and marked Jim Dale's last contribution to the series until his return for Columbus in 1992. As with many of the other films in the archive, I found the correspondence between the actors and their paymasters the most fascinating evidence to read though. And the correspondence over contracts for Again Doctor definitely delivered in spades.

Let's start with the man who brought Dr Jimmy Nookey to life in the film, Jim Dale. Jim was paid £3250 for six weeks work in what was really the starring role in the film. There is considerable correspondence on file regarding a medical claim following an injury Jim had suffered on set. This was either the infamous run away hospital trolley sequence or the scene which saw Dale fall through a rotten floor on a hammock. He really did suffer for his art! A note from Peter Rogers on 7 August 1969 details his position:

Regarding Jim Dale's medical expenses, I don't think that we should be responsible for every pill and laxative if the insurance people don't cough up, do you? Whatever was wrong with Jim Dale was the result of an accident on the floor and I understand that we were covered in this respect. 

Rogers was certainly the money man behind the films and this note gives us a real insight into the serious side of churning out such wonderfully funny, popular films. Part of Peter's note concerns the extra expense involved in the delays caused by Jim's accident and trip to hospital to be checked out. It involved other actors on set - Sid James, Valerie Leon and Elizabeth Knight - being contracted on for extra time, and where Peter was most concerned, extra money too!

Next up is a contract for my favourite Carry On actress, the wonderful Joan Sims. Joan, who was paid her usual £2500 for six weeks playing wealthy widow Ellen Moore, had a clause in her contract which allowed her time out to record episodes of the radio series, then titled "It's Bold" with Kenneth Williams each Monday morning for the BBC. Attached to her contract is a personal letter from Joan, dated 4 May 1969 and written on Joan's own personal stationery:

My dear Peter,

Thank you so much for a really wonderful party on Friday. It was a great send off for us all.

Bless you, 

Love, Joan

The famed camaraderie between the actors and producers of the Carry Ons is justly legendary and even though pay was sometimes an issue, there is no doubting the shared affection and kindness here. Hattie Jacques, appearing as Matron once again in the film, was paid £3000 for the part despite being billed below Joan and actually having less screen time. She too attended the party Joan so obviously enjoyed as can be seen in this charming personal note:

Darling Peter,

I can't begin to tell you how much I enjoyed myself last Friday. Thank you, dearest Guv, for a lovely lunch and a simply gorgeous time. And thank you too for having me in your picture.

Fondest love,


It was quite a moment to handle notes from two of my favourite actresses and also interesting to see how, despite being a regular in Peter's films for over a decade by this point, Hattie still seems thrilled to have been asked to do it. 

Turning the pages, I came upon a type written note signed by none other than the brilliant, iconic and elusive Mr Charles Hawtrey. Written from his home at the time in Kew, he too waxed lyrical about the cast party:

Dear Peter,

Thank you for your wonderful luncheon party at the Mirabelle yesterday. The food - the wines - the company - all of which seemed so appropriate after what was generally agreed to be the happiest production. Whilst you remained, undeniably, our gracious host, you complimented us, not to say delighted, by being one of our motley lot. 

With love from,
Your expected but never let it be said rejected,


Although there were already rumblings of unhappiness from Charles over some aspects of the Carry On experience, at this stage at least, he seems content to be part of the gang. Hawtrey received £3500 for his role as Dr Stoppidge and as usual received his no less than fourth star billing in the film, as stipulated in his contract.

There were further medical concerns around another actor during the making of Again Doctor. Alexandra Dane, probably best remembered for her role as Busti in Carry On Up The Khyber, played a small cameo role as a "Stout Woman" in the 1969 medical comedy. Alexandra was paid the princely sum of £30 for the wordless role which saw her spun round on an out of control weight reducing device. There is correspondence between Dane's agent Max Kester of Foster's Agency and Peter Rogers over an accident on set. Apparently the contraption Alexandra was seen in gave way and she fell, hurting her hip. According to a note included from director Gerald Thomas, Alexandra was sent to the Pinewood nurse who then decided to send her on to Wexham Park Hospital for further treatment.

Max Kester wrote to Peter and Gerald several days later concerning his client's medical expenses and another little matter…

I am presuming that in accordance with our conversation, her name will be included on the actors credit list. It has been included before but was omitted in Carry On Screaming.

I think this demonstrates an agent earning his cut while it also shows up the frailties and little details of being a jobbing actor. Obviously gaining an on screen credit would be very important for a new young actress as it would get her name about, as it were. It was news to me that Alexandra featured in Screaming, indeed I can't ever remember seeing her on screen.

The actress Patricia Franklin, who had made her Carry On debut the previous year in Carry On Camping, was apparently cast as a Night Nurse in Carry On Again Doctor. Her contract is included in the file with it agreed with Busby Smith Management that the actress would receive £30 for the part. The contract has cancelled stamped across it and I couldn't remember seeing her in the finished film. The contract also noted that Miss Franklin was then appearing in a play at the Royal Court Theatre at Sloane Square. When I spoke with Patricia recently (you can read our interview here) she did remember being cast in the role, adding that her agent at the time was Greg Smith, soon to become the producer of the Confessions films. Patricia was not able to take on the role in the end due to her work at the Royal Court in a play by Edward Bond.

Another actress who had debuted in Camping and came back for more fun with the gang was the late Elizabeth Knight. Liz was cast as a casualty nurse in Again Doctor and is only seen very briefly during Wilfrid Brambell's cameo in the film. Apparently the role Knight was cast in was due to be bigger however most of her scenes were sadly cut. She was paid £50 a day for the role with a guaranteed sum of £200 agreed with Peter Rogers. Brambell meanwhile, then a big star thanks to Steptoe and Son, was paid a special one off fee of £100 for his wordless cameo as Mr Pullen.

Peter Butterworth, then a series regular, made the first of several small, often uncredited cameos in the Carry Ons. In Again Doctor he played a shuffling patient in a scene with Jim Dale and Peter Gilmore. Butterworth was given the "special low rate" of £125 for his one day on the film. Patsy Rowlands, who would become a series regular over the course of the next six years, made her debut in Again Doctor as Kenneth Williams' assistant, Miss Fosdick. Patsy was paid £60 a day for this role, with a guaranteed sum of £720 for the entire film. 

Aside from Patricia Franklin's casting issue, there were other problems with the casting for Again Doctor. Apparently an actress called Myrtle Reed was due to play a character called Mrs Rigby at £40 per week - the first I've ever heard of either the actress or the character. Pat Coombs, who was paid £60 over the course of a week to play the New Matron towards the end of the film wasn't originally meant to play that part at all. Pat replaced familiar semi-regular actress Ambrosine Phillpotts although there are no reasons specified for Ambrosine stepping aside from the role. Pat had been cast as Miss Armitage, the troublesome patient who gets an eyeful of Dr Nookey, eventually played by the actress Ann Lancaster. 

Valerie Shute, who had several small roles in the Carry Ons, played a nurse in Again Doctor.    There is a note on file from Gerald Thomas to an Al Shute of Warner Pathe regarding her potential casting in the film:

Thank you for your note and enclosed photograph. I must say it is the most I've ever seen of Valerie! We commence shooting again on March 17th and you can be sure that we will find a nice little 'nurse' part for Valerie.

I was also thrilled to come across a hand written note from one of my favourite character actors of the era, the great Harry Locke. Harry cropped up in countless films during the 1940s, 50s and 60s and featured in three of the medical Carry Ons - Nurse, Doctor and finally Again Doctor. On the lookout for work, Harry wrote to Peter before the casting of Again Doctor:

I was talking to Talbot Rothwell Esq on Sunday about the new script and he said he would mention me when next he saw you…I hope you may have something for me - I have so much enjoyed working with the boys…

Harry was in luck as he was soon cast in the role of the hospital porter, a role than earned him £60. It's intriguing to see actors 'write in' to Peter and Gerald to remind them that they are around and ready to work. In such a fickle business, before the internet and the existence of social media, it must have been an essential part of life as a jobbing actor. 

On a rather sad note, there is also a sad little letter from the actress Lucy Griffiths in the Again Doctor file. Lucy played small parts in quite a few Carry Ons - the trolley lady in Nurse, an excitable neighbour with Leslie Phillips in Constable and a hospital patient in Doctor - and she was once again a patient in bed in a very brief scene in Again Doctor which sees her headphones explode. Lucy wrote to Gerald Thomas about that part on 20th January 1970:

Dear Gerry,

I am delighted to find my 'bit' picked for the trailer of 'Doctor Again'. It happened once before too! So now I really feel perhaps I'm doing a minute 'bit' to help sell the picture and that I belong. I do hope that you will want me more continuously and more often (perhaps bigger bits). It's a happy experience working for you.

…I'm struggling to rebuild my acting career. Spotlight believe in me and are doing their best to help. I can act, I've got to act and that's it.

This letter from Lucy Griffiths provides an example of how tough it can be to survive in the acting profession. Obviously struggling (there are parts of the letter I decided not to share) Lucy is quite determined to continue doing the job she loved and in a not so subtle way hoping Gerry might help her out. Lucy did work for the Carry On people again however her scenes in Loving (filmed the same year she wrote that note) were deleted and her final association with the team in 1975's Carry On Behind, was an uncredited role with no dialogue. You can read more about the life and career of Lucy Griffiths here: Carry On Blogging: Whatever Happened to Lucy Griffiths?

Stay tuned for the next in my series of special blogs on Gerald's archive coming up soon!

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

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