The Carry On crew who carried on longest
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Oooh Matron! Stop messing about! Ad nauseam...
Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, the Carry On films entertained cinema audiences with their naff jokes, bawdy humour and naughty innuendos for 34 years, with a long shelf-life beyond that. Thirty-one films were made between Carry On Sergeant (1958) and the awful Carry On Columbus (1992), during which time a gang of popular comic actors and comedians formed a now-legendary team that made the series so popular. Now it's time to see which of those great Carry On stars made the most films...
Following his debut in Carry On Sergeant, Kenneth Williams is the most prolific, with 26 films. He started out playing snooty, student types, but as the series progressed he flared its nostrils in tune with his camp persona, especially in the period C-Os where he gave his best performance as Julius Caesar (“Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!”) in Cleo (1964), as Dr Watt in Carry On Screaming (1966) and as Citizen Camembert (the big cheese!) in Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head (1966) - excellent villains. Williams' performance as the 'Khasi of Kalabar' in Up the Khyber (1968) nearly eclipsed his Caesar. His perfect Southern accent as Judge Burke on Cowboy (1965) was just as convincing as his Germanic-toned Commandant Burger on Follow That Camel (1967). Always the snide, ineffectual authority-figures in the modern C-Os, one regrets his poor performance in his last film Carry On Emmanuelle (1978).
With 24 films to her credit, Joan Sims is the most prolific female star from the Carry On troupe. Her début as an accident-prone nurse in the second film Carry On Nurse (1959) typecast her as a plain, dowdy type - although she could be very glamorous. Her finest moment was in Carry On Regardless (1961), where she got drunk at a wine-tasting and slugged Nicholas Parsons! She was a great battling harridan in the period films; Calpurnia in Carry On Cleo, Desiree Dubarry in Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head, and most memorably Lady Ruff-Diamond in Carry On Up the Khyber. Joanie made her final bow in Carry On Emmanuelle, but work commitments prevented her from appearing in Carry On Columbus.
The bespectacled, spindly-framed Charles Hawtrey came next, with 23 films. Another debut from Carry On Sergeant, he was often the eager innocent in the early C-Os. In the period films he was Charles Hawtrey, the eccentric high-camp Englishman, whether he was the Duc de Pommfrit in Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head or Private Widdle in Carry On Up the Khyber. As Chief Big Heap in Cowboy, only Hawtrey could play a Red Indian in his own unique way and get away with it, although he was capable of world-weary cynicism with his best performance as Walter Sweetley, the Jewish cess-pit cleaner turned press-ganged mariner in Carry On Jack (1963). Sadly his heavy drinking made him hard to work with, and his appearances dwindled (his role in 1970's Carry On Loving was a mere cameo), although he stole the show as Amazon love god Tonka (“Oh hello!”) in Carry On Up the Jungle (1969). A sad, drunk and rather pathetic Hawtrey was on automatic pilot as an alcoholic mummy’s boy in his last film, Carry On Abroad (1972).
Although he did not make his debut until the fourth film, Carry On Constable (1960), Sid James was clearly the star of the series, getting top billing in all but two of his 19 films. The early films had him as the blunt-but-affable authority figure; but with his lecherous-yet-lovable personality, and characteristic guttural laugh, he was always Sid James, especially in the period films where he shined as Mark Anthony in Carry On Cleo, the Rumpo Kid in Carry On Cowboy, Sir Rodney Ffing (with two Fs) in Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head and Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond in Carry On Up the Khyber. But it was James' wonderful turn as King Henry VIII in Carry On Henry (1970) that is most treasured by fans. The modern dress outings had him cast as the girl-chasing cockney wide-boy. He gave a final, spot-on performance as (Big) Dick Turpin in Carry On Dick (1974). The film marked an end of an era, and Sid’s death in 1976 left fans with a profound sense of loss.
Another debut from Carry On Sergeant, Kenneth Connor clocked up 17 appearances, although he would have made more had he not taken a long stage sabbatical. Connor’s bumbling blue-collar guys and educated professional men were always shy with the ladies. His best role was Hengist Pod, the cowardly ancient British (square) wheel-maker turned Caesar’s bodyguard in Carry On Cleo. Stage commitments prevented Connor from making another film until Carry On Up the Jungle. From then on, his characters ranged from impotent old men to cowardly military types, rounding things off with Carry On Emmanuelle. Had he accepted a tiny role in Carry On Columbus, Connor would have seen the series to the very end.
Peter Butterworth initially came in as Connor’s replacement in Carry On Cowboy, but in most of his 16 films, he quietly acts everyone off the screen with some scene-stealing performances, usually as a bumbling subordinate or panicking everyman; Constable Slobotham in Carry On Screaming, Citizen Bidet in Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head and Simpson the butler in Carry On Follow That Camel. His finest hour has to be the shifty missionary Brother Belcher in Carry On Up the Khyber; his nervous, manic performance made the now-legendary dinner-party sequence (“They’re all raving mad!”). It was followed by a few tiny and uncredited appearances before making a hilarious return to form as the definitive hysterical foreigner, Pepe the useless hotel manager in Carry On Abroad. He remained consistently good as the series fell apart, his final film being Carry On Emmanuelle.
Hattie Jacques was the next most frequent female star with 14 films. Another debut from Sergeant, her early roles consisted of stern uniformed (army, police) authority figures. Although her favourite C-O role (and best film performance) was as Sid James’ neglected wife in Carry On Cabby (63), she gained comedy immortality as ‘Ooooh Matron!’ in Carry On Doctor (67). She played matron in the other medical C-Os, but her prim repressed matron in Doctor is the most memorable as she unlocks her sexual desires and throws herself at Kenneth Williams’ chief surgeon (ouch!) with unbridled passion (“I was once a weak man Matron.” “Well once a week’s enough for anybody!”). She played her again as a school matron in Carry On Camping (1968) where she again throws herself at Kenneth Williams’ headmaster (“I was a hospital matron once. I was in love with a doctor. He looked just like you!”). Hat made her final bow in Dick, her only period C-O.
A talented actor, singer and monologist, the extremely tall Bernard Bresslaw notched up 14 C-Os following his debut as Little Heap in Cowboy. He made a memorable Karloff-style butler in Screaming and gave his best performances as Sheikh Abdul Abulbul in Carry On Follow That Camel (“The behaviour of the white infidels is like seeing blood come from stone; bleeding mystery!”) and his distant Indian cousin Bunghit Din in Carry On Up the Khyber. Who could forget Upsidasi, the least convincing African native in Carry On Up the Jungle? In the modern dress C-Os he was the gormless lug, always easily led by Sid James. He made a fitting swansong in Carry On Behind (1975), but his stage commitments on Wot a Carry On in Blackpool prevented him from appearing in Carry On Columbus.
Making his debut in Carry On Jack, Jim Dale came from tiny scene-stealing roles, including his memorable master-of-disguise in Carry On Spying (1964), to become the gang’s semi-straight juvenile lead as Horsa in Cleo. His geeky good looks and elastic frame served him well on his 11 films, as accident-prone heroes Marshall P Knut, the plumber who tamed the West in Cowboy (his best performance) and foreign legionnaire B O West on Follow That Camel. He was the dashing but bumbling doctor in Doctor and Carry On Again Doctor (1969), the latter his last C-O until his welcome return as Columbus, one of the few good things in that film.
When the main female Juvenile lead made her debut in Spying, she gave male audiences her famous measurements (38-22-35). Barbara Windsor starred in 10 C-Os, fewer than expected with most of them relying on her ability to stretch a sweater (the legendary bra-popping scene in Carry On Camping – “Take them away Matron!”). Her best performance was as the streetwise blonde beauty contestant Hope Springs (AKA Muriel Bloggs) in Carry On Girls (1973). Babs’ last proper C-O was Dick. She made a final bow as Kenneth Williams’ co-host on the movie compilation That’s Carry-On (1977) but turned down a tiny role in Emmanuelle. Her stage commitments alongside Bernard Bresslaw in Wot a Carry On in Blackpool also prevented her from taking part in Columbus.
With 8 C-Os, debuting as a twitching father in Matron (71), Jack Douglas was a late arrival to the series, bringing with him his TV alter-ego Alf, who was funny or annoying according to taste, although Alf got less twitchy as the series went on, having a great time as Sergeant Strapp in Dick. He moved away from the character to give his best performance as ‘Loins’ the deadpan butler in Emmanuelle, but returned to Alf in Columbus, his scenes with Jim Dale marking the first time they ever worked together in a C-O.
Making his debut in Sergeant, Terry Scott did not become a regular until his barnstorming turn as Sergeant Major MacNutt in Up the Khyber. Notching 7 appearances, mostly as a bungling oaf, there are some performances to savour; his dim-witted Jungle Boy in Up the Jungle and his confused, constantly hand-waving Cardinal Wolsey in Henry. His last C-O was as the nurse-chasing Dr Prodd in Matron. Poor health prevented him from accepting a small role in Columbus. Like Connor, had he been able to take part, he would have seen the series out to the very end.
Might as well end it with someone often associated with the C-Os even though he only did two (both being billed above Sid James). Frankie Howard made a memorable scene-stealing debut as quack doctor Francis Bigger in Carry On Doctor, all ‘titter-ye-nots’ and ‘thrice-nays’. He followed it up with a more routine camp role as Professor Tinkle in Up the Jungle. His death prevented him from doing Columbus.
Only Dale and Windsor are still around from the classic line-up, the others now (hopefully) enjoying themselves in Carry On heaven. There’s talk of a new Carry On film being made but without those marvellous performers who made the films so popular, it’s unlikely it will ever have the same spark. After all, the series remains one of the cinema’s great British institutions firmly rooted in history. But who knows?
In the meantime, have a wonderful Carry On!
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