Carry On films

Carry On films
   A series of thirty films, produced over five decades, the Carry On films were the brainchild of producer Peter Rogers and director Gerald Thomas. The films were essentially bawdy vignettes of English life, based around situations encompassing work, history or film parody.
   The first in the series was Carry On Sergeant, which started life as a straight film adaptation of R.F.Delderfield’s The Bull Boys. Thomas and Rogers were well acquainted with English cinematic humour; both were involved with the Doctor series of movies, adapted from the books by Richard Gordon. They adapted Delderfield’s work in a similar fashion, and the Carry On series was born. Although not as ribald as later efforts, the film was so successful that the duo quickly embarked on producing a follow up, this time a humorous swipe at the National Health Service, called Carry On Nurse. The initial films owed much to the tradition of gentle British film comedies, and it was not until 1965 and the production of Carry On Cleo (a parody of the Burton/Taylor Cleopatra epic), that the series gained its saucy label. There followed twenty films of riotous slapstick, seaside postcard type jokes and definitive vulgar humour.
   Appeals were made to the American market by filming in colour, and in the fourteenth film Follow that Camel, the use of Phil Silvers, the popular American comedian who played Sergeant Bilko. This, unfortunately for the production team, did not work, and the Carry On series still has only a cult following in the USA. The question of star names never bothered the producers again. The cast for each film was repertory based, with no star billing given to any of the main players. The series created star names, including Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey (all of whom were fairly well-known anyway) and Barbara Windsor, and these actors portrayed similar characters in all their appearances: James became the ‘archetypal dirty old man’, Williams a prissy know-all, Hawtrey a hapless, slightly camp innocent. The characters became associated with the actor, and it is no coincidence that in later films, the characters usually bore the actor’s Christian name.
   The final film in the series was Carry on Columbus (1992), a misguided attempt to recreate the heyday of the Carry Ons, but with the majority of the original cast dead, the film floundered, receiving terrible reviews. The death of Thomas in 1995 meant that no other Carry On films would be made.
   See also: comedies; comedy on television; situation comedy

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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