When it’s on: Saturday, 21 February (3.05 pm)
Funny things, the Carry On films. I could cover one per week, such is their ubiquity in the TV schedules, yet they’re treated by most people as a running joke, a wholly outdated product of some best forgotten age. Even at the time they were being made, members of the cast thought they were far better than the material they were being asked to perform. Kenneth Williams, who would go on to make the most appearances, privately reviled the series. Another star, Jim Dale, put in his last job of work for Carry on Again Doctor (that is, until the ill fated Carry On Columbus many years later) before leaving in order to better himself, which attracted scorn and ridicule from his fellow ‘Carriers’. Dale had the last laugh, becoming the ‘voice’ of Harry Potter after recording all seven books for the American market and winning two Grammy Awards in the process.
As for this entry, it was a return to the medical profession for its source material, a further satire on the Doctor series of films that had previously brought great success to Carry On. The eighteenth episode in the franchise, by now the elements that had routinely been hits at the domestic box office were present and correct, all the usual cast members, bawdy humour and the increasing presence of comedy sound effects to enhance the slapstick moments. What it also had, which tended to be more prominent in the more successful Carry Ons, was a plot, an actual story from which the gags derived, rather than some loose clothes horse of a narrative that served to string the jokes together.
Dale plays Jimmy Nookie (I know, I know), a hapless young surgeon at Long Lampton Hospital. Fellow doctor Ernest Stoppidge (Charles Hawtrey) wants to bring him down a peg or two, whilst the hospital’s manager, Frederick Carver (Williams) needs one of his staff to go and practise at a medical outpost in the remote Beatific Islands to placate his patron and potential love interest, Ellen Moore (Joan Sims). Nookie is fingered after one pratfall too many, committed mainly in an effort to impress his girlfriend, played by Barbara Windsor, and he’s packed off in short order. Marooned on the tropical island with Gladstone Screwer (Sid James) and his six wives, Nookie turns initially to drink and despair, only to discover that Screwer has somehow invented a miracle slimming potion. He returns with the elixir and starts making a fortune as female clients flock to his practice, but Carver’s watching with envious eyes, and Gladstone isn’t going to be placated with being paid in cigarettes forever.
The cast was slotted neatly into its appropriate pigeonholes by this stage. Dale played the handsome hero, Williams added pomposity and Hattie Jacques was tailor made to act as Matron. If there’s a sense that much of it is going through the motions, then that’s because it was, well oiled motions that had hit on a largely winning formula and stuck rigidly to it. Some of the jokes and comic set pieces are rigidly terrible, others fine, and one featuring a cameo from series regular Peter Butterworth is brilliant. This wasn’t Windsor’s first appearance for the team, but it was a noticeable one as she played up to her ‘good time girl’ persona, showing up first in a tiny and notorious ‘heart’ bikini, all curves and dyed white hair. If there’s a weak link, it’s the unlikely Sid James, earning first billing despite only turning up halfway through and giving every impression that his part was shoehorned in. The signature laugh is sadly dialled down.
Behind the camera, the creative forces of writer Talbot Rothwell and Gerald Thomas directing remained intact. The former had a really interesting formative experience in comedy scripting; as a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft III (of The Great Escape fame) and kept awake by the incessant tunneling beneath his floor, he wrote for the camp concerts, generally featuring broad, farcical routines that were strong on double entendres. It was the perfect training for his later Carry On work.
Carry on Again Doctor: ***