Monday 25 June 2018

My Top 20 Favourite Carry On Actors: Number 7 - Kenneth Connor

This is part of a brand new series of blogs where I will take a purely personal look at my favourite Carry On actors. I will be doing a countdown of my top twenty actors and actresses in this, the sixtieth anniversary year of Carry On. So why top twenty? Well top ten didn't allow me to include all my favourites and any more than twenty and I'd be at it forever, as it were.

This top twenty will be a mix of regular top team actors and many of those instantly recognisable supporting actors who popped in and out of the series, adding superb cameos here and there. You will probably agree with some of my main choices and be vehemently opposed to others, but it's meant to encourage debate! 

So we are now half way through my countdown of my all-time favourite Carry On actors. The first half of the list featured mainly supporting actors who popped in and out several times throughout the films, from the likes of Joan Hickson and Cyril Chamberlain to Margaret Nolan and Peter Gilmore. Now obviously the Top Ten is going to focus on the main team members as there aren't any I can conceivably leave out.

So here we go with Number Seven: a superb comedy character actor who spanned the entire run of the series and went from bumbling romantic lead to crumbling old age -  Kenneth Connor.

I've spent a lot of time lately writing about Kenneth Connor's work on the Carry On films. I've profiled each of his seventeen roles in the films between Sergeant in 1958 and Emmannuelle twenty years later, in this Connor's centenary year. Kenneth, along with Peter Butterworth and Bernard Bresslaw, is one of the under-rated faces of Carry On. He started out as the unexpected romantic lead in the early black and white films and for me, these are his best performances. His Horace Strong in Carry On Sergeant is a comedic tour de force and his double act with Dora Bryan just sublime. Other roles as Bernie Bishop in Nurse, Gregory Adams in Teacher and Constable Constable in Carry On Constable all followed the same familiar territory but in each role, Kenneth delivered the goods and brought something special and unique to the part.

Many would say Connor's finest hour in the series was his Hengist Pod, inventor of the square wheel and husband to Senna, in Carry On Cleo. Yes, this is an excellent showcase for Kenneth's gift for comedy, but for me his role as the bewildered, shy Dr Arthur Binn in Carry On Cruising is just the best. With less of a regular cast aboard the Happy Wanderer, Kenneth gets more screen time and his interactions with the likes of Kenneth Williams and Liz Fraser are wonderful. He also has delicious chemistry with Dilys Laye. Another highpoint in Kenneth's Carry On career came the year before, with his role as Sam Twist in Carry On Regardless. His delightful 39 Steps pastiche, complete with a belting cameo from Betty Marsden, steals the film.

Unlike many of his colleagues, Kenneth opted out of many of the mid 1960s Carry Ons, preferring to concentrate on his stage career. I completely understand this decision however it leaves us fans wondering what might have been had he featured in some of the most on form films in the entire series - Screaming for example, or Doctor and Up The Khyber. Even a practically perfect film like Camping could have been improved with even the briefest appearance from Kenneth Connor. 

Kenneth did of course come back to the fold from 1969's Carry On Up The Jungle onwards and from the get go it was as if he'd never been away. Yes he's a tad older but if anything Kenneth's maturity just adds to his range. The 1970s saw Kenneth take on a wide range of stunning supporting roles depicting crumbling little men, puffed out figures of authority and belittled civic dignitaries. Perhaps the best examples of these later roles are the frustrated, middle aged Stanley Blunt in Carry On Abroad and the role which immediately followed, as Mayor Frederick Bumble in Carry On Girls. Blessed with a dreary, put upon wife in Mildred (Patsy Rowlands) Kenneth delivers the arguably the best performance in the latter half of his Carry On career.

I really wanted to place Kenneth higher up on this list but I just couldn't when faced with the names that are still to come. 

So Kenneth Connor comes in at Number Seven in my list of Top 20 Favourite Carry On actors. Who'll be next?

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