The man who pioneered the Carry Ons, his name is Norman Hudis,...and I want him to stand up to let people see what a genius looks like’ said Peter Rogers at the 40th anniversary celebrations at Pinewood. An entirely appropriate description of one of the most prolific and sought-after of screen-writers, whose career has encompassed everything from the ultra-British Carry Ons to three Hollywood TV awards.
May 2000 sees the UK release of A Monkey’s Tale, a full-length animated feature with a screenplay and song lyrics by Norman. The film is already a major success in France, and, currently working in England on two TV projects, two movies, and a stage-play, Norman is busier now than ever before.
Taking time out from this crowded schedule Norman was only too happy to talk to Carry On-Line about his involvement with the series and to share his memories of those halcyon days of British comedy.
It has to be said that Norman is one of those people who you cannot help but like, with a friendly nature and an understated but sharp sense of humour. His willingness to talk about his work make him an interviewers dream. His affection for his association with the Carry Ons is evident in every answer and as his friendship with Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas pre-dates Carry On Sergeant it seemed logical to start by finding out how the first meeting took place:
‘I was a publicist at Islington Studios, and Peter Rogers was an Associate Producer. This was some time ago - long before you had to buy bottled water for drinking. I wrote his biography after an interview which, I recall, we both found amusing. There was obviously some sense-of-humour rapport which came to fruition later with the Carry Ons.’
After working with Peter and Gerald on The Tommy Steele Story, Norman was given the existing treatment of The Bull Boys to work into a screen farce and Carry On Sergeant was born. Taking up the story Norman remembers that ‘both Peter and Gerry responded enthusiastically to my notion that we should follow a group of unwilling and incompetent conscripts, from induction and misery to team spirit and success - all because of belated affection for an irascible but basically quite lovable Sergeant. This same format worked basically for Nurse, Constable and Cruising as well.’
'The only major censorship clash I recall occurred in relation to a Charles Hawtrey scene in Carry On Regardless.
He was sent to the aid of a lady in I forget what, but it certainly wasn't sex. Obviously I had a field day with double meanings etc., and the Censor went to pieces. The whole sequence (which even I still find funny to read is reprinted in Kenneth Eastaugh's Carry On Book) was cut out.
Thank God this is historical since the abominable practice of censorship is now all but abolished. Final word on this topic. The trouble with Censors is that they see sex lurking under the bed and it would be much healthier and happier if they embraced it on top of it.'
Carry On Nurse is credited as being based on the stage show, Call For Catty, but Norman revealed the two sources of inspiration for the script were actually much closer to home...
'I had struggled for a few days to work a story-line for this film and it got bogged down in nauseating sentimentality. Fate and my appendix intervened and I went into Hospital for an operation. This amounted to ten days free research into Nurse-patient interaction, courtesy of the NHS and I realised a more robust approach would be more rewarding. And so it proved. My wife, Rita is a Nurse, and her contribution was fundamental and equally based on fact and experience.’
‘Nurse, in my opinion owes nothing to Call For Catty and I would like to leave it at that. Twice Round The Daffodils (another Peter Rogers/Gerry Thomas comedy/drama of 1962, scripted by Norman) was also credited as being based on Call For Catty. It certainly was and that is freely acknowledged’.
A favourite subject for Carry On fans is what might have been, did Norman ever have any ideas for scripts that were never used and what of the mysterious What A Carry On! announced in 1960 but never made?
‘I soon became aware that I was lucky to be the first writer on the series, because we had the choice of familiar targets for comedy - institutions that everyone knew (Army, Hospital, School etc.), this vein had to run out - and I ran out with it. I grab this opportunity of whole-heartedly admiring the huge talent of my fellow writer, the late and prolific Talbot Rothwell, who ‘carried on’ the series into glorious realms of uproarious fantasy’.
‘The only one I ever briefly discussed was a suggestion to make Carry On Fleet Street. With my background as a reporter, this would have been a ball but it never happened. By the time other possible titles came up I had left the unit. Years later they offered me Carry On Again Nurse, liked my script, but it was deemed too expensive to recoup costs in it’s most reliable market - the UK. Other than that, no, the Carry Ons were over and done with after Cruising so far as I was concerned. I know nothing about What A Carry On!’
‘As for the films that followed, I only saw Columbus on satellite when I was living in Ireland. Most Studios and/or Producers would be thrilled to have produced only one out of thirty productions which let’s say was not quite so successful as the others. So lets leave it at that. However, as a footnote, I recall that when Columbus was announced for production in the American press, I contacted Gerry about scripting it. Clearly embarrassed, he assured me that they had tried to get me approved as the writer by the financiers. These Gentlemen did not consider the writer who did the first six and had lived and worked in America for thirty years to be suitable for Carry On Columbus. Enough said.’
‘As things developed I was able to write roles and dialogue with specific Carry On actors in mind - and very glad to be able to do so. I remember spending a couple of hours at Slough Police Station and found it sufficiently depressing to ask that this one was postponed, which it was, without hesitation. Carry On Regardless came about because there was, and maybe still is, an admirable Company called Universal Aunts, which undertook all sorts of curious and not-so-curious missions and errands for its clients. We thought that a Carry On set in such an agency, would provide a new look to the series, as, necessarily, such a movie would be episodic with only a thin narrative line. I disliked the film precisely because of this "bitty" structure and felt that one cohesive narrative suited this team-based type of comedy much better. However I am quite proud of the ‘Forth Bridge’ sequence.’
To round off the conversation I asked Norman to name his favourite Carry On and if the basic ideas for the scripts were his or were they given to him by Peter and/or Gerry?
‘Carry On Nurse. I can’t remember if I said ‘lets do a Carry On Teacher (for example) or if it was Peter or Gerry. It’s par for the course in the industry to develop other people’s ideas. I’m just grateful that they happened at all.’
With grateful thanks to the lovely Rita Hudis, the original Nurse and Norman’s Wife for her gracious help in arranging this interview.
Interview copyright (c) George Seaton 2000.