26 October 2004 | tomfarrellmedia
The squalid death of the British sex comedy
Love 'em or loath 'em, a certain indefineable Englishness could always be distilled from the Carry Ons, even the ones set in Ancient Rome or The Wild West. They started out in black and white, stable mates to Norman Wisdom and assorted Ealing comedies and wound down two decades later when the permissive society has made their nudging winking humour obsolete. Through the years, the same actors kept resurfacing parodies of silly suburban Englishness: the leathery lecher Sid James, the squeaky blonde Babs Windsor along with demure Charlie Hawtrey, bulgy eyed Kenneth Williams, repressed matron Hattie Jacques and sharp faced nag Joan Sims. It was the repetition and safeness we cherished, the over the top boooiings! and deliberately crass innuendos, Babs' bra flying off amid stretching exercises and hitting a horror-struck Williams in the face: "Oooh! Matron! take them away!" Far from being 'sex comedies', the Carry Ons are also childishly innocent. None of the villains e.g. Bernard Bresslaw as Bunghit Din in 'Up the Kyber' are genuinely bad. Sid's ear is forever being grabbed by Sims before he can do anything with Babs. All of these elements are absent from Emmanuelle and the result is painful and repulsive. Rogers' dire payment of his actors meant they had little choice but to return time and time again to Rothwell's scripts. By 1978, Sid James was dead, Charles Hawtrey sacked and Jacques (along with Windsor Davies and Terry Scott) committed to better-paying BBC sitcoms. Barbara Windsor reportedly walked out on this one and it's puzzling that her close friend Williams didn't do likewise as he'd already been burnt by the wretched 'Hound of the Baskervilles.' Peter Butterworth, Joan Sims and Kenneth Connor chip in but you know a movie is in trouble when Benny Hill's straight man (Henry McGee) is brought along to make up the numbers. Attempting to capitalise on the success of the French 'Emmanuelle' movies, the old pre-feminist and pre-pill approach to sex is junked in favour of a movie where the elderly Williams is shown copulating with Suzanne Danielle. In her role as Emmanuelle Prevert (pervert get it...? Swiftian wit,we think) Danielle attempts to find satisfaction after Williams was castrated in a nude hand-gliding incident by bedding innumerable men, while a rubbish 'disco' number plays. Meanwhile, shy mother's boy Theodore falls for Danielle and the servants recall their own lamentably unsexy brushes with the permissive society. By the time of this movie's release, the Carry Ons were already dinosaurs and the 1974 effort 'Carry on Dick' was when the series should have been wound up. Other comedies of the time 'Confessions of a...' or 'Percy' have not dated well, but the sea side bawdiness of the 1960s Carry Ons will just about make them watchable on a Sunday afternoon. Not this effort, interesting only as a cruddy little snapshot of post-sixties, pre-Aids views on sex. With Emmanuelle, the Carry Ons died although the stake had to be sharpened one last time in 1992 when the even worse 'Carry on Columbus' rose from the coffin.