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.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Carry On Profile - Liz Fraser

With a career spanning nearly sixty years and having worked with some of the biggest names in British comedy history, Liz Fraser still remains, remarkably, a most underrated comedy actress. Despite being instantly recognisable whenever she appears on screen, her name is rarely mentioned when talk turns to the great female comedy stars of the last fifty years. With her autobiography Liz Fraser...and Other Characters now available, that situation will hopefully change.

Perfect Comedic Foil
Born Elizabeth Winch in 1930, London girl Liz made her debut in the 1955 comedy film Touch and Go starring Jack Hawkins. Her blonde hair, pretty looks and slinky figure made her a perfect comedic foil for some of the great comedy talents of the day and she soon found herself playing a number of different roles in Hancock's Half Hour on television. These parts were normally just variants of a particular type - that of the brassy blonde with a big mouth - but Liz Fraser brought a warmth to them that made the characters likeable. After the notoriously fickle Tony Hancock began to systematically dismantle the component parts of his success - even Sid James and writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson weren't immune - Liz found herself with a major role in Galton and Simpson's new television project for Sid, Citizen James. Despite a seventeen year age gap between the two in real life, Liz played the part of Sid's long-suffering girlfriend (also called Liz), forever putting up with his nefarious schemes and bailing him out of trouble with the police. The two stars sparked off each other nicely and it was a real shame when, after Galton and Simpson dropped out after one series, Liz was written out.

Perhaps it is the fact that Liz Fraser has never had a long-running role in a television series which has stopped her getting the recognition she truly deserves. June Whitfield, a character actress of similar longevity to Liz, is now revered as a national institution but she did spend many years as co-star to Terry Scott in Happy Ever After and Terry and June.

Carry On Liz
Despite roles in such comedy classics as I'm Alright Jack, Two Way Stretch and Double Bunk, Liz Fraser is undoubtedly best remembered for her appearances in the Carry On series. Making her debut in Carry On Regardless in 1961, Liz was perhaps the prototype for the dizzy blonde character portrayed later by Barbara Windsor, although Fraser was always much more subtle. Her next series appearance came in colour in the final Carry On to be scripted by Norman Hudis, Carry On Cruising. As with Regardless, Liz Fraser's role in Cruising was mainly straight, playing foil to Dilys Laye. In 1963, Liz played the role of Kenneth Connor's girlfriend Sally in Carry On Cabby. Unfortunately, due to an innocent remark made by Liz being taken the wrong way by producer Peter Rogers, Liz was then dropped from the Carry On series and would not appear in the franchise again until Carry On Behind in 1975.

Liz Fraser is much more than just your average dizzy screen blonde and you can now read about her entire career in her autobiography Liz Fraser...and Other Characters available below.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Hancock's Half Hour - Lost Episode Discovered

Thanks to the late, great Bob Monkhouse, whose personal archives this was discovered in, you can know listen to a special Hancock's Half Hour radio sketch thought lost for 54 years.

With the London 2012 Olympics in full swing, the timing of the discovery is perfect as the subject of this Hancock special is the 1958 Cardiff Commonwealth Games, as this site's hero Sid James sells Hancock and Bill Kerr dodgy tickets.

Make sure you listen as soon as you can as I'm not sure how long this will remain on the BBC iPlayer.

Give yourself a treat and have a listen to this long-lost gem.

The lad himself Tony Hancock with Sid James and Bill Kerr


Thursday, 12 July 2012

Carry On Photo Gallery - Simply Sid

Here are some lovely, rarely seen photos of Sid James.

Sid and his wife Val at the wedding of Tommy Steele

Sid with daughter Reine c.1955

Two legends together - Sid with Margaret Rutherford

A delightful publicity shot for Citizen James - Bill Kerr, Liz Fraser and Sid

Sharing a joke with Hattie Jacques and Tony Hancock

Hancock, Sid and the crew find something interesting to watch

Sid tries out a brand new Rover for comfort

Sid goes ape for his new friend!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Great Carry On Moments No. 2

Another wonderful moment from Carry On history.

No.2  Down Wiv 'Em!

Released in 1971, Carry On At Your Convenience has the unfortunate distinction of the being the first film in the series to not be a success at the box-office. In fact, it took at least five years after initial release for Convenience to break even. Hindsight is a wonderful thing of course; the core Carry On audience consisted of everyday working class folk, many of whom were members of the very same type of trade unions that the film went out of its way to lampoon.

Nowadays, Carry On At Your Convenience is regarded as a classic entry in the series and rightly so. Apart perhaps from Camping, Convenience sums up the glorious world of Carry On more than any other film. Crammed full of wonderfully juicy double-entendres and evoking memories of 'kiss me quick' type holidays at the British seaside with its scenes of the gang letting rip on Brighton pier, it seems At Your Convenience could be called the ultimate Carry On.

If I personally had to choose one moment from any of the series to best sum up what  the Carry Ons were all about, it would have to be the uproariously funny scene from At Your Convenience, set in the canteen of W.C.Boggs & Son as union rep Vic Spanner (Kenneth Cope) tries to persuade his fellow workers to join him in another official strike. After the resolve of the male members of the workforce weakens upon hearing that "the Rovers are playing at home this afternoon", it is up to Chloe Moore (the ever-wonderful Joan Sims) to prick the pomposity of Spanner with some quick-witted, saucy put-downs.

As Spanner's slow-witted but likeable friend Bernie (Bernard Bresslaw) dutifully shouts "Down wiv 'em!" at every opportunity, the group is soon joined by manager Lewis Boggs (Richard O'Callaghan) and works foreman Sid Plumber (Sid James). It is when Sid enters the fray and begins to spark off Joan Sims that the scene really begins to fire on all cylinders.

The wonderful chemistry between these two Carry On giants is never more evident than in At Your Convenience, particularly during this scene as they take turns in firing off cheeky one-liners to the delight of the rest of the workforce and us viewers. Watching this piece back, it seems as if the entire cast present are genuinely enjoying the moment. For the sheer amount of classic gags shoe-horned in by Talbot Rothwell, delivered impeccably by Sid James, Joan Sims, Kenneth Cope and Bernard Bresslaw, this scene from the canteen is undoubtedly one of the best in Carry On history.

Here's a reminder of some of the choice dialogue from this classic Carry On moment.

Spanner: It's another little prod at the very vitals of your personal freedom!
Chloe: I 'aven't noticed anyone prodding at my vitals!

Spanner: I seem to remember that you got very upset when they tried to ban you women from wearing trousers. What do you say to that?
Bernie: Down wiv 'em! 

Spanner: Drinking is a natural need, is it not?
Sid: So's sex, but that doesn't mean they have to lay on crumpet!

Spanner: Are we or are we not gonna get what we want?
Sid: That's up to Mrs Moore!
Spanner: I mean on the factory floor!
Chloe: Not ruddy likely!

Lewis Boggs: Alright, that's enough fun. Let's get down to business.
Chloe: Sounds just like my old man!