It's the second Carry On film! In addition it's another adaptation, this time of a stage play called Ring for Catty. The producer Peter Rogers had wanted to adapt it for some time, but as it happens it's a fairly bleak comedy about the long-term inmates of a tuberculosis sanatorium. The studio wanted another Carry On film, so in the end Carry On Nurse bore so little relationship to the source material that Peter Rogers adapted the play again soon afterwards as Twice Around The Daffodils. It reuses a lot of the cast, including Kenneth Williams and Joan Sims, but apparently it's a much more sombre piece. 5,000 people died of TB in the year it was made (1962) and the title refers to what the patients must be able to do to be pronounced well enough to leave.
Carry On Nurse is nothing like that, though. It's a perfectly normal hospital comedy, which worked so well that the Carry On team ended up doing it four times altogether ('Doctor'
, 'Again Doctor'
). It's also self-consciously the second in a series, bringing back almost all the cast of Carry On Sergeant
. They even reuse a number of that film's one-line players and extras. William Hartnell (who hadn't fitted the formula) isn't here of course, but nor is Bob Monkhouse (who had). The money wasn't good enough.
So. The story. This is clearly of less importance than the cast, but I suppose I should mention it. There's neither a plot nor anything resembling one, the film instead being random episodes that burble on amiably until people start getting discharged because the end credits are coming. It's an impressively big cast, mind you. It's a good-sized ward and we get to know all the patients and their assorted visitors, plus the medical staff and their power structure. This has six tiers for pecking and those are just the ones we see. There are also a couple of romances, one with Kenneth Williams (!) and the other with Terence Longdon, but they're both terrible. They're underwritten and overplayed, although by the film rather than the actors. Thus Kenneth Williams goes from haughty bookworm to passionate lover so suddenly that you'd think he'd been possessed by aliens, while Terence Longdon and Shirley Eaton's later scenes get clubbed to death by the incidental music.
There's a set-piece in which Leslie Phillips asks Kenneth Williams to do some amateur surgery. He should now be dead. That was funny. That's it for the story, so it's time to get on to the actors.
Firstly, the big names. Hattie Jacques, Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Williams and Kenneth Connor all return, as is right and proper for those stalwarts, and each is thoroughly impressive in their own way.
1. Hattie Jacques is the irresistible force. Enough said.
2. Hawtrey is astonishing. He doesn't need co-stars, or indeed even a script. You just put the camera on him and he creates this comic explosion in its own little world that has nothing to do with anyone else.
3. Kenneth W. is playing another supercilious intellectual, as seems to have been his stock in trade in his early days, although check out his "Oooh, stop mucking about" in the operating theatre. His love scene is extraordinary, not so much for the scene itself but simply because it's Kenneth Williams. One imagines him these days as having done nothing on screen but flee from predatory women. To be honest I don't think this snooty persona did him any favours, although Ihad to laugh at his scary smile in the operating theatre.
4. Weirdest is Kenneth Connor as a famous boxer. No, really! Admittedly he has the right build. He's a solid little chap. However the key word there is "little", with a side order of "cuddly" and "adorable". He's about as intimidating as my aunt Maisie's bunny slippers, even if otherwise he's rather good in the role. They should have got Bernard Bresslaw or Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Yes, I know. Hush.)
However other folks are making their debut:
5. Leslie Phillips. My oh my, Leslie Phillips. He's practically a Carry On all by himself. He could have been in every single one of these if he'd wanted. More lecherous than Sid James and yet oddly innocent, he's determined to get his "snogging" in as planned even if it means going on the front cover of the Police Gazette. Ding, dong.
6. Joan Sims as the clumsy student Nurse Dawson. She'd appear in more Carry Ons than any other actress, you know, which is doubly impressive if you bear in mind that she's not even particularly pretty. This series would have some absolute stunners, especially if you appreciate big breasts. Nevertheless Sims has the biggest female role here and does a bang-up job with it. You go, girl.
7. Joan Hickson, best known to those of my generation as the BBC's Miss Marple.
8. June Whitfield, although only in a couple of scenes. She's Leslie Phillips's girlfriend.
9. Rosalind Knight. What do you mean, who? To my astonishment she only ever did two Carry Ons, which I can only ascribe to the "not being gorgeous" factor which didn't hold back Joan Sims. You'll know Knight's face, even if you don't know her name. She's the shrivelled old bat in hunter-killer spectacles who hissed and tutted her way through decades of British film and TV. She acquired that persona very young, but here she's even younger: 26. The Rosalind Knight of Carry On Nurse is a strange, gawky thing lurking behind enormous spectacles, but also dementedly wonderful. Why in the name of all that's holy didn't she do more of these?
10. Brian Oulton. You probably don't know him either, but again you'll know him when you see him. He's the overweight, delicate snob and he'd crop up again a fair few times in this series.
And the one-off guest star:
11. Wilfrid Hyde-White plays the gambling-crazed Colonel and would seem to have been a big star at the time if we judge by his billing in the opening credits. Apparently he only agreed to return to England because the dates fitted with the Grand National. He's very good, actually. His character is the most demanding old pest on whom the nurses eventually take daffodil-laden revenge, but nonetheless he manages to be charming.
Finally we have the returnees from Carry On Sergeant
, comprising a little repertory company that we'll see again and again in the black-and-white Carry Ons. Terence "smoothie" Longdon is the nearest thing we have to a lead character and very likeable he is too. It's not much of a role, but he does get to chat up Shirley Eaton. Terence Longdon, Bill Owen, Cyril Chamberlain, Norman Rossington, Harry Locke and more can be found here. Rossington was my favourite this time, playing Kenneth Connors's punch-drunk sparring partner. In Sergeant he was merely a simpleton, but here he's actually brain-damaged. He's degenerating faster than Baldrick in Blackadder. It's probably lucky for him that he didn't stay throughout the series, or else he'd have ended up as a single-celled organism.
Harry Locke incidentally only ever did the medical Carry Ons. He's in 'Nurse', 'Doctor'
and 'Doctor Again'.
Overall, it's amiable and charming. Even at this early stage their minds are never far from the gutter, largely thanks to the brilliant Leslie Phillips, yet somehow it feels innocent. There's a fair bit of discreet nudity, but it's all male. Three times a patient bares all. Admittedly there's also a nurse who gets stripped of her uniform, but you could go on a polar expedition in what she's wearing underneath. If you're watching carefully you can also detect hints of the bleaker play it came from. I could cite one scene between Bill Owen and Irene Handl, for instance. The relationships between the patients and their visitors aren't as hard-hitting as it seems they are in both the play and its 1962 adaptation, but they're not complete candyfloss either. This film is funny and in its own gently understated way, rather lovely.