Kenneth ConnorHattie JacquesVictor MaddernNorman Chappell
Carry On Laughing! Orgy and Bess
Medium: TV
Year: 1975
Director: Alan Tarrant
Writer: Barry Cryer, Dick Vosburgh
Series: << Carry On >>, << Carry On Laughing >>
Keywords: comedy, historical
Country: UK
Actor: Sid James, Hattie Jacques, Barbara Windsor, Jack Douglas, Kenneth Connor, John Carlin, Norman Chappell, Victor Maddern, MacDonald Hobley, Brian Osborne
Format: 24 minutes
Website category: Carry On
Review date: 30 January 2012
Much better. The humour's about 90% wordplay, but the important thing is that it's not unfunny. This is because the script has Barry Cryer's name on it, obviously.
It's set in the era of Blackadder 2, with Queen Elizabeth I (Hattie Jacques), Francis Drake (Sidney James), King Philip of Spain (Kenneth Connor) and more. This gives it an odd kind of familiarity. It's fun to compare them. Hattie Jacques is nothing like Miranda Richardson and there aren't even equivalents of the other Blackadder regulars, but even so it's interesting to see another British TV comedy in the same setting, with a similar focus on wordplay and bad behaviour. The difference of course is that Sid James is merely a rogue instead of actually evil, unlike Rowan Atkinson's Blackadder. No one gets killed, blackmailed or swindled. There's a focus on sex instead, with Walter Raleigh being a mincing poof, Hattie Jacques offering her hand in marriage and Sid James trying to have his wicked way with Barbara Windsor. (Well, there's a shock.)
The James-Jacques relationship isn't a million miles away from Atkinson-Richardson, though. Jacques isn't going to have anyone beheaded, but both pairs have a similar level of banter.
The main thing you'll notice is the wordplay, because you'd have to be deaf or retarded not to. There's an astounding density of gags. Barry Cryer always liked having a co-writer and here it's as if both of them were independently coming up with enough one-liners to fill an ordinary episode. Admittedly puns aren't the funniest things in the world, but there's so many of them that it would be extraordinary if none of them tickled your fancy. Besides, there are other jokes too. The line about Elizabeth and Philip made me laugh, for instance. It gives energy, if nothing else, and makes you pay attention.
The episode is noteworthy for being the last Carry On appearance of both Sid James and Hattie Jacques. Thank goodness it wasn't a Dave Freeman episode. Naturally I was delighted to see them both and it's worth hunting this down just to see Jacques as Queen Elizabeth I. It's a slight departure from her usual typecasting, which is nice, and she's less imposing and more playful than her various Matrons. (People also want to marry her, which is refreshing although it's jarring historically for Elizabeth to be so carefree about the thought of getting hitched with the King of Spain.) She and James are so good together that there's a scene in which James manages to win over an angry, upset Jacques... by making jokes about how fat she is. This should be impossible. They sell it. It wouldn't have occurred to me that this was even possible.
Of the others, Jack Douglas is bloody awful as Lord Essex. While James and Jacques are doing the comedy equivalent of a four-minute mile, he can't even convincingly say "I've got it." However fortunately for Douglas, he's playing a double role and so you might not realise it's him under Essex's beard. Kenneth Connor though is wonderful as the King of Spain, oddly enough. He's always desperately full of conviction, so it's kind of hilarious to see a silly little man brimming with sexy Spanish confidence and playing the most powerful man in the Western world, in the meantime spouting Spanish gibberish. John Carlin (who?) is playing a mincing homosexual Walter Raleigh that you probably couldn't do on TV today, but it's basically the same joke as Julian and Sandy from Round the Horne. He's quite likeable. Barbara Windsor gets very little screen time, so comes across better than usual.
The credits even mention Simon Callow. Yes, him. It was his first TV job. His scene was cut, but he made it into the credits anyway.
It feels a bit like a Restoration comedy, with all the sexual business and Barbara Windsor's asides to camera. The period's wrong for that of course, but Shakespeare used asides too.
Oh, and in case you've never heard of Barry Charles Cryer OBE, he's a British writer and comedian who's still working today and has written for Dave Allen, Stanley Baxter, Jack Benny, Rory Bremner, George Burns, Jasper Carrott, Tommy Cooper, Les Dawson, Dick Emery, Kenny Everett, Bruce Forsyth, David Frost, Bob Hope, Frankie Howerd, Richard Pryor, Mike Yarwood, The Two Ronnies and Morecambe and Wise. Among others.
Overall, I liked it. It's not brilliant, but it's entertaining enough and I enjoyed seeing everyone going through their paces. It's got a classic cast even by Carry On standards and it uses them well, except for Jack Douglas. It's just a shame they didn't hire Cryer and Vosburgh to write more Carry On Laughing! episodes, since after this we're back to the usual suspects of Freeman and Schwarz.
"You scintillate."
"I sin after eight as well!"