The hottest day of the year so far saw me travel up to Borehamwood in sunny Hertfordshire to meet Mr Morris Bright, Chairman of the legendary Elstree Film Studios. I have known of Morris for some time due to his involvement with all things Carry On for many years. Not only is Morris Chairman, he is also leader of Hertsmere Council, a member of BAFTA, a writer and a broadcaster. Above all else though, he is a fan of the greats of British comedy.
I was therefore thrilled that not only had he read my blog but also that he was happy to take part in an interview. It was an absolute joy to visit Elstree Studios and learn more about Morris’ work there, his views on the Carry On phenomenon and his memories of some of our favourite film comedy actors. I also got the chance to come face to face with a genuine, fabulous piece of Sid James memorabilia!
In Part Two of my interview with Morris, I asked him about his memories of organising the 40th Anniversary tribute to the Carry Ons at Pinewood back in 1998 as well as his thoughts on the likes of Joan Sims, Peter Rogers, Patsy Rowlands and Dilys Laye…
What are your memories of the Carry On 40th anniversary celebrations at Pinewood?
It was a wonderful experience. There was so much hype and publicity around that time and the films had seen a huge resurgence. The media became really interested in the films, the stars and what we were doing at Pinewood. We were also really fortunate in that we persuaded all the surviving big names to attend the celebration event at Pinewood and appear in the accompanying ITV documentary. Everyone took part – Leslie Phillips, Barbara Windsor, Jim Dale, Joan Sims, June Whitfield. It was just a shame that many of the big names had already passed away. I got to know them all at around that time and when I got married at Pinewood Studios the likes of Jack Douglas, Leslie Phillips and Angela Douglas all came to my wedding – we could have arranged a signing session at the reception!
At around that time I accompanied Leslie and Angela to one of their first ever signing sessions at a convention in Birmingham. It was all very new to them but it was great fun. I remember all the ladies loved Leslie and one young woman in particular had lots of photos taken with him, getting him to say “Hello!” and “Ding Dong!” As she moved away all I can remember is Leslie, in his usual fruity tones saying “ That young woman touched my c**k!”
I remember watching the documentary in 1998 and being thrilled to see Joan take part. She shunned a lot of publicity and didn’t really like talking about the films or her career.
Joan did have to be persuaded to take part and I had the honour of interviewing her for the film. She was a joy and it meant a lot to everyone that she played a part in the celebrations.
My blog is a tribute to Joan Sims. What was she like to be around?
Joan Sims was undoubtedly the best actress in the Carry On films. She had so much talent but was always uncertain of herself and her ability as an actress. She was definitely an actor who could play comedy rather than a comedienne. She had her problems over the years but she always had the ability to light up a room and everyone was always so pleased to see her. On the films, she always loved Alan Hume, the cinematographer and lighting camera man because he took such care to make all the ladies look their best.
I’ll always remember driving Joan and Norman and Rita Hudis to Betty Box’s funeral in 1999. We picked Joan up at Paddington Station and she desperately wanted to smoke but managed to resist the temptation while in the car. As we came out of the crematorium after the service, Joan suddenly asked “Is there somewhere I can smoke?!” which made everyone burst out laughing – and that was Joan, she was a naturally funny person.
You knew Peter Rogers well. What was he like?
I was fortunate to get to know Peter Rogers towards the end of his life, from the mid-1990s pretty much up until his death. We both had offices at Pinewood. We gave him the nickname “Mr Carry On” and although he was very much a businessman and quite a formidable person – he didn’t suffer fools – he absolutely adored meeting fans of his films. I worked with him on many special Carry On events at Pinewood over the years and he loved it all. Some of the actors took issue with him because of the way they were treated or the lack of repeat fees but without Peter the Carry Ons may not have happened – he was the driving force and he has left a wonderful legacy.
Despite issues around the salaries the actors received, Peter did leave money in his will to the Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund when he died. I actually remember him calling me into his office to act as a signatory when he decided to make these changes to his will and he joked that he wasn’t leaving me anything! Peter was first and foremost a businessman – he didn’t really like actors or socialise with them. There were no photos of his actors or posters of his films in his office at Pinewood, just photos of his dogs!
Are there any elusive Carry On actors that you’d still like to meet?
I think I’ve been lucky to have met practically everyone connected with the Carry On films at one time or another. A great many of them have become friends over the years although sadly far too many are now no longer with us. As a genuine fan of the films, it’s been a joy to get to know so many of the actors and crew who made them.
Two of my favourite Carry On actors were Patsy Rowlands and Dilys Laye. Do you have fond memories of both actresses?
Patsy Rowlands was a lovely lady and a very good actress. I was always surprised that she didn’t get bigger roles in the series. The larger parts she played (such as Miss Dempsey in Loving and Mildred Bumble in Girls) were played beautifully, but Peter Rogers had his set team and that was that. She was also a very talented stage actress and I remember seeing her in the West End revival of Oliver! in the 1990s with Jim Dale. I remember interviewing her down in Brighton as part of the 1998 What’s A Carry On? documentary for ITV.
Dilys Laye was another actress who deserved more recognition. She was a superb actor who had a gift for comedy. She was excellent as the femme fatale in Carry On Spying and worked in film, television and theatre for many years. I remember one of her later roles as Frankie Howerd’s mother in the BBC4 biopic. She had great depth as an actress and was universally loved. She also went to school for a while with my mother down in Bournemouth! Dilys was also a lifelong friend of Joan Sims and not just a showbiz friend, but a genuine friend. She kept her promise to come and speak at a Joan Sims tribute I organised at Pinewood in 2004 and there is a video of this online.
You also know Valerie Leon well I think? She was kind enough to answer questions for a blog interview earlier this year.
I’ve known Valerie for over twenty years and she is such a lovely, kind lady. She came up to Elstree not long ago to do an interview with me for the Take Two series and she’s always a joy. She was really kind and helpful to me when I was starting out and I’ll always remember that.
Who’s your favourite Carry On actor?
Without a doubt, Kenneth Williams! I met Kenneth back in 1985 after a recording of the BBC radio panel game Just A Minute. I had taken along a copy of his autobiography which had only been released the previous day. At the end of the show Kenneth announced that he wouldn’t be standing at the stage door afterwards to sign autographs, but anyone who wanted one could come up on the stage. Not only did he sign my book he also produced a copy of an earlier book, Acid Drops, from a pile under the table and signed one of those for me too. He was very pleasant and friendly to everyone that evening and it’s a wonderful memory.
What’s your favourite Carry On film of all time?
This is a hard question to answer – it has changed over the years. I think probably due to the cleverness of the film, the quality of the pastiche and the bristling script it has to be Carry On Cleo. The cast are all on excellent form, particularly Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims and Charles Hawtrey. Interestingly Barbara Windsor didn’t get the part of Cleo because she was on Broadway at the time. It would have been a very different film if she had played the title role. The film also looks wonderful thanks to the sets and costumes left over at Pinewood from the Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor epic Cleopatra.
Before I left the Studios Morris insisted I took a seat at Sid’s piano to have my photo taken. It was quite a moment and one I will treasure. I cannot thank Morris enough for the opportunity to visit Elstree and share a fascinating conversation about so many of our comedy heroes. We are both massive fans of the Carry Ons and their stars and it was a joy to meet someone who knew so many of my own heroes. Thanks Morris!