Carry On Star Interviews
In March 1958, Peter Rogers decided to produce a low-budget comedy
entitled Carry On Sergeant. He signed Gerald Thomas as director of the
film and a team of actors and actresses who, while not lacking in
experience as far as the majority of the public were concerned the cast
was virtually unknown. Peter Rogers, incorrigible optimist that he is,
could hardly have entertained anything more than modest hopes that his
film might be an average success.
The film's eventual release astonished everybody, from Peter Rogers, who
produced it, to ABC, in whose theatres you saw it. The cinema-going
public, starved of humour, flocked in their millions to laugh at this
honest British farce, so full of homely allusions as roast beef and two
The success of the first film prompted the making of Carry On Nurse. If
Sergeant astonished everybody, Nurse astounded them. It was the top
money-maker of its year and its fabulous success at home has been endorsed
in every world situation where it has been playing, from the USA to
Then followed Carry On Teacher and Carry On Constable, to establish the
series as the most successful comedy saga in the history of the cinema.
And now comes what, in the minds of those most intimately concerned, is
all set to become the biggest laughter maker of them all - Carry On
The little known actors of three years ago are now as familiar to us as
the wife's relations and infinitely more amusing. They have made the star
grade as a team, rather than as individuals, hence the introduction this
month of a Star Team interview in lieu of our customary "individual"
feature. When I was down at the studio during the shooting of Carry On
Regardless, the first character I met on the set was -
I had often seen Ken on the set in the previous Carry On's and I remarked
on this fact as we shook hands.
"Yes," he laughed. "I told Peter Rogers that he would save himself a lot
of money if he let the Carry On team do their parts over the phone."
"And what did Peter say to that?" I asked.
"He said that it was a good idea which he would be glad to use if only he
could trust the switchboard!" quipped Ken.
The joke set the pattern of the interview, as Kenneth Connor is just as
amusing off the set as on it. His next crack was also directed against
"We complained to him that our locations always seemed to be in the back
streets of Ealing. Why, we asked, couldn't we have a glamour location for
a change, like other units."
"What happened?" I prompted.
"Peter said he'd send us over the water for a change. He did - over the
Thames to the back streets of Windsor" answered Ken ruefully.
"There's been a big improvement in the artistes' restaurant here since the
Cleopatra mob came over from Hollywood," he confided, changing the subject
abruptly and looking serious.
I expressed my gratification that this should be so.
"Yes" said Ken. "When they leave we are going back to real food!"
I realised that once again my leg was being pulled and as I was trying to
think of an appropriate rejoinder, character actor Bill Owen happened to
"Hi!" called Ken, grabbing Bill by the arm and swinging him round towards
us. "What do you think about this fellow," he asked me. "He's made so much
money out of show business he's bought himself a house in Brighton."
"Indeed?" I said politely.
"Yeah," said Ken. "Every time the tide comes in it puts the fire out. When
the weather gets a bit warmer Bill's going back under the pier, aren't
Bill looked at me and touched his head significantly before departing to
obey a summons from the set.
I could fill the magazine with the quips and jokes that poured from
Kenneth Connor all the time I was talking to him, which illustrates his
happy-go-lucky outlook on life.
A gold medallist of the Central School of Drama at the age of 19, he
graduated the hard way through repertory and bit parts before touring the
Middle East during World War 2 in George Black's "Stars in Battle Dress".
Since 1951 he has appeared in many BBC shows, but it was in Carry On
Sergeant that the public recognised him as a potential top comedian. Since
then he has never looked back. In addition to appearing in all the Carry
On's, he has made several other films as well as starring on TV.
"Have you any hobbies?" I asked during a lull in the gagging.
"Yes," answered Ken without hesitation. "Lying in bed."
I knew it was hopeless to get any more out of him of what the world calls
"sense" so I left him taking the mickey out of other members of the cast
while I went in search of the second Kenneth -
Kenneth Williams is without doubt one of the most volatile personalities
in British films today. His natural exuberance bubbles like champagne, and
I do not recall meeting any actor with more mobile features.
Like Kenneth Connor, Kenneth Williams does not need a script before he is
able to be funny. Within minutes of renewing our acquaintance - I had met
him several times before - he had me in stitches with an impromptu
rendering of excerpts from his current radio series "Beyond our Ken". His
mimicry of show business personalities, colonels, society women and other
recognisable types was faultless.
At length I managed to steer him towards the purpose of my interview by
asking him if he was pleased to be back in films, especially Carry On
"Of course I am," he answered promptly. "Honestly, it seems almost a shame
to take the money because making a Carry On never really feels like work
I asked him to be a little more precise.
"Well," Kenneth explained. "I don't have to tell you how much the
atmosphere on the set depends on the director."
"You don't indeed, Ken." I agreed.
"And believe me, Gerald Thomas is as good a director - in every respect -
as any actor can ever hope to work with. Mind you," he went on quickly,
"Gerry is not lax and he soon cracks down on those who try to cover up
their own mistakes by blaming a fellow artiste."
My next question dealt specifically with Carry On Regardless. What did
Kenneth think of it by contrast with the other Carry On's?
"This, of course, is the first of the series in which we have been
'dressed proper' as you might say," he laughed. "All the others have
required either uniform or special clothing, but this time we are in
lounge suits. That does not mean the film is lacking in comedy content,"
he added, "in fact I will stick my neck right out and say that Carry On
Regardless is the funniest of the five."
Just then Kenneth was called to the set to do a scene with Sid James, the
boss of the Helping Hands Agency, whom I interviewed for ABC Film Review
some months ago. As I watched Kenneth I recalled the stepping-stones of
his career, which have led him to stardom and fame in all branches of
Staring his working life in lithography, Kenneth soon heard the call of
the motley, the paint and the powder and got himself a job in repertory.
Joining the Army during the war, he was sent to the Far East and later
transferred to Combines Services Entertainment in which he found a new
career - as a revue artiste.
In the early 1950s, Ken made his debut in films in Trent's Last Case. This
was followed by Innocents in Paris, The Beggars' Opera, Moby Dick and
finally his first major screen role in Carry On Sergeant.
There was a lull on the set for a technical adjustment and Kenneth, seeing
a mirror, went over to it and began pulling the funniest faces you ever
That's the way it goes with the Carry On team, always clowning whether in
front of the camera or behind it. In fact, you've got to look which way
the lens is pointing to know where the film is being shot!
Although Charles Hawtrey has never been proclaimed as a "dead pan" comic
in the Buster Keaton tradition, it is usually when he is looking his most
serious when he gets the biggest laughs. Cinema audiences have come to
love this slight figure who surveys the world owlishly through large
spectacles, and, in spite of all his well-meaning efforts, always manages
to bring disaster upon himself.
I settled down comfortably to chat with him as there is no one in the
business I like better than old Charles. There is nothing high falutin'
about him, he is a conscientious worker whose only concern is to entertain
the public to the best of his ability. I asked him how he felt to be back
in films after TV.
"I am very glad to be back," Charles answered, "and if possible I would
like to work exclusively in films."
As this seemed a somewhat unusual attitude fro an actor to take, I pressed
him for an explanation.
"It is true that many actors move easily from one medium to another
without apprehension," he said, "but speaking for myself, I think that
anyone seeking a career in films can suffer from the over exposure of
television. If people see too much of an artiste in their own homes they
are less likely to put themselves out to see him in a cinema or theatre."
I asked him if he meant there should be a short division between screen
and television actors.
"By no means," said Charles, "Such a thing is neither possible nor
desirable. My point is that artistes with film aspirations are wise if
their television appearances are not over frequent."
My next query had to do with the smart suit he was wearing for his part in
Carry On Regardless.
"Yes," laughed Charles, "civilian clothes are indeed a change in a Carry
On. But it would be a mistake for anyone to think that the characters are
as ordinary as their clothes."
Without telling him what I had just heard from Kenneth Williams, I asked
Charles how he felt about Carry On Regardless in relation to the others of
Charles was quite emphatic. "You can quote me as saying that this is, in
my honest estimation, the funniest Carry On so far." he said. "It is a
little different fro the previous four in so far as there are fewer group
scenes and therefore more individual performances. Nevertheless," he
continued, "the humour is more mature, more sustained and more plentiful
Charles Hawtrey has had a long and honourable career in the show business
in all its branches. He has been actor, producer, director and, in his
youth, he has even made gramophone records as "the angel-faced choirboy."
He has been associated with many of the greats including Will Hay (he was
one of the Narkover school-boys), Will Fyffe and George Formby, and he
recalls several juvenile appearances in "Peter Pan". But it is the Carry
On's which have made his name a household word in the world of comedy.
Pert, petite and pretty - that bit of crafty alliteration neatly sums up
the character of that nifty little bit of homework, Joan Sims. Poor Joan
was very much under the weather when I saw her at the studio. She was
nursing a cold which appeared to have alarming complications, and it was
as much as she could do to keep her end up on the set let alone indulge in
her customary quick-witted repartee. None the less, she was not without a
grin, albeit a rueful one, when I asked her how she was enjoying herself.
Joan gave me a sad sniff. "Normally, there's nothing I enjoy more than
making a new Carry On, but just now I don't feel particularly cheerful,
what with a runny nose and feeling all keyed-up to do my best."
I murmured sympathetically as she continued.
"A new Carry On is a big event in the cinema nowadays," she said. "And it
is not surprising that we all want to be on our toes when we get Peter
Rogers' call to make another one."
I could quite appreciate Joan's point. Most of the Carry On's have
finished in the top three box office successes, so the launching of a new
film in this series is no commonplace undertaking. This means an
ever-growing responsibility on producer, director, scriptwriter and cast.
Joan had previously given me some details of her career. She does not come
from a theatrical family, and it was with some misgivings that her parents
allowed her to embark on a stage career. She joined a local dramatic and
operatic society and later she won an award which took her through drama
"Repertory was my next move," said Joan. "I managed to get a job with the
Glasgow Citizens' Theatre."
This was no mean achievement for a girl without a shred of influence in
the shape of theatrical connections. What Joan didn't tell me, but what I
happen to know, is that she was an outstanding success, which led to the
offer of a part in the West End revue. She soon made a hit in the
metropolis and sophisticated London audiences just loved her.
Since then, Joan has never looked back and she has made a vast number of
appearances on screen, stage and television. Recently she has had a
feature role in Doctor in Love, a starring role in Watch Your Stern and a
star part in ABC TV's Sunday afternoon series "Our House".
Joan is a very attractive girl and in reverse to what usually happens to
girls in films, she has often to be de-glamorised and made to look
frumpish for some of her comedienne parts.
In Carry On Regardless, Joan has an amusing part as a member of Sidney
James' Helping Hands Agency. One of her jobs is demonstrating "Cleopatra"
soap bubbles in a bath as you see in the picture on this page.
As I left her Joan was being solicitously wrapped up by her dresser
against the prevailing studio draughts, but like the good trouper she is,
when she got in front of the cameras no one would have guessed there was
anything wrong with her.
With the four stars interviewed so far in this feature, Carry On
Regardless is a case of carrying-on from the previous Carry On.
Regardless, however, brings a new comedy personality into their madcap
midst in the sparkling person of Liz Fraser.
After shooting the scene with Sidney James pictured on the right (he would
have found her statistics to be 37-24-37, incidentally), she wandered off
the set to enjoy the leg pulling company of her co-stars as though they
were old friends. That, in fact, is what some of them actually are. She
was with Joan Sims, for instance, in Doctor in Love. As for Sid James...
"I've known Sid," she said, "since we appeared together in commercial
television's first daily serial, "Sixpenny Corner." That was in 1954.
Nowadays, of course, I'm Sid's girlfriend in 'Citizen James' another TV
series. Altogether I've done 160 TV shows."
These, and the numerous films she's been doing for roughly the same length
of time, have starred her with many of the country's leading comedians. Of
these, one has been Tony Hancock, in whose film The Rebel, she appears.
She has also been in both Brian Rix Night films - the one about A Clanger
and the current one about The Bird. She has also made films with Harry
Secombe, Norman Wisdom, Ian Carmichael and Peter Sellers. With Peter she
has played his daughter in I'm all right Jack and his girl friend in Two
Asked whether she was excited about her booming screen career, she
replied; "Of course, but I'm trying not to build too many hopes on it. In
show business you often get what seems to be a big break, but it doesn't
work out that way in the end. I've had several breaks in television, but
they haven't added up to anything startling. I don't mean you're ever back
to where you were at the beginning - after all, you do get experience
behind you - but you don't seen to be any better off in stature. SO I'm
schooling myself not to expect too much now."
In that case, I feel Liz Fraser will be in for some very pleasant
surprises, for the number of films she has made are evidence in themselves
of their popularity among producers and patrons alike.
My own personal opinion is that she is one of Britain's few comediennes
who have looks to go with the laughter. Would she ever go 'straight' on
the screen, I wondered.
"My dramatic ambitions were worked off when I played with the Chimes
Repertory Company," she replied. "The Chimes is the name of a house owned
by some friends who put on the properly produced plays for their own
amusement. The number of people actively involved in staging each show
usually exceeds the number in the audience. Once they had me playing a
woman of sixty five before an audience of seven."
Now, in Carry On Regardless, she is playing her twenty six year old, and
the film is assured an audience of millions.