What a Carry On!
Bawdy British seaside humour lives on, says Karyn Sparks – is it something for your living room wall?
Who hasn’t heard of the classic British comedy Carry On series? When discussions of the NHS lead to calls of “Bring Back Matron”, who doesn’t have formidable but kindly Hattie Jaques in mind? Apparently, even Andy Warhol collaborator Paul Morrissey was a big fan of the whole Carry On genre!
For me personally the love affair started as a child, inspired by the many films my brother and I watched on summer holidays with our indulgent grandparents. The classic line-up in my mind is chuckling, seductive Sid James, comic genius Kenneth Williams, cuddly Hattie Jacques – who reminded me so much of my Nan-glam, dimpled face Joan Sims, skinny sourpuss Charles Hawtrey, bubbly busty Babs Windsor, and, often, romantic lead – and new kid on the block – Jim Dale.
This was classic mid-period Carry On of course; the first film, Carry On Sergeant (1958), boasted a mixed bag – Williams, Jacques and Hawtrey but also Bond Girl Shirley Eaton, Last of the Summer Wine doyen Bill Owen, comedian Bob Monkhouse and original Doctor Who William Hartnell! Later cast members included the unforgettable cad Leslie “I say, Ding Dong” Phillips, who appeared in the black and white classics Carry On Nurse, Carry On Teacher and Carry On Constable.
The films themselves are now easy to find online or in almost constant TV re-runs and clips, but for the Vintage lover with a passion for these classic romps, the big collecting area is film stills and posters. Posters can often command a tidy sum at auction, with withdrawn posters especially sought after. This one-sheet poster for instance, featured in Ewbank’s two-day May sale of Music, Sporting, Film, TV and Entertainment Memorabilia, is prolific artist Tom Chantrell’s original effort for the 1964 James Bond spoof film Carry On Spying.
Pastiche was Carry On’s stock-in-trade and the gun wielded by Kenneth Williams mocks Sean Connery’s pose on the poster for the previous year’s 007 blockbuster From Russia With Love – whose makers weren’t happy with that provocative upward-bent barrel! The Carry On poster had to be withdrawn and replaced with one showing the pistol with a straight barrel following the threat of legal action, making the original a collectors’ item.
Another withdrawn poster, currently on sale online for £595, is a rare UK one-sheet for Carry On Cleo. This movie spoofed the 1963 spectacular Cleopatra (starring celebrity couple Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton) and when Chantrell depicted Amanda Barrie reclining on a chaise longue as in a publicity shot of Liz Taylor, the blockbuster’s producer 20th Century Fox mounted a legal challenge. Chantrell’s posters were recalled and pulped and an inferior design (showing Sid James as a sphinx) was hastily thrown together. There are no more than a handful of the original UK posters bearing Chantrell’s first design in existence.
Fortunately, there are original posters around for a more affordable couple of hundred pounds, featuring the characteristic Carry On style of chunky, cartoon-like fonts, bright seaside colours and outlandish caricatures of our favourite stars. And when I got the opportunity a few years ago to buy a couple of 1970s posters designed by Italian Arnaldo Putzu I jumped at the chance. One (appropriately, Carry On Dick!) made a great birthday gift for my brother, while Carry On Matron today graces the wall of VE HQ!