Thursday 13 December 2018

Bernie Carries On … as Sir Roger Daley!

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 Sir Roger Daley (!) in the 1974 historical adventure, Carry On Dick.

Carry On Dick has never been one of my favourites in the series. As a later effort though and one of the last historical films it works fairly well however compared to earlier entries like Don't Lose Your Head and Up The Khyber, Dick is very static and studio-based and some of the cast are starting to show their age. Despite this, the film captures the seedy atmosphere of the times very well and all the scenes set in the Old Cock Inn are brilliant to watch. Dick also provides fans with the last opportunity to see several favourites in a Carry On film. The cast is bursting with team members as all current actors in the gang appear. As well as Hattie, this film is also the farewell for both Sid James and Barbara Windsor. Sid and Barbara would appear in several episodes of the ATV Carry On Laughing series broadcast the follow year (even Hattie would make an appearance) however this would be the last original feature film for all three stalwarts. Also, prolific writer Talbot Rothwell retired from the films after Dick, his health having deteriorated further. Future films in the series would really suffer without his talents.

Carry On Dick tells the well-worn story of highway man Dick Turpin and who else could play Dick but Sidney James. The film follows his gang as they rob the rich and constantly evade capture by Captain Desmond Fancey and Sergeant Jock Strapp (Kenneth Williams and Jack Douglas). Sid's last role in the series is a great one. Dick Turpin is Sid at his twinkly, naughtiest best while the film also provides him with the dual role of the Rev Flasher (!) Dick's cover story as the sedate, understated local vicar. The rest of his gang comprise Peter  Butterworth as Tom and Barbara Windsor as Harriet. Sid and Barbara have terrific chemistry throughout and go as near the knuckle as they could possibly go! 

Dick is in many ways a sequel to the French Revolution romp, Don't Lose Your Head, almost eight years earlier. In that film Sid also had a dual role as both Sid Rodney Ffing and the Black Fingernail. It allows Sid the actor to really work and show some subtlety in performance (Yes that was possible even in a Carry On). It's a great role for him to go out on even though nobody knew it at the time. He was due to appear in Carry On Behind, however touring commitments in the theatre meant the role written for him eventually went to Windsor Davies. 

So anyway, back to Bernard's role in the film. Rising up the cast lists as other veterans take time out or sadly don't come back, Bernard enjoys a fairly large supporting turn in Dick. As the chief law enforcer and fierce-some leader of the Bow Street Runners, it's a towering performance in every sense of the word. Bernard's Sir Roger is not really like any other role he plays in the series and that can surely only be a good thing, as far as the actor is concerned. He's not his usual simple, bumbling accomplice to Sid James and neither is he on full historical villain mode like his parts in Khyber or Follow That Camel. He's an authoritarian who has little time for the antics of Kenneth Williams or Jack Douglas, preferring to spend his time with a bevy of young lovelies. 

Although I'm not mad on the film, I do love the trio of Williams, Douglas and Bresslaw. It's a great triumvirate of comedy, with Douglas as the bumbling Jock Strap, constantly letting down Kenneth's haughty Captain Desmond Fancey, who in turn is constantly deferential and cow towing whenever his superior Sir Roger appears on the scene. The class system in action perhaps? Although seen through a typically bawdy Carry On lens. Poor Bernard loses his clothes at least twice during the film as his stagecoach is repeatedly held up at gun point by Big Dick and his gang. Leaving little to the imagination, Bresslaw is obviously game and as a cheeky behind the scenes snap reveals, the crew weren't afraid of playing a trick on the actors! 

Bernard is paired with the fragrant Margaret Nolan in Dick. Playing Lady Daley, Maggie is more prim and proper than usual and her supporting turn is rather understated when compared to other parts such as her previous role as Dawn Brakes in Carry On girls. Sadly, this would be her last Carry On performance. Much fruitier is Bernard's pairing with none other than Joan Sims. Joan is on fine form as the bogus French Madame Desiree, touring dubious hostelries with her 'Birds of Paradise'. Slipping into her common Cockney, Joan is at her vulgar best and makes for a memorable double act with Bernard once he's despatched his wife back to London!

Bernard spends most of the film stomping about with suitable authority, he may not get the majority of the belly laughs, but it's still a fine performance. In a cast which does still burst with Carry On talent, Bernard stands head and shoulders above them all. Literally. The majority of the action goes to Sid, Barbara, Kenneth Williams and Jack Douglas. This leaves little for Joan, Peter Butterworth, Hattie Jacques or Kenneth Connor to do but Bernie fairs ok. He was perhaps finally stepping into the Carry On leading man role vacated by Jim Dale five years earlier.

Sadly, Dick was the beginning of the end for the franchise, with so many key contributors bidding farewell, even if they weren't aware of it at the time. Bernard would return for one final film adventure with the gang and plenty more besides. With Carry On London still playing twice nightly at the Victoria Palace well into the following year and Bernard appearing in several of the ATV Carry On Laughing episodes on telly, 1975 may have been Bernard's final year of Carrying On, but it was also his most prolific.

Stay tuned for the final blog in this series coming up soon. I'll be looking at Bernard's fourteenth and final role, as henpecked Arthur Upmore in Carry On Behind. 

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