Tuesday 2 April 2019

The Star of … Carry On Regardless

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. Today I'm moving on to look at the 1960 film, Carry On Regardless. 


The basic premise of Regardless is the Helping Hands Agency with Sid James and Esma Cannon at the helm. They employed the regular gang of goons to undertake all kinds off odd jobs and the film that results is really just a collection of loose sketches. It works really well but at some points, because the cast is so big, you forget they are all in it!  Kenneth Connor gets the majority of the film and is superb throughout although this means actors like Bill Owen, Charles Hawtrey and Terence Longdon are criminally underused.

So who is the star of the film for me? 

In many ways I think Regardless is probably Kenneth Connor's finest hour. Yes Sid James had got his feet under the Carry On table but at this stage of the game Sid was still the Norman Hudis authority figure that all the maniacs caused chaos around. Norman obviously enjoyed writing for Connor and most of the very best sequences star Kenneth. Whether it be misunderstandings with the voluptuous, bored housewife Penny Panting (seductively played by Fenella Fielding), getting confused amongst a bunch of animated Chinese people expecting a translator, attempting to stay silent in a reading room full of elderly gents or demonstrating the "Bed of the Century" at the Ideal Home Exhibition, Kenneth is on sparkling form and gets to display is full set of joyous comic gifts. 


My favourite scene featuring Kenneth is the fairly long sketch that sees Esma Cannon get the wrong end of the stick following a rather confusing phone call with the imposing Eric Pohlmann (who would return as The Fat Man in Carry On Spying of course). Eric is after a forth at bridge however in a very clever Hudis bit of business, this is misunderstood by Cannon and Connor as a meeting at the Forth Bridge in what becomes Gerald Thomas' tribute to The 39 Steps. Don't forget there had been a version of this famous story produced at Pinewood and starring Kenneth More only the year before Regardless went into production, so it was fairly fresh in the minds of the audience. As an aside, that film was directed by Gerald's brother Ralph, produced by Peter's wife Betty Box and featured such familiar Pinewood faces as Joan Hickson, Sid James and Brian Oulton. 

The Carry On version sees Kenneth Connor don a trenchcoat and hat and pretend to be a subtle super spy, complete with Connor's American-accented voice over and lots of Thomas attention to detail. Once aboard the train bound for Scotland, Kenneth encounters a pair of dodgy looking types played by Victor Maddern and Denis Shaw. It's a brief little vignette but in true Hudis style this underworld meet up turns out to be a simple game of cards in a train compartment. Moving to the buffet car, Connor meets the seductive Russian Betty Marsden, a mistress of accents and voices if ever there was one, thanks to her starring role in both Beyond Our Ken and Round The Horne on radio. More misunderstandings take place leading Kenneth to receive a good sound slap around the chops from Betty before crashing into a bowl full of Brown Windsor soup. This leads Connor to break deliciously from his spy persona to once again become the bumbling little man we know and love.


Of course there is no rendez-vous and when Kenneth jumps from the train on the bridge he ends up completely drenched in a muddy puddle full of goodness knows what. It's typical Carry On fare from the Hudis era but Connor plays it all beautifully and it's honestly one of his best ever sequences on film. The fact that Kenneth is billed above the likes of Sims, Williams and Hawtrey shows just what power and sway he held in the Carry Ons during the early 1960s. He's clearly a pivotal member of the team and an absolute joy to watch.

Connor simply has to be the star of the film as he grabs more screen time than anyone else and that's no mean feat given just how many class comedy character people appear across the 90 minutes. There is no doubting that Regardless is very much an ensemble piece featuring a stunning cast packed full of the very best of British comedy talent at the time, however it is Connor who rises above the rest and is, for me, the true star of Carry On Regardless. 

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