Sunday 5 August 2018

Bernie Carries On … As Bungdit Din!

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 another fearsome villain in one of the finest films of the entire series, and certainly one of the most popular - Bungdit Din in 1968's Carry On Up The Khyber!

Khyber is frequently quoted as the finest of all Carry Ons so it is therefore only fitting that the film provided stalwarts such as Sid, Kenneth, Joan and Bernard with some of their best roles. The film is a glorious send up of all those stiff upper lip British war films. The Carry Ons were indeed at their best when gently poking fun at an established institution. 

The film is focuses the Devil's In Skirts and the Khasi of Kalabar's (Kenneth Williams) attempts to prove that the British soldiers are not the fearsome opponents they claim to be. He does this with the help of Private Widdle (Charles Hawtrey) and the revelation that the Devils wear underwear under the dreaded kilts! Lady Ruff-Diamond, fed up with her good for nothing, womanising husband (who else but Sid James?) takes a photograph as proof and runs away to Jacksi (!) and into the arms of the Khasi. While soppy Joan thinks the Khasi has romantic intentions, the fiendish Khasi is just using her for his own ends! 

The film is beautifully written, Talbot Rothwell clearly relishing his subject matter and therefore firing on all cylinders. It's also fairly even handed, as the best Carry Ons were. Everyone comes in for ridicule, especially the British! Despite this it remains a pretty patriotic film, summed up best by the climatic dinner party sequence which sees the Brits continue with their fine dining experience while the Khasi and his men do their very best to blow up the residency and kill them all! Talk about keeping a stiff upper lip! 

Bernard Bresslaw is on tremendous form as Kenneth Williams' righthand man, Bungdit Din from Jacksi. He snarls, threatens and uses his extraordinary height to great advantage throughout and Bernard and Kenneth make for an excellent double act. Bernard is all butch machismo which clashes wonderfully well with Kenneth's camp Khasi! As with most excellent panto villains there is a heavy dollop of childish bickering between the pair as while they often have the upper hand over the British, they don't have Sir Sidney's unflappable phlegm. 

We first meet Bungdit Din at the Khyber Pass itself, well Snowdonia actually but no matter. Coming upon Charles Hawtrey's feeble Private Jimmy Widdle at the Pass, Bungdit Din soon realises the Devils in Skirts are nothing to be afraid of once he's seen under Widdle's kilt! This sets off a chain of comedic events that leads the Khasi to kidnap (not against her will) Lady Ruff Diamond and head for the hills. Bernard turns on the macho power as he dominates over his hareem girls (including Alexandra Dane as Busti and a debuting Valerie Leon in a non-speaking part). He almost uses force to part the girls as he greets his British visitors, such is his convincing power in the part. 

Bernard grabs two of his greatest Carry On lines in Up The Khyber. The first, during a dreadful performance from Cardew Robinson's Fakir, as he tells him to leave. Bernard's perfectly timed "Fakir…off!" managed to survive the censor's ire due to the length of time between the two words, however I've noticed in recent showings on television that the line is actually cut! Given what gets passed in modern films these days, I think that's a bit pathetic really, but what do I know?! Bernard also has a wonderful line as his men charge towards Sir Sidney's residency. "That'll teach 'em to ban turbans on the buses" is a rare real life political reference from the time, relating to a story ongoing in contemporary Britain as you can read about here -  Surely Tolly Rothwell at his most inspired?

Ultimately of course the Khasi and Bungdit Din are defeated, following a lengthy battle in the residency grounds which sees future Coronation legend Johnny Briggs get a bullet in his sporran. Sounds painful. Kenneth and Bernard flee the scene as they are given a flash of true British grit! 

Nobody else could have played Bernie's part in Carry On Up The Khyber. In other, less hands, it could easily have gone too far or been completely misjudged. Bresslaw was a quality actor, professional to his core and took each new part as seriously as the last, whether it be Shakespeare or camping about in costume with Kenneth and Charles up Mount Snowdon. They couldn't make a film like Carry On Up The Khyber in these ultra PC times and that's probably just as well. Anyone attempting it today couldn't manage such a representation of innocence or boast a cast full of such talented actors. And Bernard surely towers above them all.

So that's my thoughts on Bernard's role in Carry On Up The Khyber. Stay tuned for my next blog in this series, as I look back at Bernard's role in another extremely popular film from later in 1968 - Carry On Camping!

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

No comments:

Post a Comment