Sunday 4 November 2018

Carrying On … on a Last Holiday

A couple of weeks ago I had the great good fortune to catch a lovely little film on Talking Pictures TV. Last Holiday, made way back in 1950, is a darkly comic tale of an everyman character who is told by a under pressure doctor that he has weeks to live. Shocked by the news, George Bird takes steps to make sure his last few days on earth are lived as fully as possible.

What's the film about?

George Bird, an ordinary, unassuming salesman of agricultural implements who inexplicably speaks with a posh public school accent, visits a physician for a routine check-up and is told he has Lampington's Disease, a newly identified condition which allows him only a few weeks to live. He accepts the doctor’s advice to take his savings and enjoy himself in the little time left to him. A bachelor with no family or friends, Bird decides to spend his last days at an up-market residential hotel among its elite clientele. By chance, a salesman in a used clothing store has acquired two suitcases, covered with international labels. The cases are full of a deceased Lord's bespoke tailored wardrobe, that perfectly fits Bird. Bird acquires the wardrobe and luggage that give him the appearance of a wealthy gentleman.

Bird’s unassuming attitude generates a great deal of interest among the hotel's residents because he wears the same expensive clothes as all the other guests wear. He is seen as an enigma to be solved, with wild speculations offered as to his identity and possible noble lineage. The hotel's housekeeper guesses the truth, and Bird confides his secret to her. Bird quickly acquires friends and influence, falls in love (possibly for the first time in his life), sets wrongs to right, and is offered lucrative business opportunities. But these successes only serve to make him reflect on the irony that he will have no time to enjoy them.

Who's in it?
Last Holiday stars the great Sir Alec Guinness in one of his earlier starring roles. As George BIrd, Alec is the heart and soul of the film and it's a tour de force. Co-starring is Beatrice Campbell, playing Sheila Rockingham, a woman who is married to a bit of a dodgy customer and the pair are down on their luck. And the brilliant Kay Walsh (once the wife of director David Lean) plays Mrs Poole, the hotel's down to earth and rather canny housekeeper. 
Also look out for Helen Cherry as Miss Mellows, Jean Colin as Daisy Clarence and Bernard Lee as Inspector Wilton. Bernard would of course go on to play M in the first eleven James Bond films.

Carry On Faces?
Last Holiday features a major supporting role for a rising star by the name of Sidney James. Playing a slightly rough around the edges wide boy with a heart of gold, Sid really shines as Joe Clarence and shares many lovely scenes with Alec Guinness. There are definite shades of the Sid we'd come to know and love in many comedies of the future, but as with many of his earlier screen roles, Sid is given more room to show his true acting chops in this film and it's lovely to see.
Also appearing in a satisfying supporting part is the inimitable Esma Cannon. The future star of Carry On Constable, Regardless, Cruising and Cabby as well as countless other films and television roles, Esma was a much in demand character actress in the 1940s and 1950s and she's a welcome addition to Last Holiday. Playing to type as a meek and mild little lady, Esma is Miss Fox, companion and rubbing rag to the wealthy yet common Lady Oswington (Muriel George). While Esma does play for laughs, there is a quiet desperation to the role and as with Sid's turn as Joe, Cannon gives a much more rounded role than many of her later comedy parts would allow.
Carry On Nurse guest star Wilfrid Hyde-White has a smaller supporting role here as a hotel guest, Chalfont. Many of Wilfrid's recognisable acting traits are visible here and the role isn't that far removed from his pesky Colonel in Nurse, which would come along over eight years later. 
There are also two smaller, yet eye-catching supporting turns by two actors who would grace several Carry Ons in the years ahead. The exceptional character actor Brian Oulton plays Prescott, Cabinet Minister Bellinghurst's assistant. It's a small role but Brian imbues it with clipped posh tones as only he could. Oulton went on to appear in Carry On Nurse, Constable, Cleo and Camping. And keep your eyes peeled for an early screen appearance from future television and radio great Peter Jones as an uncredited Travel Agent, seen early on in the film. Peter had cameos in Carry On Doctor as the deaf chaplain who marries the characters played by Joan Sims and Frankie Howerd and returned in 1976 to play the dreadfully unfunny Brigadier in Carry On England.

Did you Know?
Last Holiday was written and co-produced by J.B Priestley, perhaps best known for his 1945 play, An Inspector Calls.
A loose remake of Last Holiday was released in 2006 and it starred, amongst others, the French film actor Gerard Depardieu. 
The film split critics on release. While some praised it for being "simple and modest in structure but delightfully rich in character" another called it "shabby" and its ending "disastrously inappropriate". Can't please 'em all!

Never mind them. I was charmed by this film and if you haven't seen it, I urge you to hunt it down and give it a go. After all, you can't go wrong with a bit of Sid James and Esma Cannon!

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram


  1. This is a classic film. Esma Cannon was in What a Carve Up! with Sid and Kenneth Connor too, which is one of my non-carry-on favourites.

    1. I love What a Carve Up too!