They're predictable, they're formulaic, they're bawdy, they're filmed on a tiny budget.
They're a regular fixture in TV Bank Holiday schedules. The best bits have been compiled, re-compiled, re-re-compiled, spoken about, written about, and generally quoted whenever a slight double-entendre is used. But despite all that, they're eminently watchable and always entertaining (even if you have seen it 1000 times, are speaking along with the script, and you can see the jokes coming a mile off - you still watch it)
1950s Britain was particularly well-served with Comedy films, including the peerless Ealing Comedies. Norman Wisdom films, and the St Trinians and Doctor franchises. And into this rode a low budget, farcical, and almost satirical dig, at respected professions and conventions.
Conceived by Producer Perter Rogers and Director Gerald Thomas, the Carry On films ran from The core films ran from 1958 to 1978, and was then re-booted for a single film in 1992.
Throughout its life, the films probably had a total budget of about £27, and the furthest location shot was Maidenhead Town Hall. In truth, they did venture to Snowden, Camber Sands, Brighton and Weymouth. but rarely left the confines of Pinewood Studios or the immediate surrounding area.
There are 31 films in the franchise (32 if you include the 1977 compilation film fronted by Kenneth Williams and Barbara Windsor).
Actually, that 1977 compilation (a contractual obligation?) acts as something of a full-stop to the Carry On heyday. What came after it was the trading on the name, brave attempt, but not very good Emmannuelle, and then the re-booted name vehicle Columbus.
The first batch were written by Norman Hudis with the laughs coming from the ineptiude of the subjects in unfamiliar surroundings, and/or light satirical jabs.
Talbot Rothwell took over writing duties in 1963, and the smutty quotient rose, and continued to rise when Carry On changed film distributors to the Rank Organistion (the first batch were distributed by Anglo Amalgamated, and with the exception of Cruising, Jack, Cleo, Cowboy and Screaming, in Black and White.
The Cast was effectively a Repertory Company with the same actors and actresses playing differently dressed versions of themselves - Sid James (invariably always called Sid) dirty laugh, Bernard Bresslaw's often terminally confused lurch-type character, Kenneth Williams admonishments (almost veering back to Julian and Sandy territory), Barbara Windsor's giggles, Charles Hawtrey's meek Mummy's Boy, Hattie Jacques Matron (or similar battle-axe-ish character) and Joan Sims big hearted and often the voice of reason.
This cast was joined by a host of other supporting actors, often appearing in many films.
For 1967s "Follow That Camel", big name American actor Phil Silvers was cat in the lead role (as Sid James recent heart attack and recovery prevented him appearing). For this one-off appearance, Silvers was paid £30,000 (equating to approx 15% of the entire Film's budget) - a marked increase from the top pay of £5,000 for the usual cast.
And the Budget thriftiness did not just apply to the Actors. Throughout Carry On History there is a litany of Cost Saving measures, including:
- Carry On Cleo - uses sets left over from Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor's "Cleopatra"
- Carry On Camping - filmed in October. Leaves and Grass painted green. Camera angles set to avoid the mud and shivering Actors
- Carry On ... Follow That Camel - the Sahara Desert? No, Camber Sands
- Whenever a shot of a Housing Estate is required, this will invariably be Pinewood Green Housing Estate. And it was not uncommon for 2 or 3 House exteriors to be used and re-used on later films
- Multiple use of the High Streets of Maidenhead, Slough and Windsor
The job of Location Scout for Carry On must've been the easiest in the world - go for a walk around the Pinewood Studio lot, and find a suitable looking building or yard area, or see what other films are being made and what sets are available.
Between 1964 or 1972, 2 films per year were generally released. So I suppose one can understand the Budget constraints, and the insistence of the Director that the first take is usually the only take required.
Carry On films were always pushing the boundaries of the Film Censors, and on only a couple of occasions were cuts required to achieve and A (or PG in new money) rating.
Two of the cuts being "remove the phrase 'Can I help you with your erection'" (from Carry On Camping), and "leave a pause between the words Fakir and Off" (from Carry On Up The Khyber)
But were they any good?
In the great tradition of British Music Hall, Seaside Postcards, Mother-In-Law Jokes, and many other things now declared un-PC, they more than hold their own.
If you really wanted to be academic about it (and I'm sure someone has) the Carry On series is an object text on the development of British Society from the slightly repressed, stiff upper-lippedness, "know your place" times of the 1950s, and then watch as the world becomes more colourful and more daring.
And today ... they represent "good, clean fun". They play to the Britsh humour of farce, word-play, double entendre. And even though it's the same actors playing versions of themselves, the script and the characterisation creates enough difference.
Personally, I could happily sit for a few weeks watching them all again from start to finish (in fact I did that very thing recently)
I've never seen a Carry On film - where do I start?
For a Carry On novice, my sage advice would be:
Start with Cleo, spin forward to the high point Rank era with Doctor, Up The Khyber, Camping, Again Doctor, Up The Jungle, Henry, At Your Convenience, Matron, Abroad, Girls, and Dick.
From there, devour the rest - try Screaming, Don't Lose Your Head, and Follow That Camel. And once you've followed the Camel go back to the Anglo-Amalgamated Black and Whites (Sergeant, Nurse, Teacher, Constable, Regardless, Cruising (the first in Colour), Cabby (return to Black & White), Jack (Colour), Spying (Black & White), Cowboy (Colour).
And now mop-up the series with Behind (basically a re-tread of Camping, but in Caravans), England (not one of their best, but watchable nonetheless), and Emmannuelle (how to sully a legacy in 90 minutes)
And here is your handy Cut Out And Keep Guide to the series:
- Carry On Sergeant (1958)
- Carry On Nurse (1959)
- Carry On Teacher (1959)
- Carry On Constable (1960)
- Carry On Regardless (1961)
- Carry On Cruising (1962)
- Carry On Cabby (1963)
- Carry On Jack (1964)
- Carry On Spying (1964)
- Carry On Cleo (1964)
- Carry On Cowboy (1965)
- Carry On Screaming! (1966)
- Don't Lose Your Head (1966)
- Follow That Camel (1967)
- Carry On Doctor (1967)
- Carry On Up the Khyber (1968)
- Carry On Camping (1969)
- Carry On Again Doctor (1969)
- Carry On Up the Jungle (1970)
- Carry On Loving (1970)
- Carry On Henry (1971)
- Carry On at Your Convenience (1971)
- Carry On Matron (1972)
- Carry On Abroad (1972)
- Carry On Girls (1973)
- Carry On Dick (1974)
- Carry On Behind (1975)
- Carry On England (1976)
- That's Carry On! (1977)
- Carry On Emmannuelle (1978)
- Carry On Columbus (1992)
Finish off with Columbus - although Carry On in name and intention, and with a few Carry On-esque lines. It also has Rogers and Thomas at the helm and is partly written by Dave Freeman (who wrote a couple of the later originals). A Few of the surviving original Cast also put in an appearance.
But it is just trading on the name - the world has moved on, it is no longer "a product of it's time", and some of it feels forced in some places.
It's good, but it aint Carry On
This is ...