Carry On at your Convenience

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: Industrial relations at W.C. Boggs’ toilet factory go down the pan when the bosses’ callow son Lewis rubs militant steward Vic Spanner up the wrong way, resulting in the entire workforce going out on strike. Unfinished orders could mean the end of the factory, but a multitude of distractions leave little room for a common sense resolution.

Relations between the management and the workers at W.C. Boggs appear cordial enough, but Union representative Vic Spanner (Kenneth Cope) is permanently itching for a bit of class war and the slightest thing – such as the right to have a cuppa – can get him calling the staff out, though he usually gets his dim mate Bernie (Bernard Bresslaw) to do the shouting for him.

It doesn’t help that the bosses’ son Lewis (Richard O’Callaghan) is a bit of a Jack the Lad, or that they’re both after the same girl in flighty canteen worker Myrtle (Jacki Piper). A big order for bidets forces owner William Boggs (Kenneth Williams) to confront the future and also lean on foreman (and Myrtle’s father) Sid Plummer (Sid James) for financial assistance, courtesy of his bookie-bashing budgie; but when a row breaks out over demarcation, a strike is called which looks as though it could send the factory to the wall, even though the annual works outing to Brighton offers them all a chance to get loose – in some cases, very loose indeed.

Probably the nicest thing you can say about Carry On At Your Convenience is that despite being the definitive vehicle for ‘toilet humour’, it (mostly) resists making jokes about those particular bodily functions. Which isn’t the same as saying that it stays above the belt; a high percentage of the film’s jokes are well-worn double entendres wherein any reference to ‘it’ is an excuse to pun on sex, accompanied here by the characters laughing at their own naughtiness in case you didn’t realise you were supposed to laugh too.

Unfortunately, a roomful of people cackling is not funny in and of itself, and I get the feeling, given the weakness of the script, that their faces fell as soon as the camera stopped rolling. The main difficulty is the subject matter, for two reasons: firstly, the film takes up a decidedly anti-union stance (Spanner is, to use the vernacular, a spanner: lazy, hypocritical, idiotic, delusional), alienating the working classes that formed much of the Carry Ons natural audience; secondly, the trade union stuff doesn’t actually provide enough material to fill a half-hour sitcom, so the film has to scrabble around with bits and pieces to eke out the running time.

You get plenty of Renee Houston as Vic’s aggressive mum, though she’s nice as pie to effete designer Charles Coote – Charles Hawtrey wasted in a role that asks him to do little but play strip poker. You also get Patsy Rowlands’ Miss Withering, her passion for William Boggs finally bursting its banks, and Lewis bumbling hopelessly as he tries to make an impression on young Myrtle, a paranoid Vic never far behind. While too much time is given to Sid’s miraculous budgie, these sections are lucky to feature Hattie Jacques as Sid’s wife Beattie; her wonderful reading of distinctly average lines really brightens up otherwise staid passages.

You would reasonably assume, then, that the day out in Brighton is the ultimate time-filler, an excuse to bring seaside postcard humour back to the seaside; but while it doesn’t advance the strike storyline, it does further the romantic liaisons amongst the group, namely Lewis’ attempts to convince Myrtle he’s her man (she uses that poor dupe Vic to make him jealous), Sid’s pursuit of married neighbour Chloe (Joan Sims), and their interference in Mr Boggs’ future. The outing also highlights the limitations of the younger actors; Kenneth Cope makes for an unsympathetic and unamusing lead (I’ve seen enough of the Boulting brothers’ I’m Alright Jack to recognise that Spanner is essentially a caricatured reworking of Peter Sellers’ Fred Kite), while there’s little in O’Callaghan’s limp performance to suggest why (apart from his status) Lewis would be such a good catch for Myrtle – Piper is fine, though it’s difficult to go too far wrong when you’re doing little except running around in your pants.

On the other hand, the old hands are still game enough to lift the film out of the gutter: I’ve already mentioned Hattie, and Kenneth Williams is excellent as the very proper Mr Boggs – he plays drunk brilliantly. Opposite Williams, Patsy Rowlands is also effective, though she essentially has the same role as in the previous year’s Carry on Loving (she’s not the only one). Without Babs to chase, Sid James doesn’t have to do much except puff on his pipe and laugh in his trademark style, but he’s naturally affable and there’s something almost tender about his and Chloe’s unconsummated relationship.

The Carry On films were lucky enough to have two heydays, the first coming in the black and white days of innocent authority-prodding (Sergeant, Constable, Teacher), the second arriving with their wicked genre spoofs (Cleo, Cowboy, Up the Khyber, Screaming). However, when writer Talbot Rothwell tried to reflect modern society, he usually came unstuck; and his sour politicking, as much as his laboured innuendo, make At Your Convenience something of a chore. Worth catching on a Sunday afternoon, but only for the game efforts of the series’ stalwarts.

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