Carry On Abroad

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: A rag-tag group of holidaymakers head for sun, sangria and sauciness in the Spanish resort of Elsbels. Problem is, the hotel’s not finished, there’s hardly anyone to serve them, there’s nothing to see and even the weather doesn’t play along. No wonder even the saintly minds of men of the cloth turn to a bit of the other.

Crafty landlord Vic Flange (Sid James) is desperate to get away for a holiday, but that’s less to do with the hectoring of his wife Cora (Joan Sims) than the charms of regular punter Sadie Tomkins (Barbara Windsor). When Cora catches on that by impure coincidence Sadie, like Vic, is taking a trip to Elsbels, she insists on tagging along too, marching her husband down the travel agents to join the package holiday organised by rep Stuart Farquhar (Kenneth Williams) and his leggy assistant Miss Plunkett (Gail Grainger).

Also climbing on board are good-time girls Lily and Marge (Sally Geeson and Carol Hawkins), one of whom catches the eye of would-be monk Brother Bernard (Bresslaw). The frisky mood of the party is taken up by frustrated husband Stanley Blunt (Kenneth Connor), who later takes a shine to Cora because his wife Evelyn (June Whitfield) has no truck with his amorous advances – while she’s sober, at any rate.

Meanwhile, fellow voyager Bert Conway (Jimmy Logan) makes his own ardent advances towards Sadie; effeminate Robin (John Clive) has a series of hissy fits with his friend Nicholas; and mummy’s boy Eustace Tuttle (Charles Hawtrey) is happy to keep himself to himself, so long as he has a bottle for company. The holidaymakers are all in the mood for a good time, which is a shame since the hotel they’re staying in is still a building site, with the Brits forced to share bathrooms and rely on the harassed staff: manager/porter/receptionist Pepe (Peter Butterworth), exasperated chef Floella (Hattie Jacques) and their lothario waiter son Giorgio (Ray Brooks). If they’re not quite set to endure the holiday from hell, the tourists certainly have to make their own fun in Elsbels, even if their idea of a fun day out lands them in jail.

I’ve seen enough Carry Ons now to have a pretty good idea of how the series pans out, and Carry On Abroad fits entirely predictably into the pattern of the later movies. Which is to say, not having a genre or specific film to parody, or pompous authority figures to lampoon, the film instead deals with a slightly drab aspect of 70s British life and unsurprisingly struggles for laughs as a result.

The problem is best exemplified by a summary of what happens in the film: the party take a coach trip to the airport, arrive at the unfinished Palace Hotel and have dinner; have a morning’s sunbathing; take a trip into town which turns – tee hee – into a bunfight and arrests; and a farewell party enlivened by an overdose of love potion and cut short by natural disasters (depressingly, the plot of Carry on Behind is almost identical).

Within this desperately thin frame, Sid carries on his usual doomed wooing of Babs (to Joan‘s swivel-eyed disapproval), Ken is as scared of Miss Plunkett as enamoured of her, Peter goes increasingly mental as events spiral out of control, and Charles drinks his way through the entire film. All of this is done on a typically minuscule budget, of course, so the air travel is stock footage and there’s no chance of the gang getting near a real beach.

As one of the later Carry Ons there are other difficulties too: Talbot Rothwell’s script is high on ladies in (and out of) brassieres, lazy double entendres and references to ’it’, and low on invention and wit. Everyone looks a bit long in the tooth, not least Sid, Babs and Charles Hawtrey (indeed, this was his final appearance in the series); and some of the troupe are criminally underused, not least Hattie Jacques who is reduced to flannelling in the kitchen and sweating over the ‘bloodings’ stove. Furthermore, the new faces, such as John Clive and Scottish entertainer Jimmy Logan, fail to make much of an impression – or rather, their characters are so flatly written that they don’t stand a chance.

Carry on Abroad is not a complete loss; at least Jacques is in it, Jack Douglas merely bookends the piece, and whilst it’s surprisingly explicit (after this long, there’s nowhere for Babs to go except completely naked), it narrowly avoids the hopelessly unamusing smut of Girls and Emmannuelle. On the other hand, this is not even half as good as a Khyber or a Cleo; anyone who says otherwise is trading on pure nostalgia and would be well advised to revisit the good ol’ days.

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