Retro Film Report #35: The Carry On Films

This post is not for readers in the UK. The Carry On films were immensely popular across the pond, so this article is likely to seem pointlessly obvious.  However, the films never really found a home in American households - I rarely saw them in video stores, and even today many are unavailable in the States.  I assume their lack of popularity here wasn't just poor distribution, but rather a factor of how British they are (if that makes sense).  I mean, these movies are BRRRIIITISH.

After all, the humor is derived from old school British music halls.  I'd actually liken it to a Mel Brooks brand of comedy mixed with a healthy dose of Are You Being Served? and a dash of Benny Hill.  Where Monty Python had just enough of the bizarre new wit to translate to Americans, these required a bit more of a cultural jump to get the jokes.

This is all a crying shame because these films are incredible.  There were 31 in all - larger than any other British series, and spread out over four decades.  Next to James Bond, it's the longest running.  I think the Los Angeles Times summed it up best in their review of Carry On Camping:

"It's a joy to be able to sit back and relax with some perfectly silly old-fashioned low down humor."

So, what exactly are they?

If I had to describe them all, I'd say they are risque send-ups of various subjects (camping, cowboy movies, beauty contests, etc.).  The humor is all very cheeky and naughty - low on plot and character development, high on gags.  Best of all, they retain the same basic cast and crew throughout, with few exceptions.

But this post isn't a treatise on the Carry On films; that would take a book, and I'm nowhere near an expert.  I basically want to rundown several of the films with you, and provide some screen captures which often say more than a whole review could ever convey with words.  With Wikipedia and IMDb you hardly need me to provide a synopsis for each film; however, I will spout off a few words about each and give you my recommendations.

 Carry On Girls (1973)

Welcome to the seaside town of Fircombe.  It's a rainy miserable spot on the map, with absolutely nothing going for it.  I think this just about says it all...

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so the town magistrates decide to hold a beauty contest.  Of course, this brings in a whole new variety of 'tourist' to the backwards hamlet of Fircombe.  The local hotel suddenly finds itself up to their eyeballs in lusty ladies.

Margaret Nolan as Dawn Brakes checks into the hotel run by Carry On regular Joan Sims.  Carry On regular Bernard Bresslaw plays a sleazy publicist.

It isn't long before the hotel is turned upside down by the wannabe beauty queens' shenanigans. In one particular scene that has to be seen to be believed, the hotel becomes a stage for an incredible cat fight.

Carry On Girls marks the beginning of a new level of naughtiness.  There's no nudity to speak of, but it still kicked it up a notch.  Considering the fact that on-screen nudity was rampant by 1973, the film is relatively tame compared to other adult oriented films in theaters.

The movie has all the regulars I love, playing the roles they do best.  Sid James is the lovable pervert, Bresslaw is the dimwitted slimeball, and the always hilarious Barbara Windsor.  Plus, there's a new addition to the team who many of you may know...

Valerie Leon.  If that's not a reason to run out and watch this movie, I don't know what is.

As you can tell, the premise is a veritable goldmine for plenty of off-color humor and silly gags.  The publicist dresses up as a girl to bring scandal to the contest, there's a feminist who protests the contest, and a hotel overrun with "dolly birds".... does it get any better than this?

If you're going to watch Carry On films, get used to these faces.  Above, Sid James and Barbara Windsor. So much were these two actors identified with their Carry On roles, that it reportedly adversely affected Sid's personal life (always considered a horny lush) and Barbara was severely typecast until landing a role on EastEnders.

Spoiler Alert (if that's even possible to spoil a Carry On film from forty years ago): The feminists hijack the beauty contest with itching powder and a sprinkler system. The crowd turns into a mob and runs poor Sid out of town.

Carry On Cowboy (1965)

Sid James as Johnny and Joan Sims as Belle
Johnny (Sid James) is a sanitary engineer (janitor) mistaken for the local lawman.  He's got to get the villainous Rumpo out of "Dodge", but not before bedding the lovely Annie Oakley.

Carry On regular Joan Sims plays the madame who warns Sid to stay away from Annie.  She stands in front of the door, barring his way....
Belle: You can't go in there Johnny
Johnny: Don't act so silly.
Belle: But Johnny, she's no good! Take it from me, she's after something.
Johnny: Take it from me, if you get out of the way, she's gonna get it.

Carry On regular Angela Douglas plays Annie Oakly.  She has a burlesque singing number which she was petrified to perform in real life.  Joan Sims gave her a couple shots of brandy, and the show went on.

Given that this was released in 1965, don't expect anything particularly risque.  It's wall to wall wit, but you could watch it with your grandmother and feel comfortable.

Carry On Screaming (1966)

The Carry On gang getting their dirty little fingers on the horror genre seemed like a match made in heaven. Indeed, I waited years to see this film - a fan of the Carry On films, but unable to get a copy of this one until recently.  What a disappointment.  This should've been the best ever; instead it's among the worst.

Carry On regular Kenneth Williams is the mad doctor and the lovely Fenella Fielding plays the Morticia-esque Valeria.  I'd compare her to Elvira, but this was '66, and that amount of cleavage could get you arrested.

Doctor Orlando Watt has a habit of turning beautiful women into mannequins.  The setting is a gothic manor, and there's plenty of good Hammer horror vibes to be had.  Unfortunately, the movie is just plain dull.  No amount of horror atmosphere and beloved horror tropes can save it.  It doesn't have that raucous energy I'm used to in Carry On films.

The funniest part is when the bumbling inspectors must examine a "mannequin" for identifying marks on her backside.  Things get hilariously awkward.

Carry On Loving (1970)

Sid James (as Sidney Bliss) runs a computer dating service.  Of course the whole thing's a scam, and people are more or less matched up randomly.  Naturally, this leads to some unusually pairings - wacky hi-jinx ensue.

Carry On Loving has that energy that Carry On Screaming was lacking.  Perhaps the jokes are a bit more ribald and dumbed-down, but more's the enjoyment.  This isn't George Bernard Shaw, this is just a jolly good time.

The timid and socially inept Bertrum (Richard O'Callaghan) is set up with a model played by Jackie Piper.  Jackie starred in four Carry On films. She described the filming as I always knew it was...an absolute blast.

"Sid was so laid back, and so was everyone on the set, especially Gerald Thomas [director]. There was no starry tantrums, just laughter and games. The problem was trying to get everyone to work because we laughed so much."

When Bertrum attempts to impress his girl with airplane models made from milk bottle caps, the all-time gold standard in pure awkwardness is achieved.  Notice the look of horror mixed with confusion on her face.

Meanwhile, Terry tries to get into the knickers of prudish Jenny (Imogen Hassall).  Many will remember the buxom Imogen from When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970).

Well, I think this is where I'll end my tour of Carry On.  I've not done them justice, but it will suffice as my personal love song to the films.


Carry On Abroad, 1972


  1. Nice review. My favourite is Carry on Cabbie, perhaps the one with the most plot and character development....plus Kenneth Connor in drag and lots of lovelies in a changing room.

    Point of information, Johnny in Carry on Cowboy was played by Jim Dale (of Pete's Dragon fame), not Sid James who played Rumpo.

    Phwooooaaaarrrrr....oooh Matron...gah-ha-ha-ha...oooh Dr Prodworthy! (POING!)...stop mucking about! The girls won't like it, Sid.

  2. We're in the minority but I agree with you on SCREAMING. Quite the disappointment. I also agree with Nick that CABBIE is the overall best. I also have a fondness for HENRY and JACK (with Juliet Mills and Bernard Cribbens in the latter!).

    Have you seen the TV Christmas specials? They're out there now and they're some of the best in terms of sheer hilarity!

  3. I've only very recently even heard of these films. I think you mentioned them a few months back and that was the first.

  4. Check out Carry On Camping - not only my favourite Carry On film, but one of my top 5 movies ever!

    Cabbie, Abroad, Doctor and Up The Jungle are all great entries in the series - I hope your review turns more people outside of the UK onto these gems - if you think you're an anglophile and you haven't seen a Carry On you don't know sh*t!

  5. Mark CarterAugust 16, 2013

    "Carry On Columbus" was the worst*, notable only for the following exchange;
    Man; "Those are man-eating sharks."
    Girl; "Oh, will they eat me whole?"
    Man; "No, I think they spit that bit out."

    *Actually, it had one more joke than "Carry On Emmanuel"

  6. The best historical one was surely "UP THE KHYBER" which managed to be bawdy, packed with puns, exciting and a great satire on colonialism all in one go.

  7. I have a box set of the Carry On films. I actually like Carry On Screaming and wrote a review of it on my website last October (I believe). Another one I enjoy is Carry On Teacher. Of course, I like Carry On Cowboy too.

    In my research for a novel I've been writing, I've found the first films in the series were highly promoted in the local newspapers. Not sure if that was the case elsewhere or not.

  8. Wow, thanks so much for posting this. I never knew Bernard Bresslaw had been in the "Carry On" films. I was familiar with him only because of one role: Rell, the one-eyed cyclops in the movie 'Krull'. The movie got terrible reviews, but I always enjoyed it. Bernard's character was certainly among the most memorable.

  9. Valerie Leon. Seared into my childhood memory with this advert:
    (Hai Karate aftershave)

  10. In case anybody happens by here, the last 16 Carry Ons are available stateside from VCI Entertainment, complete with some commentaries (Valerie Leon and Jackie Piper among them; all accompanied by the author of a Carry On book). The first 16 (plus a so-so compilation titled "That's Carry On") were available in a now costly box from Anchor Bay.

    They're very much series films; slightly classier cousins to our own Bowery Boys but still playing to the galleries instead of the Richard Lester and Monty Python crowd. The earliest are comparatively plausible setups and played accordingly; after the first few the core actors are well on their way to their broad trademark characterizations. With "Carry On Spying" they jumped into over-the-top genre parodies; modern-day stories became less frequent and more outrageous.

    In time their brand of "seaside postcard" humor palled at the box office, just as Abbott and Costello's burlesque comedy did. And like Bud and Lou, they eventually became beloved institutions on television.