This is soul-destroying. I like the Carry Ons, but once again they've produced something so lame that not only is it not funny, but it's not even recognisable as something that was intended to be so. It doesn't deserve our hatred, but our pity.
It's the first of their two Upstairs, Downstairs parodies, the other being Who Needs Kitchener?
. The curious thing is that it's got a strong basis for a plot, but note that I carefully inserted the words "basis for a". It's not a story-driven episode. Instead the purpose of its scenes is to have innuendo. That's it. There's some potentially interesting business in the second half as the servants try to make Kenneth Connor break up with his new fiancee, but this goes nowhere except an interminable and almost surreal sequence that appears to have been misremembered from a silent movie.
The characters are:
1. Kenneth Connor, who's surprisingly bad as the senile and lecherous Sir Harry Bulgen-Plunger. He's giving it plenty of energy, but he's simply not hitting any notes that would have made the character funny. He doesn't get angry, irritated or frustrated about anything. His senility is played enough to make his dialogue seem unimportant, but not enough to seem to affect the core of the character. He's still vaguely likeable, because he's Kenneth Connor, but this in itself is an indication of how badly he's failing to become Sir Harry Bulgen-Plunger.
2. Barbara Windsor, who's the best thing in the episode. Yikes. I think that says it all. At least you can always depend on Windsor to dial it up to eleven, while furthermore in addition to the usual brass-necked Cockney crumpet, she briefly gets to play a different note and does so well. She's a firecracker and here she convincingly terrifies Jack Douglas, despite the fact that he's nearly as big as Bernard Bresslaw and she's a munchkin. Also: cleavage. I know it's only Windsor, but still.
3. Joan Sims, yet again playing a character so silly and trivial that you're unlikely to remember she was even in the episode. She's important for the plot though, such as it is.
4. Jack Douglas as Clodson the butler. Disgracefully weak even for Douglas, with his opening scene with Connor being almost shocking in how unfunny it is. He really is rubbish. However on the upside, for the first time I can remember, his Spastic Alf act works in the context of the episode and the character! It helps that he only does it once.
5. Bernard Bresslaw in almost a walk-on role as Starkers. Why did he bother showing up?
6. Peter Butterworth, so often the sole saviour of Carry On Laughing, except that here he's so underused that imdb thinks he wasn't even in the episode. He's playing a dodgy military guy who gets dialogue in one scene and from then on is walking wallpaper.
8. Pretty actresses playing the maids and/or Connor's daughter, which is a change from the norm of "had been pretty thirty years ago but Gerald Thomas fancies them". There's Carol Hawkins (Carry On, Up Pompeii, The Two Ronnies), Sherrie Hewson (fourteen years of Coronation Street, not to mention Emmerdale and Crossroads) and Vivienne Johnson (didn't stay in acting for very long, but was Mr Grace's Nurse in Are You Being Served?).
There is no reason at all to watch this episode. The best it has is mitigating factors. Bresslaw and Butterworth would have been good if they'd had more to do. Pretty girls are never a bad thing. Um, I think I've already run out of positive things to say. However that said, I have a masochistic kind of admiration for the closing sequence of drugged wine, lots of doors and people popping in and out all the time. It goes on way too long and it's not funny in the slightest, but I can admire the courage of trying to do something so different from the dialogue-based norm for TV comedy. Lew Schwarz is pushing the envelope again. It doesn't work, but I can at least see what he was aiming for and it's not his fault that it turned out quite this unfunny in front of the cameras, with the production team making it look like a carousel of zombies. It's like a "whoops, where's my trousers" stage farce with tarts and vicars, except with no semi-nudity, no danger and no consequences.
Hmmm. On second thoughts, I do blame Schwarz after all. Anyway, don't watch it. It's inoffensive and in an odd way even likeable in a "look at all your Carry On favourites" way, but by the end even the studio audience aren't laughing much.