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Carry On Christmas|
cast: Sid James, Barbara Windsor, Charles Hawtrey, Bernard Bresslaw, and Hattie Jacques
directors: Ronnie Baxter, Alan Tarrant
200 minutes (PG) 1969-73
Fremantle DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Paul Higson
The popularity of the Carry On films was such that by 1969 they were imported
for the first time into the Christmas schedule with a television special. It would be
the first of several yuletide outings for the team with varying degrees of success.
Four are collected here on DVD, accompanied by a second disc on which are thrown down
a number of special interview extras. Peter Roger's Carry On Christmas (1969) was
the logical title for the television debut of the team. The image quality and colours are
superb, and the Dickensian street recreation promises us of the importance lent the
production. For this 50-minute jaunt, the theme of A Christmas Carol is taken
up, Sid James spoiled with some terrific lines in the pivotal role of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Whether lambasting the carol singers, "You'd think they'd find something useful
to do... like forging pension books," or awakening from one nightmare, in character
recounting, "It must have been that cheese I had for supper. I should have left
it in the mousetrap," there is no dearth of good lines for the ringleader. The
ghosts of Christmas past (Charles Hawtrey), Christmas present (Barbara Windsor) and
Christmas future (Bernard Bresslaw) all act as linking devices to episodes that do
nothing to hide the fact that this is essentially a sketch show ('Carry On Regardless'
anyone?) with most of the players taking multiple roles. Still, the team's inaugural
television bout is a lot of fun, moreso because the team are clearly enjoying themselves.
The most recent theatrical release had been Carry On Camping and most of the
cast are carried over into the television production with comparative new lads Terry
Scott and Peter Butterworth in a particular party spirit. Scott seems to be out to
prove himself here with distinctive characters adopted and numerous examples of his
If it isn't Butterworth cracking up, it is guest star Frankie Howerd deliberately using
only two thirds of his scripted words and trying his darndest to putting the professionals
around him off-balance. Hattie Jacques gamely takes a lot of jibes about her girth from
Howerd, though these are scripted, Howerd would never be so cruel. Charles Hawtrey was
never more iron hoof than in this film, flouncing hysterically in a series of jaw-dropping
appearances. If his actions alone don't reduce you to a puddle of laughter, the lines
will. "I say, you do have a narrow entrance," would get Graham Norton clapping
The ghost of Christmas past serves up a tale of horror, with Dr Frank N. Stein
(Scott) and Count Dracula (Butterworth) pondering a quandary, a mate for his monster.
This time, like the lad he is, he creates the she-monster first, and what a delicious
little bobbin it is, coming in the shapely form of Miss Windsor. Bresslaw is clearly
to be her other one and a half, complete with flathead. It allows some lame horror gags
to be trotted out, but its simply great seeing the gang have their fun. The second story
spins out the fate of the poet, Robert Browing (Howerd) and his amour (Jacques). The
sets look very wibbly-wobbly am-dram and some old revue visual gags are fed into the
mix, but the dialogue is up to par. "I feel wan." ... "Okay, dear. You
feel wan, I'll feel the other." The sketch introduced by the ghost of Christmas
future is Cinderella in the kitchen, performed in rhyming couplets, clearly the role
of Cinders going to Barbara Windsor, lusted after by the visiting Ebenezer: "Now
that, although she may look rancid, is a bit of stuff I've always fancied." Peter
Butterworth's ugly sister looks disturbingly like Hilda Baker, while Scott's looks like
Mollie Perkins. The quartet of Scott, Butterworth, Hawtrey and Bresslaw are, at one
point, trotted out as a girls' school, and there could not be a more laugh-inducing
gallery of grotesquerie. The scripts by Talbot Rothwell carry over the best of the
1960s' Carry On.
Individual rating: 7
From hereon it goes downhill. For Carry On Again Christmas made in 1970 it was
decided to go for a complete adventure, based on Stevenson's Treasure Island.
The special was shot in black and white, a pity, as the sets again, look fantastic.
Little else about it is good though. It is weak comedy and there are no clear laughs
and the team seem generally to be well aware of it. Terry Scott is an unhappy Squire
Trelawney playing it relatively straight. Sid James is Long John Silver, and Barbara
Windsor reprieves her turn from Carry On Jack, as the cabin boy who is actually
a girl. Charles Hawtrey produces the odd smile with his body language, lunatic excesses
and the odd ad-lib when the script permits, but he too seems disappointed with the lines.
Kenneth Connor in his first Christmas contribution doesn't appear too affected by the
script, is enjoying himself, buried deep in a codger character. Bernard Bresslaw is
the other major team member in the small crew. Joining in the farrago are Bob Todd
(as Ben Gunn) and Wendy Richards, both perhaps envious of those with the established
Carry On membership status and throwing a little bit more effort into it. No
laughs, terribly disappointing. In the absence of an ailing Talbot Rothwell, the writing
duties fell to David Freeman and Sid Colin. The director on the special was Alan Tarrant.
Individual rating: 2
Talbot Rothwell is back on the scripts for the third dive, Carry On Stuffing
(1972), co-written with David Freeman, directed again by Ronnie Baxter. It returns
to the portmanteau approach with a turn of the 18th century banquet as the venue for
a round of storytelling. The team is led by the girls Joan Sims, Barbara Windsor and
Hattie Jacques and a handful of male regulars Kenneth Connor, Peter Butterworth and
Jack Douglas, with the numbers made up by Norman Rossington and, in silent but busty
maid role, Valerie Leon. The first tale is The Last Outpost with the team besieged a
la General Gordon, only able to hint at the laughs from the classic dinner sequence
from Carry On Up The Khyber to which it so clearly alludes. It is amusing, but
loses in comparison. A madrigal sketch resembles a Two Ronnies music number
with Henry getting "his Hampton Court" the laugh at the end of every couplet.
The Sailor's Story is a headless horseman yarn with a mild peppering of laughs
and the Aladdin finale clues one in as to just how closely the team tried to
take it to the original successful format in hope of a similar critical reception to
the 1969 show. Kenneth Connor wisely deserts a couplet when trying to find something
that rhymes with 'golfing instructor'. Solid lewd laughs abound. Invited to take his
turn telling a tale is an elderly Kenneth Connor character. "It's time to do your
bit." ... "I can't do that. She's in London." The colour and image is
a bit fudged. It is the only one to be filmed partially on location and at least has
a go at some fun names in the Carry On tradition, as exampled in Lady Rhoda
Cockhorse and a butler called Ringworm. It's an occasionally desperate 50 minutes, but
thankfully amusing at times.
Individual rating: 4
The final Carry On Christmas (1973) is Talbot Rothwell on top form again, and
here dispensing with any attempt to portray it as anything more than a sketch show.
Sid James is back, as a store Santa, and the thread is a slender one, as he merely
recalls the stories, how people once came together at Christmas set against the unfriendly
now, some of it his own doing. The sketches are funny, a decent team collected, James,
Bresslaw, Windsor, Connor, Sims, Butterworth, Douglas... who are clearly more convinced
that the material is funny and ready to have fun with it. Bresslaw has a particular
range allotted him, from prehistoric teenager and Georgian fop to a high camp Little
John. This is as raunchy and daring as the first Carry On Christmas. The first
had gone surprisingly far in its double-entendres and hit an ugly highpoint with Hawtry
rummaging around in Terry Scott's knickers for his missing songbook, so this would appear
to go that one risqué step further.
Barbara Windsor is a 13-year-old in school dress on Santa Sid's knee. Her provocative
attitude shocks mother, Joan Sims, who doesn't know how she came by such ways. "We
had a French student staying with us. She must have got it from him." ... "I
wouldn't doubt it!" responds Santa Sid. The old man in the Santa suit lusting after
the pretend schoolgirl would be a complete no go today and is especially astonishing
presented as 1970s' Christmas entertainment. The tale set in prehistoric times is especially
amusing and offset against the double-entendres are some smart gags. The prehistoric
family are surnamed Pod, the wife Sims is Senna, the son Pea. Don't Lose Your Head
resurfaces in a Georgian drawing room scene with a guest appearance from Julian Holloway.
Then it is off to the trenches for a quick-fire set of dirty puns as Babs and Joan surprise
the lads as a pair of Parisian whores. Unerringly funny, a complete story would have
been preferred and the result is the standard revue. It is an addition, if only ruder
in nature, to the specials that were by then synonymous with Christmas from Stanley
Baxter and Morecambe and Wise. The only faltering comes in the shorter sketches like
the embarrassing ballet sketch that hopes to get the laughs that the first Christmas
Special did by having the lads dress up as big girls.
Individual rating: 6
An additional disc is provided though the contents are unimpressive. One is a caught
interview between Peter Rogers and Marc Sinden before an audience of fans at a dinner
event. With so many of the team gone, Jack Douglas presents one set of Christmas Carry
On memories, Rogers goes through all the films in another filmed interview and Wendy
Richards is called on for her recollections of Carry On Again Christmas. Surely,
they could have squeezed them onto the one disc with the four specials. The menu sequence
is unnerving, a raucous and frightening, desperate-to-please piece of music and the heads
of the Carry On stars appearing from a Jack In the Box barking choice catchphrases.
It's quite a horrible front page. Overall, this is that must for completists. It is
passable fare but best left to the highlights, the first and the final Carry On