Wednesday 11 July 2018

Bernie Carries On … As Abdul Abulbul

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 Sheikh Abdul Abulbul in his third Carry On, the period costume epic, Follow That Camel in 1967.

Follow That Camel was the second film in a row in the series to be released originally without the Carry On … suffix. The Rank Organisation, while keen to release Peter Rogers' successful comedies, were still less than enthused with being linked to a series so associated with another distributor. This foreign legion comedy saw other changes too. Leading man Sid James was out of the series following a heart attack and with Rank keen to boost ticket sales in the United States, international guest star Phil Silvers was drafted in to play Sergeant Nocker. The legendary star of Bilko created much publicity however the jury is out as to just how successful his brand of comedy jelled with the Carry Ons.

Elsewhere it was business as usual, with regulars Jim Dale, Peter Butterworth, Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey all taking major roles in the film. Angela Douglas has probably her best part in the series as Lady Jane Ponsonby; Anita Harris makes her series debut as Cork Tip and Joan Sims pops up for an eye catching cameo as bar owner Zig Zig. Although limited in screen time, Joan makes quite an impression as the busty, earthy character! So what of Bernard Bresslaw?

As Abdul, Bresslaw tackles his first in a run of towering, fearsome villain parts in the series. Bernard pops up throughout the action and is the major thorn in the side of the legion. In league with the beguiling Cork Tip, he plots to drive the soldiers out of town and will apparently stop at nothing to do so! Abdul comes across Lady Jane, who has travelled from England to make amends with Jim Dale's Bo West. Quickly falling for her innocent charms, Abdul kidnaps Lady Jane and adds her to his bulging harem out in the middle of the desert and plans to marry her. 

Silvers and Dale are also kidnapped by Abdul after being lured to the home of Cork Tip. Peter Butterworth comes into his own here, following them all out to Abdul's camp. There are wonderful scenes of Bresslaw duelling funny lines opposite Silvers and Dale here and the script really comes alive. Bernard really does show that being a comedy villain is one of the best parts an actor could hope for and this performance comes straight out of pantomime!

Even though Abdul is defeated in the end by the plucky Brits (Dale, Butterworth and Douglas) he does get the last laugh right at the end of the film. Back in Blighty, Bo and Lady Jane and enjoying a game of cricket on the lawn and up pops Abdul with a classic last line, his flowing robes replaced with cricket whites! While Follow That Camel may not have been the best film in the series, there's no doubt that it helped establish Bernard Bresslaw as a vital component of the team.

So that's my thoughts on Bernard's fearsome performance in Follow That Camel. Stay tuned for my next blog in this series, as I look back at Bernard's lovestruck Ken Biddle as the Carry Ons return to the hospital wards in Carry On Doctor! 

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