Sunday 10 February 2019

Butterworth Carries On … as Simpson!

A couple of years back I started a regular series of blogs which profiled each of Joan Sims' fabulous 24 Carry On roles. I enjoyed giving each performance a turn in the spotlight so once I completed the mammoth task of writing about everything from Nurse Stella Dawson to Mrs Dangle, I went on to blog about all of Hattie Jacques' roles in the series and then those portrayed by Dame Barbara Windsor.

More recently I have carried out the same task for two of Carry Ons' unsung heroes - Kenneth Connor and Bernard Bresslaw. Now I will turn my attentions to all sixteen of Peter Butterworth's delightful supporting turns in the Carry On series. Peter, along with Sid James and Joan Sims, has long been one of my very favourite comedy actors and favourite members of the Carry On troupe. Sadly, Peter has received scant attention from the wider press, with only diehard fans really giving his acting talent the praise it so rightly deserves.

Peter joined the Carry On team in 1965 for Carry On Cowboy and remained a loyal servant to the series pretty much right through until the end of the original series in 1978. He was also a frequent contributor to many of the team's small screen outings and appeared alongside Sid James, Barbara Windsor and several others in the Carry On London stage farce in the early 1970s. He never put a foot wrong and was the master scene stealer. 2019 marks not only one hundred years since Peter's birth but also, sadly, forty years since he passed away. It therefore seems fitting to devote some blogging time to his wonderful performances.

Follow on from my first blogs in this series on Peter's roles in Carry On Cowboy, Screaming and Don't Lose Your Head today I'm looking at his performance as the supportive butler and perpetual scene stealer (once again) in Carry On … Follow That Camel.

Follow That Camel was the second film in a row in the series to be released originally without the Carry On … suffix. The Rank Organisation, while keen to release Peter Rogers' successful comedies, were still less than enthused with being linked to a series so associated with another distributor. This foreign legion comedy saw other changes too. Leading man Sid James was out of the series following a heart attack and with Rank keen to boost ticket sales in the United States, international guest star Phil Silvers was drafted in to play Sergeant Nocker. The legendary star of Bilko created much publicity however the jury is out as to just how successful his brand of comedy jelled with the Carry Ons.

Elsewhere it was business as usual, with regulars Jim Dale, Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey all taking major roles in the film. Angela Douglas has probably her best part in the series as Lady Jane Ponsonby; Anita Harris makes her series debut as Cork Tip and Joan Sims pops up for an eye catching cameo as bar owner Zig Zig. Although limited in screen time, Joan makes quite an impression as the busty, earthy character! So what of Peter Butterworth?

Well Peter is quite simply one of the highlights of the film. Camel is a workhorse of a Carry On picture, it's neither a classic or a total write off, but the absence of Sid James and the out of place performance by international guest star Phil Silvers takes things in the wrong direction. I love Phil Silvers as Bilko but it just doesn't work surrounded by the most English of English eccentrics, the Carry On team. Everyone else gives it their best but the film misses  the usual down to earth tour de force only Sid could provide. For me, the partnership of Jim Dale and Peter Butterworth is the driving force of Follow That Camel, the pair are simply superb together. As with nearly all of his outings in the series, Peter excels as second in command, the funny man in a double act and the irrepressible scene stealer. 

While Jim is on fine form as the handsome hero Bo West, Peter is his ever loyal butler Simpson, refusing to let his Lord and Master suffer through life in the Foreign Legion by himself. After Bo apparently disgraces himself on the cricket pitch, he takes off from England's green and pleasant land, leaving his love Lady Jane behind. Once signed up, West and Simpson's English ways clash bitterly with the French Foreign Legion and Silvers' Sergeant Knocker! Peter is the perfect English gentleman, ably supporting Jim's upper class hero and the pair make for a deliciously comic duo - typical English eccentrics abroad.

There is plenty of opportunity for Peter to exploit the comedy in each situation to the max. The scenes at Joan Sims' Cafe Zig Zig are a joy, particularly once Anita Harris appears as the sultry Cork Tip. As she dances and cavorts, Peter's reaction shots are sublime. He really does make the most of every opportunity. Jim and Peter obviously got on splendidly well and it amazes me that they both managed to keep a straight face. Of course, this being a Carry On, someone ends up in drag and once again it's Butterworth. Following on from his super turn in woman's attire in Carry On Screaming, Peter drags up rather unconvincingly again here in Camel as one of Abdul's harem girls! 

The resultant scene of Abdul chasing Simpson around the tent is all shadows and hilarious commentary from Peter. A total professional and veteran of countless pantos and reviews, Peter embraced these scenes for all they were worth and really relished the comedy in dragging up so preposterously. While a good deal of Camel leaves a lot to be desired, the action immediately picks up when Peter and Jim appear together on screen. Once again hovering down the cast list and not even grabbing a 'starring' role, Peter steals so many scenes and four films into his run, clearly makes himself indispensable to Peter Rogers Productions. 

So far Peter had only appeared in historical, costume Carry On epics. The next film would see him in a much more contemporary setting as the series returned to the hospital wards for Carry On Doctor. In a cast bulging with series regulars and a big name guest star, Peter received less screen time than in previous films but still made his mark as we'll see in my next blog.

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