Friday, 28 April 2017

Carrying On with The Professionals!

 

One of my all-time favourite British television series has to be The Professionals. It had it all - action, humour, social comment, daft 1970s fashions and three cracking leading actors in Martin Shaw, Lewis Collins and Gordon Jackson. Over the course of 57 episodes, screened between 1977 and 1983, CI5 agents Doyle and Bodie tackled an endless crime wave (and no, I don't mean Shaw's perm) across London with Jackson as their slightly fearsome yet very wry and human boss, George Cowley. 

The series fell out of favour in the 1980s due the amount of violence on display let alone some other aspects which did still portray life as it was in the Britain of that time. I love it in the same way I love The Sweeney - strong characters, great actors and a unique time capsule back in the slightly grim recent past. The series also featured the usual delightful cavalcade of guesting British character actors and several of these were also familiar Carry On faces. So what are the links between these two great British institutions? 

 

Probably one of my very favourite Professionals cameos came in the 1979 episode "Backtrack" and in the shapely shape of Liz Fraser. Liz, the face of many classic British comedy films from the 1950s, 60s and 70, gladly hammed it up shamelessly as "fence" Margery Harper. Margery was a rather colourful character who took a bit of a shine to Ray Doyle! The scenes featuring Shaw, Fraser and Lewis Collins are full of wonderful comedy and are deliciously knowing. The strength of Liz's performance once again proves why we should have seen much more of her in British television drama over the years.

Julian Holloway, an actor who appeared in countless classic British series at the time, also played the guest role of policeman Harvey in The Professionals episode "First Night", first broadcast in 1978. This episode saw Julian work most closely with Gordon Jackson in several scenes at CI5 HQ and also on the South Bank by the River Thames. Fellow character actor Derek Francis, well known to Carry On fans for his brilliant roles in the likes of Carry On Matron and Abroad, appeared in not one but two episodes of The Professionals, in different roles. In the first series episode "Look After Annie" he played the rather unpleasant John Howard and four years later he was back, playing Len Hatch, a member of the criminal underworld in the story "You'll Be All Right".

 

Another actor to appear twice in the series was the late Llewellyn Rees, first as Sir Arden French in the first series episode "Everest Was Also Conquered" and then three years later he cropped again as Dr Philip Hedley in the 1980 story "Wild Justice". In between these two episodes, Rees played the Lord Chief Justice in the 1978 film Carry On Emmannuelle. Patrick Durkin, who played small parts in Carry On Sergeant, Nurse, Cabby, Spying, Cowboy and Dick, first joined The Professionals in the rather bizarre part of a Russian hitman, Terkof, in the 1977 episode "The Female Factor". To me it looks like his performance is very obviously dubbed. In 1980 Patrick was back for the cameo role of truck driver Wally in "Hijack". 

The familiar Australian actor Ed Devereaux, who had small roles in the films Carry On Nurse, Regardless, Cruising, Jack and Bless This House, grabbed a major guest starring role in the 1979 episode "Runner" seeing him work opposite well-known actors Michael Kitchen and James Cosmo. Ed played the rather fierce gangster Albie. Reliable character actor Harry Towb popped up for a brief cameo as small time rogue Harry Spence in the 1980 Professionals episode "Blood Sports". Harry played the dubious Doctor in the film Richard O'Callaghan takes Jacki Piper to see in Carry On At Your Convenience.

 

The glamorous Penny Irving (I wonder what happened to her?) played the character Pam in the very first episode of The Professionals ever broadcast, "Private Madness, Public Danger" in 1977. Penny, who went on to appear in many episodes of Are You Being Served? was one of Joan Sims' Birds of Paradise in the 1974 film Carry On Dick. Fellow "Bird" Laraine Humphrys, who also appeared in Carry On Girls and the 1973 Carry On Christmas television special, played the uncredited role of Doyle's girlfriend in the 1977 story " When The Heat Cools Off". 

Another Carry On actress, the lovely Suzanne Danielle, played one of her earliest acting roles in the first series episode "Killer with a Long Arm" in 1977. Playing the role of Pretty Girl, Danielle would find herself playing the leading lady in the last of the original Carry Ons following year in Carry On Emmannuelle. 

 

Finally, no blog on The Professionals can go without mentioning one final link to the Carry Ons. In Gordon Jackson, the series found one of it's most bankable and talented stars. Gordon was also one of Kenneth Williams' closest and most loyal friends. Despite this Kenneth didn't pull any punches when watching Jackson in the series in early 1978. Let's just say that although Kenneth thought Gordon one of the best actors in the country, he did not think the role of George Cowley suited him at all!

Anyway, to finish, here's a reminder of the brilliant intro theme from The Professionals:




 
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Thursday, 27 April 2017

Follow Carry On Blogging on Instagram!


Did you know that Carry On Blogging was now on Instagram? Well it is and if you are too why not follow me there?

You will find the usual great photos of some of your favourite Carry On films and their stars and it provides another great forum to interact with me and other Carry On fans. 

So why not boost my page on Instagram by following and liking some of my posts? It would be much appreciated. I look forward to seeing you there! My Instagram page is here: Carry On Blogging

And in the meantime, do follow me on Twitter too - I love your comments, feedback and general Carry On banter, so keep it coming! Links to both Twitter and Facebook pages at the bottom of this blog! 

Carry On Following!



You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram

BBC Reveal Babs Trailer

The BBC have just released the first trailer for their new Barbara Windsor biopic. The 90 minute drama, apparently to be called Babs, will be broadcast later this year to tie in with Barbara's 80th birthday. Having just written that I can't quite believe she will turn 80 this year! Anyway, Babs will be scripted by former EastEnders writer Tony Jordan, a man with a fine pedigree in drama productions at the Beeb. 

The biopic will start in the 1990s, presumably at the height of Barbara's renaissance in Albert Square and look back at her life and career. I'm not quite sure how they will depict all of Barbara's colourful and dramatic life in just 90 minutes however as it's on the BBC at least there won't be advert breaks.  The production will feature at least three different actresses playing Barbara from her early life and career right through to middle age and EastEnders stardom.

There has been a kind of Barbara biopic before with the Terry Johnson play Cleo, Camping, Emmannuelle and Dick which eventually became the ITV drama Cor Blimey. That told the story of Barbara's affair with her Carry On co-star Sid James and also featured a terrific performance by Adam Godley as the sublime Kenneth Williams. Samantha Spiro was terrific as Babs in both the stage and television productions and I can't wait to see her tackle the role again. I'll also be interested to hear how much of Barbara's Carry On career will feature and how many of the actors will be depicted in the show. How much of Barbara's infamous private life is covered will also be up for speculation!

You can view the trailer here:




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Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Jack Douglas - His Carry On Story

 

Jack Douglas was the only actor to appear in every Carry On film following his first appearance with the team. Coming to Carry On relatively late in the span of the series, Jack originally played brief cameos, gradually gaining bigger and bigger roles as he found favour with both Peter Rogers and the rest of the gang. 

I must confess that although I admire Jack's long career on stage and television, I never really got his "Alf" persona and didn't find it a good fit with the traditional brand of Carry On humour. In the end he rather uneasily filled the gap vacated by Jim Dale and Terry Scott, providing another male supporting actor to bolster the ranks as the team began to fragment in the 1970s. I think some of his appearances were more successful than others, however let's take a run through Jack's contribution to the Carry On films during the 1970s.

 

Jack first appeared with the Carry On team in the 1971 film Carry On Matron. Appearing early on in the film in a short, one scene cameo, Douglas had the eye catching role of a expectant father in the maternity hospital who makes a call to the Guinness Book of Records! Allegedly Jack wasn't paid for this cameo, however days later a Rolls Royce appeared outside his house with a crate of champagne from Peter Rogers. This successful cameo proved Jack's entry as a full time member of the Carry On gang. In the Spring of 1972 he was back at Pinewood for a slightly larger role in the classic Carry On Abroad. Again inhabiting the Alf role, complete with compulsory twitches and mayhem, Jack's appearances top and tail the film as a regular in Sid's public house. His scenes with Sid, Joan and Barbara Windsor are funny and both set the story up for the rest of the film and round things off nicely at the end.

With an appearance alongside the likes of Joan Sims, Hattie Jacques and Kenneth Connor in the 1972 Carry On Christmas television special (Carry On Stuffing) Jack definitely had his feet under the Carry On table. The following year saw Jack grab his biggest supporting role to date, as the accident prone William, an employee of Connie's rather drab seaside hotel in Carry On Girls. Jack shares some fruitful comedic scenes with Sid James and also the wonderful Joan Hickson. He would once again join the gang for the 1973 Christmas special on television, appearing in more material than the previous year. However most of his contributions revolved around the same Alf persona.



By now the Carry On team were only making one film a year. This meant Jack would appear in every original Carry On film in the series until the end of the run. In 1974's Carry On Dick, Jack worked well as sidekick to Kenneth Williams' Desmond Fancey. The pair shared some very funny scenes and Dick saw Jack gain his largest amount of screen time in a Carry On so far. He slotted in well amongst a cast of regular faces, many of which would be making their last appearance with this film. Following entries would sorely miss Hattie Jacques, Sid James and Barbara Windsor. Possibly Jack's most successful contribution came in 1975 with his role as Ernie Bragg in Carry On Behind. This modern reworking of Carry On Camping saw Douglas teamed with newcomer Windsor Davies, who was obviously cast in the role earmarked for the absent Sid James. Douglas and Windsor make a great double act, best of all in the scene where they attend to Kenneth Williams' Professor Crump following an accident with a bottle of tomato sauce!

1975 would be Jack's busiest year as part of the Carry On team as away from Pinewood he would also appear in the vast majority of the ATV Carry On Laughing television half hours. Although these episodes were less than successful overall, it did at least give Jack the chance of starring roles in smaller productions and also the opportunity to move away from Alf. Jack also starred in the Carry On London stage show at the Victoria Palace, having started the run in 1973, it came to an end in 1975. Sadly this year would see the beginning of the end for the Carry Ons. 1976 saw a major departure for the films, with Carry On England being a much more cynical film, with more near the knuckle scenes and a host of new, younger faces. The likes of Joan Sims and Peter Butterworth suffer badly from small, unfunny roles however Jack probably fares the best out of the recognisable regulars.

 

In 1978, Jack grabbed a major role in the last gasp of the original run, Carry On Emmannuelle. As the butler Lyons, Douglas finally moved away from the twitching Alf persona with a relatively straight role. Emmannuelle is pretty woeful though and is probably best forgotten. There would be no further Carrying On until Carry On Columbus sailed into view in 1992. However Jack Douglas was aboard for the adventure, alongside a host of new, alternative comedians. Sadly most of Jack's material was cut from the final print, a great shame given that so many of his old colleagues did not feature in the film.

Jack Douglas continued to be a loyal exponent of all things Carry On right up until his death in December 2008. He was a regular face at reunions and fan conventions, recording a number of DVD audio commentaries and being interviewed for many television and radio retrospectives. He was always an enthusiastic supporter of the films and the team and was always ready to reminisce. While I may not have been the biggest fan of some of his appearances in the film, Jack must be commended for his enthusiasm and loyalty when it came to keeping the Carry On story alive. 


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Thanks Sid

 

He's a comedy hero to many and still held in great affection by us all more than forty years after his sad death at the age of 62. It is unbelievable that so long as past since Sid James' death given how big a part he still plays in our lives.

The lovable South African born Cockney was one of the most popular, most hard working and most prolific actors of his day. Rising through the ranks from bit part player in many post-war, low budget "B" movies, by the mid-1950s Sid was a star. Thanks to his association with Tony Hancock, first of all on radio and later on television, Sid was launched as a comedy star. 

The years that followed saw Sid dominate both the small and the big screen. Of course the Carry On series came to dominate his film career there were many other gems from What A Carve Up and Watch Your Stern to The Big Job, Sid often went from one film to the other with quick succession in the 1950s and 60s. As television gained popularity in the 1960s, Sid made the transition with aplomb. From the early days on the BBC with Hancock, Sid was given his own spin-off series in Citizen James. Other series followed, namely Taxi, George and The Dragon, Two in Clover and Bless This House.

 

As I've often mentioned, I like Sid best in the Carry On films when he was partnered with Joan Sims. They made for a very convincing, believable husband and wife team in many of the films even if Joan had to nag on a bit in some of them. I also loved Sid when he was paired with Hattie Jacques. You could tell they all got on so very well and their closeness made for some excellent, memorable comedy.

Sadly Sid was taken from us at a relatively young age, even back in 1976. Leaving us as he did, on stage in Sunderland, robbed us of a great talent. Some people commented that it never seemed like Sid was acting but for me that just shows what a gifted talent he was. He was such a natural and we must all be thankful he found his niche with the Carry On gang at Pinewood.

The strength of Sid's onscreen persona means he's as popular today with all generations as he was in his heyday. And long may that continue! 


Cheers Sid, thanks for everything.


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Monday, 24 April 2017

Fenella Fielding's Memoirs available to Pre-Order!

 
Following a series of extremely popular shows late last year, Fenella Fielding's memoirs will finally be released this May! The audio book, "Do You Mind if I Smoke?" will be released as a five CD set and those who pre-order now will receive their copy signed by Fenella.

Fenella Fielding is best known for her film appearances in Carry On Screaming (1966), Doctor in Clover (1966) and Carry On Regardless (1961). She was the voice of the Blue Queen in Dougal and the Blue Cat (1970) and the telephone operator and loudspeaker voice in The Prisoner (1967). Her stage credits include the title roles in Hedda Gabler (1969) and Colette (1970). 

She’s fondly remembered for a number of appearances on the Morecambe & Wise Show (1969-1972) as well as playing The Vixen in Uncle Jack (early 1990s). Her most recent TV appearance was Skins (2012).

During her career, Fenella has worked with many of the greats and has known, or at least met, practically everybody else. She has amazing recall and can tell a story about most of the people who were special in the 60s or 70s… Kenneth Williams, Peter Cook, Tony Curtis, Francis Bacon, Joan Sims… the list is endless.

There are stories about innocence, her struggle to get started, family strife, professional jealousies and intriguingly a chapter about London tarts and gangsters. The stories are witty and beautifully observed scenes from her life and all told in that unmistakable and ever alluring Fenella Fielding voice.

Fenella will be appearing at the Phoenix Artist Club in London's West End for four shows, the first of which will be Saturday 3rd June at 2.30pm. More details are available  here

You can pre-order a copy of the audio book of memoirs, "Do You Mind if I Smoke?" via Fenella's Website



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Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Pinewood Rep Company: Leslie Phillips

 

One of the joys for me of the Carry Ons and all the comedy films turned out during their long reign was the continuity provided by the reliable Pinewood Rep Company. Oh this was never a formal company of actors, if faces reappeared it was because Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas could trust them to turn up on time, say the words in the right order (and only once) and accept the low pay terms in return for regular work and friendly circumstances.

While the same faces appeared again and again in the Carry Ons, many often also crossed over and worked for Peter's wife Betty and Gerald's brother Ralph on their productions. A quick bit of research shows that during the 1950s and 60s in particular, many actors went back and forth between the two successful stables with somewhat alarming regularity! So let's take a look at one of my own personal favourites: Leslie Phillips. 

 

Leslie Phillips has spent a lifetime playing the wolfish, lovable rogue on the big and small screen. His links to Pinewood Studios date back decades, probably longer than anyone else still living today. When the studios were celebrating seventy years in film making, it is alleged that Phillips was the only person still around who they could track down to attend the celebrations who had been making films there from the very beginning. Leslie started in the business as a bit part actor as a child. 

What we are interested in for the purposes of this blog though are Leslie's connections with film producing powerhouse couple Peter Rogers and Betty Box. Leslie Phillips has made hundreds of films during his long career however ten of those were for Peter and Betty. Leslie first worked for Peter Rogers towards the end of 1958. Having returned from Hollywood where he had been making the musical film Les Girls, Leslie was offered the role of Jack Bell in Carry On Nurse. It was this film which created the infamous persona Leslie would inhabit for the rest of his career. The wolfish, rakish ladies man with a twinkle in his eye was out of the traps and didn't look back. While Phillips frequently bemoaned being saddled with this persona and the catchphrase, no matter how many serious, worthy roles he played in later life, he could never resist turning on the old Carry On charm with a cry of "Ding Dong!" 

 

In Nurse, Leslie was paired with fellow living legend June Whitfield as his screen girlfriend Meg. Jack Bell arrives quite late into the film but his pesky bunion and desire to get away with his girlfriend leads the rest of the male patients to attempt to conduct the operation themselves, culminating in the famous laughing gas scene at the end of the film. Phillips was such a hit with Peter Rogers that he was swiftly brought back in the spring of 1959 for a starring role as Alistair Grigg in Carry On Teacher. In Teacher, Leslie forms a wonderful double act with prim school inspector Felicity Wheeler, beautifully played by Rosalind Knight. The film also sees Leslie share romantic scenes with the lovely Joan Sims - the pair had delightful chemistry together and would work together frequently in the years to come.

Later in 1959 Leslie was back for his final Carry On of the original run, Carry On Constable. In Constable he plays newly qualified policeman Tom Potter (none hotter!) and joins fellow new recruits Kenneths Connor and Williams and Charles Hawtrey at Sid James' police station during a flu epidemic. Leslie formed part of the infamous shower sequence which was the first occasion of nudity in a Carry On, albeit it four male backsides, not the copious amounts of Windsor we'd get used to in later entries. Sadly Leslie decided not to make any further Carry Ons at this stage of his career, although thankfully he continued to work for Peter in other films.

 

The late 1950s and early 1960s saw Leslie working as one of Peter Rogers' most prolific repertory players. Away from the Carry Ons, Phillips played roles in three other Rogers' productions, all still directed by Gerald Thomas and featuring many familiar Carry On actors. The first of these was the classic comedy Please Turn Over, the tale of a young girl who writes a scandalous paperback and shames her family. Leslie plays the local doctor in a cast that also features Joan Sims, Ted Ray, Charles Hawtrey and Joan Hickson. The follow year, Leslie, cast no doubt because of his connections to the long running radio series The Navy Lark, appeared in the naval comedy Watch Your Stern. Heading up the cast in this underrated gem were Eric Barker, Joan Sims, Kenneth Connor and Hattie Jacques. The film also guest starred such comedy legends as Sidney James, Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes. 

Leslie's final film for Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas, for at least thirty years, was the music school comedy Raising The Wind, which was written by original Carry On composer Bruce Montgomery. Leslie joined a team of actors including Kenneth Williams, Liz Fraser, Jennifer Jayne and Jimmy Thompson, who were all rather too old to be playing music students, but never mind! It's all rather glorious, lightweight techni-colour fun with a large supporting cast of classic British character players. Leslie also forms a rather delightful romantic double act with Liz Fraser and I only wish they'd worked together more often.


Meanwhile, Leslie had been moonlighting with Peter's wife Betty Box and Gerald's brother, Ralph Thomas. Dirk Bogarde had shot to fame in the Doctor comedies playing young doctor Simon Sparrow. The matinee idol embraced the broad appeal and fame this role brought him rather reluctantly and after a run of three films in the 1950s, he was ready to concentrate on other projects. Box, as much a commercial operator as her husband, wanted to keep the Doctor bran alive and kicking. So who better to turn to than the reliably excellent comedy actor Leslie Phillips? 

Leslie would go on to appear in three of the four remaining Doctor films produced over the next decade. Instead of replacing Bogarde as the sole star of the 1960 film Doctor In Love, Phillips shared star billing with another member of the Pinewood Rep, the handsome Michael Craig. As Doctors Burke and Hare, Phillips and Craig were a winning combination and the film a huge success. However, the following film, Doctor In Distress, saw both actors absent as Dirk Bogarde returned to the fold for one final time. However Leslie was back again in 1966 for the swinging sixties film Doctor in Clover. Playing Dr Gaston Grimsdyke, the character is pretty much the same as his earlier outing. This time around his co-stars included James Robertson-Justice, John Fraser, Joan Sims, Fenella Fielding and Arthur Haynes.

 

Leslie's final film for Betty Box was also the final Doctor film, released in 1970. Doctor In Trouble was more near the knuckle and less of a success than previous series entries and although Leslie turned in his usual professional performance, it spelled the end of the line for the franchise. The film featured the usual fine supporting cast including Joan Sims again (in her fifth Doctor comedy), Harry Secombe, Irene Handl, John Le Mesurier and Robert Morley. Sadly James Robertson-Justice was not well enough to appear in a major role, having starred as Sir Lancelot Spratt in every other Doctor film. Trouble also saw Leslie working for the first time with his future wife, the late Angela Scoular.

After a gap of over twenty years, Leslie returned to Pinewood for one last Carry On. In 1992, Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas regrouped to bring us the well-intentioned but misconceived Carry On Columbus. Mixing a bunch of current, on trend comedians with a smattering of familiar faces from the old days, Columbus was a huge flop at the box office. Joining the likes of Jim Dale and Bernard Cribbins was Leslie playing the King of Spain in a cameo originally written for Frankie Howerd. Although Columbus is rubbish, it does have a satisfying quality in that it reunites Leslie with his sweetheart from Carry On Nurse so many years before, June Whitfield.

 

Leslie Phillips has played a hugely significant part in the British film industry. A wonderful actor who has worked with almost everyone, his appearances for Peter Rogers and Betty Box are rightly cherished by fans of British comedy.

Stay tuned for more blogs on members of the legendary Pinewood Rep Company.


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