Victor MaddernBernard BresslawNorman ChappellMerlin
Carry On Laughing! Under the Round Table
Medium: TV
Year: 1975
Director: Alan Tarrant
Writer: Lew Schwarz
Series: << Carry On >>, << Carry On Laughing >>
Keywords: King Arthur, Merlin, comedy, rubbish
Country: UK
Actor: Bernard Bresslaw, Jack Douglas, Joan Sims, Kenneth Connor, Peter Butterworth, Oscar James, Victor Maddern, Norman Chappell, Desmond McNamara, Valerie Walsh, Ronnie Brody, Billy Cornelius, Brian Capron
Format: 24 minutes
Website category: Carry On
Review date: 20 February 2012
It's bloody awful. The second series hasn't started well.
In fairness, Carry On Laughing!'s first series began almost as badly, with three episodes of rubbish by Dave Freeman. (That's half the season, by the way.) After that they had a couple of guest-written episodes, one by Lew Schwarz and another by Barry Cryer and Dick Vosburgh, before finishing with Freeman's only good script, a parody of Lord Peter Wimsey.
Naturally one assumes that the production team were frantically scrabbling around in search of alternatives to Freeman. (Well, one hopes, anyway.) Schwarz's season one episode had been okay, so they went with him. Big mistake. Dave Freeman was allowed to write two more Lord Peter Flimsy episodes, but otherwise this season was all given to Schwarz and this episode suggests that he was stretching himself a bit thin. Even with the amount of recycling in season two (two Lord Peter Flimsies, two King Arthurs and two Upstairs Downstairses), the evidence of this episode tempts one to suggest that giving Schwarz five episodes might have been four too many.
Firstly, I don't like the set-up. They've got Kenneth Connor as King Arthur, which put my back up immediately. Nothing about him says "Arthur". He's just some random short dude. I've no beef with Connor himself, who looks quite good in the wig and costume they've given him, but there's almost nothing bar a few character names to show that this isn't just another generic medieval setting. It's bland and lazy. If you're going to have a short, silly King Arthur, at least use the fact to make specifically Arthurian jokes!
Jack Douglas plays Arthur's steward, Sir Gay, in case you'd forgotten how low British television could sink in 1975. I don't object to the political incorrectness. A similarly flaming homosexual worked well in Orgy and Bess, but the problem here is Jack Douglas's performance. He's terrible. He's half-hearted, probably embarrassed by his own dialogue and showing the dramatic range of a pantomime horse. The man's simply not an actor, frankly. If carefully cast in the right role, he's capable of raising his game to "passable". That's as far as it goes. Of the others, Joan Sims is worse as Lady Guinevere than Barbara Windsor would have been, if that gives you any indication. However there are two actors I liked. Bernard Bresslaw makes his first appearance in the series and is clearly trying harder than all his co-stars, almost but not quite managing to raise his scenes to the level of "worth watching". He's one. The other is Peter Butterworth, who's having a lot of fun as a magnificently hairy Merlin. When he's around, the episode's enjoyable.
The storyline revolves around weak innuendo. Joan Sims isn't getting any from King Arthur, which would have been funnier had there been anything suggesting this in Connor's performance. Bresslaw is playing Sir Pureheart, who's taken vows of chastity, temperance and so on. "Why isn't such a character called Sir Lancelot?" I hear you cry. Don't worry, they put that right in Short Knight Long Daze. For some reason Connor decides that Bresslaw needs to be lured into a night of passion with a sexy wench and... oh, who cares? I don't know why Bresslaw's sex life should matter to anyone. Yes, it's a Carry On. That's not a sufficient excuse.
No, hang on. I've just found a possible reason. "If he defeats the Black Knight, the other members of the Round Table must take a vow of chastity, temperance and virtue." Sounds plausible as far as it goes, but why?
For my money, the worst Carry On Laughing! so far. Admittedly it's funnier than, say, The Sobbing Cavalier, but that at least starred Sid James. This on the other hand is so lame that you'll wish they'd cast Barbara Windsor, who at least would have raised the energy levels. Joan Sims is as bad as I've ever seen her (although given the material, I'm not surprised), Connor ignores all script references to his character being useless in the bedroom and Jack Douglas is useless even by Carry On standards. I liked Butterworth. I admired Bresslaw's determination not to give up. That's it for the good stuff.