Thursday 7 February 2019

Carrying On with … Confessions of a Pop Performer!

I've written before about the Confessions series of bawdy comedy films from the 1970s but really only from the perspective of the effect they had on the slightly more innocent Carry On films we all cherish. The Confessions films have suffered the same fate as the Carry Ons in that they have frequently been looked down on, written off or just plain criticised.

However these films all featured a superb range of actors and provided entertainment to the masses during years when perhaps the country sometimes didn't have that much to laugh about. What interests me a great deal about these films is how they represent the changing face of British society. By the time Confessions of a Window Cleaner burst onto cinema screens up and down the land in 1974, censorship had been relaxed and a whole new generation were much more liberally minded. 

Last time, I focussed on the hugely popular Confessions of a Window Cleaner, the sexy comedy film which burst onto cinema screens across the country back in 1974 and catapulted leading man Robin Askwith to lasting fame. Today I thought I would move on to the following year and another big hit, Confessions of a Pop Performer. Many of the same original team from Window Cleaner returned for this second outing with recurring actors Bill Maynard, Sheila White and Tony Booth appearing again as the traditional sitcom style family around Robin's Timmy Lea. They provide the grounding and the basis for much of the comedy in between the racier material. Sadly Dandy Nichols did not return to play Mrs Lea after the previous film but she was ably replaced by fellow sitcom legend Doris Hare. Doris would go on to appear in both further Confessions films. 

Val Guest, that legendary British film director, chose not to make another Confessions film, allegedly because his wife wasn't keen on him being on set with so many scantily clad nubile young actresses! Columbia Pictures, the big name backer of these low budget comedies and clearly cleaned up with Window Cleaner (as it were) and were keen for more antics. And Mr Askwith was only too happy to oblige! Pop Performer sees Booth's wheeler dealer character become manager to a dubious pop group called Kipper and Timmy gets involved too. The usual slapstick and naughtiness follows as I'm sure you'll already know.

There are several Carry On links to this film and not just in front of the camera. The brilliant cinematographer Alan Hume, who worked on countless Carry Ons as well as big budget pictures in the Star Wars and James Bond franchises, worked on Pop Performer. Frank Bevis, Production Manager on this film, was also involved in many Carry Ons. Frank was Production Manager on Carry On Sergeant, Nurse, Teacher and Constable and later worked as an Associate Producer on Cabby, Jack, Spying, Cleo, Cowboy and Screaming!

In front of the camera, we've of course got the brilliant Robin Askwith, who had already made a name for himself as Larry in Carry On Girls and as Sid's son Mike in the film of Bless This House. And Bill Maynard, there once again as Mr Lea, appeared in supporting roles in five 1970s Carry Ons. Playing a major supporting role in Pop Performer is the lovely Carol Hawkins as the rather proper journalist, Jill Brown, object of Timmy's affections. Carol had already appeared in Carry On Abroad by this stage, playing Marge and the same year worked with Robin in Bless This House. 1975, the year Pop Performer was made, also saw Carol return to Carry On for a major supporting role as glamorous camper Sandra in Carry On Behind as well as co-starring in two episodes of the ATV series Carry On Laughing. Despite the raunchier material in the Confessions film, Carol maintains her dignity throughout, I hasten to add!

Also appearing is that wonderful comedy character actor Peter Jones. Playing a rather obvious send up of a notorious television host, Peter rather over eggs it as Maxy Naus. Another recruit from the world of television comedy is the great Ian Lavender in a cameo turn as Rodney, which involves a lot of funny business with a pantomime horse! Say no more. Ian  was still appearing as Private Pike in Dad's Army at the time and also in 1975 he cropped up in Carry On Behind as Adrienne Posta's husband. Clearly in the Jim Dale persona, sadly Ian suffered from a lack of screen time. Ian's Dad's Army co-star, the late great Bill Pertwee also pops in for a brief cameo in Pop Performer as the stereotypical angry husband who chases Robin's Timmy off with the help of a javelin! 

Two future Carry On girls made quite an impact in Pop Performer as the aptly named Climax Sisters, a truly awful singing double act! Giving a rather spirited performance are Diane Langton and Linda Regan as Ruby and Brenda Climax. Diane would go on to appear in Carry On Laughing on television the same year and in 1976 would take on the Barbara Windsor persona in the awful Carry On England. Joining Diane in England was Linda Regan who several years before had a small part in one of the Carry On Christmas television specials.

Playing Augustus is that instantly recognisable character actor Robert Dorning. Robert would join what was left of the Carry On team three years later to play The Prime Minister in Carry On Emmannuelle. Also look out for Darth Vader himself, Dave Prowse in a brief cameo as a Man in the Cinema. Dave had played a small role as a Bearded Torturer in Carry On Henry five years earlier. Playing Mr Barnwell is the small screen comedy actor Bob Todd, who had already played two small Carry On roles. He had a wordless cameo as a patient in Again Doctor on the big screen and played two small parts in Carry On Again Christmas in 1970. And finally Carry On Behind cameo player, the Danish born actress Helli Louise, plays Eva, one of Timmy's conquests. We see rather a lot of her here, as did Peter Butterworth in yet another shocking Carry On shower scene also in 1975 when she popped up and out in Carry On Behind. 

Pop Performer clearly cashed in on the very best of British comedy talent from both the big and small screen and followed the pattern started with Window Cleaner in casting a mix of 'interesting' young starlets alongside some instantly recognisable and well respected comedy performers. The content might have dated and may not be for everyone but it's all lighthearted fun and exists today as a fascinating time capsule of a Britain in tumult undergoing great social and cultural change. Watch out for a small cameo from future leading lady Rula Lenska as a rather harrassed receptionist and even a fairly major supporting turn from a pre-The Gentle Touch Jill Gascoine, revealing rather a lot as Mrs Barnwell. 

If the sight of legendary character actress Rita Webb running about a freezing cold Borehamwood housing estate screaming "Have you seen my Fanny?" gives you the giggles, Confessions of a Pop Performer is definitely for you!! As far as I'm concerned, anything that gives us plenty of Bill Maynard, Carol Hawkins and Peter Jones is fine by me. And Robin does what only Robin could. And he does it with aplomb! 

Compared to some of the content we see on our screens these days, Pop Performer is relatively tame but watching it again, it's clear times have certainly changed! It's quite possibly the most gloriously Seventies film I've ever seen. And that's a compliment! 

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