Carry On Dick

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: Deciding that something needs to be done about notorious highwayman ‘Big’ Dick Turpin, Sir Roger Daley sends his best Bow Street Runners to apprehend him. When their mission fails, big cheese Captain Fancey is dispatched to sort the matter out; however, his attempts to discover Dick’s identity are scuppered by the strangely unhelpful interventions of the local rector, Reverend Flasher.

Carry On aficionados will tell you that Carry On Dick is really the last hoorah for the team, featuring as it does the final performances from series stalwarts Hattie Jacques, Bernard Bresslaw and, missed most of all, Sid James. Whilst it is true that, Charles Hawtrey and Jim Dale apart, the rest of the gang are present and correct, this – the 26th film in the series – goes to show that the best comic actors in the world aren’t up to much if not provided with original material.

Sid James stars as the randy Highwayman, concealing his nefarious activities with a day job as a respectable rector, having fun with comely maid Harriet (Barbara Windsor) whilst dodging the desperate affections of willing organist Miss Hoggett (Hattie Jacques). Harriet doubles as one of ‘Big Dick’s’ accomplices – Peter Butterworth’s Tom is the other – and together they make the lives of the rich miserable, not least the repeatedly-targeted Sir Roger Daley (Bernard Bresslaw, assuming a gruff ‘acting’ voice to no particular purpose).

Daley, hell-bent on stemming the tide of lawlessness, first sends hapless Sergeant Jock Strapp (Jack Douglas) to sort out the problem, but he is easily outwitted; Captain Desmond Fancey (Kenneth Williams) is then put onto the case, but his plan of passing himself off as a robber to gain information constantly backfires, as Turpin/Flasher always seems to be one step ahead of the game. Even when Sir Roger takes personal charge of the case, he is no match for the old codger’s wiles.

And there, I’m afraid, is the key word: ‘old.’ I don’t know what sort of health Sid was in whilst filming Dick, but apart from the climactic chase around the church, his character is relatively static as he cackles his way through the film. In fact, Sid doesn’t have to do much at all except cackle; his trademark pursuit of Babs is already a fait accompli. This means that Kenneth Williams gets to do most of the running, and he is good too, trying out a couple of voices as he ham-fistedly attempts to go undercover in the notorious robber’s inn, The Old Cock*.

Unfortunately, Hattie Jacques is wasted completely, and Joan Sims’ long-in-the-tooth-Madame Desiree (complete with bevy of beauties) is forgotten about as the film winds up, though when she is on-screen her usual shtick – posh outward appearance hiding coarse East End vulgarity – works well enough. She is certainly more entertaining than Jack Douglas in full Alf Ippititimus mode: scarcely amusing in the modern day films, his twitchy, clumsy mannerisms are simply weird when placed in a period context. The rest of the cast also do their usual thing, Kenneth Connor taking a small role as the local constable, giving him the opportunity to say ‘Silly old con…stable!’ (which I quite enjoyed, especially as the line gets half-lost).

Talbot Rothwell’s script (this was his last film too) struggles to achieve any balance between jokes and plot, resulting in numerous scenes which are either one or the other. Good gags are few and far between, consisting of a procession of boob and willy jokes that quickly lose any impact with repetition – the ‘Big Dick’ line is done to death, as is a scene where Hattie has to keep pumping up her organ to keep the congregation going.

Elsewhere, there is an almost inevitable sense of over-familiarity, with old jokes and situations cropping up again, for example the grotesque vision of Sid, this time with Peter Butterworth in tow, in drag, recalling Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head (on a side note, the costumes appear to have been recycled from Don’t Lose Your Head too. This doesn’t mean they don’t look okay, as the production values are generally fine; but it adds to the feeling of déjà vu).

Carry On Dick is far from terrible and at 86 minutes won’t keep you too long, however it contains little that is likely to feature in many people’s Best of Carry On comedy moments, with even Babs’ flash of nudity containing an air of jaded sauciness, and several instances of proper (though concealed) swearing replacing innuendo. Last hoorah this may be, but all these last appearances really do is make you nostalgic for Carry Ons where both the cast and the jokes were much, much fresher.

NOTES: This is not just another saucy joke , contrary to expectations, but the genuine name of the inn where the real Turpin was known to stay. I would not, however, recommend typing ‘old cock’ into Google unless you’re prepared for all that entails.

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