Thursday 28 June 2018

Bernie Carries On … As Sockett!

Over the past year I have written a series of blogs covering each of the roles of some of our favourite Carry On stars. I began my looking back at each film role played by the three leading ladies in the series - Joan Sims, Hattie Jacques and Barbara Windsor - and most recently I've written about all of Kenneth Connor's Carry On performances in the run up to the great man's centenary. 

Today I am beginning a new strand of this series by turning the spotlight on that gentle giant of British comedy, the late Bernard Bresslaw. Probably one of the most under-rated actors in the main team, Bernard was a part of the series for ten years and fourteen films, tackling a superb range of crumbling villains and delightfully dimwitted foils to the likes of Sid James and Kenneth Cope. Bernard enjoyed a long career away from the Carry Ons and spent much of his later life wowing audiences in legitimate theatre. However he will forever to remembered for his clutch of hilarious Carry On supporting turns. 

Bernard joined the Carry On team in the mid 1960s and along with Peter Butterworth was the last main team member to join the gang. Along with Butterworth, Bernard played a series of smaller, supporting roles to begin with before graduating to major roles towards the end of the decade. Bernard fitted in effortlessly with the rest of the team and he's the kind of actor who is working hard but making it look oh so easy. A quiet, erudite, thoughtful family man away from the film studios, I often think Bresslaw has never received the credit he's due as like Connor and Butterworth, he didn't ever seek the limelight or splash his life over the front pages.

So today, we'll continue this new series looking at Bernard's role as Sockett in his second Carry On, the classic iconic Carry On Screaming! in 1966.

Carry On Screaming marked a new high for the series when it was released way back in 1966. Spoofing the similarly low budget Hammer Horror films, Screaming takes a deliciously tongue in cheek look at schlocky horror movies. The film centres on the disappearance of various young women, kidnapped by a bizarre monster developed by the dastardly double act of Kenneth Williams and Fenella Fielding. The pair are vitrifying the young ladies and turning them into mannequins for the local dress shop. It could only happen in a Carry On.

Screaming provides Harry H Corbett with his only role in a Carry On film, in the starring role of Sidney Bung (taking the place of the absent Sid James). The film also stars a clutch of on form regular players, from Peter Butterworth and Charles Hawtrey to Joan Sims and a certain Mr Bernard Bresslaw. Fresh from his debut in Cowboy the year before, Bernard was back at Pinewood less than six months later for another supporting role as Sockett the butler Screaming. Although very much seen as part of the main team these days, it's worth noting that Bernard, along with Butterworth is not billed in a starring role…yet.

As with Fenella Fielding, Bernard is very much cast in an Addams Family role in this film. His incredible height is used to maximum effect on his first appearance. As butler to Kenneth's Dr Watt and his sister Valeria (Fielding) Bresslaw gets an amazing entrance. As Corbett, Butterworth and Jim Dale call on the Watt siblings following the disappearance of Doris Mann (Angela Douglas) huge, plodding, sinister footsteps lead to a shot of the towering presence of Sockett. The character may be monosyllabic but it still manages to be both a memorable and hilarious performance.

Although seemingly "from the dead" Sockett quickly shows his human side when greeted by his mistress, Valeria. In a hilarious scene, Valeria and Sockett embrace which results in Sockett's slippers stiffening at the toes! Given the heavy, laboured footsteps the character takes, it's doubly funny to realise he's got slippers on to contrast all that black butler's garb. Bernard appears again as the driver of the Watts' car and also their horse drawn cart and each time he brings with him a deliciously unmoving, dead eyed performance which suits the film perfectly.

As with Cowboy, sadly Bernard isn't given that much more to do than supporting the main players and in Screaming, it's Fenella, Harry H and Kenneth Williams who rightly dominate. I think it's fair to say that while Screaming is undoubtedly one of the very best Carry Ons ever made, even a favourite with many who aren't overly enamoured with the rest of the series' output, it doesn't provide Bernard with his finest Carry On material. Fortunately, the next film in the series gave Bresslaw a lot more to play with.

So that's my take on Bernard's role in Carry On Screaming. Coming up next, Bernard's part as Abdul in Follow That Camel! 

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