Friday 19 October 2018

Five Reasons Why I Love … Nurse On Wheels

I have a massive soft spot for the 1963 gentle comedy, Nurse On Wheels. It's not that well known a film amongst the many titles in the Rogers and Thomas cannon and it's rarely shown these days, which is a tremendous pity. Nurse On Wheels was made towards the end of an eclectic period of film production for Peter and Gerald which swerved fairly evenly between official Carry On films and features which could quite easily have fitted in to the series but were kept somewhat apart.

Films like Nurse On Wheels, the story of a young district nurse who takes a new job in a colourful if quaint country village, often featured a host of recognisable Carry On faces as well as many familiar behind the scenes names such as Eric Rogers, Alan Hume and Norman Hudis. There are many reasons why I think this gentle, unfussy comedy should be celebrated and shown more often, but to begin with, here are five reasons why I love it.

The Joy of Esma

Esma Cannon, surely one of our finest comedy character people, was firmly a part of the Carry On cast by 1963 and about to film her fourth and final film with the team. Playing the mother of Juliet Mills' leading lady allowed Esma more screen time than usual and as ever, she doesn't disappoint. Esma is on fine form, twittering about all over the place and charming us from the first moment she appears. Ms Cannon was an actress of delicacy, of quality and a true one off and she enhanced every production she was a part of. As an added bonus, Esma works really well with Juliet Mills and they portray a very convincing mother and daughter pairing. Sadly, Esma would retire from acting the following year, which is just another reason to treasure this wonderful starring role from a true original.

A Dashing Leading Man

Although he never made a Carry On, he really wouldn't have been out of place as part of the team during their 1960s heyday. I'm talking about Ronald Lewis of course, the handsomely brooding leading man and matinee idol who rose to prominence in British cinema during the 1950s. He worked for Peter and Gerald twice and both times as the love interest to Juliet Mills. As well as playing Henry in Nurse On Wheels, the year before he starred as Bob White in Twice Round The Daffodils. You may also remember Lewis from the sparkling 1956 comedy film Sailor Beware, in which he played Shirley Eaton's fiancé, forever facing the wrath of Peggy Mount. Ronald was great in Nurse On Wheels, wearing the handsome hero role lightly and combining will they/won't they romantics with gentle comedy. The Welsh actor could easily have joined in the fun for Carry On Jack or Spying however Peter Rogers Productions opted for Bernard Cribbins and then Jim Dale instead. A shame I think, and Ronald's career perhaps did not work out as planned in the years ahead. I think he's great though and deserves to be remembered fondly.

Gentle Comedy 

Peter Rogers Productions are mainly remembered for their broad, cheeky and saucy farces and costume adventures, however in the early days things were a little different. Nurse On Wheels is light on sauce and that's not a bad thing. It's a family film, there's nothing offensive here. Just plenty of light, frothy and mostly very funny antics played out by a clutch of trusted, experienced and much loved comedy character actors. We say this an awful lot, which isn't a good thing when you actually think about it, but they really don't make them like this anymore!

A Cast of Class 

As well as the aforementioned leading lights Juliet Mills and Ronald Lewis, the cast of Nurse On Wheels is full to the brim not just with reliable Carry On favourites but basically, just the cream of character comedy people. Alongside Carry On regulars Joan Sims (who was originally cast as Joanna, only to be replaced by Mills) and Jim Dale, other familiar faces in the cast include the likes of Noel Purcell, Norman Rossington, Renee Houston, George Woodbridge, Joan Hickson, Raymond Huntley, Deryck Guyler and the legendary Athene Seyler. Athene in particular is a joy in this film and Joan Sims recalled the thrill of working with one of her heroines on film, having first met her in the stage production Breath of Spring several years before. As with all Peter Rogers films, Nurse On Wheels is beautifully, perfectly cast.

A Fitting Farewell for Norman

1963 was a big turning point for the Carry On films. May of that year saw the next Carry On go into production and there would be a new name in the credits - that of scriptwriter Talbot Rothwell. Talbot's script for Carry On Cabby would edge the series towards new, grittier ground and having been well received, he became a stalwart, writing for the series until 1974. Rothwell provided the scripts for many of the series' best loved and most successful titles but we mustn't forget the importance and the skill of Norman Hudis. He wrote the first six films and other associated titles such as Twice Round The Daffodils, Please Turn Over and of course, Nurse On Wheels. Although Norman had a go at a treatment for Carry On Spying the following year, this cosy comedy would prove to be his last credit for Peter Rogers. 

So those are a few reasons why I love Nurse On Wheels. If you haven't seen the film, track it down as it's definitely worth a watch.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

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