Carry on Teacher (1959)

When it’s on: Wednesday, 6 June (3.20 pm)
Channel: Film4
IMDb Link

‘Are you satisfied with your equipment, Miss Allcock?’
‘Well, I’ve had no complaints so far.’

It seems as though the difference between the earlier, ‘classier’ Carry On films and the later, smut-reliant entries coincided with the shift from black and white to colour. It might also have had something to do with the change in script writer. Talbot Rothwell took over screenplay duties from 1963’s Carry on Cabby and into the 1970s; previously Norman Hudis penned the scripts. Carry on Teacher, the third in the long-running series, definitely belongs in the earlier generation. Whilst there’s room for innuendo and the occasional suggestive name (see the above quote), Teacher is a gentle parody of the Secondary Modern system. The teachers are the butt of every joke. Staffed by Carry On regulars, they’re at the mercy of the pupils, whose St Trinians style joke shop pranks lead to an endless series of pratfalls.

Fortunately for all involved, the kids have a soft centre and are motivated by a good cause. Their school, Maudlin Street, is in peril of losing its Head Teacher, Mr Wakefield (Ted Ray), who is in the process of applying for a job in a new build. To help his case, Mr Wakefield takes advantage of the visit of a couple of school inspectors, asking his staff to impress in order to advance his own application. But the pupils, led by a fresh-faced Richard O’Sullivan, don’t want to lose their beloved Principal and do everything in their power to make the visit an unpleasant one. Things start going wrong in the classroom. The teachers – stuck up Kenneth Williams, nervous Kenneth Connor, hapless Charles Hawtrey, matronly Hattie Jacques, etc – don’t stand a chance. In the meantime, a child psychologist, played by Leslie Phillips, falls for Joan Sims’s PE teacher, Miss Allcock, whilst there’s a frisson of mutual attraction between Connor and inspector Rosalind Knight.

It’s naive, innocent fluff, but unlike later Carry Ons there is at least something of a plot taking place beneath the set piece comic routines, rather than innuendos loosely strung together by a chosen topic. However obvious the jokes may be, actors like Kenneth Williams had to do very little to be funny – a contorted face and set of flared nostrils pretty much ticked the box. The performance by Ray, not a Carry On regular, is also quite lovely, particularly the emotion on his face once he is told what the kids’ pranks have been motivated by – very Mr Chips, I’m sure.

On the downside, the jokes are telegraphed to audiences well in advance. Kenneth Connor’s built a rocket in his class – I wonder if… The English Literature class is putting on a show of Romeo and Juliet – I bet it all goes horribly wrong, and so on. Besides all of which, maybe state education was very different fifty years ago, but I don’t recall feeling any affection for a single teacher whilst in secondary school. The underlying story kind of unravels with the revelation the pupils will go to any lengths in order to keep Mr Wakefield. I used to work in a school where the Head Teacher was about as charismatic as they come – when he moved on, his departure was greeted by the students with, at best, complete indifference. It’s lucky the kids of Maudlin Street never use their prankmanship to take over. Now that would be a film, but not one fitting in with the tradition of a 1950s comedy.

Carry on Teacher: **

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8 Replies to “Carry on Teacher (1959)”

  1. Hi Mike,

    What a wonder time for comedy this was !

    I recall when the first “Carry On..” arrived on our shores,(it was “Sergeant”) and was greeted with gales of laughter and great “word of mouth” reports. The regular “stars” are all departed now, and more is the pity, as the early “Carry On’s” provided audiences with an evening of “innocent” humour, and I, for one, always left the theatre, chuckling.

    They were cheaply made, and it showed…. but always fun; who cared if the jokes were telegraphed in advance; the “early” ones were inoffensive; never to be listed as “Classic Cinema” but certainly, memorable for those of us, who are senior citizens, and hopefully to the younger generation in the future, as bloggers, such as yourself engender interest in older films.

    Nice one, Mike!.

    1. Thanks so much, Rod. I grew up watching Carry On films as they were endlessly rotated on the telly. I used to love them and watching ‘Teacher’ put me in a mood for seeing more. As I recall, my favourite of all time was Cleo, filmed I believe on the abandoned sets for Cleopatra before the production moved to Rome and riotous fun. This one I caught on YouTube, but I think a boxset purchase may be in order. Sorry, credit card.

      Besides which, you’re quite right – they were just fun and I absolutely loved the performances by Kenneth Williams and Leslie Philips, who both seemed fully rounded in their Carry On guises even in 1959, and all the more entertaining for it. Ding dong!

  2. Can’t say I’m a big fan of the Carry Ons even though I grew up watching them. I don’t mean I actively dislike them or anything – maybe I’ve just seen them so many times they’re too familiar.
    Generally, I’ve come to prefer the earlier ones like Teacher for the reasons you’ve cited above, namely a reasonably consistent plot and more reliance on wit.

    1. Thanks Colin. They were on constant rotation back then, weren’t they, but I think the irritating entries were the compilations shows of ‘best bits’ that were also put out, generally on ITV and filling the space before Coronation Street. I only recall the quality really nosediving in the latter days, when they seemed to go with the lowest common denominator and focus on smut at the expense of pretty much anything else. Emmanuelle is more or less unwatchable and I don’t think I’ve even seen the Columbus one that was made later.

      I must admit that Teacher gave me the appetite for more. Perhaps a set that cuts off somewhere in the mid-1960s…

      1. Yes, the real downward trend applies to the late 60s entries and those that followed. Titles like Cowboy, Cleo, Screaming, Cruising are all quite enjoyable and some more than that.

        I said I’m not a huge fan, but I do have a number of the films on the shelves. Optimum released some nice 4-packs that are very competitively priced and group some of the stronger films together.

      2. Oh yeah, Screaming was another good one, with Harry H Corbett, I think. The only weird thing about it was that Hammer films were often enough parodies of themselves, but it was a good fun entry.

  3. For maximum enjoyment of the “Carry On ..” films, it was preferable to view them in a cinema where the laughter became infectious, and it was in that enviroment that I fondly remember the series. A visit to a “new” Carry On … film was always keenly anticipated.

    Occasionally I “catch” a late night TV presentation of one of the films but miss the company of the audience’s reaction.

    1. Fair enough – there are times, especially when I watch something like Teacher, that the overly knowing and ironic comedy we get now is all very well, but what a shame there’s no room for the broader palate from the likes of Carry On and their peers. Oh well, at least there’s still room for this sort of thing on the schedules.

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