WFTB Score: 6/20
The plot: Frustrated by their girlfriend’s refusal to further their relationships, friends Sid and Bernie hatch a plan to get them to a nudist campsite where fun and frolics will surely follow. However, when they arrive at ‘Paradise’, the campers are all clothed and some of them are a very odd bunch. Perhaps the arrival of a busload of naughty schoolgirls will brighten up their unpromising holiday.
Taking your reluctant dates to a naturist picture might seem a strange way to get them in the mood, especially when they storm out in protest; but it doesn’t stop Sid and Bernie (Sid James and Bernard Bresslaw) from scheming to get closer to, respectively, Joan and Anthea (Joan Sims and Dilys Laye) by luring them unwittingly to the film’s ‘Paradise’ campsite. When they get to the site – after stopping for Anthea to be sick – not only are they royally ripped off by owner Joshua Fiddler, but they find that the name is just a coincidence and all the patrons are fully clothed. Three such patrons are husband and wife Peter and Harriet Potter (Terry Scott and Betty Marsden), the former frustrated by the latter’s tendency to hear only what she wants to hear; and happy-go-lucky camp camper Charlie (Charles Hawtrey), who makes himself at home in the Potters’ tent.
Meanwhile, the uncouth girls of the Chayste Place Finishing School head towards the campsite, under the haughty noses of Dr Soaper and Matron Haggard (Kenneth Williams and Hattie Jacques). They stop off at a hostel on the way, where troublemakers Babs and Fanny (Barbara Windsor and Sandra Caron) throw Soaper and the Matron into compromising positions and spark nascent passion in her bosom. When the girls finally arrive at the campsite, they send Sid and Bernie into a spin and Joan and Anthea into a strop; although Soaper should be on hand to put a stop to any unwanted assignations, he has his hands very full with Miss Haggard, whose passions are building to an unstoppable peak.
The Carry Ons were churned out at quite a lick during the 1960s, and this one, sandwiched between Up the Khyber (commanding) and Again Doctor (mediocre, but not terminal), feels like a rush job to fill a gap. Carry On Camping has next to no plot, and the little it has is recycled from other films: Matron’s lust for Doctor Soaper is a direct lift from Carry On Doctor (the film quite charmingly admits as much) and Sid’s pursuit of Babs – well, that was pretty much all them, wasn’t it? Actually, the answer to that is no; at their best, the Carry Ons carried out their saucy jokes in the context of a parody, or at least the pretext of a narrative. Here, the one-note jokes about sex are almost all you get; and while there are chuckles to be had from the Potters tolerating Charlie, or Williams failing to contain his girls – resulting in the famous line, ‘Matron, take them away!’ – there’s very little of substance.
What’s more, Camping sees the gang beginning to show their age. It probably doesn’t help that the film was shot in the depths of winter – you can see breath condensing in the air – but there’s something faintly grotesque about the pale white bodies on show, not least Hawtrey’s spindly legs. For a film that centres on the pursuit of sex, it’s all distinctly unsexy: shrivelled, randy walnut Sid and his giant, gormless mate Bernie (girls can’t resist a combover, you know) chase girls who don’t look their supposed early thirties; while Babs, in her thirties at the time, doesn’t remotely resemble a schoolgirl.
More tellingly still, the film’s climax demonstrates a distinct hatred of the era’s cultural events, presumably because Free Love renders nudging innuendo redundant: when a group of genuine youngsters dare to show up and have a good time to groovy music (which actually sounds like The Shadows, but never mind), the characters gang up on them, forcibly dragging them out of the field and – to be blunt – spraying them with liquid shit. That’ll teach you, hippies! At the same time as rejecting the Summer of Love, Talbot Rothwell’s script has no truck with Women’s Lib: Joan and Anthea, abused throughout and cruelly overlooked once Babs and Fanny pitch up, suddenly surrender to their men’s charms. Implausible and, not that it’s worth taking the film so seriously, actually quite insulting.
Which, perhaps surprisingly, is not to say that Camping is completely without merit. Sid and Bernie do their shtick well enough, while Ken and Hattie reprise their over-familiar roles to decent effect and Hawtrey is amusing as always. Peter Butterworth, as usual, does his best with a small part, and I particularly like Terry Scott’s deadpan sarcasm; Marsden is also memorable as his self-obsessed, unlistening wife, even if her initially amusing laugh starts to grate long before the end of the film. However, Sims is woefully underused (a great comic actress, Rothwell repeatedly gave her awful nags to play) and, despite her bikini-busting moment, Windsor isn’t much better served.
Still, audiences at the time didn’t seem to mind: thanks in part, no doubt, to the sneaky trick of starting the film with nudist camp footage, Carry On Camping was apparently the UK’s highest grossing film of 1969. Fans of sauce may rate this film highly, but I prefer a little sauce to flavour a lot of meat; this film has the proportions the other way round, and inevitably feels dated and inconsequential as a result.