It's the last of the thirteen episodes of the 1975 TV series, Carry On Laughing!. The Carry Ons had recently spawned a successful stage show, Carry On Laughing, and this was another attempt to keep the franchise alive in the face of falling UK cinema attendance. They'd done a few Christmas specials during 1969-1973 and of course Carry On actors had also appeared in shows like Bless This House, but this would be the only official full series.
I liked it. It's short, silly and fast-moving. I expect I'll be watching more of these.
It's perhaps odd of me to watch the last episode first, but it was sitting there on my DVD of That's Carry On. The first thing I saw was a fun title sequence, with little animated men and Benny Hill style music. It's nothing worth building up expectations about, but it made me smile. It's also made me wonder why the Carry On movies themselves never did a Pink Panther style animated opening like this, despite often having hand-drawn cartoons (e.g. by Larry). No, wait. Forget what I said. There's Carry On Behind
Anyway, the story involves a jungle expedition by Victorian explorers who use words like "ripping", "spiffing" and "jolly top-hole". This is a minor point of departure in itself. It's more arch than the movies. The Carry On films could be ludicrous, e.g. the cavemen in Carry On Cleo
, but they weren't sophisticated enough to go for this kind of humour. Here the deliberately cheesy dialogue is part of the joke and there's wilful absurdity that owes a debt to Spike Milligan. I'm not saying it's particularly good or well played, but in its way it's taking its historical spoof further than the parent series did.
Kenneth Connor, Barbara Windsor and Twitching Jack Douglas are our three heroes, looking for the lost Dr. Pavingstone (Bernard Bresslaw). Peter Butterworth shows up at the beginning, but that's it for the regulars. Fortunately though you don't miss the big icons like Kenneth Williams or Sid James, because a small cast feels right for a 25-minute episode like this. Connor and Bresslaw I liked quite a lot, actually. It's as if they work better in a story at this scale. They're not my favourite Carry On stars on the big screen, but on TV their performances to me seemed more effective. Butterworth I've always loved for no reason at all. I think it's his face. Finally Douglas is fine and has a name that's a staggering single entendre even by Carry On standards. "They call me Elephant Dick."
Windsor though is unbelievable. I had no idea she was capable of reaching this dimension of badness. She's sub-amateur. Somehow she gets away with it anyway, just by being Chirpy Babs and hence adding a counter-intuitive kind of charm to proceedings, but heavens above, she's shocking. She hasn't the slightest idea about her arch dialogue. She doesn't even appear to understand what she's saying. She just throws words at you in a Babs-like manner. Incidentally her character would seem to be the world's biggest slut, but somehow Windsor manages not to be offensive because she's... well, being Windsor.
Of the incidental characters, Park Bench Man (Norman Chappell) is nearly as bad. The really dangerous story element though is Oscar James's witch doctor. This is 1975 TV. It could have been unwatchable. Fortunately though, amazingly, it isn't. James incidentally I'd guess is best known for a two-year stint on EastEnders in 1985-87, playing Tony Carpenter. "I shall have you blackballed." "No comment."
Is it funny? Well, it's certainly silly. Oscar James can do real magic and the cast includes Mabel the Gorilla. (Mind you, this puts its realism on a par with that in Carry On Up the Jungle
, which I've just remembered that I hated. This is easily better than that, although on the downside it doesn't have gorgeous jungle women in bikinis. Before you ask, Windsor isn't sexy.) Is it good? After humming and hawing, I'm going to say "yes". It's daft throwaway nonsense, but I laughed a few times and it has some good lines. Its cheapness isn't a problem. It's not offensive, which in hindsight is a surprise. I found its surrealism endearing and I'd even suggest that this kind of material perhaps works better on TV, once you've made the necessary mental adjustments.
Curious fact: the man in the gorilla costume, Reuben Martin, had that as his acting niche. He played three Carry On gorillas, always in the same gorilla costume, with the other two being in Up The Jungle and Emmannuelle
"Don't mind me, I'm looking for Dick."