Wednesday 6 June 2018

Remembering Kenneth Connor

The Carry On legend Kenneth Connor was born on this day in 1918. It's hard to believe, given how often we all still see him on our screens, both that Kenneth is no longer with us and that if he was he would be 100 years old this very day.

I've often felt that Kenneth Connor is somewhat overlooked by mainstream comedy and Carry On fans. Only the diehards really know of his impressive body of work and understand why he is such a vital part of Britain's favourite film comedy team. Kenneth was one of the most loyal members of the Carry On gang, appearing in seventeen films, two stage productions and countless television episodes which included both Christmas specials and the ATV series Carry On Laughing.

Connor was on the stage pretty much all his life, first appearing at the age of just 2 and making his final appearance, in an episode of Noel Edmonds' Telly Addicts for the BBC, just a few days before his death aged 75 in 1993. Starting off as a revue performer, Kenneth honed his craft at the Central School of Speech and Drama where he won a Gold medal for his performances. The Second World War interrupted his acting career however he returned to the profession after serving with the Middlesex Regiment as an Infantry Gunner. The immediate post war period saw him working at the legendary Bristol Old Vic theatre. The late 1940s also saw Kenneth work at the Old Vic in London with the likes of Alec Guinness. 

However it was radio which led to Kenneth Connor's big break. Known for his incredible vocal dexterity, these skills were called upon by the likes of Ted Ray and Peter Sellers. Kenneth worked with Ray on several shows, most notably Ray's A Laugh. Connor also appeared on the classic Goon Show, often replacing one of the regulars. This led to him appearing as a regular with most of the Goon team on television in shows such as A Show Called Fred in the 1950s.

Kenneth peaked in films during the late 1950s and early 1960s. His growing popularity led to him starring in films like the Dentist comedies with Bob Monkhouse, What A Carve Up! with Sid James and Nearly a Nasty Accident. However the Carry Ons dominated his film career. Along with Kenneth Williams and Eric Barker, Connor was one of the very few actors who appeared in both the very first Carry On (Sergeant) and the very last of the original run (Emmannuelle). Connor was arguably the main star of the early Norman Hudis black and white Carry Ons, turning in beautifully crafted bumbling romantic lead roles in the likes of Nurse and Teacher and stayed with the films until Carry On Cleo in 1964. Following a five year gap to concentrate on other work, Connor returned for Up The Jungle and remained a vital part of the team until the series ran out of steam in 1978. The 1970s saw Kenneth turn in a range of really interesting middle-aged lotharios, blue collar little men and crumbling depictions of old age. 

Connor continued to work successfully after the Carry Ons came to an end. With the film industry in the doldrums, Kenneth appeared more often on television with regular roles in a range of classic situation comedies such as Hi-de-Hi, 'Allo 'Allo and Rentaghost. He also popped up in the likes of You Rang M'lord?, Blackadder The Third and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (with his Carry On Regardless co-star Betty Marsden). 

Kenneth was a very private, beloved family man, who spent his down time at his lovely home  in North London. I think, as with the likes of Peter Butterworth and Bernard Bresslaw, Kenneth failed to garner the attention or publicity compared to some of his more outwardly colourful cast mates. Despite this, Kenneth's performances speak for themselves. He was a brilliant actor with an impressive range and as with many of his contemporaries made the work he did look easy when it really was far from it. 

I've been profiling each of Kenneth Connor's seventeen Carry On roles on this blog and while I've loved doing it, there is so much more Kenneth should be remembered for. I hope people will look into Kenneth career and find out about his diverse, prolific career. As an actor and a man, he deserves to be remembered as one of the very best.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

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