Thursday, 25 May 2017

Barbara Carries On ... as Nurse Sandra May


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 continue today with Barbara's second role in the series, as Nurse Sandra May in the 1967 film Carry On Doctor.

I think Barbara's role in Carry On Doctor is probably one of her most iconic. In a film bursting at the seams with prime comedy talent, her role is a pivotal one even if she doesn't have that much screen time. WIndsor returned to the Carry Ons for the first time since her debut, over three years earlier in Carry On Spying. Given what a success she had been in that film it's a surprise it took her so long to make another. Rumours abound that she upset Gerald Thomas during the making of Spying but I doubt that would put them off hiring her again. More likely she was probably just busy with a host of other projects. 

Carry On Doctor is one of my favourite Carry Ons. The films seemed to lend themselves so well to the hospital setting and Doctor, Talbot Rothwell's tribute to Norman Hudis' iconic Carry On Nurse almost ten years earlier, features the gang firing on all cylinders. Following a trend for period costume Carry Ons (Cowboy, Screaming, Don't Lose Your Head etc) the team were back in the present day for this romp through the wards. Almost all the regular faces of the era feature in the film. Only Kenneth Connor who was at the time on a break from the series, does not appear. It is an absolute joy to see Sid James and Hattie Jacques return to the fold after previous absences; to see Jim Dale take centre stage as the romantic, bumbling hero of the piece; Kenneth Williams on sublime pompous villainous form as Dr Tinkle (!) and the likes of Bernard Bresslaw, Peter Butterworth, Dilys Laye and Charles Hawtrey bring the wards to life. Throw in a delightful cameo role from Joan Sims and a stunning guest starring performance from Frankie Howerd and you have near perfection! 


The basic plot of the film sees the patients of the hospital revolt after the fiendish team of Matron, Dr Tinkle and Sister Hoggett (June Jago) rule over the wards for too long, culminating in the axing of popular Doctor Kilmore (Dale). It's a lovely story that allows the audience to root for the underdog. Of course all is well in the end and the film comes to a satisfying conclusion. Rothwell includes some lovely references to Carry On Nurse, no better than the infamous daffodil sequence which is joyfully brought back to life briefly by Frankie and Valerie Van Ost. Watch out also for a framed portrait of the brilliant James Robertson Justice in character as Sir Lancelot Spratt - it is between the lifts in the hospital foyer. This is of course a tribute to the Doctor series of films, a franchise to which the Carry Ons owe a debt of gratitude. The Doctor films were produced by Peter Rogers' wife Betty Box and directed by Ralph Thomas, brother of Gerald. Peter sought permission to make Carry On Doctor from his wife before going into production.

So what about Barbara's role? Sandra May is a trainee nurse who arrives at the hospital around half way through the film. Sharing a room with Nurse Clark (Anita Harris) she explains that she is devoted to Kenneth's Doctor Tinkle following a much earlier encounter when she was a patient. This association causes trouble for Tinkle when Sandra visits his room for a secret assignation. Although both Matron and Kilmore observe this, when Kilmore speaks out he is quickly hushed up and moved out. Barbara's role culminates with the classic "roof top drama" sequence with Dale and Harris mistakenly believe Nurse May is going to jump from the roof of the nurses home. Instead she is merely enjoying a bit of sunbathing. This set up allows for Jim Dale to exploit his comic athleticism to the full, precariously dangling off the room, tearing off Anita's skirt and ending up in a bath, which already contains a nurse. 

Barbara vanishes again before the film's climax which is a pity as her performance is great. She is perfectly cast as the naive yet cheeky young nurse and her appearance in a nurses uniform is well remembered by so many men of a certain age. Eric Rogers' theme music when she first appears in the hospital ward is superb and the scenes that follow have gone down in Carry On history. 

Barbara was very much back in the Carry On fold with Carry On Doctor. From now on until 1974 Windsor would make one film a year with the team. Barbara, while never quite matching the likes of Joan Sims and Hattie Jacques in the acting stakes, provided a unique and very British female lead for the Carry Ons and I cannot think of anyone else who could have played Barbara's parts so well. 

Coming up next is Barbara's most fondly remembered Carry On role of all. Her third appearance in the series as Babs in the classic Carry On Camping! For now I'll leave you with a glorious, memorable sequence from Carry On Doctor, featuring Barbara, Peter Gilmore and the very best of Eric Rogers:

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