The last Carry On Christmas special was unfunny, but this is anti-funny. It's as if they're on a mission to exterminate laughter.
There wasn't a Carry On Christmas in 1971, because Carry On At Your Convenience
hadn't done well at the box office. However everyone in Britain must have been very naughty in 1972, because Santa had a nasty surprise for them from Thames Television. Generally regarded as the worst of the four Christmas specials, this is a return to the sketch show formula of the first one, except with second-rank stars and no laughs.
ABSENT: Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Bernard Bresslaw, Jim Dale, Terry Scott, Frankie Howerd and many more
PRESENT: Hattie Jacques, Joan Sims, Barbara Windsor, Peter Butterworth, Kenneth Connor, Jack Douglas, Valerie Leon
The most striking absence is Hawtrey. He'd been the saviour of Carry On Again Christmas
and he'd have been wonderful here too. The gay genie in Aladdin would have been one of his roles! He'd have been fantastic, but unfortunately his relationship with the Carry On production team had been strained for a while and here it snapped altogether. He drank and he wanted top billing. They didn't want him to have it, which is insane. (I like Hattie Jacques as much as anyone, but Hawtrey is something special.) He thus failed to turn up at the eleventh hour, giving only a few days' notice and despite being in the promotional material. Peter Rogers never used him in another Carry On.
I can understand both sides' point of view, or in other words they're all bloody idiots. Obviously it's Hawtrey's own stupid fault, but equally the difference between "Hawtrey" and "no Hawtrey" in this Christmas special is that between watching a comedy genius and having your face smashed in with a brick. He should have been getting top billing last time too, Sid James or no Sid James.
His roles here are split among fill-in players like Norman Rossington and Brian Oulton. They're okay, actually. The gay genie is still amusing, even from an ordinary actor. However as a whole, the cast is ill-served and struggling. The wonderful Hattie Jacques does her best with almost nothing. Butterworth is wasted, except for an amusing turn as Window Twankee. Connor fails to fill his boots, which is unfortunate since by default it's practically the Kenneth Connor show. Joan Sims is okay. It's a sign of how far we've sunk that Jack Douglas is actually one of the better things in it. Frankly though, the best thing in the special is Valerie Leon's cleavage in a maid's outfit.
Going through in order:
0. FRAMING SEQUENCE. Victorian family sits around at Christmas time, telling stories to each other. Why Victorian, yet again? Does the 19th century have a monopoly on Christmas? Anyway, this is both unfunny and distasteful, reminding you that we're into the 1970s and the franchise's decline. Carry On Loving
, Carry On Henry
, Carry On Girls
... yup, that's the level we're operating on here. Sex and sexual references are shoved at the audience instead of jokes.
1. GARDEN OF EDEN. Barbara Windsor is topless, but with her hair hiding her boobs. This one's okay, actually, because it's short.
2. THE LAST OUTPOST. A rip-off of the dining room finale of Carry On Up The Khyber
, but set in Africa. Connor fails and I can't help wondering if this might have worked better with a stronger central performer. Jacques fights valiantly to overcome her insultingly weak dialogue. There are no real jokes, except towards the end when the sketch takes a brutal twist that should have been excellent. In the end somehow it's not, but you can see the potential.
3. THE MUSICIANS' STORY. Elizabethan madrigals are sung. These had been written for Carry On Henry
, but rightly got cut. They should have been cut from here too.
4. THE SAILORS' STORY. Is this a parody of a Victorian novel and I just didn't recognise it? Jacques and Sims live in a haunted house and declaim their dialogue. There's a reference to a Charles Burke, which I'd have thought was talking about the Burke and Hare murders of 1827-28 except that both of those gentlemen were called William. Jack Douglas isn't bad.
5. ALADDIN. The best bit of the special, albeit by default. They displeased me by calling pantomime a "crashing bore", which of course begs the question of why they're doing it. Nevertheless this has lots of rhyming dialogue (which I always like), a decent role at last for Butterworth, a distractingly short skirt for Windsor as Aladdin and that aforementioned gay genie. However this is where you'll find the most irritating sex references, which can't even be called single entendres. The panto set has signs saying "strip club" and "sex shop". No one refers to them. No jokes arise from them. They're just distractingly and annoyingly there, on what's visibly the stage set of a pantomime. At one point Jacques actually says, "So crude, isn't it?"
Overall, it's appalling. Comedy is of course subjective and there are people who like this, but I'm not one of them. It's not actually repellent, as you sometimes get with unfunny comedy, but from time to time it's threatening to get there. Talbot Rothwell's name is on the writing credits, but don't take that too seriously because he fell ill halfway through and the script was finished by Dave Freeman. I kind of liked the character names, though. They're so blatant and one-note that they actually achieve a kind of surrealism, e.g. a butler called Ringworm, or else Miss Molly Coddle, Lady Rhoda Cockhorse, etc.
Generally regarded as the worst of the Carry On Christmas specials, which makes sense since it's hard to imagine anything flatter and more uninspired. Even Carry On Laughing! was better. There's no excuse for this.