Tuesday 5 June 2018

Connor Carries On … As Leyland

This month marks 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 seventeenth and final role in the series, as Leyland the chauffeur in the 1978 film, Carry On Emmannuelle!

Carry On Emmannuelle marked the last gasp of the original run of films and for what remained of the core cast of actors, it was certainly the end of an era. Kenneth joined fellow veterans Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims, Peter Butterworth and Jack Douglas for one final romp, although I get the feeling most of them probably wished they'd left well alone. Williams in particular had been extremely reticent when it came to signing up for the film. He hated the script, the near the knuckle situations and the usual degrading stunts he found himself in all for the sake of a few laughs. I don't know a great deal on what the others thought of the experience but Joan Sims' autobiography skims over Emmannuelle pretty quickly!

Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas were gradually bowing to the pressure of changing times. The 1970s saw a relaxation of censorship rules and by the end of the decade pretty much anything was possible and everything was on display! The Confessions of and Adventures Of series of sexploitation comedy films took the classic innuendo of the Carry On films and pushed it much further. This direction instantly made the Carry Ons look tired and old hat. Rogers was first and foremost a businessman who wanted to make a profit, so gradually the Carry Ons became ruder both in style and content. The writing had been on the wall since Carry On Behind with saucier humour and much more flesh on show. However Emmannuelle went even further. Although relatively mild and coy by the standards of 2016, it was still a major departure from what had made the Carry Ons such a success. Crucially, the cruder content meant the core audience of families could no longer watch the film together in the cinema. Sadly Emmannuelle was not a commercial hit and marked the end of the franchise.

I have only ever watched Emmannuelle once all the way through which tells you all you need to know on my verdict of this rather tawdry little film. It's not nearly as mucky as its reputation suggests, indeed my dislike of the picture stems mainly from my belief that it's just not very good. Of all the precious few regulars featuring in the film, Kenneth Connor is reassuringly familiar. While Joan languishes in the background with Peter Butterworth in throwaway roles and Kenneth Williams minces about for all it's worth, Connor is pretty good in the film. His role as Leyland doesn't really amount to much but it is welcome Carry On fare. 

Although in his sixtieth year by the time they made Emmannuelle, Kenneth Connor is still full of youthful energy and vigour. He's back to the cheeky Cockney chappie of earlier films and the frustrated military type he'd come to play in the likes of Abroad and Behind is long gone as Connor, as with several other characters in the film, openly indulges in the charms of Emmannuelle. While Kenneth gives it his all, it's still a little sad to see this great comedic actor playing this kind of low rent bawdy stuff. His best scenes are with the other long-time regulars below stairs - Sims, Douglas and Butterworth - but sadly they are few and far between.

Instead, Connor's big moments are chauffeuring Suzanne Danielle's character around various London landmarks, accompanied by a rather lurid, unfunny monologue from Connor. Not a good way to say farewell to the series. Kenneth also endures a dreadfully grubby sequence shown in flashback as part of a favourite amorous encounter section. Kenneth's involves a drunken exchange with a married woman played by Claire Davenport which sees him hide in a wardrobe in his pants when Davenport's loutish husband (Norman Mitchell) arrives home unexpectedly. I don't think anybody comes out of that little lot with a great deal of dignity.

So there you have it, a rather lacklustre end to Kenneth's Carry On career. Thankfully we have many other fantastic films and wonderful performances to enjoy. I hope you have enjoyed my trawl through the Carry On career of Kenneth Connor and don't forget in this, Kenneth's centenary year, I'll be celebrating the great man with a special post on the anniversary of his birth, 6 June. 

I'm also delighted to add that I'll be continuing this series with a brand new set of blogs looking back at all fourteen of Bernard Bresslaw's towering contributions to the Carry On films.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

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