The ‘Carry ons’ were a series of 30 low budget comedy films made between 1958 and 1978, with one revival in 1992. The films are knows for the bawdy seaside postcard humour, as one reviewer in the 70’s put it “The Carry Ons are the only films where a nude can still be rude”, but have become a mainstay of British culture.
Featuring a revolving cast of regulars, and many one off appearances from top performers of the day, there was always something cosy about the franchise. Even when it was on the cusp of crossing the line between good and bad taste.
Although most people associate the ‘Carry On…’ films with innuendo and double entendre they didn’t actually start out that way. The first few films were light romantic comedies with some slapstick thrown in. It wasn’t till 1964’s ‘Carry on Cleo’ that all the pieces fell into place and the series really found it’s feet. After that the cast was always full of familiar faces, mostly playing a variation on the same character, there were many double entendre and most of all the film finished with a big set piece.
My introduction to the films was through clip compilations that would be shown on TV in the 80s, plus re runs of ITVs ‘Carry On’ TV series that featured many of the regular cast. Although watching the full films was something that became somewhat of a bank holiday tradition.
The golden period for the films was the mid 60s on, once they got into colour they really hit their stride. Although of the Black and White films the best has to be 1963s ‘Carry on Cabby’ a twist on the kitchen sink dramas of the 60s, like ‘Look Back in Anger’ mixed with women lib and taxis.
‘…Cabby’ is also the first of the films to feature all of the core players in their character types, although the break out performance is by far Hattie Jaques. After ‘…Cabby’ the series really hit its stride and although not all of them were in every film the regulars were set.
1968s ‘Carry on up the Khyber’ is perhaps the film most people think of when thinking of a ‘Carry on’ historical. It’s rather lavish look and the big set piece ending which both plays on the war epics of the time like ‘Zulu’ and satirises the British class system all in one is a classic.
‘Carry on Abroad’ is considered by many to be the last hurrah for the main core of regulars. Many wouldn’t return to the series and the later films were starting lose there way a little. With the following years ‘Carry on Girls’ trying to match the sex comedy of the ‘Confessions…’ films.
Of the later films one overlooked gem is ‘Carry on Behind’ this doesn’t feature Sid James, but rather Windsor Davis steps into the role of the randy downtrodden husband. Davis manages to create a character that is very much his own but different from the military characters he normally played. Elke Sommer makes her one appearance in the series and in her only comedy role is a revelation, she manages spar with Kenneth Williams perfectly and it really adds a different dimension to the film.
There is however such a diversity with in the format that there really is a ‘Carry on’ or two for all seasons, from the romantic comedy of the early films through to the unsuccessful detour into sex romp of the final film. There is even a western, a western with British actors doing to the American accent what Dick van Dyke did to the cockney accent in ‘Mary Poppins’.
While the ‘Carry Ons’ never really were able to transition to an American market, even throwing Phil Silvers into ‘Carry on follow that camel’ didn’t work, they are a part of British culture and even though 1992’s attempt to revive the series ‘Carry On Columbus’ was failure some still hold out hope that a new ‘Carry On…’ could some day be made.