I quite liked it. Of course this is only compared with other Carry On Laughing! episodes and it's still nothing you'd recommend, but I found it of mild interest.
Incidentally it's Lew Schwarz's first episode of the show and I'd no idea who he was either. I looked him up. He wrote for TV, including The Army Game in the 1950s, and was script editor for 14 episodes of Nearest and Dearest. As far as I can tell, those are his career highlights.
The story he's written here involves William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings, as you'll have guessed from the title. King Harold (Norman Chappell) needs to defend England both from Norsemen and Normans, but he has a secret weapon! It's Kenneth Connor. Well, more precisely it's something invented by Connor at his Secret Government Research Monastery. He sends Jack Douglas to fetch it, but unfortunately the French have also heard of this and are sending assassins and secret agents.
There are two unusual things about this in a Carry On Laughing!. The first is that it's relying on physical business, not wordplay. You could hardly get a greater contrast with Barry Cryer and Dick Vosburgh last week. The dialogue is reasonably amusing, but a lot of the gags in the first half are visual. Arrows nearly kill Connor. A walking haystack gets set alight and the person hiding inside ends up in a duck pond, complete with ducks. (All this is twice as astonishing because they're doing it in the studio, not on location.) It's not particularly successful because it's studio-bound 1970s British TV comedy and not a particularly inspiring example at that, but I still admire the ambition. This script could have been a lot of fun had it been a silent film from 1920s Hollywood and you wouldn't even have needed to change much. They'd have set up the covered-pit gag properly, for a start.
The second interesting thing is the nastiness. At first it looks like Carry On marshmallow, but underneath it's arguably closer to Blackadder than was even Orgy and Bess
. For starters it's set at the time of the Norman conquest, so we know the bad guys are going to win. (Well, the French. They're being made to look like the bad guys, anyway.) People are trying to kill Connor and he keeps killing them first with his anachronistically home-made gunpowder. The finale (which I loved) is black enough to be almost evil, albeit softened by the usual Carry On cuddliness.
The cast are of course the first thing anyone talks about in Carry On. One misses Sid James, who's gone at last and who can blame him? Instead there's hardly anyone left that you'll have heard of. Kenneth Connor is the only one you'll notice, although he's rather well cast this time and I thought he did well with his role. He's fun. His character is also well-rounded by Carry On standards, letting him play pomposity, cowardice, sly cunning and monastic unworldliness, all in the one role. (He fails with the can-can gag, though.) However that's about it for Carry On star quality. Jack Douglas is here, but he's forgettable. Joan Sims is here too, playing a French secret agent, but it hardly feels like her because they've swaddled her up like a Muslim. She's wearing another tent, but it's an even worse one than last time. The reason would seem to be because they've given her a low-cut cleavage, since she's female and this is Carry On, but Joan Sims in 1975 is clearly matronly even in the opinion of the geriatrics still churning out this clapped-out franchise, so they've covered up all the rest of her body and are hoping we'll think she's Jessica Rabbit.
The second half has women, by the way. (a) There's Diane Langton, although in fairness she only looks forty. According to her birthday on imdb, she was really 28. (b) There's Joan Sims, who's entertaining. (c) We see a few seconds of the gorgeous Linda Hooks, previously Miss Bournemouth and Miss Great Britain. (d) Most disturbingly there's Patsy Smart as "Old Hag", who's a mad old woman who wants to be raped and pillaged. This manages to be creepy. In case you're wondering where you've heard her name before, incidentally, she also played "Ghoul" in part one of The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
Overall, quite fun. It's still not particularly accomplished, instead merely being something that you probably wouldn't turn off, but I think it works. It has an entertaining story with a beginning, middle and an end, which is a clear improvement on Dave Freeman's episodes. (The difference is technically known as "being funny".) It has a shortage of familiar faces and quite a few blandly anonymous ones, with David Lodge for instance not even attaining mediocrity as King William (although he looks perfect). However it also has some mildly surprising points of interest, such as an innuendo-drenched conversation that Connor and Sims carefully play as if the innuendo didn't exist. In summary: it's okay.
"I went dead from the neck up."