Saturday 1 September 2018

Bernie Carries On … As Upsidaisi

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 continuing 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 the jungle guide Upsidaisi in the 1969 film Carry On Up The Jungle.

The basic plot of Jungle involves a group of rather eccentric Brits being guided through the African jungle by the unreliable and very Sid-like Sid James as Bill Boosey. Frankie Howerd and Kenneth Connor play a couple of bickering ornithologists while Bernard Bresslaw also appears as the native guide Upsidasi. Joan Sims plays Lady Evelyn, an upper class English woman looking for her husband and son, lost in the jungle on a previous expedition. Playing opposite Joan is a new young actress to the Carry Ons, the lovely Jacki Piper. Jacki's character June is rather prim and proper at the start of the film but soon enjoys an awakening opposite Terry Scott's Jungle Boy (!)

Of course Terry's character turns out to be Joan's long-lost son (despite Scott being three years older than Sims!) and a late entry from Charles Hawtrey confirms he's Joan's husband Walter. However these days Walter goes under the name of King Tonka, father of countless! This provides Hawtrey with one of his best entrances in the entire run. As always with the Carry Ons, the plot is of little importance, it's the performances we're interested in. Joan takes centre stage for much of the action and is superb opposite her mostly male co-stars. 

Jungle may not be one of my all time favourite Carry Ons but it does have its strong points. Chief amongst them is the central performance from returning guest star Frankie Howerd in his second and final Carry On. Frankie forms a delightful double act with another important returnee, Kenneth Connor. There are also plenty of prime Sid and Joan moments and both Valerie Leon and a debuting Jacki Piper have perhaps their best roles in the series. And who can forget Charles Hawtrey, turning up for the last twenty minutes of action and nearly stealing the film.

So what about Bernard Bresslaw? As I've suggested previously, Bernard never put in a bad performance and was always the strong and stable supporting player. Although Up The Jungle has a smaller overall cast than usual, the majority of the action is shared out between Frankie, Sid and Joan and Bernie perhaps doesn't get as much screen time as he should. As bumbling guide Upsidaisi, Bernard is back playing his stock in trade rather slow witted yet well meaning characters. He does form a satisfying double act with Sid James' big game hunter Bill Boosey and the two old mates ham it up magnificently throughout the picture.

Perhaps Bernie's role as a native in Jungle might raise a few eyebrows in these more enlightened modern times. We're living in a very different country from the England of 1969 and while many people wouldn't have given it a second thought at the time, Bresslaw in dark make up today could quite justifiably be frowned upon. However the saving grace of all this is Bernard's very gentle, innocent performance. He is nothing but endearing and you can't help but love him and his portrayal. Apparently, according to Jacki Piper, Bernard went to the lengths of learning all his commands in the authentic local language only to find that the extras he was working with didn't have a clue what he was talking about! Talk about dedication to your art!

Bernard's Upsidaisi is completely useless as a guide and his continual failure to bring home anything appetising for supper leads Sid to break out yet another tin of corned beef for the completely unaware British travellers. Bernard is perhaps most closely resembling his Army Game character here in this film, although there is also a strong resemblance to his role as part of Sid's gang in the classic crime caper, Too Many Crooks. Upsidaisi remains the innocent amongst the characters and stays completely unaware of all the tent hopping antics amongst the sex mad Brits. 

Bernie's big moment comes once the British have been kidnapped by Valerie Leon's all female tribe, desperate to find eligible men to continue on their line. Upsidaisi manages to escape and soon summons help from his animal friends in the jungle. Before that he goes undercover to inform Sid's Boosey of his plans. This being a Carry On, Bernie drags up as one of Valerie's sexy female fighters, with hilarious results! Unlike some of his fellow male stars, Bresslaw always seemed to relish appearing in drag in a Carry On. And he never disappoints! 

In a film which is pretty dominated by big comedy performances from big comedy stars, Bernard could quite easily be lost in the amongst the action. Such is the talent of the man that he still finds moments to shine.

So those are my thoughts on Bernard's role in Carry On Up The Jungle. Stay tuned for my next blog in this series, as I look back at Bernard's role in Carry On Loving!

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1 comment:

  1. U gotta luv the carry on films the cast the innuendos, I watched thm wen I was wee lad, n still do with a belly laugh every time😀👍n always thort Bernard was under rated🙄god bless em all, big miss,, n get well soon fenella fielding xx