Star Team Interviews

ABC Film Review, 1961

In March 1958, Peter Rogers decided to produce a low-budget comedy entitled Carry On Sergeant. He signed Gerald Thomas as director of the film and a team of actors and actresses who, while not lacking in experience as far as the majority of the public were concerned the cast was virtually unknown. Peter Rogers, incorrigible optimist that he is, could hardly have entertained anything more than modest hopes that his film might be an average success.

The film's eventual release astonished everybody, from Peter Rogers, who produced it, to ABC, in whose theatres you saw it. The cinema-going public, starved of humour, flocked in their millions to laugh at this honest British farce, so full of homely allusions as roast beef and two veg.

The success of the first film prompted the making of Carry On Nurse. If Sergeant astonished everybody, Nurse astounded them. It was the top money-maker of its year and its fabulous success at home has been endorsed in every world situation where it has been playing, from the USA to Australia.

Then followed Carry On Teacher and Carry On Constable, to establish the series as the most successful comedy saga in the history of the cinema. And now comes what, in the minds of those most intimately concerned, is all set to become the biggest laughter maker of them all - Carry On Regardless.

The little known actors of three years ago are now as familiar to us as the wife's relations and infinitely more amusing. They have made the star grade as a team, rather than as individuals, hence the introduction this month of a Star Team interview in lieu of our customary "individual" feature. When I was down at the studio during the shooting of Carry On Regardless, the first character I met on the set was -

Kenneth Connor

I had often seen Ken on the set in the previous Carry Ons and I remarked on this fact as we shook hands.

"Yes," he laughed. "I told Peter Rogers that he would save himself a lot of money if he let the Carry On team do their parts over the phone."

"And what did Peter say to that?" I asked.

"He said that it was a good idea which he would be glad to use if only he could trust the switchboard!" quipped Ken.

The joke set the pattern of the interview as Kenneth Connor is just as amusing off the set as on it. His next crack was also directed against Peter Rogers.

"We complained to him that our locations always seemed to be in the back streets of Ealing. Why, we asked, couldn't we have a glamour location for a change, like other units."

"What happened?" I prompted.

"Peter said he'd send us over the water for a change. He did - over the Thames to the back streets of Windsor" answered Ken ruefully.

"There's been a big improvement in the artistes' restaurant here since the Cleopatra mob came over from Hollywood," he confided, changing the subject abruptly and looking serious.

I expressed my gratification that this should be so.

"Yes" said Ken. "When they leave we are going back to real food!"

I realised that once again my leg was being pulled and as I was trying to think of an appropriate rejoinder, character actor Bill Owen happened to pass by.

"Hi!" called Ken, grabbing Bill by the arm and swinging him round towards us. "What do you think about this fellow," he asked me. "He's made so much money out of show business he's bought himself a house in Brighton."

"Indeed?" I said politely.

"Yeah," said Ken. "Every time the tide comes in it puts the fire out. When the weather gets a bit warmer Bill's going back under the pier, aren't you, Bill?"

Bill looked at me and touched his head significantly before departing to obey a summons from the set.

I could fill the magazine with the quips and jokes which poured from Kenneth Connor all the time I was talking to him, which illustrates his happy-go-lucky outlook on life.

A gold medallist of the Central School of Drama at the age of 19, he graduated the hard way through repertory and bit parts before touring the Middle East during World War 2 in George Black's "Stars in Battle Dress". Since 1951 he has appeared in many BBC shows, but it was in Carry On Sergeant that the public recognised him as a potential top comedian. Since then he has never looked back. In addition to appearing in all the Carry Ons, he has made several other films as well as starring on TV.

"Have you any hobbies?" I asked during a lull in the gagging.

"Yes," answered Ken without hesitation. "Lying in bed."

I knew it was hopeless to get any more out of him of what the world calls "sense" so I left him taking the mickey out of other members of the cast while I went in search of the second Kenneth -

Kenneth Williams

Kenneth Williams is without doubt one of the most volatile personalities in British films today. His natural exuberance bubbles like champagne, and I do not recall meeting any actor with more mobile features.

Like Kenneth Connor, Kenneth Williams does not need a script before he is able to be funny. Within minutes of renewing our acquaintance - I had met him several times before - he had me in stitches with an impromptu rendering of excerpts from his current radio series "Beyond our Ken". His mimicry of show business personalities, colonels, society women and other recognisable types was faultless.

At length I managed to steer him towards the purpose of my interview by asking him if he was pleased to be back in films, especially Carry On Regardless.

"Of course I am," he answered promptly. "Honestly, it seems almost a shame to take the money because making a Carry On never really feels like work at all."

I asked him to be a little more precise.

"Well," Kenneth explained. "I don't have to tell you how much the atmosphere on the set depends on the director."

"You don't indeed, Ken." I agreed.

"And believe me, Gerald Thomas is as good a director - in every respect - as any actor can ever hope to work with. Mind you," he went on quickly, "Gerry is not lax and he soon cracks down on those who try to cover up their own mistakes by blaming a fellow artiste."

My next question dealt specifically with Carry On Regardless. What did Kenneth think of it by contrast with the other Carry Ons?

"This, of course, is the first of the series in which we have been 'dressed proper' as you might say," he laughed. "All the others have required either uniform or special clothing, but this time we are in lounge suits. That does not mean the film is lacking in comedy content," he added, "in fact I will stick my neck right out and say that Carry On Regardless is the funniest of the five."

Just then Kenneth was called to the set to do a scene with Sid James, the boss of the Helping Hands Agency, whom I interviewed for ABC Film Review some months ago. As I watch ed Kenneth I recalled the stepping stones of his career which have led him to stardom and fame in all branches of public entertainment.

Staring his working life in lithography, Kenneth soon heard the call of the motley, the paint and the powder and got himself a job in repertory. Joining the Army during the war, he was sent to the Far East and later transferred to Combines Services Entertainment in which he found a new career - as a revue artiste.

In the early 1950s, Ken made his debut in films in Trent's Last Case. This was followed by Innocents in Paris, The Beggars' Opera, Moby Dick and finally his first major screen role in Carry On Sergeant.

There was a lull on the set for a technical adjustment and Kenneth, seeing a mirror, went over to it and began pulling the funniest faces you ever saw!

That's the way it goes with the Carry On team, always clowning whether in front of the camera or behind it. In fact, you've got to look which way the lens is pointing to know where the film is being shot!

Charles Hawtrey

Although Charles Hawtrey has never been proclaimed as a "dead pan" comic in the Buster Keaton tradition, it is usually when he is looking his most serious when he gets the biggest laughs. Cinema audiences have come to love this slight figure who surveys the world owlishly through large spectacles, and, in spite of all his well-meaning efforts, always manages to bring disaster upon himself.

I settled down comfortably to chat with him as there is no one in the business I like better than old Charles. There is nothing high falutin' about him, he is a conscientious worker whose only concern is to entertain the public to the best of his ability. I asked him how he felt to be back in films after TV.

"A am very glad to be back," Charles answered, "and if possible I would like to work exclusively in films."

As this seemed a somewhat unusual attitude fro an actor to take, I pressed him for an explanation.

"It is true that many actors move easily from one medium to another without apprehension," he said, "but speaking for myself, I think that anyone seeking a career in films can suffer from the over exposure of television. If people see too much of an artiste in their own homes they are less likely to put themselves out to see him in a cinema or theatre."

I asked him if he meant there should be a short division between screen and television actors.

"By no means," said Charles, "Such a thing is neither possible nor desirable. My point is that artistes with film aspirations are wise if their television appearances are not over frequent."

My next query had to do with the smart suit he was wearing for his part in Carry On Regardless.

"Yes," laughed Charles, "civilian clothes are indeed a change in a Carry On. But it would be a mistake for anyone to think that the characters are as ordinary as their clothes."

Without telling him what I had just heard from Kenneth Williams, I asked Charles how he felt about Carry On Regardless in relation to the others of the series.

Charles was quite emphatic. "You can quote me as saying that this is, in my honest estimation, the funniest Carry On so far." he said. "It is a little different fro the previous four in so far as there are fewer group scenes and therefore more individual performances. Nevertheless," he continued, "the humour is more mature, more sustained and more plentiful than ever."

Charles Hawtrey has had a long an honourable career in the show business in all its branches. He has been actor, producer, director and, in his youth, he has even made gramophone records as "the angel-faced choirboy." He has been associated with many of the greats including Will Hay (he was one of the Narkover school-boys), Will Fyffe and George Formby, and he recalls several juvenile appearances in "Peter Pan". But it is the Carry Ons which have made his name a household word in the world of comedy.

Joan Sims

Pert, petite and pretty - that bit of crafty alliteration neatly sums up the character of that nifty little bit of homework, Joan Sims. Poor Joan was very much under the weather when I saw her at the studio. She was nursing a cold which appeared to have alarming complications, and it was as much as she could do to keep her end up on the set let alone indulge in her customary quick-witted repartee. None the less, she was not without a grin, albeit a rueful one, when I asked her how she was enjoying herself.

Joan gave me a sad sniff. "Normally, there's nothing I enjoy more than making a new Carry On, but just now I don't feel particularly cheerful, what with a runny nose and feeling all keyed-up to do my best."

I murmured sympathetically as she continued.

"A new Carry On is a big event in the cinema nowadays," she said. "And it is not surprising that we all want to be on our toes when we get Peter Rogers' call to make another one."

I could quite appreciate Joan's point. Most of the Carry Ons have finished in the top three box office successes, so the launching of a new film in this series is no commonplace undertaking. This means an ever growing responsibility on producer, director, scriptwriter and cast.

Joan had previously given me some details of her career. She does not come from a theatrical family, and it was with some misgivings that her parents allowed her to embark on a stage career. She joined a local dramatic and operatic society and later she won an award which took her through drama school.

"Repertory was my next move," said Joan. "I managed to get a job with the Glasgow Citizens' Theatre."

This was no mean achievement for a girl without a shred of influence in the shape of theatrical connections. What Joan didn't tell me, but what I happen to know, is that she was an outstanding success, which led to the offer of a part in the West End revue. She soon made a hit in the metropolis and sophisticated London audiences just loved her.

Since then, Joan has never looked back and she has made a vast number of appearances on screen, stage and television. Recently she has had a feature role in Doctor in Love, a starring role in Watch Your Stern and a star part in ABC TV's Sunday afternoon series "Our House".

Joan is a very attractive girl and in reverse to what usually happens to girls in films, she has often to be glabourised and made to look frumpish for some of her comedienne parts.

In Carry On Regardless, Joan has an amusing part as a member of Sidney James' Helping Hands Agency. One of her jobs is demonstrating "Cleopatra" soap bubbles in a bath as you see in the picture on this page.

As I left her Joan was being solicitously wrapped up by her dresser against the prevailing studio draughts, but like the good trouper she is, when she got in front of the cameras no one would have guessed there was anything wrong with her.

Liz Fraser

With the four stars interviewed so far in this feature, Carry On Regardless is a case of carrying-on from the previous Carry On. Regardless, however, brings a new comedy personality into their madcap midst in the sparkling person of Liz Fraser.

After shooting the scene with Sidney James pictured on the right (he would have found her statistics to be 37-24-37, incidentally), she wandered off the set to enjoy the leg pulling company of her co-stars as though they were old friends. That, in fact, is what some of them actually are. She was with Joan Sims, for instance, in Doctor in Love. As for Sid James...

"I've known Sid," she said, "since we appeared together in commercial television's first daily serial, "Sixpenny Corner." That was in 1954. Nowadays, of course, I'm Sid's girlfriend in 'Citizen James' another TV series. Altogether I've done 160 TV shows."

These, and the numerous films she's been doing for roughly the same length of time, have starred her with many of the country's leading comedians. Of these, one has been Tony Hancock, in whose film The Rebel, she appears. She has also been in both Brian Rix Night films - the one about A Clanger and the current one about The Bird. She has also made films with Harry Secombe, Norman Wisdom, Ian Carmichael and Peter Sellers. With Peter she has played his daughter in I'm all right Jack and his girl friend in Two Way Stretch.

Asked whether she was excited about her booming screen career, she replied; "Of course, but I'm trying not to build too many hopes on it. In show business you often get what seems to be a big break, but it doesn't work out that way in the end. I've had several breaks in television, but they haven't added up to anything startling. I don't mean you're ever back to where you were at the beginning - after all, you do get experience behind you - but you don't seen to be any better off in stature. SO I'm schooling myself not to expect too much now."

In that case, I feel Liz Fraser will be in for some very pleasant surprises, for the number of films she has made are evidence in themselves of their popularity among producers and patrons alike.

My own personal opinion is that she is one of Britain's few comediennes who have looks to go with the laughter. Would she ever go 'straight' on the screen, I wondered.

"My dramatic ambitions were worked off when I played with the Chimes Repertory Company," she replied. "The Chimes is the name of a house owned by some friends who put on the properly produced plays for their own amusement. The number of people actively involved in staging each show usually exceeds the number in the audience. Once they had me playing a woman of sixty five before an audience of seven."

Now, in Carry On Regardless, she is playing her twenty six year old, and the film is assured an audience of millions.