Friday 29 March 2019

Four Years of Carry On Blogging!

It's not Brexit Day, it's Carry On Blogging day. Well something like that. Four years ago today I came to the random decision to write a blog about my love of the classic Carry On series of British film comedies. It wasn't part of a strategic plan and I certainly didn't have a Backstop, Matron!

I had tweeted through the @CarryOnJoan account for a year or so and thoroughly enjoyed the interaction with other Carry On fans. It all took off far faster than I ever dared to imagine and I now have 18.6K followers. Moving from 140 odd characters to thought-through blog pieces on all manner of things was a big step though but I'm ever so glad I did it. It is a proper labour of love and sometimes real life does get in the way of all the fun but four years later I'm still at it ;)

The main reason I keep blogging is the interaction it leads to with fellow fans on the internet every day. The internet has perhaps become an increasingly dark and dodgy place but my involvement with it through Carry On Blogging has been (nearly always) a complete and utter joy. 

So four years in, I've nearly 19 thousand followers on Twitter and I've published the best part of 2000 original blog posts. At times it's been a deeply personal take on the Carry On films and how they affected me as I grew up and why I treasure them still. As a fan, writing these blogs on my laptop in my pyjamas, it's quite extraordinary that the blog has enabled me to interview the likes of Valerie Leon, Robin Askwith, Judy Matheson, Juliet Mills, Julian Holloway, Elke Sommer and Patricia Franklin. And through the blog I've met and interviewed superb people like Morris Bright, Amanda Barrie, Fenella Fielding, Madeline Smith and Anita Harris. Not bad for a boy who used to collect Cinema Club VHS tapes from the Woolies Bargain Bin! 

I was thinking about the Carry Ons and their legacy quite seriously recently following my interview with the fantastic journalist and broadcaster Samira Ahmed. Samira is a fan of some of the films and certainly many of the actors and yet she also struggles with aspects of their content, when viewed with a modern eye. The most troubling comment Samira made was regarding the future lifespan of the films. She questioned whether the Carry Ons would survive in the consciousness of the nation. Do they have such a collective cultural pull that they will always be cherished and never forgotten? Until Samira raised that issue I confess I hadn't given it that much thought. I am sure generations to come will not understand the humour or recognise the ever so talented faces who brought the films so brilliantly to life. That makes me sad but that's life and time is passing. 

Sadly the Carry Ons are mainly mentioned these days when one of the actors who appeared in them passes away. Last year we lost far too many familiar Cary On faces and for me, with the death of Dame June Whitfield in December, we really did reach the end of an era. Despite this I think it's important to continue cherishing our rich comedy heritage in this country. I started this blog mainly as a tribute to the tremendous Carry On actresses and supporting actors who never really got the credit they deserved either at the time or within their lifetimes. Joan Sims, Hattie Jacques, Patsy Rowlands, Peter Gilmore, Esma Cannon, Peter Butterworth, Bernard Bresslaw, Amelia Bayntun, Joan Hickson, Bill Maynard, Dilys Laye…the list goes on. I loved them all and although the vast majority are now long gone, they still feel so very much with us thanks to their gloriously big, colourful, comic performances in the Carry Ons. They deserve to be remembered so fondly and I will continue to do so. 

So forget Brexit, if only for the day, and pick out your favourite Carry On film. Stick it in the DVD player or whatever fiendish device you own, sit back, relax and enjoy a Britain that never really existed but goodness, wouldn't it have been nice if it had? What will I be watching? I think on this weird old day, a bit of Carry On Up The Khyber feels just about perfect.

Carry On, and thanks for all the fun.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

Thursday 28 March 2019

Remembering Dirk Bogarde

The majestic Dirk Bogarde was born on this day in 1921. I first became aware of Bogarde through his deliciously light touch starring roles in the Betty Box hit film series, the Doctor films. Growing up on a diet of Carry On comedies, the more innocent, slightly classier Doctor comedies were a natural progression and I sought them out with the appetite of a young film lover discovering yet more wonderful treats.

For years I knew Dirk only as the affable, occasionally bumbling yet always suave Dr Simon Sparrow. The young doctor who became romantically involved with the likes of Muriel Pavlow, Shirley Eaton, Kay Kendall and even Brigitte Bardot. Dr Sparrow was part of a very talented gang which also included the likes of Donald Houston, Donald Sinden and Kenneth More. The early Doctor films, In the House (1954), At Sea (1955) and At Large (1957) are wonderful period pieces packed full of the very best of British character actors. They are gentle pieces of fluff these days but packed out cinemas across the land. 

Such was the star quality of Dirk Bogarde that the later films in the run, those without him, failed to spark in quite the same way. They featured top class actors like Leslie Phillips and Michael Craig, but Dirk had something special. They may not have changed the world but well not all cinema needs to do that. Absolutely nothing wrong in 85 minutes of innocent escapism and that sentiment is as true and valuable now as it was then. In a BBC Omnibus interview back in the early 1980s, a more mature, reflective Bogarde was asked if he regretted all those light comedies. His answer? Not a bit! He didn't dress them up as anything other than what they were - money makers and crowd pleasers but he definitely did not appear either snobbish or ashamed about his part in them. Dirk also helped calm the nerves of a certain young actress making her first significant mark in film - in 1954 Joan Sims shared one beautifully comedic scene in Doctor in the House with Dirk. In her autobiography Joan noted Dirk's gentleness, his kindness and his charm. If he's alright by Joanie, he's alright by me.

As the years have passed I have discovered many of Dirk's other big screen performances and there are so many to cherish. Thanks to the consistently brilliant Talking Pictures TV, I have been able to track down and enjoy several other films from Dirk's back catalogue and it's been a wonderful voyage of discovery. I love Dirk's turn as a dangerous, devious delinquent in the 1949 crime drama, The Blue Lamp. The film is best known for leading to the long running BBC police drama, Dixon of Dock Green. In a cast full of eye catching talent and first rate performances, Dirk steals the limelight as the anti-hero Tom Riley. It's an arresting performance, pun intended, and one I return to again and again. It's about as far removed as Simon Sparrow as you can get. 

More was to come of course and other favourites include his delightfully light and frothy turn as Tony Howard in For Better For Worse in 1954. Starring as a young, naive couple setting out on the road to marriage and independence, Dirk forms a really sweet starring partnership with Susan Stephen as the 1950s couple trying to convince her parents and everyone else in their orbit that they can make it in the world. It paints a picture of a world long gone, probably one that never really existed for most of us, but it's beautifully portrayed and is a perfect rainy Saturday afternoon matinee film. It also boasts a gaggle of brilliant supporting turns from the likes of Thora Hird, James Hayter, Sid James, Cecil Parker and Athene Seyler. 

Dirk was back on deliciously evil form as the villain in the 1955 British film noir, Cast A Dark Shadow, in which he plays a seductively dark young man with a predilection for bumping off wives. Directed by the legendary Lewis Gilbert, this suspenseful drama co-starred the amazing Kathleen Harrison, Kay Walsh and Margaret Lockwood. The following year Dirk starred alongside Michael Hordern and Jon Whiteley in the classic technicolour drama, The Spanish Gardener. The film follows the story of the novel of the same name, relating how Nicholas's (Whiteley) innocent love for his father is destroyed by the latter's jealousy and vindictiveness when Nicholas forms a friendship with the young Spanish gardener, José Santero, played by Bogarde. 

I also love Dirk's starring role as Sydney Carton in the Ralph Thomas directed 1958 film A Tale of Two Cities. Co-starring Dorothy Tutin, Stephen Murray, Cecil Parker and Athene Seyler, Dirk is on dashing form as Sydney, a drunken English lawyer whose conscience is pricked when a man he once defended tries to escape the guillotine during the French Revolution. I can't go any further without mentioning the legendary 1961 film, Victim, in which Bogarde starred as a hugely successful London barrister, Melville Farr, who on the surface leads the perfect life. Married to Laura (Sylvia Syms), Melville has a secret life involving romantic relationships with men. The Basil Dearden directed film was the first English language film to use the word 'homosexual' and although its themes may sometimes appear dated today, it was and remains a hugely influential film. It took courage and determination from all those involved to get it made and it played heavily against type for Dirk Bogarde, himself a gay man. 

As the 1960s progressed and Dirk parted company with the light comedies of Betty Box and Ralph Thomas, he chose a different path which saw Bogarde take on more challenging roles in films like The Servant in 1963. This darkly psychological drama shot in crisp black and white by Joseph Losey and written by a certain Harold Pinter. The film focusses on four central characters, played superbly by Bogarde, Sarah Miles, Wendy Craig and James Fox. The main themes of the film are very timely for the era in which it was made - class, servitude and the changing face of the British upper class. It's a superb study and Bogarde shines. 

Dirk's film career faltered in the later 1970s following surprising and sometimes controversial roles in films like Death in Venice in 1971 and The Night Porter three years later. He continued to appear sporadically until the late 1980s but long before that he had begun to shun the limelight and concentrate on writing. I am poring over the several volumes of Dirk's memoirs at the moment and they provide a fascinating insight into the great man. His rise to stardom, his struggle with his subsequent fame and his relationships with famous friends and family. His writing is as elegantly constructed as the man himself. I loved the descriptions of his friendships with such exotic characters as Kay Kendall and Judy Garland. At times his writing is delightfully bitchy, at others reflective, maddening, charming and searingly honest. It leaves me completely fascinated with Sir Dirk Bogarde even if at times I think I might not always got on with him. 

As we remember Dirk today, we should highlight what a superbly talented film actor he was. Quintessentially British, he was a leading man in the golden age of British cinema. Delicate, complex, technically brilliant, Dirk was a master of his craft and was at home in everything from light comedy to dark psycho drama. Suave, daring, devilishly handsome, Dirk was very much a product of his era and yet he's still a joy to watch today. 

So pull out your favourite bit of Bogarde and raise a glass to this most elegant of British screen stars. 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

Saturday 23 March 2019

Misty Moon Presents: The Sweeney Reunion

Misty Moon will be hosting yet another fantastic event at London's Cinema Museum later this summer. Although not strictly Carry On related, although the series itself co-stars several Carry On actors, The Sweeney remains one of my favourite British television series of all time. The Sweeney Reunion promises an evening of nostalgia and a chance to hear from several actors and creatives involved with the original series. I'm giving it an extra special plug because the actress Judy Matheson, a great friend of this blog, will be in attendance having guest starred in an episode back in 1976. 

The Sweeney (1975-78) is a British TV drama focusing on two members of the Flying Squad, a branch of the Metropolitan Police specialising in tackling armed robbery and violent crime in London. It was made by Thames Television for broadcast on the ITV network. The programme’s title derives from ‘Sweeney Todd’, which is cockney rhyming slang for ‘Flying Squad’. It starred John Thaw as Detective Inspector Jack Regan and Dennis Waterman as his partner, Detective Sergeant George Carter. Such was its popularity that it spawned two feature film spin-offs, Sweeney! (1977) and Sweeney 2 (1978).

David Wickes is one of the UK’s leading entrepreneurial film and television producers. Best known for his lavish gothic TV movies, films and elegant period drama series, David is by contrast The Guv’nor when it comes to hard-hitting action-drama, as one of the original band of guerrilla filmmakers in the glory days of Euston Films making The Sweeney.

George Sweeney played the violent psychopath Tim Cook in the episodes “Taste of Fear” and “On The Run”. George’s other screen credits include Jack The Ripper (1988), Citizen Smith (1977-80), Minder(1980-93) and For Your Eyes Only (1981).
Dawn Perllman played Linda Rix in the episode “Messenger Of The Gods”. Dawn’s other credits include The Omen (1976), Boon (1988), The Bill(1990-94), The Gentle Touch (1980), Shine On Harvey Moon (1982) and Only Fools and Horses(1986).
Judy Matheson played Kibber’s Girlfriend in “Selected Target”. Judy’s other credits include The Professionals (1978), Citizen Smith (1979), Twins Of Evil (1971), Lust for a Vampire (1971) and The Flesh and Blood Show(1972).
After the Q&A there will be a meet and greet with the audience and the guests will take part in a paid signing.
More guests to be announced soon… Doors open at 17.30, for a 18.30 start.
Tickets in advance £14 (£13 concessions). On the door £15 (£14 concessions).
Advance tickets may be purchased from Billetto, or direct from the Museum by calling 020 7840 2200 in office hours.

The Sweeney Reunion will take place on Saturday 13 July, at the Cinema Museum. 

And you can read more about the many Carry On links with The Sweeney in my blog post here: Carrying On with The Sweeney

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

Friday 22 March 2019

Robin Askwith: Live, Dangerous and Uncut!

Robin Askwith will be back at the Darlington Film Club next month for a special screening of one of his many classic movies, followed by the latest incarnation of the legendary one man show!

Entitled "Live, Dangerous and Uncut"…ahem…Robin will be present for a screening of the 1970 film Cool It, Carol. Following the film, the man himself will take to the stage with hilarious anecdotes from his impressively diverse 50 year career on stage and screen.

Robin entered the film industry in 1968 making his debut in Lindsay Anderson's If... He then went onto work with the likes of Pier Paulo Pasolini, Franco Zeffirelli, Pete Walker, Franklin Schaffer, Clive Donner, Dick Clement and Antony Balch, before he made the controversially successful Confessions of... series of films.

At the height of his career Robin worked with the likes of Nigel Davenport, Pamela Stephenson, Rula Lenska, Leonard Rossiter, Alan Lake and Darth Vader! Come and hear the stories first hand by the cheeky chappie himself as he takes us on a history of his theatre, film and TV career. Dubbed the King of Elstree Studios in the 1970s, Robin was asked back there last year with his sell-out one man show, to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the studios.

Recently he has been seen in Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Benidorm and Casualty, but it is as Timmy Lea in the Confessions of... films that he is best remembered.

Robin Askwith: Live, Dangerous and Uncut is at the Darlington Film Club @ The Forum at 7pm on 1st April (no joke!) Tickets cost £10 and you can buy yours here.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

Thursday 21 March 2019

Hammer Glamour and The Secrets of Dracula!

Join the stars of the classic Hammer Horror films for an afternoon of stories from behind the scenes, Caroline Munro, Valerie Leon, Martine Beswick and Pauline Peart will be appearing in person for discussion, classic films clips and Q&A. There will be a meet & greet and signings after the event.

Us comedy fans know Valerie for her six Carry On appearances - in Up The Khyber, Camping, Again Doctor, Jungle, Matron and Girls. Valerie also appeared with the likes of Ronnie Corbett, Morecambe and Wise and Frankie Howerd. She also co-starred in two James Bond pictures, worked with Roger Moore in The Saint and The Persuaders and with Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther. Pauline Peart also has a Carry On connection, having played one of the glamorous beauty queen contestants in 1973's Carry On Girls. 

Best selling author (Dracula The Un-Dead, The Forgotten Writings Of Bram Stoker and Dracul), Dracula historian and great grand nephew of Bram Stoker; Dacre Stoker returns to Whitby to unveil the latest twists to the Dracula story. If you are a fan of Dracula, and have not seen Dacre before, then is a MUST SEE!!!

Dacre presents clips and discusses his unique insight into Bram's inspiration and will be hosting a Q&A.

This event runs from 1pm with an interval inbetween. The theatre bar will be open before and after the show and the meet & greets will be held afterwards in the the theatre bar area.

Hammer Glamour and The Secrets of Dracula takes place on Saturday 28 April at the Whitby Pavilion as part of of the Tomorrow's Ghost Festival. Tickets cost £10 and can be purchased here

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

Talking Pictures: Great British Comedies

This afternoon BBC2 repeated a great little documentary first shown a few years back. Talking Pictures, not to be confused with the brilliant Talking Pictures TV channel, is a series profiling well known names from the past in classic films both in Britain and beyond. Narrated by screen icon Sylvia Syms, this particular edition looked back at the glory days of British film comedy.

Featuring rarely-seen interviews and classic clips from the BBC archives, this episode sees many of our favourite stars take a bow. From the early pre and post war days of George Formby to the classic Ealing comedies, Carry On fans won't be disappointed as eventually both the Doctor and the Carry On series are covered. There is some archive footage of leading man Dirk Bogarde, giving a revealing and insightful interview for the BBC series Omnibus in 1983 and black and white clips of a young Joan Bakewell chatting with the legendary actor James Robertson Justice.

The programme then goes on to talk about the Carry Ons. Here we get some classic interviews from the 1970 Carry On Forever documentary which went behind the scenes of Carry On Up The Jungle. I've featured this show before, but it's always great to see the likes of Gerald Thomas, Sid James, Joan Sims and Charles Hawtrey out of character and relaxed as themselves. It's a rare treat. 

The programme also touches on Peter Sellers' work on the Pink Panther films and later comedy efforts from the Monty Python films, the John Cleese picture A Fish Called Wanda and more recent films like Four Weddings and a Funeral. Anyway, never mind these also-rans, tune in for the classic clips of Bogarde, James and Sims. It's superb.

You can watch the programme here: Great British Comedies.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

Wednesday 20 March 2019

Art & Hue Presents: Funny Women

Regular blog readers will know I'm a big fan of Art & Hue. I've featured many of their other collections, from the Carry On range of prints covering the Anglo Amalgamated era to '70s Cops' and the more recent 'Funny Men' range. To bring style and fun to your walls, Art & Hue has now launched a new collection of stylish pop art prints featuring British comediennes and comic actresses.

Funny-"ha-ha", in a humorous and comical way, but also funny-"peculiar" with their unique, quirky characters and work, these distinctive talents have brought joy to countless listeners & viewers across the years through their idiosyncratic performances. 

Liz Fraser, Yootha Joyce, June Whitfield, Joyce Grenfell, Mollie Sugden, Gracie Fields, Irene Handl, Margaret Rutherford, Penelope Keith, and Beryl Reid all get the pop art treatment in this collection of iconic funny men from British film & television. 

Carry On links are clear to see - Liz Fraser appeared in four of the films - Regardless, Cruising, Cabby and Behind while her close friend, the late Dame June starred in Nurse, Abroad, Girls and Columbus, as well as the film of Bless This House. Meanwhile the iconic Irene Handl had cameos in both Carry On Nurse and Carry On Constable. Beryl Reid came late to the series, but was probably the best thing in Carry On Emmannuelle in 1978. Even Penelope Keith had a brush with the Carry On phenomenon. Her small role in Doctor may have been cut, but stills remain while she was allegedly offered the role Joan Sims went on to play in Carry On England.

An official collaboration with Studiocanal, Art & Hue has delved into the archives to uncover images of classic British comedy stars which have been transformed into ten stylish pop art prints.

Exclusively by Art & Hue, the collection is available in three sizes and 18 colour options, printed on museum-quality archival card of 310gsm, made from 100% cotton, with fine-art pigment inks for longevity.

Visit to see the full collection. 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

Tuesday 19 March 2019

Carry On Blogging Interview: Samira Ahmed

Last year I listened to Samira Ahmed present a brilliant podcast for 'The Boring Talks' on Why the Carry Ons are better than Shakespeare. Intrigued, I got in touch with Samira and asked if she might be interested in doing an interview for the blog. I was absolutely delighted when she agreed and here is the result. It's a really eloquent, interesting read and bound to create some talking points!

Samira Ahmed is someone I'm sure you'll know well from television and radio. A prolific writer, journalist and broadcaster, Samira currently presents Newswatch on BBC Television and Front Row for BBC Radio 4. She has also made a wide variety of documentaries, hosts many fascinating talks and events and contributes to lots of high profile publications. Given all this, I'm incredibly grateful she has taken the time to talk to me. I hope you enjoy.

I've heard you talk about reconnecting with the Carry Ons as an adult, but can you remember when you first discovered the films and the impact they had on you at the time?

They started to appear on TV in the mid 1970s when I was a child. I remember seeing Carry On Doctor on a Saturday evening so it felt like a big event. I got genuinely moved by the plight of hapless but good hearted Jim Dale, loved by patients and nurses but persecuted by the senior management. Bernard Cribbins in Carry On Jack affected me the same way. The best Carry Ons had a sense of right and wrong about them, and about the ordinary rising up against the Establishment. That changed later on. Carry On At Your Convenience has some very dodgy pro boss-class politics which would fit with how the cast were treated in general.

We had Carry On Again Doctor taped on our early Betamax player so I knew that one particularly well.  Carry On Up The Khyber was particularly loved by my extended Indian and Pakistani family who enjoyed sitting round together to watch it. Older visiting relatives thought it sent up Empire rather well, though I suspect the dads and uncles quite liked the naughtiness of it all too.

In your podcast for The Boring Talks, you argued rather convincingly that Carry On films are actually better than Shakespeare. What has the reaction been to this bold claim?

To be fair it was the producer Luke Doran who pushed me to say that! I was happy with “as good as”. Where I would say the Carry Ons surpassed Shakespeare is in their double drag – men dragging up as women, passing as women and learning what it is to be a woman. I think the scene where Kenneth Cope dragged up a a student nurse gets harassed and sexually assaulted by Terry Scott in Carry On Matron is a moment of wonder.  You could even say it’s a “teachable moment”. That’s why I show that clip to students. To help them understand the weird sexual politics of the 70s and how something could be horrifying and funny at the same time.

Fans of the Carry Ons love my theory but I know some people just hate the films and find them really offensive. But that’s about personal taste and I’m totally fine with that. No Shakespeare scholars have given me a hard time yet. The issue is the films are fading from popular memory. They’ll never be shown again on TV I don’t think and I’m not sure how young people will encounter them if they’re not watching them with older relatives who can help them understand the context.

I should say there are films I’ve never got on with; Carry On Henry and Carry On Dick have always seemed too vulgar for me. And I dread to think what Carry On Emmannuelle and Carry On England are like. I’ve never watched them.

It was really refreshing to hear you speak up on the side of the Carry Ons. Why do you think there is still such snobbery (in certain quarters) towards these classic comedies?

I think too many people are focused only on the later cruder ones which often looked cheap with contemporary settings.  There’s a huge evolution from the first 1950s Ealing comedy esque capers. Some like Cruising are really glamorous. There’s no denying a fair amount of the most famous Carry On films’ humour has dated, though there was actually very little that was outright offensive. (I always cite the rape-y humour of Angela Douglas being “helped” by men in Follow That Camel as one of the few genuinely shocking jokes). Even at the time they relied on quite a 1950s even a pre-war coyness about sex. The amount of male embarrassment in the Carry Ons is remarkable. The male heroes are always terrified of powerful sexy women, even while apparently being obsessed with sex. I have a theory that many men now find that uncomfortable which is why they sneer at the films. The Carry Ons mock them in a way that On The Buses (which you probably know I loathe) didn’t. On The Buses revelled in a nasty leering predatory male attitude to women. I don’t think the Carry Ons were so loaded against women. They were full of strong older women, which is why I did make the comparison to the women in Shakespeare in the Carry Ons’ favour. Perhaps it’s also getting older and being less anxious about things. But I can see why many women don’t buy that. The way Joan Sims is portrayed in Khyber is mean – that she’s this fat, older, nagging woman that no reasonable man would love. Even though her acting is great, and I’m hugely on her side. I don’t think the film producers wanted you to be.

I was really interested to hear clips from the Carry Ons are used when you work with film studies students. What kind of reactions do they get?

I talked about that Carry On Matron clip to a bunch of award-winning film graduates. It’s partly just to broaden their horizons. Partly to help them appreciate the way something can be offensive and yet revelatory. Films are products of their time and of the attitudes of the people making them. They tend to be surprised and in a way excited to have someone throw a new way of looking at things at them. I made my children sit down and watch one of the On the Buses films when it was on ITV2 or 3 a few years back. I remember saying, “You need to watch this. This is what it was like for women in the 70s.” It was a real “a lesson from history” moment. Some of the films of that time are really nasty and cruel towards especially older or plain women. I think it was a reaction against the Women’s Lib movement, just like the backlash against Me Too and feminism now by some men whose self esteem relies on them feeling superior.

Some would argue that the Carry On series is sexist in its treatment of female characters but I think the women are often stronger than the men. What’s your view?

As a young girl I identified with the romantic leads like Angela Douglas and Liz Fraser.  There was often a sweet fairytale element to their plot lines. And often the women were brave – like Juliet Mills and Angela taking on a male identity in Carry On Jack or Carry On Cowboy. Hattie Jacques I always loved because she so often played on being incredibly strong and formidable with a secret girlish vulnerability underneath.

I enjoyed all the strong older women – married, middle aged, and sometimes old and cheeky like Esma Cannon in Carry On Cruising. There were the exotic roles they got to play – Joan Sims in Cowboy and in Follow That Camel – which seemed such fun. Some of the later ones like Camping went too much towards the On the Buses model of leering over younger girls.

But the best of the Carry Ons were full of strong women. And more and more I became aware of how crippled the men were by embarrassment.

Now here’s a confession that will put me at odds with your fans. Don’t hate me but: I’m not a fan of Sid James in the Carry Ons. I love him in Hancock and all his other films; I think he was a great actor. But I didn’t buy into the idea that he was this cool  hero that we were supposed to identify with. I think he was presented like he was the James Bond of the Carry Ons but I never really warmed to him in them. I watched Don’t Lose Your Head again a few years ago and was amazed that he was playing the lead rather than Jim Dale. It felt like a dirty old man’s middle-aged fantasy. Harry H Corbett in the Sid role in Screaming is much, much better. Genuinely sexy as well as comic. Too often I thought we were supposed to identify with Sid as a hero and I didn’t. His best Carry On role in a way is the dodgy tropical doctor with his polygamous marriages in Carry On Again Doctor.

You talked quite a bit in the podcast about the use of drag in the Carry Ons, particularly men like Bernard Bresslaw dressing up so unconvincingly as women. Why do you think these scenarios fit so well with the traditional Carry On narrative?

I’ve always loved drag so much. I’ve been trying to make programmes about the history of British drag for years. There’s obviously the old music hall tradition of drag acts the Carry Ons draw on. I don’t know, there’s something lovely about big obviously hairy strong men playing old women in particular. Bresslaw had a sweetness about him which is why he was so charming.

More broadly I grew up watching Danny La Rue, Dick Emery and Monty Python – Terry Jones was especially good at doing sympathetic old women – as much as the Carry Ons.

I know there are some people who think drag is insulting to women, but I don’t think you can make such a sweeping statement. The best drag makes fun of men, it makes fun of gender roles – men learning the horrors of high heels, tights and corsets. I love the idea in Carry On Up The Khyber that dragging up as palace dancing girls and having to dance in front of the enemy could be the most dangerous and terrifying thing a bunch of male soldiers have ever done. Imagine Henry V having to do that instead of just winning the Battle of Agincourt by killing people and threatening those who don’t surrender with rape, which is what is in Shakespeare? And in a totally unexpected way, the Carry Ons had moments of real liberation. Again I cite Carry On Matron -- Barbara Windsor and Kenneth Cope falling in love while both wearing dresses and lipstick as a genuinely modern moment that stands the test of time.

I started my blog as a tribute to my heroine, Joan Sims. I think comedy actors like Joan, Hattie Jacques and June Whitfield were pioneers. What do you think their legacy is and has been?

I think it’s really significant that your blog was inspired by these women. I agree it’s their talent that gives the Carry Ons their strength and heart. When June Whitfield died recently I was really struck talking to other writers about how under appreciated she’d been in official histories of British comedy till very recently. Because she was often in a supporting role, even though the shows only worked because of her presence. I was listening back to her work with Jimmy Edwards and remain in awe at her talent. I think they have influenced many performers who came after, not least because they were still working into their later years like Joan. One of their strengths is the way they worked in a company – the team of Carry Ons or Take It From Here or Hancock’s Half Hour or the News Huddlines. Graeme Garden recently told me how they deliberately cast all these amazing talented women they admired in The Goodies -- Joan Sims and June Whitfield in that Come Dancing/gangster episode are amazing. These women really stand out in those sitcoms for how seriously funny and professional they are; really talented actors who outshine all the men onscreen. I think their legacy is alive everywhere we see great British female comedians.  

One critic I’ve railed against described the Carry Ons as “a world of misery and it knows it” however I think they are light, frothy and delightfully uncomplicated. What do you think?

I went and looked up the article. It’s a bit harsh but I can see her point of view. I disagree that they’re always light and frothy and delightfully uncomplicated. I’d say they were delightfully and deliberately complicated in the convoluted situations they came up with, but for laughs. There was definitely something sad and creepy about some of the later contemporary dramas like Abroad and Camping. But it’s a sweeping generalization. And the best early ones like Constable, Cabby and Spying did as you say offer lightness and froth. But they also felt like proper homegrown cinema. I remember watching them on TV and getting a sense of a more optimistic worldview in the late 50s and early 60s. There’s also something quite painful in our age of cuts to policing and local services, to seeing a fully funded welfare state being celebrated on screen as entirely normal. I would say I feel I have real anger towards the producers for how they exploited their actors though. Reading about Liz Fraser’s treatment, for example, is horrible. But that’s as true for Laurel and Hardy.  

You recently introduced a special screening of Carry On Cleo at the BFI, interviewing Amanda Barrie at the same event. What was that like?

Amanda Barrie’s performance in Cleo has always been a favourite of mine since childhood. I was surprised at how insecure she was at the time and how modest she still is, talking about her work on that film. She was beautiful and funny, with some amazing slapstick moments. Because for so long we have been told in mainstream reporting that men are better comedians, I think it’s really important to remind ourselves how many great comic actresses have always been there on screen; just not counted.

We had a great chat beforehand and part of what I respect about her and her generation of professionals is how they see themselves as jobbing performers and they bring such class to everything they do. Which is why I think they’re so outstanding in soaps. Many soap actors are the best.  

A question I ask everyone I interview, if you had to choose, who is your favourite Carry On performer and why?

I can’t just pick one! Joan Sims and Hattie Jacques for their combination of good humour, highbrow talent and dignity.

© Copyright - Samira Ahmed

Jim Dale because of his combination of physical stuntwork and good looks. Check out that gorgeous pinstriped suit he wears at Carry On Again Doctor when he’s become a rich private consultant. When I interviewed him a few years ago I got a sense that his early experience as a pop star had left him scarred and afraid of being the heartthrob. Which might explain why he was always playing the fool, rather than the confident straight lead, as if ducking the attention.

And I’ve always loved Roy Castle for his ability to play dead straight with such humour.  Even though he’s only in one Carry On it’s unimaginable without him. He was a great comic actor. In Dr Who and The Daleks as well. There’s something about those actors who could connect with children as well as adults. I really miss him.

Finally, why do you think the Carry Ons remain so popular so many years after they were made?

Well are they? Clearly they have their devotees and there’s a huge nostalgia factor. But I suspect they are declining from public memory. Do they have the cult status of shows like The Prisoner? Or The Avengers? Or the James Bond films? Or will they die with those of us old enough to remember when they were popular and mainstream? I wonder if they now ought to be on a curriculum somewhere and studied. Perhaps they defy categorization. They were genuinely popular in their time and on TV. But the story behind their creation is an unpleasant one about exploitation. Are young people discovering them and liking them? That’s the test. Bond films have been trying to move with the times with some success. But the Carry Ons relied on a model of excruciating embarrassment about sex which I suspect people raised in the age of Love Island can’t fathom.

I’ve felt sad at realizing something I love may be fading out of sight. Perhaps that’s why I felt compelled to write and talk about it while there are still enough of us out there to share the memories. Whether the Carry Ons have a living future as a shared cult, rather than one as a historical curio, I don’t know. Sorry to be so sad. Answering your questions has left me hankering to go back and watch the early ones though. I’m going to go and watch Carry On Constable now.

A huge thank you to Samira for taking the time to answer my questions in such an eloquent, thoughtful and considered way. It was an absolute pleasure. 

You can listen to Samira's interview with JIm Dale for BBC Radio 4's Front Row here and you can read more about it here.

And you can find out more about Samira on her website: and also over on Twitter @SamiraAhmedUK

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram