Monday 23 July 2018

My Top 20 Favourite Carry On Actors: Number 3 - Charles Hawtrey

This is part of a 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 Three: An actor who became synonymous with the Carry Ons, indeed his later career was dominated by the film series. He appeared in twenty three films between 1958 and 1972, yes it's the unmistakable Charles Hawtrey.

Quite simply, nobody else could play Charles Hawtrey's parts. He was totally unique in his look, presence, delivery and even the way he stood on set! Without dwelling on his departure from the series in 1972, I just don't think the loss of any other actors affected the series and its fortunes more than that of Charles Hawtrey. He was irreplaceable and the films lost an impish charm forever once he'd departed.

His character was so strong that he very quickly gained himself a catch phrase - "Oh, hello!" usually on his first appearance in a film. Although a seasoned actor on stage and film, Hawtrey was pretty pigeon-holed in the Carry Ons, to such an extent that while the rest of the main cast in Carry On Cowboy took on American accents, Hawtrey, playing an Indian Chief, still had his usual English accent! Yes he was always cast as the eccentric, bespectacled loner but he brought such joy in every film he made. 

Right from the start in Carry On Sergeant, his effete, gentle character brought camp chaos to proceedings. His radio loving hospital patient in Carry On Nurse is one of my favourites as is his snooty music master Mr Bean in Carry On Teacher. His endless bickering with Kenneth Williams is a pure joy. As special constable Timothy Gorse in Carry On Constable, Hawtrey revelled in the department store drag scene and that lovely image of him rattling around the streets of Ealing on a scooter will stay with me forever.

A complex, sometimes challenging individual away from the film studios, nobody can doubt his incredible, one off skill as an actor. Some of his film roles later on in the series, such as James Bedsop in Carry On Loving or Dr F. A Goode in Carry On Matron, are little more than cameos, but there are precious few other actors who can make such an impact on a film with barely ten minutes total screen time. Hawtrey had charisma and twinkly charm in bucket loads. 

His last Carry On, and indeed his last film, Carry On Abroad, saw Talbot Rothwell paint his Eustace Tuttle as a loner, a mummy's boy and an alcoholic. While the impish glee is still there on Hawtrey's face, it's a rather cruel note to send such a loyal servant out on and the more I watch that brilliant film now, the more I resent the character Hawtrey was given to play. Despite that, his contribution to the Carry Ons was a joyful cavalcade of camp English eccentricity. Hawtrey instantly brought a smile to your face, whether it be way out West in Stodge City, Up The Khyber as Private Jimmy Widdle of the Third Foot and Mouth or just camping about the down the end of Brighton Pier in the blissful Carry On At Your Convenience, Charles was a vital cog in the Carry On machine and things just didn't tick along quite so smoothly once he'd gone. 

We're down to my Top Two now and I'm sure you've guessed who's still to come, but who will come out on top? Matron! Stay tuned to find out soon! 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram 

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