Cor, Blimey!

25 April 2000
96 mins

Producer - Margaret Mitchell
Executive Producers - Charlie Pattinson, George Faber, Suzan Harrison
Written & directed by Terry Johnson

 Geoffrey Hutchings - Sid
Adam Godley - Kenneth
Samantha Spiro - Babs
Jacqueline Defferary - Sally
Kenneth MacDonald - Eddie
Barbara Windsor - Herself
Chrissie Cotteril - Joan Sims
Steve Spiers - Bernard Bresslaw
Hugh Walters - Charles Hawtrey
Derek Howard - Kenneth Connor
David McAlister - Gerald Thomas
Hetty Baynes - Maggie

Louise Delamere - Imogen
Alan Barnes - First AD
Peter Yapp - Cameraman
Maria Charles - Charlie's Mum
Richard Vanstone - Alf
Claire Cathcart - Matron
Abigail McKern - Olga
Barbara Kirby - June
Kellie Bright - Viola
Alan Cox - Orsino
Windsor Davies - Sir Tony Belch
Alice Bailey Johnson - Alice

In Winter 1998, a new play premiered at the National Theatre in London. Cleo, Camping, Emmannuelle & Dick was a bleak comedy by acclaimed playwright Terry Johnson. Centred around the ongoing relationship between Sid James and Barbara Windsor, along with Kenneth Williams, the play won popular and critical acclaim, picking up that year's Olivier Award for best new comedy (you can read all about the play in the Carry On Stage pages). Late in 1999, I heard about a possible TV adaptation of the play. Called "Cor Blimey" it would focus more on the Sid/Babs relationship, while at the same time offering a wider glimpse of the world behind the Carry On screen. A frightening prospect; having the thing you love dissected for all the world to see. However, based on the drama's provenance, I was optimistic at least.

Cor Blimey premiered on the ITV network on Monday 24 April, 2000. Bank Holiday Monday - a traditional time to sit down and enjoy a Carry On film. Instead, we were treated to something even better - Cor Blimey was, in a word, stunning. I was familiar with the story, in general, having seen the original play and read the script. I was also familiar with the uncanny portrayals of Sid, Babs and Kenny, courtesy of Geoffrey Hutchings, Adam Godley and Samantha Spiro. Despite all that, from the opening theme, typical Carry On stuff courtesy of Barrington Pheloung, to the closing shots of Babs and Kenny (more on that later) Cor Blimey is a charming, funny, warm and yet highly dramatised (more on that later, too) look at the lives of the people who continue to make us laugh 30 years later.

The film opens at Pinewood studios during the filming of Carry On Cleo. The cast and crew are taking lunch in the canteen and we're instantly thrown into a room full of stars. Excellent portrayals of Charles Hawtrey and Bernard Bresslaw and more - one of the treats of Cor Blimey is spotting the characters - the producers did a top job in casting actors who actually resembled the people they were supposed to be. In the background you can see Odd Job and the golden girl from Goldfinger - in real life, of course, played by Carry On's Shirley Eaton - I knew then that this would get extremely confusing, so I decided to just relax and enter into the spirit of things.

We're soon introduced to the new starlet, Barbara Windsor. As soon as he sets eyes on her, Sid's obviously obsessed. The film then follows Sid and the gang through the making of several Carry On films as the years go by. With each passing year, Sid falls deeper in love and becomes increasingly obsessed. Finally, during the filming of Carry On Girls, Babs relents and the two begin an ongoing affair that lasts until 1976. Eventually Babs, whose loyalties have been stretched to their limit between Sid and husband Ronnie Knight, puts a stop to the affair when Sid's increasing jealousy threaten to ruin both their lives. Sid, who has suffered ill health since the late 60s goes into a decline and finally passes away on stage at the Sunderland Empire on 26 April 1976.

In the meantime, Babs and Kenneth became friends from the time they first met during Carry On Spying. While there was never a hint of romance between the two, they appeared very much like an old married couple; Kenneth would spend his days braying at and insulting anyone who came near him, developing a reputation as a thoroughly unpleasant piece of work. Babs was one of the few people who could see through the performance to the deeply troubled sensitive man underneath. Their friendship lasted as long as the Carry Ons and on until Kenneth's death in 1988. Cor Blimey follows the couple's relationship over the years, tracing Kenneth's descent into the depression that would eventually play such a major role in his death.

It's a tragic story - exhaustively researched (despite some extreme dramatic license with the chronology of the films and the actors themselves), beautifully directed and superbly acted by a cast whose impersonations of the original team range from brilliant to downright eerie. Top honours go to Geoffrey Hutchings, Adam Godley and Samantha Spiro, but a special mention also to Hugh Walters for his brilliant Charles Hawtrey characterisation. One point - where was Hattie Jacques? I put her absence down to more dramatic license, but can't help feeling it's something of a slight to the lovely lady. A final point on casting was the eventual appearance of Barbara Windsor herself. At the end of the film, Babs and Kenneth stroll through the gloomy backlot at Pinewood. They stumble across the remains of Sid's caravan and step inside to reminisce. Babs turns around and suddenly it's the *real* Babs - the final, sentimental scene is delivered by the woman who actually lived it. Well done to Barbara Windsor for a tear-jerking performance.

In the months preceding Cor Blimey's broadcast, many people on the Carry On mailing list raised concerns about the possible portrayals of the Carry On gang. Recent years have seen some extremely negative examinations of their private lives, and understandably several contributors were concerned that the tone of the film may be unnecessarily cynical; the British media not being known for its forgiving nature where scandal is concerned. And the Carry On gang have more than their fare share of scandal. Sid James' womanising and Kenneth Williams' homosexuality are well known. As for Babs' private life; the focus of the film was the affair between her and Sid - how candid would she let them be with her life story, especially given the fact that Babs herself was mysteriously included in the cast?

The Carry On gang are dear to the hearts of just about everyone in Britain, if not the world over. Cor Blimey took those wonderful characters and turned them into human beings. Stories which have littered the tabloids over the years are treated with great sensitivity, at all times preserving the dignity of the people who lived them and basically showing them for what they really are - the lives of ordinary people. However, there have been numerous criticisms of how the stories themselves were portrayed; most famously the estate of Sid James complained to the ITC that the Sid/Barbara relationship was greatly exaggerated and bore little resemblance to what happened in real life. Sid never planned to leave his wife; he didn't go into a spiral of depression on being rejected by Barbara; Sid was a womaniser - Barbara was just another of his many flings; despite everything he remained a committed family man.

Furthermore, the fictinal personas of some of the characters are, in some cases, less than flattering or accurate; the personas of Kenneth Connor and Joan Sims are less than flattering and quite at odds with the real actors; somebody on the production team doesn't appear to like them. Then, there's the complete omission of Hattie Jacques; the much loved leading lady of the Carry Ons.

Make no mistake; Cor Blimey is extremely biased and factually questionable. However, it's also a great mixture of comedy and drama, and that's the only real problem it has - by using "real" characters and "real" situations to portray what is a largely fictional account of what went on behind the scenes, Cor Blimey enters the realm of docu-drama. Nowhere does it say the events are fictional and therefore the average viewer comes away thinking that what they've just seen is the truth. To somebody better acquainted with the films and the people who worked on them, that leaves a very bitter taste.