Kenneth WilliamsGerald ThomasKenneth CopeDavy Kaye
Carry On At Your Convenience
Medium: film
Year: 1971
Director: Gerald Thomas
Writer: Talbot Rothwell
Keywords: comedy
Country: UK
Actor: Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, Hattie Jacques, Bernard Bresslaw, Kenneth Cope, Patsy Rowlands, Jacki Piper, Richard O'Callaghan, Bill Maynard, Davy Kaye, Renee Houston, Marianne Stone, Margaret Nolan, Geoffrey Hughes, Hugh Futcher, Simon Cain, Leon Greene, Harry Towb, Peter Burton, Larry Martyn, Shirley Stelfox
Format: 90 minutes
Series: << Carry On >>
Website category: Carry On
Review date: 26 July 2011
It's okay. It's not brilliant, but it's a watchable 1970s Carry On movie that's neither offensive nor annoying. I even laughed. So it's above average for the era, then.
What it's remembered for of course is the fact that it mocks the unions, which is presumably what made it the first flop of the series. It disappointed in British cinemas. It took five years to earn back its production costs, with the help of overseas sales and TV rights. If the audience for Carry On films was mostly working class (which seems likely), then this film was skating on thin ice.
Quick history lesson, for those who aren't old and/or British. This country (stereotypically in the 1970s) used to have overly powerful unions who'd call so many strikes, often for petty reasons, that in some cases they basically killed their entire industries. (These days it's a cliche of political life to lament the decline in British manufacturing.) The few dinosaurs still left today, e.g. Bob Crow of the RMT, tend to be most noticeable in infrastructure industries that can't go bankrupt or flee overseas, although in fairness Crow has merely been taking advantage of the weak management inflicted on London Underground by public-private partnership.
Regardless of political affiliations, I don't think it's uncontroversial to disapprove of much of what went on in the 1970s. The right to strike is of course fundamental to a worker's rights and an invaluable weapon against exploitation, but like all weapons, it can be abused.
This might sound a bit political for a Carry On film, but apparently not. This film had even been going to be called Carry On Working. You'd have to be blind not to see where its sympathies lie, but its mistake isn't that it's tackling this material in the first place, but merely that while doing so it's occasionally allowing itself to be childish. After a fashion, it's even-handed. It's certainly bashing both sides. Kenneth Cope, the militant union representative, is a tosser, but the management are hardly geniuses either and the characterisation contains some interesting touches, e.g. Sid James seeing himself as the salt of the working class, despite being on the side of the bosses throughout, which means he's horrified when told he's being promoted. The boss is Kenneth Williams and his designer is Charles Hawtrey. The young executive is Richard O'Callaghan, who's a human noodle who's only there because of his father and is making the other two look manly. The word to describe this shower is "limp-wristed".
However all those stereotypes we expect. More jarring is the way that our working class militant is being shown to be a mummy's boy who can't even get the girl. O'Callaghan and Cope both fancy Jacki Piper. You'd think this was a fairly even match since they're both losers with the brains of a peeled grape, but the film thinks the contest's a walkover and treats Cope as a patsy. When it comes down to fists, O'Callaghan even wins that despite the fact that even a stiff breeze should have knocked him senseless. If you're looking for a metaphor, here it is. In the Carry On universe, capitalists literally beat the working classes. Then there's Cope's come-uppance, one element in which is his mother bending him over her knee and spanking him. It's slightly embarrassing to watch how juvenile the film gets in humiliating Cope, which actually diminishes what it's saying. You could have done something with the image of a lunatic still determined to man the picket lines even when he's the last one left and everyone else has gone back to work... but then of course he forgets his principles in a heartbeat when a girl shows up.
This is regrettable. It fits in with the Carry On philosophy of making everyone a venal halfwit, but on this occasion it's slightly uncomfortable to watch because they're being childishly biased in their presentation of politically charged material. It wasn't even necessary. It's not as if Cope wasn't a twat anyway. Even when Kenneth Williams is about to close the factory, Cope's still blockading the gates and openly telling his fellow workers that he doesn't care if the company fails. He's more interested in his principles than in whether people can feed their families.
I shouldn't bang on about that too much, though, because it's less predominant than you'd expect. This is one of the ramshackle Carry Ons. The plot's a mess. Terry Scott's scene was cut, in response to which Gerald Thomas's letter of apology explained that the film had run fifty minutes over length (!) "and we felt rather than cut your sequence down so that you were only on the screen for a flash it would be kinder to remove the entire scene." I'd thought I'd never seen this before, but in fact I simply hadn't realised that I had, because its subplots are so disjointed. We have:
1. Intermittent strike action at Kenneth Williams's toilet factory.
2. Sid James becoming rich because his wife's budgie can predict the winners of horse races.
3. O'Callaghan and Cope's pursuit of Jackie Piper.
4. A day trip to Brighton.
5. A "will they, won't they" subplot with Sid James and Joan Sims.
The film has a big cast, all of whom are liable to spin off in their own subplots. Charles Hawtrey plays strip poker with Cope's mother (which is funny), for instance, while Patsy Rowlands has designs on Kenneth Williams (which is also amusing). A 140-minute Carry On film would have been too much of a good thing, but I'd have still loved to have seen a cut of the film with another twenty or thirty minutes of that missing material. Maybe that might have tied it all together and made it feel more cohesive?
Besides, a big Carry On cast is a good Carry On cast. Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, Bernard Bresslaw... the biggest missing name is Barbara Windsor and the good news is that instead of her, we have Jacki Piper. I also like Windsor, but Piper is sweet and gorgeous. One of the greats, Hattie Jacques, is here! She's playing Sid James's wife and as always, it's a joy to see her. Patsy Rowlands is a powerhouse once she's flowered. Hawtrey is having his usual light-hearted fun and, what's more, dresses up in a full Quentin Crisp outfit for Brighton... big hat, outrageous tie, the works. Bresslaw is simple-minded and sweet, at which he's a natural, and he gets to cop off with Margaret Nolan so won't have been complaining.
Oh, and for one scene they've found someone who's taller than Bresslaw by as much as Bresslaw's taller than everyone else. That's just abnormal. The guy's a freak.
One other thing is worth mentioning. For a 1970s Carry On film, it's quaintly respectful of morality and marriage. Sid James's womanising had been criticised in Carry On Henry, so here he's playing his Bless This House character, complete with pipe and slippers. He'd soon return to girl-chasing, but this one film has a quieter, gentler Sid. What's particularly interesting is that both he and his next-door neighbour, Joan Sims, are trapped in unfortunate marriages. Sims is stuck with a jealous dull lump who doesn't satisfy her sexual needs, while Sid has an unstoppable Jacques and a budgie. He's abusive to her face. His way of clearing the table must be seen to be believed. James and Sims are both aching to jump each other's bones... but they don't. Their conversations about tea are almost unique in Carry On for having subtext and emotional weight, although it would have been nice had Gerald Thomas shot those scenes with a bit more sensitivity than usual.
I quite like this film. I don't love it, though. It's not great, but merely quite a good Carry On film. As usual it thinks that someone's trousers coming off is inherently hilarious, while the plot thread about Sid James's budgie-betting disappears behind the sofa. Then there's the awkwardness in their union-bashing. However it is basically a likeable film, in which people are nice and for once Sid James of all people is a model of decent behaviour. Well, when he's not pretending to be a dodgy fortune teller. That bit was funny too.