Tag Archives: Carry On

Carry On England

WFTB Score: 3/20

The plot: In 1940, Captain Melly is sent to sort out a dysfunctional mixed battery which is in no fit state to be trusted with a real gun. With vocal Sergeant Major ‘Tiger’ Bloomer at his side, he plans to put a stop to the overfriendly relations between male and female personnel. Sergeants (and sweethearts) Willing and Able value the battery’s unique arrangement and come up with a series of sneaky countermeasures.

With the Battle of Britain looming on the horizon, the army needs its men and women to have their minds on the job – the job of defending the country, that is, not the one uppermost in the minds of the male squaddies and females of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) who work, rest and…er, play cheek by jowl in their experimental mixed-sex battery. Captain S. Melly (Kenneth Connor) is dispatched to get the rabble into fighting shape, but he quickly finds out that it’s going to be a very tricky job, because the men and women of the unit are unsurprisingly comfortable with their intimate arrangements.

The ploy of getting Sergeant Major Bloomer (Windsor Davies) to shout them into submission fails, largely because he’s got Private Ffoukes-Sharpe (Joan Sims) chasing him around the place; and Melly’s all-out war on cohabitation faces resistance from all sides, not least Sergeants Willing and Able (Judy Geeson and Patrick Mower), backed up by Bombardier Ready and Private Easy (Jack Douglas and Diana Langton). Events quickly escalate as Melly becomes more power-crazed and puts barbed wire between the barracks, while the lower ranks fight back with underhand – you might say dirty – tactics. Hopefully, the boys and girls will be able to pull together when Goering’s Luftwaffe arrives.

Many Carry On fans cite England as their least favourite film in the series, and it’s not hard to see why. For while it never plumbs the depths of the desperate Emmannuelle, that film at least had the vaguest notion of an edge, of sauce, of parody, however limply delivered. And it had Kenneth Williams. Carry on England is propelled by the combined star power of Kenneth Connor, weedy and blustering, Jack Douglas, twitching manfully away, and Windsor Davies, reprising his shouty role from sitcom It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (with little Melvyn Hayes in tow).

There’s also Diana Langton coming on like a cut-price brunette Babs Windsor and Patrick Mower failing to exhibit a shred of comic prowess (he’s since found his niche as a lothario in Emmerdale), together with Joan Sims in a role which doesn’t call for much range and Peter Butterworth in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. Judy Geeson doesn’t do an awful lot, but relatively speaking she’s a rare bright spot in a distinctly unimpressive cast list.

However, the real problem with England lies not with the cast but the dreadful script penned by David Pursall and Jack Seddon, which takes a semi-decent idea (the ‘Home Front’ kept Dad’s Army going for ten years, after all) and ruins the whole premise with unrelentingly juvenile jokes. For example, just consider how weak a joke calling your lead character ‘S.Melly’ is – it’s the sort of thing a 10-year-old would raise a weary eyebrow at. Barely more palatable are the weak puns dished out by Peter Jones’ bumptious Brigadier – yes, they’re deliberately poor, but they’re no less dull for being dull on purpose.

And things are no better away from the wordplay, since nearly all the movie’s comedy is based around the humiliations dished out to Melly: getting knocked over, losing his clothes, getting knocked into a bin, using joke soap, getting knocked into something very smelly, having to wear women’s clothes, getting knocked down by the anti-aircraft gun, and so on. There’s some laborious business around the digging of tunnels and two or three minutes of dubious storyline where the previously-useless troops miraculously down four enemy planes, and then a daft Churchill-related joke wraps it all up.

I’m genuinely struggling to think of a line that made me so much as smile, but I suppose ‘How did he get into our army?’ got close-ish. Which is scarcely a glowing recommendation. Oh, and lest I forget, there’s a short scene of toplessness from five ATS women which is neither sexy nor funny, and serves no purpose other than to show how desperate the producers were to offer something for filmgoers hardened up (if you will) by the Confessions Of… movies.

Perhaps the pithiest review of Carry On England is offered by the film’s DVD and video cases. Above the title are smiling caricatures of the stars of Carry On: Bernard Bresslaw, Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims, Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques, Jim Dale and Charles Hawtrey: in this movie, all you get is a bit of Joan, and she’s not used extensively or particularly well (though that’s not altogether atypical). With such a horrible script, it’s hard to credit that England would have been any good with the whole crew alive and present; but the loss of nearly all the stars certainly plays its part in this film being but a tiny fraction as good as the series in its pomp. One, I’m afraid, for completists, masochists and insomniacs.

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Carry On Doctor

WFTB Score: 11/20

The plot: Hapless Dr Kilmore struggles to maintain his composure, reputation and job in the face of the sneering authoritarianism of Dr Kenneth Tinkle and formidable matron Lavinia. As secret passions boil away in the wards, the majority of the inpatients do their best to recover; but when Kilmore is unjustly removed, they are forced to take direct action.

When the mind over matter techniques of dodgy faith dealer Francis Bigger (Frankie Howerd) can’t stop him landing straight on his coccyx, he earns a stay in the male ward of the local hospital, between committed malingerer and wife-avoider Mr Roper (Sid James) and Mr Barron (Charles Hawtrey), suffering a pregnancy on behalf of his uncomplaining wife. Comings and goings in the ward, especially Mr Biddle’s (Bernard Bresslaw) insistence on visiting female patient Mavis (Dilys Laye), soon send Bigger into a private room, where he mistakenly comes to believe he only has a week to live.

Amongst the staff, meanwhile, pretty Nurse Clarke (Anita Harris) has the hots for popular Dr Kilmore (Jim Dale), and in the bosom of Matron (Hattie Jacques) lies a passion for ruthless senior physician Dr Kenneth Tinkle (Ken Williams). However, the arrival of Sandra May (Barbara Windsor), her chest bursting with gratitude for Tinkle because he previously saved her life, upsets the apple cart. Against hospital rules, she’s caught in his room; so Tinkle and matron hatch a plan to literally make Kilmore the fall guy. Roper and Biddle are outraged by Kilmore’s unfair dismissal, and with a little help from Nurse Clarke they prepare a patients’ mutiny to make Matron and Tinkle pay for their haughty ways.

It may be because the quirks of the National Health Service are fondly mocked by the British; or it may be because TV show Dr Kildare and the Doctor films (directed by Ralph Thomas, Gerald’s brother), complete with portrait of James Robertson Justice, loom large; or it could be because the Carry Ons made hospitals their second home (starting with Nurse, they also made Matron and Again Doctor); but Carry On Doctor feels to me like the archetypal Carry On.

In particular, Kenneth Williams is right at home as the snooty, superior, yet still bungling senior doctor who rubs everyone up the wrong way. Everyone, that is, except the secretly lustful Matron, played beautifully by Jacques. The chemistry between them (see Jacques laughing when they bump noses) provides much-needed underpinning, given the unconvincing business of Babs‘ infatuation with Kenneth, Kilmore’s disgrace and redemption, and the relatively flimsy storylines given to the rest of the cast.

Since much of the ‘action’ of Doctor is by its very nature static (Sid James, recovering from a heart attack, stays in bed most of the time), it’s lucky that the film has a couple of tricks up its sleeve. Firstly, it benefits greatly from a barnstorming performance by Frankie Howerd, his high-pitched incredulity and eye-rolling sarcasm adding a new dimension to the regular Carry On cast (Dandy Nichols, too, has a funny cameo as the garrulous Mrs Roper).

Secondly and more importantly, while Talbot Rothwell’s script may be light on plot, it’s absolutely packed with gags: silly ones, like the fully bandaged man who turns out to be invisible (’Oo, I still don’t like the look of him!’ Tinkle says); saucy ones, like Lavinia throwing herself at Kenneth, the daffodil (an in-joke harking back to Nurse), or Kilmore’s adventures on the roof; or more traditional fare, like the chaotic weddding of Bigger and his deaf companion Chloe (Joan Sims, superb and underused as usual), conducted by an equally mutton chaplain. There’s easily enough genuinely clever material to forgive lazy jokes such as (as happens more than once) looking under a sheet and exclaiming ‘That’s a big one!’

Inevitably, the passage of time means that it’s impossible to look at some aspects of Carry On films in the way their original audience saw them. In particular, the treatment of Babs Windsor’s trainee nurse here is dolly-birdism of the worst kind. She receives the ultimate ‘Phwoooar!” from a leering ambulance driver, takes her clothes off to sunbathe, then promptly disappears from the film.By contrast, Jacques is called a ‘battleship’ and other older ladies are referred to as ‘cows.’ Matron’s rough-house treatment at the hand of the female patients is also more suited to army barracks than a hospital, though this is at least Equal Opportunities humiliation since Tinkle is treated no better (indeed, he’s almost tortured!). It’s not worth getting too hung up on such things, but there is a slight feeling that the film is designed exclusively for working-class men, a feeling you don’t get in superior series entries such as Don’t Lose Your Head or Carry On Up the Khyber.

But the film is what it is: and what it is, for the most part, is funny. Carry On Doctor isn’t the most exciting of the series by a long shot, but its hit-rate of jokes ensures that you simply don’t have time to get bored. Although they don’t all play as full a part as they might, all the gang are here – joyously, the film pre-dates Jack Douglas – and they are all on top form with Rothwell’s material. Carry On Doctor has a few ills of its own, but as long as you’re immune to rank sexism, it’ll cheer you up on a miserable day.

Carry on Constable

WFTB Score: 10/20

The plot: London’s thin blue line is stretched to the limit by a ‘flu epidemic, forcing one station to bring in a rum bunch of raw recruits. As the rookies get themselves into a series of disastrous scrapes and singularly fail to keep law or order, the put-upon sergeant – already fed up with his Inspector – wonders whether he’d be better off with an empty station.

When ‘flu hits the cop shop run by fish-loving Inspector Mills (Eric Barker), he puts the pressure on Sergeant Wilkins (Sid James) to come up with a solution, threatening to transfer him sharpish if he fails. Unfortunately, the solution that presents itself at the station’s front desk is less than promising: superior Stanley Benson (Kenneth Williams), convinced that phrenology holds the key to identifying criminal types; superstitious, cannily-named astrologer/astrologist Charlie Constable (Kenneth Connor); and upper-crust Tom Potter (Leslie Phillips), a man with an eye for the ladies but not necessarily much of a knack for policing.

The troublesome trio are joined by budgie-fancying Special Constable Gorse (Charles Hawtrey) and super-efficient WPC Gloria Passworthy (Joan Sims), who makes Sgt Moon (Hattie Jacques) suspicious and gives Constable Constable some very unprofessional ideas – so long as she’s a Virgo, that is.

As the new recruits are put up in their compact lodgings (the cells!) and put through their paces, they prove to be as much of a hindrance to Wilkins as a help, with Benson and Gorse dragging up, Some Like It Hot-style, to catch shoplifters and Potter spending more time giving relationship advice than preventing crime. But there are a bunch of bank robbers hiding out in the area, and with the pressure on to bring them – or anyone – to book, the new recruits spy a chance to prove to Mills that they’re not completely useless.

You could, if you squint in a certain way, see Carry On Constable as a precursor to Police Academy; however, though the plot is essentially similar, the films are worlds apart in their sensibilities, as indeed is this fledgling effort (number 4 in the series) to the later Carry On films. Other than a few tantalising glimpses of young lady flesh, and rather more male nudity, the comedy is of a much more genteel nature than the series’ 1970s efforts, which is a double-edged sword: there are sequences that come across as merely daft rather than funny, and a few that don’t work at all (mostly the dog-walking larks); but on the upside, the amount of care that writer Norman Hudis has put in to creating lively, funny and credible characters is something that Williams, James, Connor et al would surely have killed for in the later efforts.

Williams has an absolute ball as the snooty officer who thinks he knows everything but is constantly made to look foolish, whilst Leslie Phillips, admittedly playing to type, enjoys cosying up to Shirley Eaton’s confused young lover and anyone else in a skirt. Sid James, in his first Carry On (and pre-Babs chasing), is marvellously down-to-earth and Hawtrey shows just how good he could be before his parts were written around his drinking: ‘Priceless innuendo, how witty!’ he observes joyously during a raucous parade. On top of these game performances and those of Jacques, Sims and others, there are wonderful cameo appearances from the likes of Joan Hickson as a friendly old soak and Esma Cannon as (what else?) an old dear Benson unwillingly drags across the road.

Impressively, the film also manages to squeeze in a half-decent action story as by pure luck the novices stumble onto the robbers’ hideaway; plus, there’s a nicely cynical attitude towards work hierarchy (the inspector takes all the credit and none of the blame) and a clutch of rather sweet matches made during the happy ending – happy for everyone, that is, except Barker’s Mills, the authority figure who gets the short straw and is perhaps the least effective presence, though it’s equally likely that I’m not familiar enough with Eric Barker’s considerable body of work to appreciate his comparatively mannered style.

In my callow youth I associated older films, especially those in black and white, with a sort of corny, unsophisticated comedy (possibly based on snippets of Will Hay and Norman Wisdom films). Having seen movies such as Passport to Pimlico, The Ladykillers and Alastair Sim’s Scrooge, I now know what a simplistic view that was. I wouldn’t claim that Carry On Constable is the equal of any of those British greats; neither has it the lively spirit of the series in its mid- to late-sixties stride. However, it is charming whilst being winkingly daring and the cast’s energy knocks spots off the lethargic, lazy motions of the Carry Ons’ later years.

Carry On Again Doctor

WFTB Score: 8/20

The plot: Dr Nookey, having made a nuisance of himself in pursuit of glamorous patient Goldie Locks, is exiled to the poorly-named Beatific Islands to man a privately-funded hospital. He doesn’t find many patients and loses himself in drink and misery until his companion, Dr Gladstone Screwer, alerts him to a miracle weight-loss serum. Hot-footing it back to England, Dr Nookey opens his own incredibly successful clinic, much to the chagrin of former boss Mr Carver, who will use any means at his disposal to discover Nookey’s secret.

Though in no sense a formal sequel to any of the other medical Carry Ons, there is nonetheless an inevitable sense of familiarity about goings-on in Carry On Again Doctor. Kenneth Williams is once more the snooty superior, this time Frederick Carver, a surgeon desperate to get his healing hands on the bulging purse of widowed private patient Ellen Moore (Joan Sims). Jim Dale is another clumsy doctor – Dr Nookey, causing mayhem with Longhampton Hospital’s electricity supply as he tries to impress model Goldie Locks (Barbara Windsor). And Hattie Jacques is again tasked – not for the last time – with wearing a look of semi-permanent outrage as she fills her matron’s uniform.

When Nookey, inebriated by the naughty tricks of Dr Stoppidge (Charles Hawtrey), terrifies an already nervous patient and goes on the rampage in the hospital, Carver takes his chance to get rid of him and ingratiate himself with the wealthy widow at the same time; Nookey is exiled to the rain-and-windswept Beatific Islands where he encounters Sid James’s Dr Gladstone Screwer, head of Mrs Moore’s charitable mission. Gladstone has little to do but live up to his surname with wives Monday to Friday, but although the offer of a wife doesn’t cheer Nookey up much, the transformation of the proposed bride from an overweight heifer to a trim tease in a week immediately sets pound signs flashing in his eyes.

Nookey returns to set up a lucrative clinic in England with the assistance of Mrs Moore, who, along with Goldie, is booked in for treatment; Carver, returning from his own hellish trip to the Beatific Islands, learns of the arrangement with horror and sends Stoppidge out in drag to find out the serum’s secret; that secret, and the cash it attracts, also brings Gladstone to England.

Featuring the full complement of knowing nudge-winkery and bright performances from most of the series regulars, Carry On Again Doctor is an enjoyable addition to the series, if not one from the top drawer. Jim Dale’s Nookey is the main focus of the plot and whilst he is perfectly amiable, Dale is not quite up to the mark; to be fair to him the character is hopelessly overloaded, required to be simultaneously clever, clumsy, randy, devious, cheeky and handsome; but the performance reflects this, borrowing Norman Wisdom’s mannerisms one minute, copying Sid’s laugh the next, and having him aggressively pursue Goldie just after he has shied away from the prominent sexuality of Valerie Leon’s secretary.

As if in sympathy, the plot is more than usually shambolic, and whilst the jokes still come thick and fast, with a number of gems (such as Gladstone getting the football scores via jungle drums) buried amongst the usual ‘having it’/’fancy a bit’ innuendo, there is something amiss in the characters’ interactions. Ellen Moore’s interest in Dr Nookey is underplayed and crucially Goldie seems to dislike him throughout, making the sudden ending (one of the series’ weakest) all the harder to take.

The fact that Sid only turns up amongst the rest of the cast late on deprives the film of much of the Carry Ons trademark lechery, which I am increasingly coming to realise trades on the chemistry – however uncomfortable it may be to watch – that exists between Sid and Barbara. It should also be said that whilst Williams is superbly imperious (and spared the indignities of some of the later efforts), Sims and Hawtrey do occasionally seem a little unfocused. At least Peter Butterworth is limited to a (very funny) walk-on, and Jack Douglas is missing entirely.

Carry On Again Doctor, despite its title, manages to mix up its unthinkingly sexist formula with some good new gags, even if some of the characterisations are as unbalanced as the storyline. Wisely expanding the doctors’ horizons far outside of the wards, this is far from Talbot Rothwell’s worst script and the leading lights of the series do it justice, with production values to match (the X-ray effect is particularly well done). Cheerful, and not too cheap.

Carry On Emmannuelle

WFTB Score: 3/20

The plot: Emmannuelle Prevert, wife of the French ambassador to Britain, arrives to be with her husband only to find he is unwilling to make love to her. Luckily, she has willing replacements queuing up to provide satisfaction, and one admirer in particular who will go to any lengths to be with her.

Poor Carry Ons. At one time creators of beloved British comedies, by the late 1970s producer Peter Rogers’ and director Gerald Thomas’ fun-loving franchise had been supplanted, at least in the sauciness stakes, by the bawdy Adventures Of… and Confessions Of… series. Rather than rise above it all, Emmannuelle sees some venerable British actors parody European softcore porn (note the extra, lawyer-neutering ‘n’), dragging the whole Carry On series conclusively into the gutter, ignoring – as everyone should – 1992’s wretched Carry On Columbus.

It is not as if the idea is without potential, but writer Lance Peters has fashioned a script of such witlessness that the combined talents of Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims, Kenneth Connor and Jack Douglas are powerless to save it. From the start, where our heroine initiates terrified mummy’s boy Theodore Valentine into the mile-high club, raising the nose on Concorde, the whole film feels shoddy and cheap.

Williams has a horrible time as the French Ambassador. The plot requires that he should be unable to make love due to a naked parachuting accident, so instead he spends his time weightlifting. For this he spends an inordinate amount of screen time either naked or semi-naked, and whilst a naked Kenneth Williams was probably never an enthralling sight, and admitting that he looks okay for fifty-plus, it is an indictment of the film’s ghastliness that we should be faced with his bare bum for laughs. Sadly, no effort is made by the script to use his better-known talents and even his best line, ‘I’m completely bent!’ is something of an in-joke.

Suzanne Danielle does a fair job in the title role, displaying perhaps not the facial attractiveness of Sylvia Kristel but comfortable with the nudity asked of her. Unfortunately she is no comedienne, though you would defy anyone to raise many laughs with the role; this Emmannuelle is so nymphomaniacal as to be mentally unhinged, which must have been more funny peculiar than funny ha-ha even in 1978.

Once arrived in London, the film has no idea what to do with Emmannuelle, so sends her around the city pleasuring everyone she meets: the prime minister, a judge, the butler, a football team, the referee, so on and so forth; she is followed by the besotted Theodore (Larry Dann, emerging from small roles in previous films to be utterly boring here) who later ineffectually threatens blackmail. The only point of interest, really, is that he doesn’t have to follow her into a clap clinic.

When Emmannuelle or her husband are not naked, the time is filled by Sims, Douglas, Connor and Peter Butterworth as the Embassy staff, swapping unfunny memories or puerile dialogue (Beryl Reid pops up as Mrs Valentine but says nothing funny); even worse, there are ‘comedy’ appearances by such sitcom stereotypes as a mincing, effeminate poof and two (count ’em!) head-wobbling Indians, one of whom is a doctor who gets Williams naked (again) and solves all his sexual problems by getting the nurse to show off her tits. I would be more measured, but I am imagining the mindset of the writer who considers all that to be film-worthy comedy.

The film concludes with the ambassador announcing to his delighted, pregnant wife that he has swapped her Pill for fertility pills, the plan being that motherhood will make her faithful; cut to the maternity hospital with six babies and a room chock-full of potential fathers, all cheering Emmannuelle along. This just about completes the list: Carry On Emmannuelle is racist, homophobic, insulting to women, and – worst offence of all – never funny. None of the Carry Ons were particularly PC, and some were very patchy, but most were at least occasionally amusing. The bareness of this film in that respect and many others is a very sad send-off.

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.

Carry on Follow that Camel

WFTB Score: 9/20

The plot: Shamed by accusations of cheating at cricket, Bertram ‘Bo’ West and his faithful butler Simpson head off to Africa to join the French Foreign legion. Although life is initially harsh, they soon get one over on their vainglorious leader, Sergeant Nocker, though the freedom this gives Bo gets them all into trouble. Worse, Bo’s beloved Jane follows him out to the desert to tell him that the whole thing is a ghastly mistake and gets herself lined up as wife no. 13 to a sabre-rattling Sheik.

I’m willing to bet Lombard Street to a China orange that if you took a survey of the general public nowadays four-fifths wouldn’t have a clue who Beau Geste or the French Foreign Legion were, and of the fifth that could tell you something more than half would mention Follow That Camel, the Carry On team’s take on P.C. Wren’s British hero (like Don’t Lose Your Head, the ‘Carry On’ bit was only added later after studio wrangling).

Bertram Oliphant ‘Bo’ West (Jim Dale) is our hero, who does the decent thing and heads off for the Legion when his ‘friend’ Humphrey, enamoured with Bo’s beau Jane (Angela Douglas), accuses Bo of tripping him up at the crease. With his faithful servant Simpson (Peter Butterworth) for company, West joins up and is introduced to the Fort’s hierarchy: effete Captain Lepice (Charles Hawtrey) and monocled German Commandant Maximilian Burger (Kenneth Williams). Bo, used to a nice breakfast and being dressed by others, struggles to adapt to the harshness of Legion life and incurs the wrath of waspish Colour Sergeant Nocker (Phil Silvers); until, that is, he discovers that Nocker is earning his stripes by telling tall tales of bravery when in fact he is cosily ensconced in the bar run by Zig-Zig (Joan Sims).

Armed with this information, Bo and Simpson’s lives suddenly become a lot easier; but during a night on the town both Nocker and West fall prey to the charms of exotic dancer Corktip (Anita Harris), secretly working in the employ of the Legion’s sworn enemy Sheik Abdul Abulbul (Bernard Bresslaw). Meanwhile, Jane has travelled to find Bo and is amazed to encounter Burger, her old fencing teacher from finishing school; he, however, is only a temporary diversion as her search for her wronged man leads her into the arms of the Sheikh. With the lady gone and West and Simpson held captive too, Nocker must raise the alarm and get a full-scale rescue underway. But how to convince Burger of the urgency of the situation when a disgruntled Zig-Zig has spilt the beans about the American’s medal-winning deceit?

Casting and writing are always the two crucial factors that make a Carry On film sink or swim, and in Follow That Camel casting is absolutely key. One instantly notices the lack of Sid James (through illness) and Barbara Windsor, naturally, but more important than this is the inclusion of Phil Silvers, presumably to help sell the film in the US. Perhaps because of the cosmopolitan nature of the Foreign Legion, Silvers’ brand of sarcasm fits surprisingly well into what you might imagine to be a quintessentially British picture, and he’s an imposing and entertaining presence even if clearly a little unfocused and a few years past the top of his game (he apparently read some of his lines from cue cards).

Williams is, as usual, excellent as the Commandant and he shares some good jokes with Hawtrey, even though the latter is – like Sims – underused. Bresslaw enjoys baring his teeth as the baddie and Dale is fine as the hero, Butterworth not too annoying as his retainer; and whilst Anita Harris makes for a rather scrawny femme fatale and Angela Douglas a bland damsel in distress, we can be thankful that this film predates the incorporation of her namesake Jack into the Carry On company.

The script, meanwhile, is a real curate’s egg. Talbot Rothwell always seems comfortable when writing about military life so it’s little surprise that the best bits of Follow That Camel deal with discipline and the fact that the troops’ ‘superiors’ are really nothing of the sort. There’s also the usual quota of nudging innuendo and general tomfoolery – Humphrey, ashamed of himself, both shoots and hangs himself (and lives to tell the tale!) – but on occasion the film’s cheerful sexism (the harem of busty lovelies is present and correct) strays too far.

No doubt the dimming of lights and casual refrain of ‘Travelling alone, miss?’ from a succession of men towards Jane was a hoot in the 60s, but now those scenes feel vaguely sinister; there are also some gags that must have raised eyebrows at the censor’s office, such as the name of the distant outpost Fort Zuassantneuf (a pun on the original Zinderneuf) and the shadows cast from the Sheik’s tent. Furthermore, although the film keeps its end up for a good hour, once the Legion troops into the desert it flags considerably, with only a sandcastle competition and a decent mirage joke to enjoy; the finale at Zuassantneuf shows a modicum of invention, but it’s little more than a dry run for the more polished climax to Khyber that followed the next year.

[Carry On] Follow That Camel isn’t the greatest of the gang’s parodies by a long stretch, but it looks the part (a major feat considering it was filmed on a Sussex beach) and there’s enough in it to make it feel relatively fresh, quite apart from Silvers’ unique turn. It contains nothing particularly classic in terms of comedy, but neither does it contain anything so bad that you’d escape to the Legion to forget.