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.