When it’s on: Friday, 22 June (5.10 pm)
I like Helping Hands.’
‘And I don’t like “helping yourself” hands’
Less a continuous narrative and more a prop for a series of sketches, Carry on Regardless finds our favourites working for the Helping Hands Agency, which will take any and indeed every job it’s offered. The various tangential yarns are uneven – some hilarious, others just okay – but there’s a great deal of affection to be felt for its sense of fun. As a whole, it’s tough not to fall for the innocent, broad charm on offer. Once the newspaper that fills the opening shot drops and you see Sid James behind it, you know you’re in relatively safe hands.
This was the fifth Carry On film and continued the tradition of being produced on a shoestring, directed by Gerald Thomas and showcasing a Norman Hudis screenplay. Hudis certainly wrote some cracking scripts, stuffed with innuendos and farcical situations inspired by Brian Rix’s comedies. There’s a lot going on in Regardless. How well the sketches work depend often enough on the performer, but much of it warrants at least a wry chuckle. For instance, the routine that finds Kenneth Williams walking Yoki the chimp around the streets of London is one of the film’s best, and it’s based fully on the level of rapport between the actor and his simian friend. Williams looks as though he’s having a whale of a time, putting every nuance into the way he gradually treats the chimp as a pal rather than a pet.
Kenneth Connor, never one of my favourite Carry On stars, gets a superb run when he’s dispatched to Scotland in order to jump off the Forth Bridge. Suffering his usual brow-furrowing nerves on the train heading north, Connor reimagines himself as Humphrey Bogart; a disembodied voice tells him to hold his nerve and he goes through with the job, only for the audience to learn the errand was for naught, based as it was on a misquoted client. Another sketch works less well when it involves him being pressed into a brief romp with the buxom Fenella Fielding, all in an effort to make her husband jealous. It’s the sort of thing we’ve seen him do a thousand times; squeaky voiced antics ensue.
Joan Sims fares better. Employed to deal with invitations to a classy wine-tasting party, she’s soon sozzled on posh plonk and wrecking the joint, as well as rightly rebuffing the lecherous advances of a young Nicholas Parsons. In the meantime, Liz Fraser gets to model sexy underwear for a man who’s trying to surprise his wife with perfectly fitting lingerie. It’s an excuse to get the curvy Ms Fraser into some tiny outfits, but that’s about all it is and the fun ends there. On the plus side, there’s Charles Hawtrey’s boxing career, upon which he embarks as a substitute for the prize fighter he’s there to assist at ringside. The sight of Hawtrey running from ‘Massive’ Mickey McGee, wearing a string vest and boxing gloves that are several sizes too big for him, as well as his shorts steadily falling down, is hysterical. Sid James performs medical examinations on a line of nurses in their smalls. The trademark laugh puts in an appearance, but the sketch shows glimpses of the bawdiness that would eventually take over.
A shame there’s no Leslie Phillips, who decided the previous year’s Carry on Constable would mark his last appearance in the series. But there are some very good cameos thrown in, including Esma Cannon’s agency secretary with her range of reactions to peoples’ comments, Hattie Jacques as a nurse, Betty Marsden’s Mata Hari and Stanley Unwin turning up irregularly to literally talk gibberish. It all passes by harmlessly enough, though there’s an impression that the team felt their formula was already beginning to go stale, hence the sketch format. Not the most glowing recommendation for the rest of the series, and the ‘some you win, some you lose’ nature of the individual tales leaves the film feeling a little uneven.
Carry on Regardless: **