The Carry On series primarily consists of 31 British comedy motion pictures (1958-1978 and 1992), four TV Christmas specials, a television series of thirteen episodes, and three stage plays.
The films’ humour was in the British comic tradition of music hall and bawdy seaside postcards. Producer Peter Rogers and director Gerald Thomas drew on a regular group of actors that included Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, Kenneth Connor, Peter Butterworth, Hattie Jacques, Terry Scott, Bernard Bresslaw, Barbara Windsor, Jack Douglas, and Jim Dale.
Carry On Admiral (1957) predates and was not part of the Carry On series, and does not share any regular cast members beyond Joan Sims, though it is similar in tone and style to the earliest films in the series. Joan Hickson also made an appearance in this film and a few films in the Carry On series.
The Carry On series contains the largest number of films of any British series, and it is the second-longest British film series, although with a fourteen-year break (1978-1992) between the 30th and 31st entries. (The James Bond film series is the longest-running, though with fewer films, 25, as of 2020).
Anglo Amalgamated Film Distributors Ltd produced twelve films (1958-1966), the Rank Organisation made eighteen (1966-1978) and United International Pictures made one (1992).
Rogers and Thomas made all 31 films, usually on time and to a strict budget, and often employed the same crew. Between 1958 and 1992, the series employed seven writers, most often Norman Hudis (1958-1962) and Talbot Rothwell (1963-1974). In between the films, Rogers and Thomas produced four Christmas specials for television in 1969, 1970, 1972, and 1973, a thirteen-episode television series in 1975, and various West End stage shows that later toured the regions.
All the films were made at Pinewood Studios near Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire. Budgetary constraints meant that a large proportion of the location filming was undertaken close to the studios in and around south Buckinghamshire, including areas of Berkshire and Middlesex. However, by the late 1960s (at the height of the series’ success) more ambitious plots occasionally necessitated locations further afield, which included Snowdonia National Park, Wales (with the foot of Mount Snowdon standing in for the Khyber Pass in Carry On Up the Khyber), and the beaches of the Sussex coast doubling as Saharan sand dunes in Follow That Camel.
Carry On Sergeant (1958) is about a group of recruits doing National Service; its title, a command commonly issued by army officers to their sergeants in the course of their routine duties, was in keeping with its setting. The film was sufficiently successful to inspire a similar venture, again focusing on an established and respected profession in Carry On Nurse. When that too was successful, further forays with Carry On Teacher and Carry On Constable established the series. This initial ‘pattern’ was broken with the fifth film in 1961, Carry On Regardless, but it still followed a similar plot to that of many of the early films – a small group of misfit newcomers to a job make comic mistakes, but come together to succeed in the end.
The remainder of the series developed with increased use of the British comic traditions of music hall and bawdy seaside postcards. Many titles parodied more serious films, such as their tongue-in-cheek homages to James Bond (Spying), westerns (Cowboy), and Hammer horror films (Screaming!). The most impressive of these was Carry On Cleo (1964), in which the budget-conscious production team made full use of some impressive sets that had been intended for the Burton-and-Taylor epic Cleopatra (1963). Carry On Emmannuelle, inspired by the soft-porn Emmanuelle, brought to an end the original Carry On run.
The stock-in-trade of Carry On humour was innuendo and the sending-up of British institutions and customs, such as the National Health Service (Nurse, Doctor, Again Doctor, Matron and the proposed Again Nurse), the monarchy (Henry), the Empire (Up the Khyber), the armed forces (Sergeant, England, Jack and the proposed Flying and Escaping), the police (Constable) and the trade unions (At Your Convenience) as well as camping (Camping), foreign holidays (Cruising, Abroad), beauty contests (Girls), caravan holidays (Behind), and the education system (Teacher) amongst others. Although the films were very often panned by critics, they mostly proved very popular with audiences. In 2007, the pun “Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me”, spoken by Kenneth Williams (playing Julius Caesar) in Carry on Cleo, was voted the funniest one-line joke in film history.
A film had appeared in 1957 under the title Carry On Admiral; although this was a comedy in similar vein (and even featured Joan Sims in the cast) it has no connection to the Carry On series itself. The much earlier 1937 film Carry On London is also unrelated (though it coincidentally starred future Carry On performer Eric Barker).
The cast were poorly paid – around £5,000 per film for a principal performer. In his diaries Kenneth Williams lamented this, and criticised several of the movies despite his declared fondness for the series as a whole. Peter Rogers, the series’ producer, acknowledged: “Kenneth was worth taking care of, because while he cost very little […] he made a very great deal of money for the franchise.”
The following actors are considered to be the regular/core members of the Carry On team:
- Kenneth Williams (1926-1988) (25 films, and co-presenting That’s Carry On!) played a range of character types, nearly always a lead character. Early roles were rather strait-laced; he then sometimes played his snide character: quite slimy and smarmy with a distinctive nasal voice. Later the haughty, proud and easily outraged elitist became more frequent and Williams’ best known character type. Williams sometimes played characters of other nationalities, such as in Up the Khyber. In some roles, when not actually playing his role in snide mode, Williams might deliver a single joke using his snide voice. A running gag in many of the films was that Williams’ character would be embroiled in an extra-marital affair with that of Hattie Jacques—this plot device was used to greatest effect in the hospital-based films, which gave rise to Williams’ famous catchphrase “ohhh Matron!”.
- Joan Sims (1930-2001) (24) Apart from Carry On Nurse, Joan Sims had the longest uninterrupted run of roles in Carry On films, being in all 20 films (excluding That’s Carry On) from Carry On Cleo to Carry On Emmannuelle. She played a range of characters from jolly and assertive young women with sturdy moral standards (Camping, Loving) to sexy and lusty matrons – either desired (Again Doctor, At Your Convenience) or coarse and unattractive (Henry, Up the Khyber), to a chatty glutton (in Matron), a battleaxe wife (Cleo, Screaming) and an unattractive spinster (Doctor). She also appeared in two of the four Carry On Christmas TV specials, and eleven episodes of the Carry On Laughing television series.
- Charles Hawtrey (1914-1988) (23) often played a meek, rather effete ‘mummy’s boy’ who could suddenly erupt into riotous behaviour. Other roles were as a strict, officious and prissy person in an authority role. Hawtrey’s characters were often bumbling and accident prone, and the victim of various mishaps and complex misunderstandings. He also appeared in two of the four Carry On Christmas TV specials.
- Sid James (1913-1976) (19) always played a lead character, usually a laconic member of the working class. His characters were often lecherous womanisers, something that caused problems in James’ private life. He also appeared in three of the four Carry On Christmas television specials, and four episodes of the Carry On Laughing television series.
- Kenneth Connor (1918-1993) (17) often played put-upon men ranging in character from pompous to meek, and often leering. He also provided some additional voice-work in Emmannuelle when he dubbed the dialogue of Howard Nelson (Harry Hernia). He also appeared in three of the four Carry On Christmas television specials, and twelve episodes of the Carry On Laughing TV series.
- Peter Butterworth (1919-1979) (16) frequently played major roles in the films, often as a generally benign, unflappable but bumbling assistant or servant unable to see the chaos around him. Unusually for a regular, in some films, including Again Doctor, Henry and Loving, his role consists of a cameo appearance in a single scene. He also appeared in three of the four Carry On Christmas TV specials, and nine episodes of the Carry On Laughing TV series.
- Hattie Jacques (1922-1980) (14) played the haughty matron, school senior mistress or other archetypal authority figure in several films. Later she branched out into more varied comic roles (e.g. At Your Convenience, Loving and Abroad, in which she played a chef embroiled in a constant battle with the stove). She also appeared in two of the four Carry On Christmas TV specials, and one episode of the Carry On Laughing TV series.
- Bernard Bresslaw (1934–1993) (14) varied between playing the clumsy dimwit or the heavy, or the lusty and bombastic “foreigner”. In the later films his characterisation developed greater depth, such as in Dick, Behind. He also appeared in three of the four Carry On Christmas TV specials, and five episodes of the Carry On Laughing TV series.
- Jim Dale (born 1935) (11) joined the series with support roles, but quickly progressed to playing the younger, sympathetic male lead, often in the film’s romance plot strand. From his debut had an uninterrupted nine-film run. After a two-film absence (Camping and Up The Khyber) returned for Again Doctor, his final Carry On until taking the lead role in the 1992 revival film Carry On Columbus.
- Barbara Windsor (1937-2020) (10, including co-presenting That’s Carry On with Williams) played main roles in all her Carry On appearances. Her characters were always the cheeky and saucy young blonde, often in revealing costumes. Sometimes her characters were chaste (and very often chased), some were easily swayed. She also appeared in all four of the Carry On Christmas TV specials, and eight episodes of the Carry On Laughing TV series.
- Patsy Rowlands (1931-2005) (9) started in support roles, often as undervalued, meek and mousey secretary or assistant who undergoes transformation into a more assertive and sexually aware woman. She also appeared in one episode of the Carry On Laughing TV series.
- Jack Douglas (1927-2008) (8) joined the series with a cameo appearance in Matron, where he appears in one scene with a single line of dialogue. After an only slightly larger role in the following film Abroad, where he again plays his established Alf Ippititimus-type character, his roles increased in size and increasingly diverged from the familiar Alf performance. After his début Douglas appeared in all subsequent films in the original series, and was one of the few returners for Columbus. He also appeared in two of the four Carry On Christmas TV specials, and twelve episodes of the Carry On Laughing TV series.
- Terry Scott (1927-1994) (7) appeared briefly in the first film Sergeant and returned 10 years later when he played, among others, the put-upon husband (Camping), the barking sergeant (Up the Khyber) and lusty doctor (Matron). Additionally, he appeared in two of the four Carry On Christmas TV specials. He also filmed a scene for At Your Convenience as union big-wig Mr Allcock, which was not used in the finished film.
- Leslie Phillips (born 1924) (4) appeared in three early films – Nurse, Teacher and Constable – after which he left the series only to return 32 years later for Columbus as the King of Spain.
Film and Other Media
Chronology of Carry On Films
- Carry On Admiral (1957): not part of the Carry On Series.
- Carry On Sergeant (1958).
- Carry On Nurse (1959).
- Carry On Teacher (1959).
- Carry On Constable (1960).
- Carry On Regardless (1961).
- Carry On Cruising (1962).
- Carry On Cabby (1963).
- Carry On Jack (1964).
- Carry On Spying (1964).
- Carry On Cleo (1964).
- Carry On Cowboy (1965).
- Carry On Screaming! (1966).
- Don’t Lose Your Head (1966).
- Follow That Camel (1967).
- Carry On Doctor (1967).
- Carry On Up the Khyber (1968).
- Carry On Camping (1969).
- Carry On Again Doctor (1969).
- Carry On Up the Jungle (1970).
- Carry On Loving (1970).
- Carry On Henry (1971).
- Carry On at Your Convenience (1971).
- Carry On Matron (1972).
- Carry On Abroad (1972).
- Carry On Girls (1973).
- Carry On Dick (1974).
- Carry On Behind (1975).
- Carry On England (1976).
- That’s Carry On! (1977).
- Carry On Emmannuelle (1978).
- Carry On Columbus (1992).
Several other films were planned, scripted (or partly scripted) or entered pre-production before being abandoned:
- What a Carry On…, 1961.
- Carry On Smoking, 1961.
- The story revolved around a fire station, and various attempts to train a bungling group of new recruits.
- Carry On Spaceman, 1961 and again in 1962.
- Carry On Flying, 1962.
- Scripted by Norman Hudis, about a group of RAF recruits.
- It got as far as pre-production before being abandoned. Jim Dale was to have a starring role.
- Carry On Robin, 1965.
- A planned spoof of Robin Hood starring the “Carry On regulars” was outlined by Rogers and registered with the British Film Producers Association but never pursued.
- Carry On Again Nurse, 1967 and two other attempts.
- Carry On Escaping, 1973.
- Scripted by Talbot Rothwell, a spoof of World War II escape films.
- The complete script is included in the book The Complete A-Z of Everything Carry On.
- Carry On Dallas, 1980.
- A planned spoof of the popular American soap opera Dallas.
- A script was written and casting offers made to Williams, Connor, Douglas, Sims, Hawtrey and Dale.
- The production was abandoned when Lorimar Productions demanded a royalty fee of 20 times the total production budget.
- Carry On Down Under, 1981.
- Gerald Thomas did some location scouting while on holiday in Australia and spoke to the Australian Film Commission.
- The production was abandoned when finance fell through.
- A complete script was written by Vince Powell and is included in the book Fifty Years of Carry On.
In May 2016, producer Jonathan Sothcott of Hereford Films announced plans for a new series of Carry On films, beginning with Carry On Doctors and Carry On Campus. As of early 2017, no news had surfaced on whether the planned reboot was still going ahead. On 12 April 2017, Sothcott confirmed to thehollywoodnews that he was no longer involved with the film series. As of September 2019, three Carry On films were set to be filmed back-to-back, after Brian Baker won the rights to the movies following a legal battle with ITV earlier that year. Production of the new films had been planned to take place in spring 2020. However, filming was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and little more was heard about the project until after the death of Barbara Windsor in December 2020, when Brian Baker announced that he will be using old footage of the actress in the film, saying “Barbara will be making an appearance.” Baker told the Daily Star Sunday that ‘we have got two new stories and we are looking to do one of the old ones again to bring it up to modern day quality – probably Carry On Sergeant.’
The characters and comedy style of the Carry On film series were adapted to a television series titled Carry On Laughing, and several Christmas specials.
In 1971, Music for Pleasure released a long-playing record, Oh! What a Carry On! (MFP MONO 1416), featuring songs performed by Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale, Kenneth Connor, Frankie Howerd, Bernard Bresslaw, Joan Sims, Barbara Windsor, and Dora Bryan.
A 50-minute television documentary, What’s a Carry On?, was made in 1998 for the 40th anniversary of the first film. It included archive clips, out-takes and interviews with surviving cast members. It was included as an extra on the DVD release of Carry On Emmannuelle.
In November 2003, a TV series titled Popcorn on S4C ran a Carry On special documentary and interviews, featuring Jynine James. This was in respect of a new Carry On film being produced by Peter Rogers called Carry On London. It featured interviews and clips of the past Carry On films and went into detail about the new film and cast. However, despite the script being signed off and sets constructed at Pinewood film studios, the project was shelved, owing to the untimely death of producer Peter Rogers.
A two-hour radio documentary, Carry On Forever!, presented by Leslie Phillips, was broadcast in two parts on BBC Radio 2 on 19 and 20 July 2010. A three-part television retrospective with the same title, narrated by Martin Clunes, was shown on ITV3 in the UK over Easter 2015.
Carry On Series
- Carry On Admiral (1957).
- Carry On Sergeant (1958).
- Carry On Jack (1964).
- Carry On Cleo (1964).
- Don’t Lose Your Head (1966).
- Carry On Up the Khyber (1968).
- Carry On England (1976).
Production & Filming Details
- Release Date: 1958 to 1992.
- Rating: PG.
- Running Time: variable.
- Country: UK.
- Language: English.