Saturday 3 November 2018

Five Reasons Why I Love … Carry On Nurse

2018 has seen us celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Carry On films. A great deal of the focus has been both on the series as a whole and on the very first film in the series, Carry On Sergeant. Just as it should be as we wouldn't have the legacy of laughter we have today without that national service comedy. However the second film in the series also went into production that year. On 3 November, the fledgling team of wonderful comedy actors were back at Pinewood to begin work on Carry On Nurse.

Nurse saw the return of several key faces from Sergeant with Kenneth Connor, Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques and Charles Hawtrey chiefly amongst them. It saw the same writer, Norman Hudis, produce the script and many of the same names behind the camera, including of course Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas. Nurse also featured a group of ordinary Brits stuck together in a communal environment and also tackled the subject of a national institution. From an army barracks and the army to a hospital ward and the NHS. You can see the pattern forming and the idea for a series of popular, low cost, quickly made comedies was off and running.

Carry On Nurse has always been a favourite of mine and features in My Top Ten Favourite Carry On films countdown for this very blog. So why do I love this film? Well, here are five reasons to get us started.

The film that confirmed a series was possible

Carry On Sergeant was produced as a stand alone feature, cheaply made and quickly turned out to cinema audiences. Sergeant was meant to be no different than the other films Peter and Gerald were making at around that time. However it caught the attention of the public and performed better than expected at the box office. While it was the first, Nurse was the film that brought together thoughts of both a team and a series which could run and run. Carry On Nurse confirmed Kenneths Connor and Williams, Hattie Jacques, Charles Hawtrey and Shirley Eaton as star turns and most importantly of all, topped the British box office when it was released in 1959. It made the Rogers and Thomas a tidy profit and even did well in the United States of America where in some places it played to packed houses for three years. It guaranteed a future for the Carry Ons.

Carry On Joan

She's always been my favourite. Joan Sims became a stalwart of the Carry Ons, making 24 films in total over a twenty year period. Joan was the most prolific actress in the series and only Kenneth Williams made more Carry Ons. Carry On Nurse saw Joan make her series debut as accident prone but well intentioned young nurse Stella Dawson. Joan is in excellent form and is eye catching throughout the film in a brilliantly funny supporting turn. Joan was making lots of films by the late 1950s and had already appeared several times for Peter's wife Betty Box in the Doctor films and beyond. She would have been a recognisable face to keen cinema goers but it was Nurse which saw Joan achieve true star power as one of the country's best known and best loved comedy actresses.

Hudis at his best

Talbot Rothwell has become known as the most prolific Carry On script writer and was responsible for many of the series' best loved films. However we must not overlook the talent and skill of Norman Hudis, writer of the first six films in the franchise. Norman wrote different stories to Rothwell - his films were less naughty perhaps and the innuendos a little less blue. Instead he told stories with depth, heart and feeling and while the situations were often very real and instantly identifiable for the working class audiences, humour and delightful sight gags were never far away. Norman's finest screenplay for the series was Nurse, in my humble opinion anyway. He brought to life many stories told to him by his wife Rita, who worked as a nurse in real life. This gave the film authenticity amongst the earthy humour and for me, Norman's ability to blend tender romance and genuine emotion with laugh out loud humour was his strongest skill of all.

A talented ensemble 

Nobody is the outright star of Carry On Nurse and this makes it a very equal film and a joy to watch. From Carry On Constable on, Sid James and Kenneth Williams were the top team's leading actors and this rarely changed over the next fifteen years or so. In the early days, and Nurse is a prime example, lots of beautifully funny comedy actors are given their fair share of screen time. A firm team was yet to be established with core team members appearing only being Kenneths Williams and Connor, Charles Hawtrey, Hattie Jacques and a debuting Joan Sims. This allows a host of other people their moment to shine. The cast features the likes of Joan Hickson, Irene Handl, June Whitfield, Marianne Stone, Bill Owen, Leslie Phillips, Ann Firbank, Jill Ireland, Rosalind Knight, Terence Longdon, Harry Locke, Cyril Chamberlain, Brian Oulton and Susan Shaw. Not to mention a great guest role for lauded actor Wilfrid Hyde White. What a cast!

It's Matron's first round, and mine's a pint!

Hattie Jacques was a Carry On original, appearing as Captain Clark in Sergeant, although it was a fairly small role. It was Nurse which turned Hattie into a Carry On icon and it was the first of several outings for her legendary character - the bombastic harridan of the wards, the dreaded Matron. In the hands of other actresses, Matron would have been purely a one dimensional character. And while it has been prone to cliche in the years since the series ended, each of Hattie's turns as Matron, in Nurse, Doctor, Camping, Again Doctor and Matron, blended the fearsome authoritarian character with a gentler more human side. There isn't much of this on show in Nurse although we are given a tantalising glimpse of the woman behind the starched apron and high standards in the closing moments as she discovers Wilfrid Hyde-White's Colonel and a certain daffodil. Her delicious little smile as anger turns to fun brought the film to a close in a memorable, cheeky fashion and created one of British film comedy's greatest ever characters, played by one of our finest comedy actresses.

So I hope that's convinced you to give Carry On Nurse another outing as we celebrate sixty glorious years since this film went into production at Pinewood Studios. 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

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