Carry On Darkly

30 September 1998
Channel 4
51 mins

Producer: Nicola Black
Director: Paul Gallagher
Blackwatch Productions

Press Release:

Carry On conjures up a number of images... KENNETH WILLIAMS mincing about, CHARLES HAWTREY camping it up, SIDNEY JAMES, the silver tongued ladies man and the shameless FRANKIE HOWERD. These were some of the finest Carry On actors who kept Britain in stitches for 20 years. Tonight Carry on Darkly in a shocking and revealing documentary ends the myth and shows a sadder more sinister side to the four comic geniuses. Among their vices - promiscuity, wife beating, compulsive gambling and alcoholism.

Of all the Carry On crew it was Sid James who was known as the loveable rogue - 'good Old Sid' with 'his battered face and smutty laugh'. His character was always the same - a scam merchant and chaser of booze and birds. His on-screen character in many ways mirrored his personal life; to a large extent he was just playing himself. (Sir Sidney Rough-Diamond in 'Carry On Up The Khyber.) But some of his real traits were a lot less endearing.

His biographer CLIFF GOODWIN reveals the truth about the man who took great pains to keep hidden the dark secrets of his life in South Africa before coming to Britain age (33) prior to his first Carry On. The so-called loveable Cockney who billed himself as a boxer, jockey and diamond smuggler was in fact a ladies hairdresser back in his native Johannesburg. But he was also a compulsive gambler, a drinker and serial womaniser who left behind him broken marriages, broken hearts and a string of illegitimate children.

On screen his lack of respect for his partners and children is reflected in a 'Carry On Again Doctor' in-joke. Here Sid introduces new Doctor, Jim Dale to his wives - 'Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday' - only to complain that 'there was not much doing at weekends.' A harmless Carry On gag but the story of how he used his fists to beat up his first pregnant young wife is no laughing matter.

While Sid was the 'rough diamond' - Kenneth Williams was the Carry On would-be intellectual; a tragic figure who would remain trapped throughout his life caught somewhere between personal restraint and homosexual desires he never felt comfortable with. Driven to the depths of loneliness and despair, he committed suicide in 1988.

Writer and broadcaster BARRY TOOK says: "He was an odd man. In one way he was just a practical actor... and on the other someone whose mind was seething with all sorts of problems in his own private life... One felt 'oh please, just relax, please just allow yourself to be the things that you are fighting against. Stop fighting, just enjoy life.' He did not quite get as much out of life as other people."

Unlike Williams, Frankie Howerd would chance his arm with anyone - including his best friends and BBC colleagues. In any other business it would have been called 'sexual harassment' - but even so, naughty old Frankie liked to keep his end up for Britain. Charles Hawtrey, on the other hand was the most secretive and unknown of the Carry On crew. As 'camp as Christmas', and with an alcohol problem so out of control, even his scriptwriters finally turned their satirical pens against his lonely and shambolic life. (In Carry on Abroad, he played the part of a mother-dominated alcoholic.) Like all the Carry On clowns, his real life story was a sad tale of notoriety, lust and loneliness. Behind all the masks were tears.



Carry On Darkly billed itself as an honest, and occasionally shocking look at the private lives of four of the Carry On series' main contributors - Kenneth Williams, Sid James, Charles Hawtrey and Frankie Howerd. Strange, then, that when the company that produced this documentary approached us at Carry On Line and the majority of the other contributors we have spoken to, they told us they were making an affectionate retrospective on the lives of the series' stars. From that point of view alone, those of us here, and the other contributors were probably more shocked about the content of this programme than any of it's viewing public.

The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, did Carry On Darkly really tell us anything we hadn't heard before? Programmes like "Seriously Seeking Sid" or the more recent "Reputations - Kenneth Williams" told us more than we really wanted to know about the often troubled private lives of these two comic greats. Having worked with the team behind the latter, and knowing a number of contributors to the former, I can tell you that both offerings were far more honest and accurate than Carry On Darkly. Which brings us to the real surprise for all those who contributed to the programme.

How do you make a programme which presents, in a very negative way, four celebrities who are almost universally loved by not only the general public, but also everyone who worked with them? The producers of Carry On Darkly achieved this by taking their contributors' comments completely out of context. I have spoken to several of the people who appeared on the programme, and each one has told me that their comments were misrepresented.

For example, Jack Douglas is seen to mention the fact that when he was offered a role in one of the films, he was told that he would not be paid for his appearance. True. However, what Jack also went on to say was that very soon after that conversation with Peter Rogers, a car arrived at his home to deliver a crate of champagne from the Carry On office to thank him. It's things like these that were missed. Rob Ross, author of the Carry On Companion, is seen to criticise Sid James' womanising and drinking. What Rob went on to say was that despite reports of Sid's activities off screen, the man was loved by everyone. Not only that, but many of the reports that allege Sid's abuse of those around him are exaggerated or just plain false. These are just two examples; the list goes on.

In short, Carry On Darkly is an extremely cynical look at four of Britain's best-loved comic talents. The fact that none of them are alive today to defend themselves is just further proof of the cynical, sensationalist and dishonest attitude that went into the making of this programme. Avoid at all costs.