Wednesday 2 January 2019

Bernie Carries On … as Arthur Upmore

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 bring this series of blogs to an end with my thoughts on Bernard's last role in the Carry On film series, as Arthur Upmore in 1975's Carry On Behind. 

In 1975, after the departure of so many of the leading lights from the series (James, Jacques, Windsor and writer Talbot Rothwell) what was left of the gang reconvened for an update on the classic Carry On Camping. In Carry On Behind, several familiar looking characters went off for a summer holiday at a caravan park. As with Camping, Behind was filmed not in summer but in the early spring so the weather was less than pleasant for all involved - the mud and freezing temperatures clearly visible for most of the film!

Behind is a real hotchpotch of sitcom sequences with no real storyline to speak of - just a bunch of English eccentrics delighting in some increasingly filthy innuendos! Unlike some of the period costume Carry Ons, Behind, set in the grimy world of the mid-1970s really hasn't aged well but lovers of seventies kitch will adore it! I admit I have a real soft spot for this film and it's become something of a guilty pleasure. For me it  is the last proper Carry On ever made. It's certainly much more naughty than previous efforts with much more obvious sexual references and a fair sprinkling of nudity. The whole thing feels much more like a Confessions film, and you can tell Peter Rogers was trying to keep the Carry Ons up to speed with the latest developments at the box office. 

The film features a mix of old faces and newcomers and it is really the cast which carries the film home. As well as regulars Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Connor, Jack Douglas, Bernard Bresslaw, Peter Butterworth, Joan Sims and Patsy Rowlands, I also really enjoy the performances from the likes of Windsor Davies, Carol Hawkins, Ian Lavender, Sherrie Hewson and of course, international guest star Elke Sommer. 

So what about Bernard's role in the film? Well with the absence of some big names Bernard is front and centre as one of Behind's biggest and most bankable stars. Indeed only Kenneth Williams and international guest star Elke Sommer are billed above him. In many ways Bernard provides the anchor for this Carry On last gasp. The threesome of Bernard, Patsy Rowlands and Joan Sims as middle class couple and interfering mother in law is the reassuring sitcom centre to the film and gives us a last chance to see three of our favourite Carry On actors working together and clearly enjoying themselves. Although Joan is given another forgettable shrewish part, playing a character much older than she actually was at the time, the fact she's mainly seen with Bernard and Patsy makes it easier to accept. And Bernard and Patsy are brilliant as husband and wife, surely a sitcom pairing that was begging to be put on the small screen?

As with most Carry Ons, there isn't that much of a storyline and for large chunks of this Carry On Camping re-tread Bernie clearly misses his old sparring partner Sid James. As the everyman of the piece, Bernard is wide eyed and relatively innocent at the bizarre, innuendo encrusted goings on around him and has no idea where to put himself when the likes of Elke Sommer and Adrienne Posta come to call! Of course Patsy, as on screen wife Linda, is always there to catch him in the act of something suspicious even though he's always entirely innocent. 

Much of the humour of their situation is drilled from the arrival of Joan's foul mouthed mynah bird, with vocals from the director Gerald Thomas. Joan, in an early incarnation of the indignant Hyacinth Bucket persona, is never convinced her bird would say anything as crude  as the things it actually comes away with. While this leads to several nicely set up comic misunderstandings, the material is pretty flimsy for such gifted comic actors to work with. Given the fact Behind started to push the boundaries, as Dick had the previous year, the likes of Bernard, Patsy and Joan begin to look slightly out of place. An island of calm in the middle of sea of blue gags and flashes of nudity and crudity. I'm glad they were there as they gave the film some much needed heart, but sadly for two of the actors present it would be their last Carry On with the gang.

I don't really know if Bernard ever went on the record with a reason why Behind was his last Carry On film. I'm not sure if he was offered a part in either England on Emmannuelle. Certainly he continued to appear with the team in the Carry On Laughing series for ATV, also broadcast in 1975, but his Carry On film career came to an end with this entry. The death of Sid James the following April may have made Bernard think twice about appearing in Carry On England as the two were good friends on screen and off. Whatever the reason, Bernard is most definitely missed in the remaining Carry On films, although perhaps given the quality of the last two efforts, he made the right decision not to appear. Patsy Rowlands also made Behind her last association with the team. Although never a main team player, hovering up and down the cast lists, Patsy was an intrinsic and much loved actor and any film without her left a big gap.

The end of Carry On Behind does provide some old fashioned Carry On satisfaction. Warring couples are reunited and everyone ends up happily paired off. The Upmores are seen leaving the campsite happy once more. Joan's Daphne has reunited with her long lost husband Henry (Peter Butterworth). As a note to go out on, it's warm and satisfying. Although in retrospect it really was the end of an era.

I hope you've enjoyed this blog series looking back at all fourteen of Bernard Bresslaw's Carry On contributions. Bernard really was the gentle giant of British comedy. A solid, reliable and very clever actor, Bresslaw has often been overlooked. I hope this series of blogs has shone the light on just how important his contributions were to the Carry On team and just what a superb comedy actor he was.

Stay tuned soon for my next series of blogs looking at all sixteen of Peter Butterworth's Carry on roles. 2019 marks Peter's centenary so what better time to look back at this brilliant actor and his superb work with the team?

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  1. Thank you for all ur blogs very interesting n ov course I luv all the carry on team (carry on forever) πŸ‘πŸ˜πŸ™πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘God bless u

  2. Iv always n always wil say the carry on team were years even decades ahead ov their time with their innuendosπŸ‘ŒπŸ˜πŸ‘πŸ™πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘luv thm forever, when I feelin dwn lost alone or low, I put a carry on film on to lift my spirits(not the liquid type)!! πŸ™„God bless em all, hope I meet em all up in the great abyss one dayπŸ‘ŒπŸ‘πŸ™