An Evening with Norman Hudis

An event report by Carry On scriptwriter, Norman Hudis

An Evening with Norman Hudis was organised and presented by Morris Bright, at Pinewood Studios on May 7. The screenwriter and his wife flew in from Hollywood for the occasion, and provides this personal report:

The jollity began with the screening of the trailers of my six C/Ons, followed by short scenes from some of them. Since these consisted mostly of people falling down, I was relieved that a further set of clips included more dialogue, especially touching excerpts from two less successful movies: NO KIDDING and TWICE ROUND THE DAFFODILS. In the former, Leslie Phillips got his due as a fine straight actor.

The untiring Carry-On-ers, more than 200 of them, then actually stood in line for autographs. Though they clearly wanted Rita’s too, she declined to sit beside me out of sheer modesty. The people sought her out just the same, as the original “Nurse”, and because of her additional medical association with showbiz as Technical Adviser on Nursing during the last two seasons of “MASH” in Hollywood, at Last Century-Fox as she calls it.

Brief chats with autograph-collectors, some of whom wanted to be photographed with us, yielded many sidelights of the C/On story, especially applicable to and appreciated by a writer. Two highly contrasted ones will perhaps suffice:

A fragile young-ish man told me “Your films saved my life.” He had suffered with a terminal sickness and, during long, painful hospitalisation, repeatedly viewed cassettes of my films as well as seeing them on TV. They cheered him up sufficiently to cause him to make the emotional claim quoted above. Of course they did not “save his life”: doctors/nurses/his own will achieved his survival but that laughter is a good auxiliary medicine is not, I think, to be denied. It was lump-in-the throat time for me during the couple of minutes we spent together: only once before has anything I wrote (a “Marcus Welby”) done active good to a viewer beyond mere entertainmen t.

The other end of the scale was sheer hilarity: a jolly, buxom lady who assured Rita that her difficulty in breast-feeding was solved when she laughed so heartily at “Teacher” on TV, while trying to feed Baby, that the resulting, heaving, muscular convulsions expressed her milk.

After some food, Morris briefly interviewed me and then the evening was thrown open to questions.

When asked what ideas we’d had for C/Ons which never made it to script and screen, I recalled:

“We were flying to Guernsey for the premiere of ‘Teacher’, and distributor Stuart Levy suggested ‘Carry On Vicar’ to me. I said: ‘Nice idea, except you’re Stuart Levy: your partner is Nat Cohen: director Gerry Thomas and I share your religion. So ‘Carry On Vicar’ would add up to four Jews poking fun at the Church of England.’ Nothing more was heard of this notion.

“However, later: the Boulting twins, John and Roy, made ‘Heavens Above’ on the same theme. The ‘New Statesman’ headlined its review Carry On Christ but maybe the Boultings got away with it because they’re only half-Jewish.”

Glad to report I got a big laugh with this recall.

Maybe I was getting a little light-headed by now, but when asked what historical character I would have liked to take the lead in a C/On, all that sprang to mind was Macbeth. I wanted to elaborate and add that it would have been fun for Hattie Jacques to play all three witches, if only to save on casting and keep up the series’ reputation for inexpensive production, but the next question, whatever it was, came fast and the moment passed.

What advice would I give to anyone who wanted to be a screenwriter?

On the way back to the hotel I thought of the most practical one: marry money. At the time, however, I stated my old-fashioned belief that you have to want to write so much, so insistently, that you need no formal tuition but, like thousands before you, should find out how to do it right by doing it wrong first and hacking your own path through the jungle of art and commerce. Very reactionary, no doubt, but, being given a certificate by a college, a writer doth not make, in this grizzled scribe’s opinion.

Questioned as why the first version of Carry On Again Nurse, mine, for which Peter Rogers brought me back from Hollywood for a few weeks, was not produced, I launched into:

“The powers-that-be - now the unlamented powers-that-were – decreed that the budget of £1,500,00 was excessive for such a parochial subject. This prudent decision did not prevent them from backing such parochial British films as ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’, ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ and ‘The Long Good Friday’ all of which fared very well outside Britain. Far less profitably, they lavished money on intense, introspective movies about intellectuals practicing joyless adultery in Hampstead, sometimes innovatively telling these stories backwards. To turn down our film, they were, in my view, plainly, simply and obtusely wrong.”

This earned the most sustained round of applause of the evening, which surprised even me. I like to think that at least some of the C/On aficionados present had read my script in the book “The Lost Carry Ons” and found it, as I still do, probably the most inventive, affectionate and well-paced C/On I ever wrote, which would have provided what may well have been final and thoroughly characteristic appearances of the entire regular cast.

Please note: A Carry On Again Nurse was, of course, eventually filmed: not from my script however. I don’t know the history of this one or what its budget was. One should not let things rankle, but I’m only human and this crucially unjust and disappointing experience remains a J. Arthur Rankler.

Peter Rogers appeared for the final moments of the evening and would not take his place beside me on the platform until he had located and embraced a further embarrassed Rita.

Our bantering time together passed very amusingly and sentimentally: I acknowledged him as a producer of insight and determination, he again went overboard and described me as a genius. He declared he missed me and always wondered why I went to America to which I replied because they asked me and paid me. His reply was as adroit as ever: “We all make mistakes”, implying my mistake was in leaving and his for letting me leave. Analysis of these opinions must await another time. Meanwhile, he presented me with a new portrait of the original Carry On cast and the evening quietly faded out.

Those in attendance included: my present London associates, film producer Steve Walsh, theatrical entrepreneur Marc Sinden (Peter Rogers’ godson), composer Gwyn Arch, and my British agent Janet Glass.

And, almost all of Rita’s family – a warm reminder that the days we spent in London on this trip also encompassed our Golden Wedding anniversary.