Carry On Retching

 

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I’ve always unashamedly loved the Carry On films. Not in an ironic way that takes a jokey jab at my wokeness, but with the same purity I adore Chris Morris or the League of Gentlemen. Partly it’s nostalgia, as the comedy of my childhood, each film is a comfort blanket of familiar faces; but also, it’s a series that genuinely makes me laugh more than just about anything, even now. The Carry Ons are where I first learned what jokes were. Punchlines, funny faces, misunderstandings, reactions, double-takes; a slide-whistle when someone’s trousers fall down. It’s a series that effectively revolves around a single word — “it” — and characters confusing that for a reference to sexual intercourse. “Have you had it yet?” or “I’ll put it up” — such mileage out of two little letters.

Weaned on these films, their comedy formed the heavy artillery in my early joke armoury, which as regular readers will know, relies even today on the trusty big guns of double-entendre and smut. Perhaps my love for them was meant to be, having grown up on the British seaside, and the films in that Donald McGill saucy postcard tradition, of enormously-bottomed female bathers and sticks of rock waving around like boners.

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My early fandom extended beyond the films and into the oeuvre of my favourite cast member, Kenneth Williams. I was a huge fan of 60’s radio series Round the Horne, making excited trips into Worthing WHSmiths to buy double-packs of the BBC cassettes, with my young mind particularly obsessed with the fithy-sounding yokel-gibberish of Rambling Syd Rumpo. I got a diary as a stocking filler one Christmas when I was 6, and remember thinking Father Christmas must have known I was going to be famous, just like Kenneth, and that decades later, people would be reading about my daily hob-nobbing with the stars, and eventual lonely suicide.

Of course, the Carry Ons are incredibly of their time, which is to say, my problematic fave. Their visual trademark is horny old men leering at young dolly birds, and they’re filled with stereotypes that would never make it to screen nowadays, or, like the effete mummy’s boy, that don’t even exist any more. Though nearly as base and puerile as detractors would have you believe, each feature is packed with an ensemble of thoroughly one-off performers. Kenneth Williams, Sid James, Hattie Jacques, Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Connor, Peter Butterworth, Joan Sims, Bernard Bresslaw, Babs, and countless others; just look at that talent. It was like getting a new Infinity War every nine months for two decades.

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An incredibly prolific series, with 30 films in 20 years, I will eventually write about my favourites. Carry On at Your Convenience deserves a place on the list of the greatest British films ever made, and Camping contains what I consider the best-constructed joke ever put to film, involving a sign reading ALL ASSES MUST BE SHOWN, and a ‘nudist’ campsite manager who’s “gone for a pee.” So, as should be clear by now, I love the Carry Ons, and I’ve seen them all countless times. All but one.

There’s a haunting picture near the end of Kenneth Williams’ Diaries, taken on the set of Carry On Emmannuelle, of the cast sat around a dining table. There’s no Sid, having died two years earlier, or Barbara, who blew off participation when filming clashed with her holiday, and those who remained for this final, rasping hurrah look so old and tired, I could never bring myself to watch it. Kenneth makes only a brief reference in his diaries, on his first impressions of the script, which is “monotonous and unfunny,” and that “the credibility is gone… all this seems to do is to attempt to shock,” leaving him feel he had no option but to turn it down. He was eventually tempted onboard by rewrites and an increased salary, though Sims did it for the pittance of £2,500, the same as her fee for Carry On Nurse, almost twenty years earlier. One suspects, like Kenneth, her involvement was mostly so she could spend time with her friends.

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Long-considered the worst in the series, at least until Columbus reared its head in the early 90s, Emmannuelle’s given short shrift by the many retrospective books and documentaries. But watching for the first time, this is my equivalent of finding an unreleased demo from John Lennon, or formerly ‘lost’ episodes of Doctor Who; a whole new, unseen film in a beloved franchise. Unfortunately, the critics were right. This is every cliché about once-great groups reforming to hobble about the stage, wearily performing solos with a guitar resting on their gut. It’s Old Men in Little Pants: The Movie, with the elderly cast more sex-crazed than ever, upping the ante to compete with the popular, and far more explicit Confessions Of… series, like a retired banker trying to beat some life into his flaccid penis as a young escort looks at her watch.

From the opening, Emmannuelle doesn’t feel right, kicking off, not with a classically Carry On Eric Rogers score, but with its jaunty disco theme, the Kenny Lynch-voiced Love Crazy. While it’s not up there with my favourite; Convenience‘s chorus of aggressive cockney men bellowing “THREE OLD LADIES LOCKED IN THE LAVATORY!” it still has a double-entendre “it” lyric of “sometimes it gets so hard.” And that’s about the cleanest gag of the film. The bare-bones plot can be summed up in a single line: Emmannuelle Prevert, wife of the French ambassador (Kenneth Williams), has sex with every man she meets. That’s it. The title character’s played by Suzanne Danielle, in her first and only appearance in a Carry On, after being suggested to producers by then-boyfriend Patrick Mower, during the shooting of Carry on England. She was only 21 during filming, which further emphasises the aged cast, with every greying character thoroughly fixated on good old British how’s-your-father.

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Williams’ first appearance, lumbered with a cartoon “sacré bleu!” French accent that renders him borderline incomprehensible at points, has him lifting tiny dumbbells in gym gear that accentuates his frail appearance. Within seconds, his shorts fall to expose his bare arse, with another shot of him squatting down to pull them back up, which, like everything else, seems far too crass for a Carry On. Cleavage, yes, but no anuses please.

Emmannuelle — with an extra n to avoid lawsuits from the softcore porn series it was parodying — was an attempt to keep up with the sex comedies doing bumper business at the time; comedies which showed actual fannies. Consequently, we’re left with a very strange film. When the young, sex positive (or in 70’s terms, nymphomaniac) lead is transplanted into that Carry On world, it accidentally exposes the almost-charming naivety of the house-attitude to sex. There’s an early scene which sums up this attempt to appear laissez faire, while revealing its own repression, like children whispering to each other how babies are made by a man weeing in a lady’s bellybutton.

When the downstairs staff peep at the Preverts through the bedroom keyhole, Joan Sims describes the “pornographic orgy” going on; an ‘orgy’ where the pair of them lay on the bed fully clothed. Then, the sight of a still-dressed Emmannuelle in a hug with her shirtless husband is enough for Butterworth’s glasses to shatter. All the “sex” in this movie is of the literal rolling around on a bed variety, with the muffs that Robin Askwith was spying from up a ladder nowhere to be seen. Later, when trying to get one of the Queen’s beefeaters to break character, Emmannuelle flashes her boobs, then bum, finally waving her knickers in his face, before stomping off defeated, with nothing left to offer, as though vaginas don’t exist. Of course, then a flamboyant gay man minces over with a literal “hello ducky,” and the guard responds by winking and blowing a kiss.

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The aforementioned keyhole scene introduces another ill-fitting element; pop culture references. Mostly, the Carry Ons exist inside their own bubble — ironically, one part of them which hasn’t dated — so a line here about The Muppet Show fits about as well as Sid exclaiming “Blimey, look at the knockers on Britney Spears!” The bedroom peep-show also leads to the worst joke in the entire series. Marvel at the first-draft barrel-scraping of a line which will likely never be topped, no matter how much terrible comedy I get through on here.

Butterworth: “Is it Starsky and Hutch?

Sims: “If you ask me, it’s more like starkers and crutch!

Bless Joan, she gives it her best. But still, ghastly. Though I’d take a weak line over the charmless gags permeating the rest of the film, where the Carry On vehicle seems to have aged up from giggles about willies and bums, to horned-up pubescent references to tits, spunk, and wanking. We’re only two lines in before a man’s asked “are you coming?”, setting the scene for 90 minutes of that friend who always goes too far, sat in a quiet train carriage yelling about big sweaty cocks. Possibly my least-favourite line comes when Emmannuelle’s being driven around in a “…Daimier Pervertable. The roof doesn’t go down, but the chauffeur does.” Thanks for that mental image of 60-year-old Kenneth Connor performing oral sex. Evidential of the fast-shifting standards, there’s a joke about “getting hard” that had previously been cut from Carry On Regardless by censors 17 years earlier.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of nudity; far more than we’re used to, mostly consisting of Kenneth Williams and Suzanne Danielle’s arses. At one point, Kenneth’s impotence is instantly cured by a head-wobbling Indian doctor stereotype, who calls in a nurse and orders her to open her top, giving him, and us, a good look at her breasts. It had the highest ratings certificate of the series; higher even than then-recent Carry On England, which also had flagrant boob shots, and similarly never felt like a real Carry On. Filmed at Pinewood at the same time as Superman — which occasionally saw the cast lunching with Christopher Reeve — the shooting schedule, even for a Carry On, was an intensely rushed four weeks. Despite the hurried shoot, Emmannuelle had the biggest budget of the franchise (until Columbus), which shows during actual visual effects shots and unsettling excursions to real locations, like Trafalgar Square, rather than the obvious sets we were used to. That said, the Beefeater scene, filmed in Pinewood’s carpark, features a back projection so unconvincing, they might as well have built a street out of Lego.

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More a series of sketches than an actual movie, the premise of ‘Emmannuelle likes to fuck’ is explored in a handful of lengthy scenes. First, we see the Preverts hosting a dinner for VIPs; all fusty old white men and their wives, plus an Arabian ambassador in a fez drinking soup straight out of the bowl, because he’s foreign. Emmannuelle, under the pretext of looking for hidden weapons, crawls around under the table, feeling their legs, and like the butler’s exploding glasses, these old men react to a strange hand grabbing at their ankles like it’s the most erotic moment of their lives. “Everything’s going up these days,” says the wife of a guest. “You’re so right,” he says, and dear reader, HE MEANS HIS DICK! HIS ERECTENING DICK! These are men who’ve never known a loving touch, violently jizzing a decade’s worth of stale cum at the passing feel of a sock. And it’s not just the men, with the entire table politely thanking each other for Emmannuelle’s undertable gropes. The chap next to Kenny gets turned on like mad when he thinks he’s caressing his wooden leg, and when the flinching fake limb briefly lifts a woman’s skirt — complete with slide-whistle — she mouths a passionate “thank you,” as though this half-second of contact has roused a dormant passion after a lifetime of loveless, lights-off missionary. At this point, Kenneth Williams disappears from the film for ages. It’s a wise move.

Soon, in a scene which feels as long as all 29 previous films put together, Emmannuelle grills the below stairs staff on their most unusual sexual experience, and another Carry On oddity sees these tales play out as narrated flashbacks. Kenneth Connor’s at least gives me a sentence I never thought I’d type, as a wizened old man in his underpants has sex inside a wardrobe with the six-titted dancer from Jabba’s Palace. At a rainy, abandoned London Zoo, Jack Douglas rolls around the floor of a gorilla cage with a girl young enough to be his granddaughter, while Joan Sims seduces a man at the laundrette by putting a bra on her head. The Preverts, in footage I’d love to see edited into Point Break, go naked skydiving, before Kenneth lands on a church spire so directly, it goes right up his hole, explaining his aversion to sex.

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But the oddest is Butterworth’s, showing him in his army days during WW2, as a 60-year-old playing a young soldier. He meets, and has immediate sex with a French villager, shown via the shaking of the bushes they disappear into, before accidentally redressing in each others’ clothes. She’s then taken away by Nazis as a POW, and due to the comedic rule of dragging up, Butterworth’s “fräulein” is taken into the bushes by a smitten Nazi, who gets a few thrusts in before realising it’s a fella with a cry of “Gott im Himmel!” Still dressed as a French girl, Butterworth takes refuge in a nearby church, where the Vicar lets him stay, even though he’ll have to share a bed with his attractive young niece. Incidentally, the three random dollybird roles were the parts Barbara Windsor was set to play, before she decided to go on holiday instead. While there is an obvious grossness to seeing a bunch of old men get off with willing girls half their age, it’s no different from, like, every Hollywood film, starring fifty-something Tom Cruise and his succession of twenty-something love interests, or whichever middle-aged man is toplining opposite an onscreen daughter-wife.

Proceedings start their crawl towards a conclusion during a football match, filmed during a real game at QPR, where players feign injury or deliberately get sent off, so they can sneak to the dressing room and have their turn inside Emmannuelle. When it comes time for Kenneth Williams to award the cup, the entire team’s gone, and so has the ref, politely lining up for their go, and rubbing their hands with excitement. Then, she’s kidnapped at gunpoint by an obsessive former conquest, a mummy’s boy to an overprotective Beryl Reid, whose stalking functions as the b-plot, but he messes it up, so grasses her up to the tabloids instead. Emmannuelle’s sexual antics with everyone from the Prime Minister down are a sensation, leading to a televised interview with Harold Hump (Henry McGee from The Benny Hill Show), where she regrets nothing, undresses Hump and climbs on his lap for more sex. Still, it was less perverse than that time Parky leched over a young Helen Mirren.

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Unfortunately for those begging for the end credits, this thing’s got more endings than Return of the King. First, Beryl Reid knocks on her sons door, to check that he’s “not doing anything naughty to yourself… like that disgusting boy in that novel,” which is a reference I wish I understood. Perhaps she means the book Emmannuelle’s seen reading in the nip, entitled FU-KUNG SEX? Anyway, he’s so heartbroken that he pulls out a gun to shoot himself, lifting it to his head — in a Carry On film — and from the other side of the door, we hear a gunshot. He soon emerges unharmed, revealing that he’s such a failure, he missed.

Finally, it’s Emmannuelle’s turn to talk to the Indian doctor, who informs her she’s pregnant, despite being on the pill. When Dr. Stereotype suggests they celebrate by going behind the screen for a quick fuck, she leaves, so he calls in the boob-flashing nurse, adding ‘sex with my boss whenever he’s got a rock-on’ to her job description, on top of getting them out for random patients. Williams, now able to get an erection with his wife after being flashed by the nurse, reveals that he switched out her contraceptive pill for fertility drugs. Cut to a delivery room, where Emmannuelle, and pretty much everyone she’s slept with, including a full football team, celebrate the birth of about a dozen babies.

So, is there any joy to be had in this grim reminder of our disgusting human lust and frail mortality? There was one genuine belly laugh, during the scene Emmannuelle visits her police chief lover at Scotland Yard, purely at the thought process behind it. Like the shaking bushes, when the pair are having sex, it cuts away to terrible quality footage of the famous revolving New Scotland Yard sign, edited so that it’s jerking back and forth, with comedy boingboing noises. What’s the thinking here? Is the sign controlled by his dick? Are they humping atop some kind of control lever? A film that’s obsessed with sex, but doesn’t have the balls to actually show it, Carry On Emmannuelle‘s true strength lies in the creative lengths taken to let the audience know that dicks are getting hard, going in and out, or shooting their muck. If you’re a fan of visual metaphors where a train goes through a tunnel to suggest sex, this is the film for you! From simplistic visual cues of a whistling kettle, to full-on cell animation of an eagle statue flying away, it’s packed with suggestive, dick-like imagery. At the dinner scene, the Arab’s string of prayer beads gets a boner, while an old colonel gets stock footage of a cannon firing its ball all of two yards. At one point, the Old Bailey’s Lady Justice frantically shakes her scales up and down, while her sword wilts with shrinkage, like a Terry Gilliam skit. Even Concorde’s nose gets a stiffy.

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If only they’d put as much effort into the rest of the script. Unlike the previous films, there’s nothing quotable here. They even reuse that great joke from Carry On Doctor that I referenced in my Copy Cats piece. “I dreamt about her last night.” “Did you?” “No, she wouldn’t let me.” Even worse, it ruined a favourite joke from another show, with an allusion to the actual F-word, “you for coffee?” which sounds like “you fuck off, eh?” A joke me and my mum loved from Alan Cumming’s 90’s sitcom The High Life, we still quote it to this day, but alas, it appears to be stolen from this terrible film.

What a dreadful way to end the original run, with a cast, and format that feels tired to the point of collapse. The well wasn’t so much dry, as bricked over, with the corpses of its cast and crew left rotting at the bottom. Even the names are lazy. Camping has that great line, where Sid introduces himself and Bernie, “I’m Boggle, this is Mr. Lugg.” Here we’ve got the Preverts, Joan Sims as Mrs Dangle, and Jack Douglas as Loins the butler. Speaking of Douglas, what an insane choice to cast him, not as the twitching Alf Ippititimus character, but as himself. Chuck in a few “phwaay”s, with a cup of tea going up the wall whenever he sees a breast, and you’re guaranteed an extra smile or two. Audiences agreed with the critics, and Emmannuelle was a gigantic flop, which signalled the end for the franchise until 92’s Columbus. Thankfully, this put paid to plans for a further instalment, Carry On Again Nurse, which was to go all the way in an effort to compete with 70’s softcore, and aim for an X certificate. As much as I love Kenneth Williams, I wouldn’t want to see his perineum.

This piece is from my new Patreon, where subscribers could read this a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help me provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, including regular looks at the horrors of old British comedy in the Past Laugh Regression series.

There’s a ton of posts live already, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, like my new novella, Jangle. Please give my existing books a look too.

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~ by Stuart on May 28, 2018.

One Response to “Carry On Retching”

  1. […] you’re keeping score, not even including the time it cropped up in my Carry On Emmanuelle piece, that’s the third fucking time this joke from Carry On Doctor has come up in Past Laugh […]

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