It's a sequel to a previous Carry On Laughing! episode, And in My Lady's Chamber
, which means it's again a parody of Upstairs, Downstairs. It's weak with mildly okay bits, which means we can elevate it above "dismal" and call it an improvement on last time.
As with his two King Arthur parodies in this series, Lew Schwartz seems to do better on his second run at the material. And in My Lady's Chamber
was horrendous. I started my review with the phrase "soul-destroying" and said that it was so unfunny that even textual analysis couldn't have identified potential jokes. It's not hard to improve from that basis and Schwartz duly does so. As the episode title suggests, he's making use of the historical period. Mostly this means World War One, although there's also a bit of suffragette business. This is good. It gives him something concrete to build jokes around. The characters can react to something meaningful, instead of just being smothered in innuendo. We have:
1. Bernard Bresslaw as a German spy infiltrating the household as a footman, which is funny. Bresslaw has been a new footman in both of these episodes, but last time he had very little to do. This time he gets to shout in an outrageous German accent, accept collect telephone calls from the Kaiser and photograph envelopes labelled "Top Secret" (although not, mysteriously, their contents). He also keeps pigeons. I won't say he's perfect, since he could perhaps have found a different delivery of "dummkopf pigeon", but again he's easily the best thing in the episode and he made me laugh.
2. Kenneth Connor's son, Andrew Ray, as a coward who doesn't want to go to war. I wouldn't go so far as to call him funny, but he is at least amusing.
3. Connor himself suddenly has a point to his existence. He's not just a senile, indifferently acted old fart. No, now he's a senile old fart with a knighthood and military connections, who approves of war and manages to wangle himself a position of non-responsibility.
4. Pretty girls: Sherrie Hewson, Carol Hawkins and Vivienne Johnson. Yes, I'm shallow.
One curiosity is that the episode refers to the last one's plot. It's a proper sequel, not just a generic rehash. They want to bring back Barbara Windsor's Baroness Lottie Van Titsenhausen and so there's a bit of info-dumping about the fact that last time she got engaged to Connor. Apparently that was three years ago, while furthermore this episode spans World War One, from "they say there's going to be a war" up to Armistice Day. In a modest way, this gives the episode a bit of ambition. It's not just half an hour's worth of nonsense. Months will pass and we'll realise that Andrew Ray, for instance, has been hiding out in the scullery or somewhere similar throughout that period.
So that's the comparatively good stuff. Unfortunately there's also...
5. No Peter Butterworth.
6. Barbara Windsor braying as always, Joan Sims thinking of her pay cheque and Jack Douglas doing nothing to improve my (low) estimation of his ability. Mind you, of those three at least Windsor's successfully being Windsor. She's doing exactly what she always does and in fairness last time, I was calling her the best thing in the episode. Sims and Douglas though are placeholders, taking up screen time to no purpose and draining away energy and interest.
7. Poor use of the female characters. The joke is... no, it would violate the English language to call this a joke. The situation is that they're sex-mad. The episode has not the foggiest idea how to take this idea somewhere that might get laughs.
Overall, an improvement. I might, if feeling exceptionally generous, go so far as to say I almost enjoyed it. Bresslaw here is worth watching and the episode took a quantum leap in entertainment value when he showed up. I also like the fact that Schwartz has taken advantage of the historical period to find himself some material. There's a weak joke about Archduke Franz Ferdinand, for instance. Fundamentally it does at least feel like a comedy, albeit a variable one, whereas I wouldn't even go that far with some of Carry On Laughing!.
This is my last Carry On Laughing! episode, since I started watching the series with its final episode. Taken en masse, it's appalling. The better episodes aren't anywhere near good enough to excuse Gerald Thomas and his fellow perpetrators for the other, terrible ones. However that said, if you choose carefully which episodes not to watch and lower your standards, it's possible to have fun with this show. Sometimes I laughed. I'm fond of the actors, even when I shouldn't be. The second half of each series is better than the first, if that's any indication.