Saturday, 13 May 2017

Barbara Carries On ... as Daphne Honeybutt

 

Barbara Windsor will be celebrating her 80th birthday this August. In the run up to this milestone, I've decided to blog profiles of each of her nine famous Carry On roles. Much the same as I did with both Joan Sims and Hattie Jacques, these blogs will take each part in turn and provide my own personal take on them. 

Barbara, or Dame Babs as it is now, is a showbiz legend in the UK, with a career dating back to the 1950s. As the recent Babs drama on BBC1 revealed, things haven't always been easy for Windsor, but her hard work and determination have seen her bounce back time and time again. No matter what else she has done in her career, the Carry Ons will always dominate and from our point of view, as Carry On fans, rightly so! So let's begin today by going right back to where Barbara's Carry On story began, with her role as trainee agent Daphne Honeybutt in the 1964 release, Carry On Spying.

 

This by far is my favourite Barbara Windsor performance in a Carry On. Yes it's a knowing performance and yes the comedy occasionally focusses on her considerable assets, but the role of Daphne is much more than that. There is none of the bawdy, in your face innuendo that followed and the sweeter, slightly more innocent character really does suit Miss Windsor. Spying follows a group of rather inept British secret agents as they attempt to track down a missing formula, stolen from a laboratory by one of the evil Dr Crow's henchmen. Of course the plot of Spying borrows rather heavily from the then recent trend for cinematic spy stories, not least the wonderful James Bond franchise. Bond was a fellow Pinewood production and as Spying was made, Goldfinger was about to hit cinema screens to wild acclaim. Although the Bond producers were less than happy with Peter Rogers' send up of their big budget success story, Spying went ahead regardless.

What Spying actually gives us is much more of a nod to the Orson Welles classic The Third Man, a film which included a young Gerald Thomas in its crew. This black and white Carry On "epic" is Gerald's homage to the mastery of that film and Alan Hume's film photography and lighting is staggering good for a low budget slapstick farce like Spying. As always Peter and Gerald employed the very best and all the money was on screen! The film follows the four spies (Kenneth Williams, Bernard Cribbins, Charles Hawtrey and our Barbara) as they journey across Vienna and North Africa, finally ending up on the Orient Express, all courtesy of Pinewood Studios of course! 

 

Spying came at a time when the cosy, comfortable familiarity of the early Hudis films was being challenged. New scriptwriter Talbot Rothwell was slowly injecting a saucier line in gags and situations and the early ensemble casts in well-loved British institutions had been broken up and shifted out further afield. Following a major departure with the first period costume film in the series (Carry On Jack), Spying was a move towards tongue in cheek pastiche which would lead to more classics in the form of Cleo, Cowboy, Screaming and Don't Lose Your Head. Missing in action are favourites Joan Sims, Hattie Jacques, Sid James and Kenneth Connor, while other regular faces in Liz Fraser, Bill Owen, Terence Longdon and Esma Cannon had all moved on to other projects. 

Into this evolving Carry On world came the original Cockney bubbly blonde Barbara Windsor. Barbara is very much the star of the film, grabbing the limelight from her more experienced male co-stars with. As Daphne, Windsor brings a fresh approach to the films and her wide eyed sexy innocence is a very welcome presence. Unlike several later efforts, this film does not solely present Barbara as a glamorous accessory. Oh no, Daphne Honeybutt is by far the most intelligent, fast-thinking agent of the lot with her photographic memory and determination to get the job done. It's great to see Barbara holding her own (as it were) and you can see why she was attracted to the part. 

 

It's no surprise, looking back, that Babs would find herself working on a Carry On film. After all, she was big news in the early 1960s. As well as her legendary theatre work at Stratford East with Joan Littlewood, Barbara had also starred in the hit BBC sitcom The Rag Trade (alongside Peter Jones, Sheila Hancock and Esma Cannon) and had begun to make her mark in films with Sparrows Can't Sing and the Ronnie Fraser and Bernard Cribbins comedy Crooks in Cloisters. Barbara fitted in with the rest of the gang with complete ease and soon became one of the series' biggest names. All this despite only featuring in nine of the 31 original feature films. 

Barbara works really well with her real life mate Bernard Cribbins and the pair make a lovely romantic double act throughout the film. Apparently Bernard's advice to Barbara on starting the film was to watch out for Kenneth Williams! As well she might, given their much-repeated first encounter involving a false beard Kenneth was wearing and Barbara's cheeky reply! Barbara and Kenneth became firm friends and remained close through many other Carry Ons, television and radio appearances. Indeed the pair were friends right up until Kenneth's death in 1988. As a duo both on and off set, one can only imagine the outrageous behaviour! 

 

I love the scene in Cafe Mozart with the champagne cocktails - Barbara's reaction to drinking the drugged cocktail is priceless and definitely one for the scrap book! Other highlights for me are the sequence with Barbara and Bernard when they attempt to get the formula back from The Fat Man. The belly dancing scenes are hilarious. Also, Daphne's comedic interrogation by Judith Furse's fiendish Dr Crow is very funny to watch. Barbara's performance in Carry On Spying is so strong it's no surprise she came back to Pinewood for more adventures with the gang. My only question is, why did it take them three years to bring her back?!

Carry On Spying is probably the big cross-over film between the Hudis era and Talbot Rothwell fully hitting his stride as the Carry Ons' most prolific writer. His treatment of the James Bond/Third Man spy genre is sublime in many ways and despite the fact it misses several key players, the strength of the script and the main performances makes it one of my very favourite Carry Ons. As for Babs, well it doesn't get much better than this! Stay tuned for my next blog in this series, looking at Barbara's return to Carry On in 1967 for Carry On Doctor.   
   
 

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