Quatermass II (1957)

When it’s on: Saturday, 6 June (1.05 am, Sunday)
Channel: BBC2
IMDb Link

I’ve mentioned before on these pages that the scheduling of late night classic horror on BBC2 comes as a very welcome thing, potentially introducing a new generation of viewers to golden age thrills and chills. The likes of Quatermass II (released as Enemy from Space in the USA) might be a minor footnote in the genre, surpassed at the time by the technicolor macabre treats of The Curse of Frankenstein, but as a piece of formative horror/science fiction cinema it has its place as an influential piece of work, its mixture of science, paranoia and subtle criticism leaking into the make-up of later productions. It was unavailable for many years. But, restored now, its place within the evolution of British cinema stands out, and it’s impossible to watch Doctor Who, for one celebrated example, without seeing the roots here.

Brian Donlevy – who last appeared on the site, in a younger and more villainous guise, in 1939’s Destry Rides Again – returned to the role of Quatermass, having played him previously in the highly profitable The Quatermass Xperiment. Both films were adaptations of the BBC serial, scripted by Nigel Kneale, who had a much bigger influence on this film. The name of the title character might have come almost randomly via a search through the London telephone directory, but he was very deliberately shaped as a credible man of science, an intellectual authority who possessed the imagination to take on new concepts in a rational way, such as the threat of alien invasion, which broadly covers the plot of both films. Donlevy’s Quatermass was, however, a departure from the television version, playing the character as little more than a superior bully who treats those around him like subordinates because he’s always one step ahead, seeing threats long before anybody else can fathom their existence. Kneale didn’t like this portrayal as it took its toll on Quatermass’s humanity and his appeal as a hero, but it did add gravitas to the character, making him more believable as a brilliant scientist who inspires others through sheer authority. That said, stories were rife of Donlevy acting via a constant supply of black coffee to fend off his considerable alcohol intake, rumours that each cup was laced with something stronger.

At the beginning of the film, Quatermass is in charge of a project that plans to send a rocket to the moon, carrying people who will colonise it. There’s even a rocketship on his base; absent, however, is the government funding. Quatermass soon finds out where the money is going, on a plant that looks identical to his own, based at Winnerden Flats. The area is of interest due to a prolonged meteor shower that has occurred there, and when Quatermass investigates he discovers they’re very far from rocks hurtling randomly to the earth’s surface. A colleague is unlucky enough to be holding one of the meteorites when it explodes in his face, releasing a gas that leaves him with a v-shaped mark on his face. Soldiers arrive and take the man away, ordering Quatermass to leave. A visit to Inspector Lomax (John Longden) sends him to Whitehall, from where he inveigles himself onto a guided tour of the mysterious facility. On the surface, it seems benign enough, but the tour guide is intent on nobody straying from the group, and Quatermass learns to his horror that unless he does he’ll never leave the place with his life.

They key to it all is a nearby town (in reality, Hemel Hempstead) built for the construction workers, which Quatermass visits and from where he recruits a boozy reporter (Sidney James) to get the word out about what’s really happening at Winnerden Flats. There’s an air of complacency about the community that Quatermass shatters with his arrival, but what’s really interesting about it is that it’s at the heart of the conspiracy he’s uncovering. The people are oblivious about what’s happening at the plant, and everything’s fine as long as they remain so, led by the community centre, which wants absolutely nothing to do with Quatermass’s concerns. The stink about the government driven imposed silence only grows as the people realise what is actually happening, leading to a posse of angry townspeople converging on the plant, a group containing Michael Ripper in one of his early, celebrated Hammer cameos. A barmaid (Vera Day) is injured when a meteor crashes inside the pub, and this turns the community’s mood to one of retribution, building to the climactic attack against the plant. Terrifyingly, people who have been ‘infected’ by coming into contact with the meteors all have scars on their skin, a visible sign that they aren’t what they used to be.

Despite the modest budget and special effects that are clearly dated, it’s a riveting picture, a British take on the paranoia-fuelled science fiction movies that America was putting out during the 1950s. Where the USA film industry played on people’s Cold War fears of a communist invasion through stories of hostile alien visitors (on this subject, I’m hoping to cover The Thing from Another World in a couple of days), Quatermass II concerns itself with a government riddled with secrecy that takes part in allowing the otherworldly villains to set themselves up in the country and build from there. Donlevy is great as the hero, not very likeable yet still effective in leading the fightback from ordinary people. The Shell Haven oil refinery in Essex doubled as the alien plant, with matte paintings also used for the more ‘alien’ areas.

Quatermass II is a little gem of a picture, much cleverer than it appears to be both as an exercise in mounting fear and a barometer of contemporary moods. It’s highly recommended.

Quatermass II: ****

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What a Carve Up! (1961)

When it’s on: Sunday, 5 April (6.00 am)
Channel: Movies4Men
IMDb Link

The best novel I’ve ever read is What a Carve Up! by Jonathan Coe. It’s a tale about the horrible people who benefited most from Thatcher’s Britain, all condensed into one deliciously odious family, and chronicled by the man who’s writing a book about them. The story parallels, to an extent, a film the writer remembers from his childhood, the broad British comedy What a Carve Up! (or No Place Like Homicide! as it was oddly titled in the USA, though it’s nice to see the exclamation mark was retained) and it’s for that reason I tracked down the DVD some years ago and have watched it numerous times since.

The film has none of the book’s depth and meaning and is, as the novel’s narrator understands, nothing more than a light farce. The fact that the events in the book start to echo those in the film just adds to the dramatic irony, and of course have just as much of a mixed fortune at the end. But just because 1961’s What a Carve Up! is an easy sub-ninety minutes of pseudo-Carry On comedy doesn’t make it bad. It turns out to be very good fun, albeit containing absolutely no substance and played entirely for laughs.

It started life as a crime novel by 1928 British pulp fiction writer, Frank King, called The Ghoul, which was filmed five years later in a Boris Karloff feature. Made as a horror feature, when it came to be redone in 1961 it was converted into a broad comedy starring Sidney James and Kenneth Connor, with even less of the source material’s contents retained.

Connor is Ernie Broughton, a proof reader of mystery paperbacks. He finds out from a mysterious solicitor, Everett Sloane (Donald Pleasence), that his rich uncle has died and he’s to go to Yorkshire in order to be present for the reading of the will, so off he travels with his friend Syd (James) in tow. When he arrives, he finds the entire family assembled, and a grotesque, greedy bunch they are. Dennis Price plays his hard drinking cousin, Guy, and Michael Gwynn the demented Malcolm. Esma Cannon is Aunt Emily, whose mind is stuck in 1914. There’s also Shirley Eaton, who takes on the role of Uncle Gabriel’s former nurse, Linda. Hearing the will reading, they learn that they’ve been left precisely nothing, with the exception of Linda who has bequeathed some medical supplies. And then one of them is found dead.

Ernie is warned by the house butler (Michael Gough) that it’s just the beginning, and sure enough further family members are dispatched over the course of a night during which they’re all trapped in the house during a typically stormy night, all methods of communication down and the village unreachable due to all the nearby bogs. Ernie is suspected, then he isn’t. The house is discovered to be riddled with secret passages. Doubts emerge over whether Gabriel is dead at all, and if he isn’t then one of the characters is working with him to perform the murders.

The actors all play up to the stereotypes they developed over the course of their careers. No one did nervousness for comic effect like Kenneth Connor and he brings all his jumpy, gibbering shtick to the film as the anxious Ernie, getting steadily more frantic throughout. As his more hard-headed friend, James gets the best gags and reins in the lewdness that would define him more in later years. Price plays the posh gentleman that he did so well, and then there’s Shirley Eaton, undeniably lovely as Ernie’s unrequited love interest and in the picture for no better reason than to provide one (an uncredited Adam Faith pops up right at the end as her boyfriend). The film’s ominous overtones are provided by Donald Pleasence, of course, leaving me to wonder if there was ever a time when he didn’t come across in his roles as creepy, middle aged and softly spoken. He’s introduced as he walks up the stairs to Ernie and Syd’s flat, moving very slowly, deliberately and in complete silence, staring straight at the camera, which sets the uneasy tone for his character instantly.

What a Carve Up! is an easy film to enjoy, briskly weaving its story and doing a great job of setting up the house as a place of suspense and mystery, filled with dark recesses and bookshelves that can be opened to reveal a passage to surprise locations. The sinister air it generates is subservient always to the laughs, blowing apart the atmosphere in favour of pratfalls and funny likes, which usually hit the mark.

What a Carve Up!: ***

Carry On Again Doctor (1969)

When it’s on: Saturday, 21 February (3.05 pm)
Channel: ITV3
IMDb Link

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: ***

The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953)

When it’s on: Saturday, 3 January (7.50 am)
Channel: BBC2
IMDb Link

The Titfield Thunderbolt takes place in a fantasy 1950s English village, a semi-rural paradise of sunny days, gentle breezes, cricket matches, girls in summer dresses and where everybody knows your name. The plot is equally amiable. Faced with the closure of their local railway line connecting Titfield with Mallingford, the villagers take it amongst themselves to save it. They’re faced with the issues of antiquated stock and the rival bus company that looks forward to an upturn in business; on their side is a genial, frequently gassed and very eccentric millionaire (Stanley Holloway) who is persuaded to invest in the railway once he learns the train is exempt from licensing laws.

It’s a lovely little ode to gentler times, over in 80 minutes and evoking a long-lost England that you can imagine was in John Major’s head back when he was attempting to drive through his nostalgia-fuelled Back to Basics campaign. Readers with memories of the British political scene during the 1990s will recall this with something approaching fondness. At the time, the governing Conservative Party was rocked by a series of scandals, sleazy stories that included the unedifying image of Culture Secretary David Mellor having intimate relations with an actress whilst wearing his Chelsea kit. Major’s wish was to bring some old-fashioned values back to the country, a nice effort that was woefully out of touch with reality and real issues of the time, and there’s some comparative fun to be had with watching a film like The Titfield Thunderbolt whilst the all too awful troubles of the world are kept loosely at bay.

The comedies produced by Ealing Studios from 1947 to 1957 always ran close to being wistful, whimsical affairs. Moderate yarns all told, even darker subjects of murder in the likes of Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Ladykillers were played lightly, a sense of playful irony sidestepping the grimmer narrative territory into which the films might have fallen. What those two did have, however, was tension, the natural suspense generated by stories in which human beings are facing peril, however mildly they’re told, and that’s something missing from The Titfield Thunderbolt. Added to that is the lack of appeal to the masses, which a film like Passport to Pimlico generated well enough by producing a tale for bombed out, post-war Britons to enjoy and even feel some empathy with. Here, you imagine the ordinary commuter feeling a slight nostalgic regret for the disappearance of the railway line, but hey, if there’s a bus service that can get me to work instead… The challenge of maintaining the line falls to Titfield’s old school leaders, the local vicar (George Relph) and squire (John Gregson) offering their services, whilst Holloway puts up the cash and props up the bar.

Given a month’s trial period to try and keep the line running, the village bands together in the attempt, drafting in the experience of former railway worker Hugh Griffiths, who passes an itinerant lifestyle in his home fashioned from an abandoned train carriage. Opposing them are the bus company villains, who try such dastardly schemes as blocking the track with a lorry laden with rocks in order to delay the service. Ultimately, they sabotage the engine itself, which leads to the villagers borrowing the antique Thunderbolt from a museum so that they can maintain a working service on the day of the government inspection. Sidney James is also on hand as a gruff steamroller driver, whilst onetime Caldicott, Naunton Wayne, turns up as a lawyer who represents the typical user of the line.

Despite the film’s parochial attitude, it’s a mild delight. Filmed in Technicolor by Ealing veteran Charles Crichton (who was responsible for the excellent The Lavender Hill Mob), the green and pleasant land through which the Thunderbolt runs is really quite gorgeous, all picture postcard villages and grazing animals wandering by the tracks. It’s an image of England that might never have existed in reality, the sort you imagine American tourists demanding to experience when they turn up, but it’s very lovely and the backdrop for an easily digestible yarn in which plucky villagers stick it gently to the man. It comes with a deeper level of irony; a decade after it was released, the Beeching Cuts were instigated following a full investigation into the state of Britain’s railways. With road transport becoming increasingly popular, many of the country’s rail services were viewed as unnecessary and subsequently axed, calling an end to the vast network of train services that used to criss-cross the land. There’s little doubt that the fictional Titfield-Mallingford line, which survived the threatened closure thanks to the will of the people, would have wound up a forgotten victim of Beeching’s ruthless cuts.

Titfield Thunderbolt: ***

Carry On Up the Jungle (1970)

When it’s on: Sunday, 26 August (2.05 pm)
Channel: ITV3
IMDb Link

I’m flabbergasted! My gast has never been so flabbered!

The 1970s are seen as a downturn for the fortunes of the Carry On franchise, with the humour becoming courser and the budgets tighter. Considering it’s a film that simultaneously parodies all of Tarzan, Hammer’s prehistoric output and Mogambo, the sets created for Carry On Up the Jungle were done on the cheap. With considerably less invested in the project than the series’ high point, Carry On Follow that Camel (a significant portion of which went on Phil Silvers’s wages), any possibility of filming on location was abandoned for interior sets at Pinewood, and it shows. Jim Dale (not at all happy with being offered the role of Ugh, the Jungle Boy) and Kenneth Williams (filming The Kenneth Williams Show) were unavailable, and that shows too.

All of which said, with so many plot strands crammed into the sub-90 minute running time and the usual quickfire gagsmithery from Talbot Rothwell, it’s very entertaining stuff and never gets dull. Frankie Howerd fills in for Williams as Professor Inigo Tingle, an ornithologist who’s in Africa with his assistant, Chumley (Kenneth Connors). Sid James is their grizzled guide, Bill Boosey, and along for the ride is expedition investor Lady Evelyn Bagley (Joan Sims) and her maidservant, June (Jacki Piper). Boosey employs the obligatory team of African retainers, led by Bernard Bresslaw in black face. On the way, they have encounters with jungle creatures (largely culled from stock footage, along with a bloke running around in a gorilla suit), a jungle native (Terry Scott) who takes a shine to June and has some long lost connection to Lady Bagley, ferocious tribes and a tribe of Amazonian women, led by Valerie Leon.

The jokes – mainly knob gags – come thick and fast, along with moments of mild nudity. Bresslaw was required to speak gibberish as his communication with the other Africans, but actually took the time to learn the Ndebele dialect; in an unfortunate comic twist, no one understood him as the actors playing his fellow retainers were from the West Indies. It sounds good anyway, though presumably the exchanges with Boosey – ‘Nikka Nookie’ – is wholly made up. Scott and Piper have a surprisingly touching subplot as the romantically involved ‘Tarzan and Jane’, Scott emerging as pretty funny in a part that requires him to grunt nonsensically, clamber around in nothing more than a loincloth whilst possessing a 40-something’s stocky build. George of the Jungle he is not, though the later film did rip off his talent at flying along vines and straight into tree trunks.

It starts to lose its way a little once Leon’s female tribe enters the action, mainly because the antics of James, Sims, Howerd and all have been such good fun (especially the latter, who brings his usual verbal tics and ‘Please yourselves’ remarks to bear). The action suddenly becomes much bawdier, though there’s a brilliant build-up to Tonka, the tribe’s chief and sole male member, talked of as a legendary lover, who turns out to be none other than Charles Hawtrey.

Other elements to recommend include Eric Rogers’s frantic score, drawing on drumbeats, tribal chants and at times becoming fairly epic. Indeed it’s the latter moments that undermine the film as an ultimately cheap exercise, though it’s never less than fun and moves at a sufficiently whip-cracking pace to keep eyes from focusing on the cost-cutting methods.

Carry On Up the Jungle: ***

Carry On… Up the Khyber (1968)

When it’s on: Thursday, 2 August (11.40 am)
Channel: More4
IMDb Link

‘They will die the death of a thousand cuts!’
‘Oh! But that’s horrible!’
‘Not at all my little desert flower, the British are used to cuts!’

The Carry On team’s sixteenth film turns out to be one of its best. Carry On… Up the Khyber had one of the more generous budgets of the entries and married the quick wit of Talbot Rothwell’s screenplay to a story of insurrection and manners in the British Raj. Gleefully satirising any number of boys’ own yarns concerning the Northwest frontier, whilst poking fun at the attitude of the Empire builders from these very shores, it’s great fun from beginning to end, packed with riotous gags and fine performances.

I really enjoyed BBC4’s Kenneth Williams night last week, with its repeated Reputations documentary and another screening of Fantabulosa!, the dramatisation featuring some mesmerising mimicry by Michael Sheen. The former focused on the Carry On series as both the crowning glory and death knell of Williams’s career. Whilst the films put Ken’s bread on the table, he found the work degrading and a long way from the acting world he wanted to break into, which is a shame as he’s often the best thing in them. He’s on top form here as the Khasi of Khalabar, the local ruler who leads a revolt against the British when he learns that the ‘Skirted Devils’ (the kilt wearing soldiers, known as the 3rd Foot and Mouth Regiment) have taken to wearing underpants, proof of their lack of superhuman strength.

But he isn’t the best thing in this outing. That honour belongs squarely in the lap of Sir Sidney James, playing governor Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond. James reins in his usual ‘everyman’ shtick as the dignitary with far more airs than graces, trying to hold together a faltering British position by sharing flannel with the Khasi and only occasionally delivering his trademark laugh, normally to great effect. Worthy mentions go to Joan Sims as his blousey wife, Terry Scott’s over-zealous Sergeant Major with shades of Zulu‘s Nigel Green, Charles Hawtrey as the most unlikely frontier defender imaginable, and Bernard Bresslaw playing local warlod, Bungdit Din. Jim Dale was carrying on elsewhere whilst this was being filmed, so Roy Castle took the straight role as the dashing Captain.

Also brilliant is Peter Butterworth, an irregular team member who here plays Brother Belcher, a Christian missionary with a fatal eye for the ladies. His best moments come in the film’s standout scene. As the Khasi’s army starts laying waste to the Governor’s Palace, those inside settle down to dinner, exercising the stiffest of upper lips as the building collapses around them… All except Brother Belcher, who represents the sentiments of the audience and can’t believe the way everyone is ignoring the cannon shots and collapsing exteriors, finally turning to the bottle for solace.

Costs were fought off by filming the Khyber Pass scenes in Snowdonia, indeed the frontier is simply a gate on Snowdon’s Watkin Pass that’s guarded by Hawtrey. But it’s a laugh to think of such a legendary point in the Empire in such a way, and the film in general pays affectionate homage and pokes good-natured fun at both the real-life Raj and other, more serious films covering the period. There’s a danger of all the ribaldry being at the expense of politically correct attitudes, however this is a film approaching its 45th year and anyone chiding it for the white actors playing native Indians and dodgy punmanship can just Fakir off. It’s as close to the bone as Hawtrey in military uniform serving as a comment on the British army’s competence. There isn’t one. Its lack of bite is something to be cherished in an age of more ‘knowing’ comedies. Some fans have gone so far as to form their own 3rd Foot and Mouth regiment in honour of the film, which should act as a lasting comment on the lasting regard in which it’s held.

Carry On… Up the Khyber: ****

Carry on Regardless (1961)

When it’s on: Friday, 22 June (5.10 pm)
Channel: Film4
IMDb Link

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: **