Kenneth ConnorJoan SimsJack DouglasNorman Chappell
Carry On Laughing! The Case of the Coughing Parrot
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, Kenneth Connor, Joan Sims, Peter Butterworth, David Lodge, Sherrie Hewson, Norman Chappell, Vivienne Johnson, Brian Osborne, Johnny Briggs
Format: 24 minutes
Website category: Carry On
Review date: 2 April 2012
It's the third of the Lord Peter Flimsy episodes. I hesitate to use the word "parody". It's not unwatchable, but it's not funny either.
What's slightly different this time is that appropriately for an episode broadcast on 23 November, it reminded me of Doctor Who. More specifically, it looks like Pyramids of Mars, which was broadcast on 25 October to 15 November 1975. In other words, the week before. Admittedly I'm sure this is a fluke and in fairness I was also reminded of The Talons of Weng-Chiang, which wouldn't be broadcast until 1977, but it's still at least a striking coincidence.
The main similarities are visual. Joan Sims runs a museum that's taking charge of a delivery of Egyptian mummies, which makes the episode look unusually lavish. The museum looks great. It contains antiques, with the mummies in particular appearing to be the real deal. We thus have a murder mystery set in the 1920s with Egyptian mummies and terribly British amateur investigator heroes who go around being high-handed and flippant. You'll have noticed the similarity. Meanwhile The Talons of Weng-Chiang comes into the picture when we have our heroes spending a lot of time walking around cobbled streets in the fog.
That's not much. What it's also doing though is departing from the Agatha Christie formula of a village full of apparently normal people and no drama or suspense. No one even questions any suspects. Instead twice they have a bit where characters might be in danger and you'd swear the incidental music is deliberately copying the farts of Dudley Simpson.
That's not a big deal, though. You'd have to be clutching at straws even to start thinking it in the first place, but of course I am, because I'm watching Carry On Laughing!.
There are two questions with this series. (a) is it watchable? (b) is it funny? This week, the answer to (a) is more or less "yes". It's not good, but you won't stick forks in your eyeballs and it's got a lady selling tea and showing lots of cleavage. The characters are okay. The plot is wilfully over-complicated, but this time it's not obvious nonsense. It manages to stagger to the end of its 25 minutes without tripping over its own feet, which by Carry On Laughing! standards is a success.
The cast is modest, maintaining continuity with the other Lord Peter Flimsy episodes. Obviously we're missing the big guns like James, Jacques, Williams and Hawtrey, but there was no chance of them turning up. Descending to a more realistic level, there's also no Bresslaw (boo) or Windsor (hurray). Joan Sims wastes her time and ours being stentorian, but I suspect at least she enjoyed it more than some of her other episodes. David Lodge is once again Inspector Bungler. Kenneth Connor is fine and pulls some nifty faces just before the closing credits. Jack Douglas though gives the impression of playing a character in search of a point. He's not stupid enough to be the cause of Stupid Jokes, which is admittedly the most creakingly obvious line to take for the hero of a parody detective story, but it would at least have been recognisably meant as a joke in the first place. However he never does anything intelligent either. The best word for him is vacant, but even there he's not vacant enough to be funny.
Whoops, I forgot Peter Butterworth! Unfortunately that's because the episode did too. He gets a bad and shoehorned-in cameo as a lost property man with fifteen parrots and a monkey, which doesn't work and doesn't belong in the episode.
The gags, such as they are, involve wordplay. Occasionally these reach the heights of The Two Ronnies (which is admirable in an abstract way), but usually it's just innuendo. This is as funny as a lecture on medieval church architecture, or perhaps the colour blue. You can see the double meaning, but you'll usually look in vain for the extra spark that might have created humour. The main thing this episode will teach you is that there's something uniquely disconcerting about a studio audience not laughing even at a scene's punchlines, instead letting us pass on in silence.
In summary, it's just about scraping into the lower reaches of okay. However you'll be disappointed if you're hoping to laugh at a comedy, although in fairness I'm sure it would have worked better with a stronger cast. It's drifting ever further away from Dorothy L. Sayers, though, which makes me wonder where these episodes might have gone had they kept making more of them... but I'm not wondering very hard. They'd have starred Jack Douglas, after all.
"It's very damp, my lord. It's some sort of helmet."
"Good heavens! Is it pith?"
"No, merely condensation."