Friday 26 October 2018

Bernie Carries On … As Brother Bernard!

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 Brother Bernard, in the 1972 package holiday parody, Carry On Abroad. 

Carry On Abroad sees a group of eccentric British misfits take off for a long weekend in the dodgy Spanish island of Elsbells. The series was once again tapping into the latest trends, this time for cheap and cheerful package holidays. They were all the rage by the early 190s so what better than sending it all up by sending the gang you'd more typically associate with Brighton off to Spain (well the Pinewood Studios car park). This really was the last classic adventure for the core Carry On team and it's been one of my favourites since I first saw it as a child, recorded late at night on ITV. I still have the original VHS tape somewhere...

Although I have a grudging love of the bargain basement 1975 film Carry On Behind, yet another holiday film, Abroad is the last to feature the full compliment of original cast members (minus Jim Dale who had departed in 1969). Abroad features knockout performances from a host of wonderful Carry On stars, with prime parts for Sid, Joan Kenneths Williams and Connor and a return to a major role for the brilliant Peter Butterworth. It also features one of the best guest casts in any of the Carry Ons - June Whitfield as the uptight Evelyn Blunt, Ray Brooks as the handsome Spanish waiterCarol Hawkins and Sally Geeson as two young holidaymakers on the look out for love, Jimmy Logan as the boisterous Bert Conway and Derek Francis as the stuffy old monk.  

The film also features the last role in the series for stalwart Charles Hawtrey. Sadly, growing problems in Hawtrey's personal life had made him increasingly unreliable. Following a spat about billing for the 1972 Christmas special, with top billing going to the main subject of this blog, Hattie Jacques, Charles left the series and despite making occasional theatre and television appearances until his death in 1988, would never make another film. Another Carry On star who was firmly ensconced as part of the gang was Bernard Bresslaw, who takes on one of his most gentle, sympathetic role as Brother Bernard in Carry On Abroad.

While receiving good billing for his performance in Abroad, Bernard's role is pretty unstated and in the background, despite the fact that his character gives up the priesthood and runs off with Carol Hawkins! Brother Bernard is meek, mild and under the thumb of his senior, Brother Martin, played by the brilliant Derek Francis. The pair bicker and moan throughout the film and I only wish Derek had taken on bigger parts in the series, he's superb. Bernard's first big moment, apart from being on the constant look out for the tomb of Saint Cecilia, is to rip off Sally Geeson's skirt in another one of Talbot Rothwell's typical misunderstandings! Sally's character Lily instantly takes again the bumbling monk even though her pal Marge develops quite a soft spot for him.

Bernard gets into another scrape while applying suncream to young Marge on the sandy beach by the Palace Hotel, otherwise known as the Pinewood Studios' car park. Caught in the act of some very mild flirtation, Bernard scrambles to his feet and sprays suncream over everyone within a five mile radius. Bernard's big moment comes later on in the film when the holidaymakers take off for a day trip to the local market. When Charles Hawtrey's Mr Tuttle pays a visit to the local red light bar, owned by a certain Madame Fifi, he encourages some of the other men to join him. Things get out of hand when Tuttle "insults the fine ladies" and all hell breaks loose as the holidaymakers get into a massive brawl and destroy the market! Brother Bernard keeps his distance until the police arrive and try to arrest Marge. A swift punch to the jaw and Bernie's monk ends up spending the night in the cells.

All this does not go down too well with his Brother Martin and when Bernard decides he wants to take Marge to Pepe's farewell party in the hotel, we finally get to see Brother Bernard in his civvies! Sadly the cast is so packed with fan favourites and superb guest actors that we don't get much character development for Bernard and Carol's characters however from what we do see they make a lovely pairing. Bernard's role in Abroad is quite unlike any other he plays in the series. Yes, there's a touch of bumbling and slapstick, but Brother Bernard is neither a snarling villain or yet another version of his stock in trade Army Game simpleton. 

It's a lovely role for Bernard and once again, he proves himself to be the everyman of the early seventies Carry Ons. 

Stay tuned for my blog on Bernard Bresslaw's next role in the series, in the 1973 film Carry On Girls.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

No comments:

Post a Comment