Getting abreast with the Carry on film franchise…
Frost returns to those much loved bawdy British comic movies as made another time and place, but still enjoyed by many.
Carry on Series, VCIClassicMovies
Carry on aficionados will have already noted that Caroline Frost’s book Carry On Regardless Getting to the Bottom of Britain’s Favourite Comedy Films (2022) takes part of its name from the fifth of this British comedy film franchise. The Carry on… film series was an impressive thirty-one stand-alone British film comedies released over five decades from 1958 to 1992.
These popular – and often topical – films tributed everyone from healthcare workers to taxi drivers, homaged the 1960s film about Cleopatra and lampooned those Hammer Horror and James Bond film series. Carry on films looked at the fun side of life be it camping, package holidays or cruising. It also returned to the historical – read hysterical – times of Dick Turpin, Henry VIII, the French Revolution and the British Raj. These very British films were mostly known for their double entendres of the saucy and bawdy kinds.
Surprisingly as an entertainment blogger, I’ve only reviewed five films so far – and another review is coming soon – of these personally loved comic movies. I say surprisingly, as my dad was a huge fan of this series. He was always tuning in to watch the repeats of the films and the TV specials. Although, my best memories are of him laughing at those comic antics on-screen and watching his favourite of this series, Carry on Kyber (1968). He shared his love for this franchise and its endless comic acting talents as in time we then pre-teenage daughters watched most of those films with him. This was even though those double entendres went over our wee heads.
The most famous and prolific cast members in this forty four year old franchise can be listed as Sid James, Jim Dale, Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques, Barbara Windsor, Joan Sims and Charles Hawtrey. But back then so many then British comics joined them regularly including Terry Scott, June Whitfield, Angela Douglas, Liz Fraser, Benard Bresslaw and Kenneth Connors. Each of these cast members is remembered in their own unique way. Be it Sid’s laugh and Barbara Windsor’s giggle, Kenneth Williams’ many effortlessly accented characterisations or Charles Hawtrey’s and Bernard Bresslaw’s catchphrases.
So just seeing the fun innuendo-laden title – that the cast would have undoubtedly approved of – and the colourful film stills on the cover of Frost’s book, I was keen to add to my knowledge of this film series. Frost delves into the Carry on story on-screen and off-screen over 19 chapters and 232 pages. Also included in the book are individual biographical chapters of many key cast members, a list of TV show references and a detailed index.
I felt Frost’s love of this franchise from her warm and affectionate introduction to the end, where I’ll admit I cried after being overtaken by so many heartfelt memories. She sets the scene with some familiar comic memories of characters from the Carry on films. She then explains what this book is and isn’t, and tells that the book tells of,
… A celebration of a big screen phenomenon, a golden moment when cast and crew, stars and writers came together at the right time and place, to create something unique – not just in the history of British film, but across our broader culture.
She stresses that all of these films are of their time and it’s an important point that must be noted in watching their then content. I readily agreed with her that often their plots, treatment of women, characters’ portrayals and non-diversity in the cast seem politically incorrect today. But Frost feels many of these criticisms she feels “don’t hold up” now. It’s important to acknowledge that is that at the time – and often now – these were not issues for the cast, and Frost elaborates on and analyses these themes later in this book.
After this insightful introduction to the series, we join Frost as she travels from her Ealing home – which by coincidence was streets away from Sid James’ home – to Pinewood Studios where these films were made. She describes her joy at taking this journey to Pinewood studios – often the location for these film shoots – that he would have taken himself.
She describes this trip so vividly that you then feel you are her travel companion. On arriving at Pinewood studios, Frost then takes you on a mini-tour of Pinewood Studios pointing out street names and cast photos and then remembering films made in Heatherden Hall – the “beating heart of Pinewood Studios” – and its gardens.
Then she sets the historical context for these films as we go back to the year they began in 1958. This is by starting by looking at the worldwide situation more historically, then narrowing it, again and again, to end up at the then British pop culture. Frost mentions that the first Carry on film was released the same year as that kid’s programme – that is still produced today – Blue Peter (1958) began.
The book is then divided into chapters that outline this franchise’s detailed history in a linear fashion. These include an in-depth examination and analysis of the films and their characters, crews and casts. Each of these chapters is crammed full of quotes from these films and cast and crew members, anecdotes and well-researched and supported facts gleaned from TV shows and interviews and the cast’s autobiographies.
In these chapters, I learned some surprising facts such as a writer, who wrote five films in this film series and later had a career writing for American series also a writer and cast member in this series were Prisoners of Wars together. Another story tells how Charles Hawtrey got a lift to work from Sir Lawrence Olivier. Frost also conducted interviews with actors and actresses – such as Kenneth Cope, Angela Douglas and Valerie Leon – who had roles in these movies, and quotes from these add some unique and heartwarming contributions to this book.
There are also a number of chapters – titled Star Spotlight – which concentrates individually on many of the key cast members. These chapters include Sid James, Joan Sims, Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey. These chapters are well researched and are factual biographies telling of their childhood, their acting career and their rich filmographies. These are embellished by quotes from the cast and their then acting peers.
These chapters also elaborate on their personal lives both before, during and after their Carry on careers. There are again new facts to learn, as I discovered Kenneth Williams worked with Orson Welles and Charles Hawtrey with Alfred Hitchcock. And the – now assumed unPC – way in which Hattie Jacques chose her stage name. To my joy, there was a chapter on the comic actress Joan Sims who was a much-loved actress in my childhood film and TV favourites. These chapters give a rounded tale of their lives and share both their good and bad times.
Frost also shares her own thoughts on this film series content with some deep analysis of the films. Her passion for these films is never more so evident than in her warm descriptions of those films, their plots and their characters. It’s clear she is a visual writer from her vivid descriptions. This is an essential attribute that makes her ideal as a film comedy and Carry on biographer! Anyone who – god forbid – muddles up Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey will then be more clear on this through her heartwarmingly accurate descriptions of their physical looks.
More personally, she adds a poignant anecdote from her childhood when she met Carry on actress Barbara Windsor after a British pantomime. This story Frost reflects back on with the insights and understanding of an adult. It happened at a time when she met this actress and Windsor was found crying off stage with a mutual friend. This was a difficult personal time as Windsor’s then-husband had been arrested earlier that day.
This story aptly stresses how professionally the cast often masked their often troubled lives. This true story and more tragic and controversial events in the cast’s lives were also relayed, but not analysed and this showed great respect from the author to her subjects.
Frost gives balanced arguments on those films which were unsuccessful by adding the positives that were then often overlooked. The most recent film, Carry on Columbus (1992) film is often slammed for its plot and use of more obvious innuendo. But now just reading Frost’s words as she tells how producer, Peter Rogers enjoyed working with these cast members again on a franchise he instigated and adored. This gave a new look at this troubled entry to the franchise which it’s noted made more money at the Box Office than the other films commemorating the 500 year anniversary of his arrival in America.
The book also is well researched and supported with quotes from Carry on cast members in a wide range of TV interviews from Michael Parkinson, Joan Rivers and more. Facts are also embellished by quotes from many books including the cast’s written autobiographies (particularly Kenneth Williams’ published diaries), crew biographies and interviews with surviving cast members, family and close family members (Peter Rogers godson adds his views).
There are thirty two on-screen and behind the scenes black and white photos featuring stills from a number of these movies. As a Carry on fan, it was wonderful to see so many unseen and now treasured photographs. These indicated the cast members’ clear mutual rapport and obvious joy in their work. Their camaraderie behind the scenes is visually seen in so many cast members photographed mid-laugh.
I only wish one thing from this book, that it had been one that I could have shared with my dad, who sadly passed away many years ago. Yet, reading between the lines of this book and then watching Carry on Matron (1972) soon after with my Darlin Husband, I felt like I was watching this film through both his and the author’s eyes.
Both knew those films so intimately and I watched this with more understanding of the film’s place in time, its adored characters and characterisations and its innuendo and in-jokes. Through Frost and this rewatch, I rediscovered his love for those films, and their legacy which have since their conception kept the British end up.
A disclaimer and personal thank you to NetGalley and White Owl for giving me an Advance Reader Copy of Carry On Regardless Getting to the Bottom of Britain’s Favourite Comedy Films by Caroline Frost. Financial compensation was not received, however, I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions expressed here are my own. If you would like your book to be featured or promoted here, please drop a line to me via my Contact Me Page.