Monday 18 June 2018

The Gerald Thomas Archive: Carry On Abroad Cast Correspondence

A few months back 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 the next item file I want to write about concerns final preparations for the release of Carry On Doctor in late 1967. 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 and also on what I gleaned from the cast contracts and correspondence from Carry On Again Doctor in 1969.

Today I am going to write about Carry On Abroad once again, always one of my favourites in the series. I went straight to the cast correspondence file again and although I'm curious about what the actors really did get paid for these films, it's the little, personal details which always excite me the most. 

The first contract in the bundle was that of the late, great Peter Butterworth. Peter was based in Sussex at the time and despite being very much a series regular at that stage, he was still paid on a per week basis like so many of the supporting actors involved in the films. Peter received £250 per week over a three week period for his superb turn as Pepe (or is it Mario?) in Abroad. At the time of planning for Abroad, Butterworth had missed out on several of the previous films and when he did appear it was usually a small cameo role. I had always wondered why and a little of that is cleared up in the memo from Peter that accompanies his contract. Writing to Peter and Gerald from HTV West Television in Bristol on 9 March 1972, Peter comments that he had recently been working on a television comedy series with John Le Mesurier and asks if there might be a part in the new Carry On film for him. He also apologises again for not being able to appear in the previous Carry On (Matron) "because of that Italian job". I have no idea what the Italian production was however the comedy series is definitely A Class By Himself, co-starring Le Mesurier and Richard Stilgoe. Peter played Clutton.

June Whitfield joined the Carry On team for the first time since Nurse in 1958 with her role as Evelyn Blunt in Carry On Abroad. June was paid £1000 per week for four weeks' work on the film and thereafter £250 per week. June's contract was subject to time off to record appearances on various BBC radio productions during the April of 1972. June's screen husband, series regular Kenneth Connor, was paid £2250 for six weeks in the role of Stanley. Meanwhile, Jack Douglas, still at the cameo stage and here playing Harry, the pub regular, was paid £40 per day with a guaranteed fee of £80. 

Barbara Windsor, making her seventh appearance in the series as the object of Sid's longing, Sadie Tompkins, received £2500 for six weeks on the film. Interestingly it was written into her contract by her then agent Richard Stone, that Barbara was still appearing in a production of The Threepenny Opera at London's Piccadilly Theatre when Abroad began shooting. Another actress represented by Richard Stone was Gail Grainger, making her first and only appearance in the films as Moira. Gail was living in Ealing, West London at the time of making Abroad and was paid £500. Her contract notes that Gail was then also appearing on stage at the Duke of York's Theatre in London opposite Leslie Phillips in The Man Most Likely To… Also included in the file is the original telegram Peter and Gerald sent to Gail Grainger on her birthday, 4 May. Sent to the Duke of York's ahead of that night's performance it says: Many happy returns. Hope you have a lovely birthday, love Peter and Gerald.

Patsy Rowlands, playing the reduced role of Miss Dobbs in the early scenes of the film, only worked for three days on the picture, earning just £20 per day. This again highlights the strangely varying size of the roles Patsy played throughout the series. The late Bill Maynard filmed for one day as WundaTours boss Mr Fiddler, shooting scenes with Gail Grainger, Patsy Rowlands and Kenneth Williams. Despite his scene being cut from the final film Bill was still paid £75. Another actor who was paid for a role which never materialised in the final print was Lindsay Marsh. Lindsay had previously appeared in a small role as a 'shapely nurse' in Carry On Matron and would return to play Myra in the film of Bless This House. Her part as an air hostess in Abroad, for which she received £25, was cut, along with the entire sequence to be filmed aboard an aeroplane.

A young actress who did play a sizeable role in the success of Carry On Abroad was Please Sir and Fenn Street Gang star Carol Hawkins. Carol, who like Gail and Sally Geeson was paid £500 for the film, wrote to Peter Rogers on 6 March 1972:

Dear Sir,

As I have recently completed the film of 'Please Sir" and the comedy TV series "Fenn Street Gang" playing the part of Sharon, I thought perhaps you would like a photograph of myself to keep in your files for future references.

The letter and photo obviously caught their eye as Carol was soon cast in the role of Marge. She would go on to appear in the film of Bless This House, again for Peter and Gerald, before returning three years later to play Sandra in Carry On Behind. There is another letter involving Carol later on in the file and it concerns her wedding in the Summer of the same year:

Dear Carol,

Please take your horses out of this and use the rest for a wedding present from me,


Another example of the generous nature of the men behind the Carry On films although I'm not sure if the letter and kind gesture is from Peter or Gerald. 

Another actor making his Carry On debut in this film was Scottish performer Jimmy Logan. Paid £1000 for his role as cheerful Bert Conway, Jimmy was granted special permission to miss some filming to honour a prior engagement. Again showing the kindness of Peter Rogers, the original letter from E. H Cochrane, Chairman of the Barnardo's Ball Committee in Motherwell, thanks Peter for allowing Jimmy the time away to host the Rose Ball in the presence of Princess Margaret in Glasgow. 

Finally, to a very sweet, human story involving regular supporting actor Brian Osborne. Brian debuted in the series in the previous film, Carry On Matron, playing an ambulance driver and would appear in every film up until England in 1976. In Abroad Brian played the market stall holder who sells the holiday makers Santa Cecilia's Elixir. Brian, represented by Peter Eade (who also looked after Joan Sims, Kenneth Williams and for a time writer Norman Hudis) was paid £100 for Abroad. 

On 15th May, Brian had written to Gerald informing him that his wife Elsie had, the night before, given birth to their daughter Helen Shirley. After sharing the happy news, Brian went on to apologise for being unable to attend the press show for Carry On Matron due to filming commitments with the television series 'Follyfoot" in Leeds. Two days later, on 17 May 1972, a handwritten letter from Brian's wife Elsie is also found on file. Thanking Peter and Gerald for "the really beautiful flower display in a cradle you sent for Helen", Elsie goes on to say:

I have been promoting your films to all the other patients and staff, without giving any other secrets away, so I hope box office sales do well.

It's a lovely record of a long ago act of kindness and reciprocity and the whole correspondence has a genuine thoughtfulness and feeling of innocence about it. It was a privilege to see it and a joy to read.

Thanks once again to the staff at the BFI for all their help. It was a wonderful experience to spend time going through Gerald's archive.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

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