Monday 22 April 2019

The Star of … Carry On Cabby

I have decided to dedicate a new series of blogs to what I consider to be the very best performances in each of the thirty original Carry On films. As ever, it's a purely personal take on these films from yours truly and of course you are welcome to agree or disagree as you see fit! 

Since I started the blog in 2015 I have often championed the underdog or the under appreciated. The Carry On series employed hundreds of cracking comedy actors during their twenty year lifespan and while I've done my best to celebrate as many of them as possible, there is still much to do to preserve their legacy. Some of the actors featured in this new series will be household names and leading lights, others perhaps not so well known. Whoever they are, I hope you enjoy reading about my chosen few.

The first in this series saw me write about my love for Kenneth Connor's role as Horace Strong in Carry On Sergeant and then, moving forward to later in 1958, we focused on Kenneth Williams in Carry On Nurse. My star of Carry On Teacher, released in 1959, was that wonderful character actress Rosalind Knight, playing strict school inspector Felicity Wheeler and my star of Carry On Constable was the debuting Sidney James. More recently I decided that my star turn from Carry On Regardless was that man Kenneth Connor again and as for Carry On Cruising, well Dilys Laye was my top pick. Today we're moving on to look at my all time favourite in the series, the brilliant Carry On Cabby.

So who is my ultimate star of the film - of course it's got to be Mrs Glam herself, the super Hattie Jacques. 

Out of all Hattie's roles in the series, the central role of Peggy Hawkins in Cabby was her very favourite and it's not hard to see why. For once, Hattie wasn't playing the bombastic, severe Matron and nor was she the but of all the jokes about her size. Peggy Hawkins was a passionate, intelligent woman who wanted to progress herself in life, with or without the support of her husband. Frustrated by Charlie Hawkins' obsession with his taxi firm and rather old fashioned views on women in the workplace, Peggy goes behind his back and sets up a rival cab firm which employs only women. Glamcabs soon steals most of the business "from under their smug male noses". 

Carry On Cabby is the closest the series comes to a dramedy - comedy and drama brought together in an effective mix. At the centre of Cabby is the delighful, deep and extremely believable relationship between husband and wife Charlie and Peggy - beautifully brought to life by Sid and Hattie. While I always prefer Sid and Joan Sims together on screen, Sid and Hattie are just irresistible together in Cabby. When their marriage comes under strain, it feels genuine and the performances heartfelt. This takes Cabby some way from the usual Carry On fare and miles away from most of the films that followed. Don't get me wrong, Cabby still has many of the qualities fans admire in the series - plenty of saucy humour, classic comedy performances, slapstick and lots of lovely GlamCab drivers…

Hattie is an absolute joy as Peggy. The film is most definitely hers. It's a performance of terrific spirit and energy and Jacques dominates the film. Apart from her wonderful relationship with onscreen husband Sid, Hattie also works really well with Liz Fraser - they make for very believable best friends. Hattie is also great with the lovely little Esma Cannon and the two form a formidable double act. It's so refreshing to see Hattie given a role that allows the gifted actress to emerge and show the audience just how good she was. Of course Hattie's next role in the series would see her return to the comfortable confines of her memorable Matron, but Peggy Hawkins will always tower above all the rest.

At the end of the film, Peggy and Sally are put in peril by a fiendish bunch of criminals and it's Charlie and Ted (Connor) to the rescue. All is well in the end and the film gets the usual happy Carry On finale. Does this mean Cabby is not a feminist Carry On after all? I doubt the Carry Ons could ever be described as feminist films although without question the female characters are much sharper and more on the ball while the men are all a bit thick! Cabby is the closest the series comes to grit and kitchen sink drama, popular themes at the time of release. That's not why I love it though. I love Carry On Cabby for the strength of the story, the warmth of the performances and the joy of seeing Hattie grab a role that allowed her talents and quality as an actress to shine.

Sadly Cabby would be the last film Hattie Jacques made with the team for over four years. The popularity of her role in the Eric Sykes BBC comedy series "Sykes And A..." together with a desire to pursue other projects meant that the next seven films in the franchise would lack her own very special comedic gifts.

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