Jack DouglasBarbara WindsorVictor MaddernPatsy Rowlands
Carry On Laughing! The Nine Old Cobblers
Medium: TV
Year: 1975
Director: Alan Tarrant
Writer: Dave Freeman
Series: << Carry On >>, << Carry On Laughing >>
Keywords: Lord Peter Flimsy, comedy, detective
Country: UK
Actor: Jack Douglas, Joan Sims, Kenneth Connor, David Lodge, John Carlin, Victor Maddern, Patsy Rowlands, Barbara Windsor
Format: 24 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0536834/
Website category: Carry On
Review date: 15 February 2012
The last and clearly one of the best of the first batch of Carry On Laughing episodes. There was a six-episode block in Jan-Feb 1975, then another seven episodes in Oct-Dec. That second season included two sequels to this episode and I'm not surprised.
Firstly it's refreshing because it's not another bloody historical. Normally I like historicals, but Carry On Laughing! does horrible things to them. Admittedly their first episode, The Prisoner of Spenda, had theoretically been contemporary, but it feels historical because it's spoofing a 19th-century novel and it's set in Eastern Europe with swordsmen, attempted assassinations and royal intrigues.
This on the other hand is a parody of Dorothy L. Sayers's detective, Lord Peter Wimsey. This puts us in the classic Agatha Christie detective era of the 1920s and 1930s, but at least that's the 20th century. For Carry On Laughing!, that's practically yesterday. The characters are detective story archetypes, e.g. vicar, policeman. It takes place in an English village. We visit a pub. The 1920s production values are surprisingly good, with location shooting, a vintage car and a horse and cart, but basically it's set in the real world. The only thing that breaks the illusion is Barbara Windsor, who's being her usual braying self and puncturing the otherwise authentic atmosphere. It almost doesn't feel like a spoof, but instead a regular detective story that happens to star a few of the Carry On team.
Jack Douglas plays it straight as Lord Peter Flimsy and as a result works well. I liked him. He's shed the silliness and he seems to be taking it seriously. Kenneth Connor is his Jeeves-a-like, Punter, which is another good choice since Connor has always struck me as more of an actor than a comedian. Both work well in their roles and make a double act that feels both believable and respectful of the source material, despite a moment of physical comedy that doesn't work when they're stuck in a door.
The cast isn't particularly starry. The only other familiar faces are Joan Sims and Patsy Rowlands as participants in a village variety show, with Sims being an appalling drummer and Rowlands being a surprisingly good singer. However in this genre, there's no such thing as a small role. Anyone might be the killer, so you're watching them all closely. Carry On Laughing! regular John Carlin gets a likeable role as the dozy vicar and David Lodge also does well as Inspector Bungler. I think the familiarity of the genre and the solid production values helped the actors as well as the audience. They all know what they're doing and the only jarring note in the performances is from Windsor, who's coming across as someone who simply plays herself and is either incapable of or uninterested in playing it differently to suit the material. Her low point involves muffing the punchline of a climactic scene with a third-rate delivery of "not nice".
Astonishingly it's even written by Dave Freeman. I suppose his anti-Midas touch couldn't last forever.
I liked this quite a lot, actually. It gets extra points with me for not spoofing one of the famous names like Holmes, Poirot or Marple, who've been done a million times and I think might have put my back up slightly. Lord Peter Wimsey I'm unfamiliar with, so I wasn't bringing any baggage to the episode. Even if I had been, though, I think I'd have still liked it. It looks good, the production team have spent a bit of money and all but one of the cast are doing a decent job. They also have 1920s flapper music on the soundtrack. I suppose I could criticise it for being a bit casual with their exposition, but at least they've got it the right way around, i.e. a solid backstory for who's doing the killing and why, to which you'll have to pay close attention if you don't want to miss anything.
The other two Lord Peter Flimsy episodes are The Case of the Screaming Winkles and The Case of the Coughing Parrot, by the way. I'm looking forward to them.