Saturday, 11 October 2014

Test Your Carry On Knowledge

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Missing Sid?

If not for a legal contract dispute, the Carry On films may never have been blessed by the presence of Sid James.

It is almost impossible now to imagine the Carry On series of films without the presence of Sid James. However, at one point in time, this unlikely scenario was very nearly a reality.

The role of world-weary Police Sergeant Frank Wilkins in Carry On Constable was originally earmarked for former radio comic Ted Ray, who had proved such a success in the predecessor to Constable, Carry On Teacher, in 1959. As the series of films began to develop and become ever-more popular, producer Peter Rogers wanted an actor who could become the lynch-pin for the Carry Ons, someone who was adept at playing calm authority figures, around which others usually functioned in chaos.

Ted Ray seemed the logical choice to fulfil this role. However, in one of those twists of fate which seem to litter the path of film history, Rogers was unable to secure Ray’s services. Although they never used him, Associated British Pictures had Ted Ray under contract and threatened Anglo Amalgamated, who distributed the Carry On series, with legal action if they persisted in employing him. With his first choice unavailable, Peter Rogers then looked to Scottish comedian Chic Murray, with an eye on broadening audience appeal. This idea never came to fruition and so it came to pass that the pivotal role in Carry On Constable would be offered to, and accepted by, Mr Sidney James.

Sid makes his first Carry On appearance as Frank Wilkins in Carry On Constable 

Sid slotted with customary ease into the already established team of Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Connor, Charles Hawtrey, Leslie Phillips and Hattie Jacques; just as importantly he also proved a hit with audiences. Peter Rogers had found his lynch-pin and, with 18 more Carry On film appearances in his future, Sid’s path to comedy immortality was set. 

Monday, 21 April 2014

More Carry On Pathe

As promised, here are some more fascinating newsreels from the expansive archives of British Pathe featuring various members of  the Carry On team, alongside other great comedy stars of the fifties and sixties.

Secombe Christens the Pudding (1958)

Filmed at the long-since demolished Cadby Hall in London, which was once home to the famous Lyons catering company, Harry Secombe and Hattie Jacques perform a lovely spontaneous comedy routine as they mix a huge Christmas pudding.  

The Trout Inn (1963)

A beautiful 17th century riverside pub in Wolvercote near Oxford, The Trout was, at one time, famed for having a fully-fledged butcher's shop inside the restaurant, which gave diners the opportunity to choose their own cuts of meat. This interesting little film focuses on two rather famous customers - Peter Butterworth and Harry Worth.

Gala All Stars (1964)

Surviving footage of an 'off-duty' Charles Hawtrey is quite rare. This Pathe newsreel from 1964 sees the eccentric Carry On star visiting Battersea Fun Fair in aid of the Variety Club of Great Britain. Look out for a lovely little piece of comedy business between Hawtrey and Jon Pertwee.

Also featured are stars such as Bruce Forsyth, Cilla Black, Harry H Corbett, Liz Fraser, Ian Hendry and Ronald Fraser.

Tommy Steele Wedding (1960)

The wedding of Tommy Steele was one of the biggest society events of 1960 and, as such, attracted a very high calibre of guests. Sid James and his wife Valerie can be seen arriving at the nuptials, as can the lovely Hattie Jacques with her husband at the time, John le Mesurier.

There is no better example of the different attitudes that existed during this era than the subtle but very unkind comment made by the narrator concerning Hattie's weight.


Children's Matinee (1963)

Founded in 1951, the Children's Film Foundation produced a plethora of short features for younger viewers for over 30 years. This captivating newsreel sees a pre-Carry On Bernard Bresslaw entertaining a cinema full of children with a lovely little routine. This is a true gem.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Carry On Pathe - Fascinating Real Life Footage of the Carry On Stars

Thanks to British Pathe and their vast archive of  fascinating newsreels and captivating documentaries, we are able to gain a unique insight into a British way of life that has, sadly, long ceased to exist.

Included in that archive are a number of pieces which include members of the Carry On team who were, at the time, amongst the biggest stars in the country.

Laughter and Life

Contrary to popular belief, clip shows are not a product of modern-day programme makers looking desperately to fill a gap in the schedules. This utterly fascinating documentary sees the great Sid James take a look at the power of laughter, exemplified by clips featuring the likes of George Formby, Charlie Drake and Will Hay. He also interviews Roberston 'Bunny' Hare, a comedy star who is sadly forgotten today.


Xmas for All 1963

Although there is no sound, this footage of Sid James, Frankie Howerd, Barbara Windsor and Jon Pertwee amongst others, at St Mary's Hospital, Plaistow, remains completely captivating.

Stars Go Racing

Any footage of celebrities attending horse race meetings during the 60s was not complete without a certain Sid James. Taken at Sandown Park in 1962, this reel does not disappoint with Sid showing off his tic-tac prowess. Liz Fraser, Leslie Phillips and Citizen James star Sydney Tafler also appear, in addition to Davey Kaye, Alfie Bass and Stanley Baker.

This is just Part One of a nostalgic delve into the lives of the Carry On team. Be sure to come back on Easter Monday for more!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Carry On Christmas

Here are just a few seasonal Carry On stills to get you in the festive spirit!

Sid as Scrooge gets to grips with the Ugly Sisters of Terry Scott and Peter Butterworth.

It seems like Sid was born to play the part of Ebeneezer Scrooge.

Keen fans will notice that the wig Sid is wearing here is vastly different to the one
he wore in the broadcast episode of Carry On Christmas.

Peter Butterworth, Bernard Bresslaw, Jack Douglas and Kenneth Connor crack a few nuts
during The Nutcracker Suite.

Sid and Barbara grace the cover of the 1973 Christmas TV Times.

I would like to take this opportunity of wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Carry on Stuffing!

Friday, 14 December 2012

More Sitcom Movie Spin-offs

The second part of a nostalgic look back at the days when British cinema was swamped with big-screen versions of popular television comedies.

Part one featured some of the very best spin-offs - Porridge, Bless this House, Up Pompeii - and some of the worst - step up to the podium George and Mildred and the absolutely dire Are You Being Served?

Let's get straight down to business with a peek at some more comedy fare that made the transition from small-screen to silver.

The Likely Lads (1976)

Starring James Bolam, Rodney Bewes, Brigit Forsyth, Sheila Fearn
It's no coincidence that two of the best sitcom film spin-offs have originated from the pens of comedy writers supreme Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais. Alongside Porridge, the film version of The Likely Lads ranks as one of the better big-screen outings.

There is no real plot to speak of here, rather a number of almost self-contained stories which come together as a whole. In fact, it makes me wonder whether Clement and Le Frenais either had another television series in mind or instead used a number of left-over story ideas, as you could easily break the film up into six separate television episodes. This is certainly not a criticism though, as this is one of my favourite sitcom-turned-movie releases.

Sid's Place Rating
Very watchable film containing enough laughs and grim-looking North East locations to keep fans of Bob and Terry happy. 7 out of 10.

Dad's Army (1971)

Starring Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, Clive Dunn, John Laurie, James Beck, Liz Fraser
Like Porridge a number of years later, the film version of Dad's Army had a huge legacy to try to live up to. Despite only being on screen for 3 years by 1971, the TV series of Dad's Army was already hugely popular and well on its way to becoming a national treasure.

Although very accomplished, the film version doesn't quite meet the admittedly very high standards of its television counterpart but it's not far off. All of the principal cast are present and are joined by comedy film veteran Liz Fraser, who takes over the role of Private Pike's mum from Janet Davies. 

The main downside to taking the comedy out of its studio setting and placing it on the big screen is the loss of the traditional warm and cosy feel of the small-screen version. Whereas the television series left it to the imagination of viewers to picture the town of Walmington-on-Sea, here we get to see it all.  

Sid's Place Rating
The film version was never going to live up to the magical television series but it has a damn good try. Very enjoyable and one of the better sitcom big-screen outings. 7 out of 10

Man about the House (1974)

Starring Richard O'Sullivan, Paula Wilcox, Sally Thomsett, Yootha Joyce, Brian Murphy
I must admit I was never really much of a fan of the Man about the House television series and think it has dated very badly when viewed today. However, it was a big hit for ITV during the early seventies and led to two TV spin-offs in the form of George and Mildred and Robin's Nest.

The big-screen version follows its small screen counterpart fairly closely and features all of the main cast members. Unfortunately, like the TV series, it is very formulaic and doesn't really bear up to repeated viewings.

Sid's Place Rating
Richard O'Sullivan has always been very likeable as an actor and he is the only shining light here in what is a just-about-average comedy. 5 out of 10

Steptoe and Son (1973)

Starring Wilfrid Brambell, Harry H. Corbett, Carolyn Seymour
Ray Galton and Alan Simpson remain one of the greatest comedy scriptwriting teams in British comedy history. Alongside Hancock's Half Hour, Steptoe and Son is their most famous creation. Running through the complete range of emotions, the television series was as much a gritty kitchen-sink drama as it was a sitcom.

The film version, featuring the story of Harold meeting and marrying a stripper, is a crashing disappointment when compared to the original series and is actually quite dull. However, it proved popular enough to warrant a sequel, Steptoe and Son Ride Again, which followed very quickly,

Sid's Place Rating
Although the television series could sometimes be a tough watch, with its high quota of emotional story lines, it still remains one of the finest examples of comedy scriptwriting at its best. The movie is a tough watch for different reasons - it's lifeless, dull and just not funny. 5 out of 10.

Till Death Us Do Part (1969)

Starring Warren Mitchell, Dandy Nichols, Anthony Booth, Una Stubbs
One of the earlier transitions from small screen to large, Till Death Us Do Part is not up to the standard of the television series but, at the same time, isn't a complete disaster.  

The entire first half of the film is set during the Second World War and shows Alf Garnett and his long-suffering wife and neighbours coping with the horrors of the German air raids over London. It is this first half that lets the film down really. The ranting, bigoted Alf that we know and reluctantly love isn't fully formed yet and it is not until proceedings jump forward twenty years that we get to see the Alf we know.

Sid's Place Rating
Rather awkwardly split into two halves, the film version of Till Death Us Do Part tends to be rather slow in places and doesn't really stand up to multiple viewings. 6 out of 10.

Many other sitcoms had the big-screen treatment during the late sixties and seventies including Nearest & Dearest, Please Sir, Love Thy Neighbour and Rising Damp.  The onset of the eighties saw the trend of turning small-screen comedies into big-screen films slowly die out but, then again, the whole British film industry had, by then, received the last rites.

With the film industry in Britain now on a much healthier footing, and with last year's The Inbetweeners Movie proving so popular at the box-office, will we see a return to those heady seventies days of our favourite sitcoms appearing on the silver screen? The answer is more than likely not.

The main stumbling block these days is the sad lack of quality comedy series on television, with TV executives seemingly obsessed with drama or - and this is a desperately sad indictment of today's television output - cheap reality/talent shows which make your teeth itch and your backside quiver.

Don't despair too much though. Just remember, whenever that hairy multi-millionaire Simon Cowell shoves another tone-deaf, talentless, spoon-fed spanner down our throats, we can always slip in a DVD of one of our favourite sitcom movie spin-offs.  

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Sitcom Movie Spin-offs

The recent rumours of a new Dad's Army movie have sent shivers down the spines of all true British comedy fans. To try to resurrect such an iconic franchise when the vast majority of the stars are no longer with us is bad enough but, in a move sure to anger fans still further, the producers want the character of Captain Mainwaring to be a woman. Don't misunderstand me here - I have nothing against female comedy characters - but search through your history books and find a female Captain of a Home Guard unit. Found one? No? I didn't think so.

Instead of dwelling on this aberration though, let's look back at a time when the British movie landscape was littered with big-screen versions of small-screen situation comedies.

Sitcoms were phenomenally popular on British television during the seventies and their huge ratings success led to enterprising film producers wondering whether they could repeat that success in cinemas - ironically using a television product to lure people away from their TV sets and back out into the film theatres.

Another factor in the rise of the sitcom movie was the gradual box-office decline of the Carry On films; once a bastion of the British film industry, these bawdy classics were starting to lose their appeal by 1972. British film comedy needed a shot in the arm and big-screen versions of familiar TV favourites seemed to provide the answer.

Whatever you may think of the quality of these films - and they range from very good all the way down to buttock-clenchingly awful - they were, in the main, huge successes at the box-office.

Let's take a look at a selection of these quintessentially British films now...

Up Pompeii (1971)

Starring Frankie Howerd, Patrick Cargill, Michael Horden, Bill Fraser, Lance Percival
Without a doubt this is the naughtiest of all the sitcom spin-offs, with lots of very near-the-knuckle jokes and a positive bounty of bare breasts swinging merrily across the screen. On the subject of breasts (which I could happily stay on for a long time), just what is it about the seventies movie mammary that was so glorious compared to those of today? I think I may have to research that a bit further.

The inimitable Frankie Howerd is on top form here and you really couldn't imagine anyone else playing the down trodden but resourceful slave Lurcio, who has a nice line in ready quips for any occasion.

Sid's Place Rating 
The combination of the legendary Frankie Howerd and a liberal dose of spicy double-entendres make for a winning formula. 7 out of 10.

On the Buses (1971)

Starring Reg Varney, Bob Grant, Stephen Lewis, Doris Hare, Anna Karen.
As the Carry On ship sailed into troubled waters, so too Hammer Films, another rock of the British film industry, began to find their popularity on the wane during the early part of the decade. Who would have thought the answer lay in a cheap and cheerful ITV sitcom? To say the movie version of On the Buses was a hit is an understatement - it was massive and led to two sequels. The comedy here is base to say the least and very non-PC but it's bloody funny!  

Sid's Place Rating
Toilet humour is very much the order of the day but I defy anyone not to raise a titter at least once. Manages to be fairly vulgar but still maintain an air of innocence. 7 out of 10.

Are You Being Served? (1977)

Starring John Inman, Mollie Sugden, Frank Thornton, Wendy Richard, Trevor Bannister
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear...just, oh dear! One of the worst sitcom movie spin-offs ever, Are You Being Served? The Movie makes On the Buses seem like Citizen Kane in comparison. Just the name of the holiday resort featured - Costa Plonka - tells you all you need to know. The original TV series was cheap and cheerful but it had a certain innocence about it. On the big screen, it's just cheap.

Sid's Place Rating
Best viewed in the early hours of the morning with beer and kebabs on stand-by. 4 out of 10.  

Bless This House (1972)

Starring Sid James, Diana Coupland, Terry Scott, June Whitfield, Peter Butterworth.
Starting in 1971, the original TV series of Bless This House was hugely popular and became the biggest television hit of the great Sid James' career. Considering his small screen CV already boasted Hancock's Half Hour, Citizen James and George and the Dragon, this was no mean feat. 

The big screen version is really a Carry On in all but name; directed by Gerald Thomas, produced by Peter Rogers and boasting a cast including Sid, Peter Butterworth, Terry Scott, June Whitfield, Bill Maynard and Patsy Rowlands. Unlike many big screen versions of TV comedies, Bless This House doesn't resort to sending its characters on holiday or putting them in unfamiliar situations. Instead it simply sticks to the formulae that made its small screen counterpart such a hit.

Sid's Place Rating
Probably my favourite of all the sitcom movie spin-offs, Sid James reigns supreme and is ably supported by a superb comedy cast. The perfect Sunday afternoon film.  8 out of 10

George and Mildred (1980)

Starring Yootha Joyce, Brian Murphy, Stratford Johns, Kenneth Cope
A late entry in the big screen sitcom stakes, George and Mildred was a flop at the box-office. Despite being a popular choice for ITV viewers, the film's weak performance in cinemas is understandable considering the death of Yootha Joyce just prior to its release. Yootha had been an alcoholic for many years and passed away, aged 53, from liver failure on 24th August 1980. Co-star Brian Murphy was at her hospital bedside.

Sid's Place Rating 
Although the sad circumstances surrounding the release of George and Mildred contributed to its poor performance at the box-office, the quality of the film is really not good with a lacklustre story involving George being mistaken for a hit-man. 5 out of 10    

Porridge (1979)

Starring Ronnie Barker, Richard Beckinsale, Fulton Mackay, Brian Wilde
The big-screen version of Porridge had a huge legacy to live up to. After all, the television series had been a huge hit with viewers and critics alike and was regarded as one of the greatest comedy series to ever come out of these shores. Could the film replicate that success? With a talent like Ronnie Barker aboard, you know you can't go far wrong. Sadly, this would be the last time audiences would have the opportunity to see Richard Beckinsale, as he sadly passed away soon after, aged just 31.

Sid's Place Rating
Despite not hitting the heights of the TV series, the film version of Porridge is a cut above others of its type and is undoubtedly the best of the big-screen sitcoms. 8 out of 10 

Come back soon for part two of Sitcom Movie Spin-offs featuring such comedies as the original Dad's Army, The Likely Lads and Steptoe & Son.