Nostalgia can sneak up on you, whacking you on the backside and calling you sweetheart before you’ve even had a chance to utter your first name. For some of us it’s a smell, for others, the theme song of a forgotten kids TV show – today I read an article that purported the revival of Carry On… films and with a great slapstick wallop on my behind I was transported back to guffawing at Barbara Windsor as her bikini top pinged open in the midst of an aerobics class. The iconic Carry On… franchise revelled in being risqué, in pushing the boundaries of innuendo all whilst sending up British institutions, so the suggestion that a revival may be on the cards seemed a little absurd to me. Carry On was born in the late 1950s/early 1960s and was a huge success. This success can undoubtedly be attributed to the comedic values that were portrayed consistently throughout each film. Focusing on parodies of more serious films, such as Carry On Cleo and making fun of British institutions always gave the Carry On team plenty of ideas to toy with. As well as regular, relatable cast members who often found themselves in precarious situations – aided by scripts heavily lavished in sexual innuendo at a time of sexual revolution – it seemed that what the critics didn’t like, the audience loved.
The sexual revolution of the 1960s gave young people the freedom to be fluid and open with their sexuality and sexual activity. Carry On films often seemed to mirror ideas about sex and sexual identity – characters such as the dirty old man (often played by Sid James), the sexual minx (Barbara Windsor), the sexually repressed individual (Kenneth Williams), the wronged woman (Hattie Jacques), the puppy dog in love (Kenneth Connor) and the occasional spinster (Joan Sims) took precedence in many of the films, cementing Carry On films within the revolutionary sexual ideas of the 60s.
It doesn’t seem feasible that a revival of these films could reach the same calibre that they did before – ideas that were acceptable then, aren’t now and with sex being so readily available in the 21st century, the subtle innuendo that Carry On dropped into their scripts would go by unnoticed.
The 1960s were a time for transition and ideas about sex were prevalent in Carry On films, often shown by the ‘dirty old man’ type enjoying his new-found freedom and lusting after a sexy young thing or by a beauty pageant filled with men ogling the contestants (Carry On Girls). It would be impossible to develop this idea and adapt it to suit a modern day audience without it being seen as overt sexism. As a feminist myself I probably would’ve had a pop at the obvious objectification of women that is common in the films – but they’re so steeped in 1960s history that it’s hard to criticise.
Similarly, ‘sending-up’ British institutions such as the NHS (Carry On Nurse, Doctor, Matron), the monarchy (Carry On Henry), the military (Sergeant) and foreigners (Abroad) wouldn’t be deemed acceptable by today’s societal standards. Carry On films were highly un-PC, and in a society where there are so many activists, marches and groups that strive for equality for all, parodying those who are marginalised would only be seen as an attack on those groups – it’s a shame really.
Us Brits, correction, us 21st century Brits, take ourselves too seriously, especially where sex is concerned. Carry On made light of this, the films offered a humorous and innocent insight into ideas that had previously been silenced in the 1950s – now-a-days, these ideas would be seen as old-fashioned, defunct. In Carry On Abroad, for example, Barbara Windsor and Sid James have this exchange:
Barbara: Have you got a large one?
Sid: I’ve had no complaints…
Current society would see this sort of innocence as foolish, or stupid, but in the early 60s they were pushing boundaries, toying with ideas about sexuality that had previously been unavailable to them. But now we’ve gone the other way – sex is too accessible and as a result of this, we’ve become shut off and are unable to laugh at ourselves.
It is not only ideas about sex that would vanquish the success of a Carry On revival. I find it hard to fathom a Carry On film without Kenneth Williams exclaiming “Oooh Matron” or Sid James with his signature laugh, it would be implausible to imagine a Carry On without the original cast. Charlie Higson, the man behind the reported revival, wants to use commonplace British comedians for the cast – but this wouldn’t be ok by me, or any other longstanding Carry On fan I should think. The cast of the original films were relatively unknown and, therefore, were fully able to embody the characters they were playing, reinventing them time and time again. To use comedic household names in place of these iconic ones would negate the purpose of a Carry On revival – it would, instead, appear as a collection of comedians playing the parts of Sid James, Kenneth Williams or Hattie Jacques.
Carry On films, for me, should be left untouched and unspoilt where they are – amongst the comedy greats. It is a shame, however, that the younger generations of now, and those to come, won’t ever fully appreciate the comedy gold that is Carry On.
I mean, where are you going to hear lines like this again:
‘Mrs Fussey: Joan may think you’re a gentleman but personally I’ve got sore misgivings.
Sid Boggle: You ought to put some talcum powder on them.’
(Carry On Camping 1969)
‘King Henry VIII: Has she been chaste?
Thomas Cromwell: All over Normandy.’
(Carry On Henry 1971)
And my personal favourite:
‘Matron: I’m a simple woman with simple tastes, and I want to be wooed!
Sir Bernard Cutting: Ooh, you can be as ‘wude’ as you like with me!’
(Carry On Matron 1972)