When it’s on: Wednesday, 6 June (3.20 pm)
‘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: **