The Lost Carry On

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I first heard about the so-called ‘lost Carry On’ at one of those fan conventions where you pay £20 to get a photo with the evil dojo guy from Karate Kid, or an actor who played some sort of sentient turd in Doctor Who back in the seventies. Funnily enough, I was in line for Fenella Fielding when I overheard a conversation between a couple of lads ambling past. I wasn’t in costume myself, but one of them was dressed as Kryten from Red Dwarf if he’d been a cenobite.

“…hear about that Carry On that got abandoned?”

“What, with Shane Richie in it?”

“No, back in the day. It got shut down midway through shooting after…”

That was all I picked up before they got out of range, and I didn’t want to lose my place. I was almost certain they, or I, had gotten confused. As a Carry On buff, I’d heard about all the films that never were; Carry On Again Nurse, planned as an X certificate to compete with the Robin Askwith sex comedies; the 1962 one set in space; and even the modern reboot starring Barry off Eastenders, but I’d never heard of a Carry On that’d been closed down. On the train back home, I started digging around online.

Nobody had heard of it, and there was zero information in the usual places, even on forums that dealt exclusively in obscure comedy trivia, where thousands of posts argued about whether the second Joey Boswell was better, or what was in Alan Partridge’s drawer (common consensus was a dildo of some kind). But eventually, I found a single reference in a Usenet thread from 1996, titled ‘UNMADE CARRY ONS.’ Much of it referred to the films-that-never-were of established legend, but one post caught my eye.

“It was set in Victorian London, in the world of spiritualism, parodying things like the ghost of Cock Lane (fnarr fnarr!) with Joan and Babs as the Fock Sisters, a play on the ‘real’ 19th century mediums, the Fox Sisters. But it never came out.”

Two years later, someone had replied to that post saying they’d actually viewed a scene from it. The email address bounced, but I found three blokes with the same name on Facebook, and after a couple of messages, established that one of them was the same guy. Better yet, he claimed to be in possession of the actual scene, sold to him, he said, by someone whose dad had fished it out of a skip at Pinewood where he worked as a carpenter.

We arranged a meeting, and the following weekend, he was leading me down to his shed, where piles of tapes were stacked floor to ceiling. He asked if I was interested in any of the other stuff; untransmitted episodes of Hardwicke House, a Benny Hill where one of the Angels had gotten her fanny out; he even had a collection of the blooper comps they showed at the BBC Christmas party, which he described with an excitement suggesting he rarely had a chance to talk about it.

“This one’s got Attenborough doing commentary on a horse getting a big stiffy, and Rod Hull getting decked…”

Eventually, he got around to the reason I was there, pulled out a VHS tape, stuck it into the slot beneath a fat CRT screen and pressed play. The clip was raw and missing sound, and appeared to be the rushes from a single wide shot. In it, Barbara Windsor and Joan Sims could be seen in Victorian dress, sat at a large wooden table. They were conducting a séance with a pair of actors whose backs were at the camera, though one of them looked like it might be Larry Dann. After some dialogue we couldn’t hear, the four of them held hands, and Joan closed her eyes as the lights started to flicker, before going out altogether. When the light came back on, Sid James was standing beside the table, looking white and dusty, as though he’d been layered in talcum powder. Then, everybody screamed and ran offscreen. On her way out, Joan bumped into the table and clattered down onto her knees, hurriedly exiting on all fours.

“That looks like a laugh,” he said, “wonder what the problem was?”

“Can that be right?” I said, and ran it back to the beginning of the tape, freezing the image on a close-up of the clapperboard, just before they called action. October 1976. Six months after the death of Sid James.

Playing it back a second time, in the chaos of the final moments, I noticed a slight wobble to the picture, as though whoever was manning the camera had also fled.

I gave him £80 and left with the tape, along with the name of a dealer of showbiz paraphernalia who supposedly had the really rare stuff. I found this to be true, as I was barely through the door before he was trying to sell me a wax model of Mrs Warboys and one of Willy Price’s half-smoked cigars. Down to the business of the lost Carry On, he told me what little he knew. It was planned for release in 1977, hence why there’s a two-year gap between Carry On England and the then-final effort, 1978’s Carry On Emmannuelle. Production was abandoned partway through shooting, but as was the house style, Carry Ons were shot so fast, there was almost an hour of completed scenes, which someone had since assembled into a rough cut. This, he told me, was out there somewhere, but he’d never seen a copy himself. What he did have, produced with a surprising lack of flourish, and dumped onto the desk inside a Tesco carrier bag, was a script. It was mine, he said, if I had the cash.

Almost cleaned out, I now had in my possession a 102 page screenplay entitled Carry On to the Other Side. It was credited to regular series writer Talbot Rothwell, along with a co-writer whose name had been blacked out by a dark box of ink. I couldn’t tell if it was genuine, but one scene did line up with the footage I’d purchased. Except, of course, for Sid’s cameo. The back cover contained a hand-written cast list, though by dialogue alone, ardent fans of the series could have matched character to actor without much trouble.

Kenneth Williams starred as Hampton Scraper, who’d recently inherited a decrepit old mansion after the death of his brother, with no mention in the will of where he’d stashed the family jewels. The plot involved Scraper trying to contact his dead brother to find the location of the loot, before the crumbling house fell down around his ears. Lugs the butler, fostering secret designs on the treasure himself, was played by Peter Butterworth.

Just as that first post had suggested, Joan and Babs played the Fock Sisters, a pair of travelling psychic mediums and possible con artists, who eventually get hired by Scraper to reach his late brother.

Meanwhile, Kenneth Connor played a Houdini type, Harry Hardoni, a debunker of spiritualism, who’s rubbish at escaping and constantly getting stuck in straight jackets and sacks, and having to be freed by his assistant, played by Jack Douglas. In full-on twitching Alf Ippititimus mode, at one point, Douglas is scripted a trademark “phway!” that flails a padlock key out of an open window, leaving Hardoni to navigate a romantic date with one of the sisters while entirely wrapped in chains.

As was often the case with the series as it hit its final years, Carry On to the Other Side is more crude than cheeky, and on the page, robbed of the performers’ injections of charm, plays as rather joyless. Of note is a scene where a randy séance participant repeatedly moves the glass to spell out Ouija board requests for the Fock Sisters to undress, along with a particularly crass visual gag involving a cleavage full of ectoplasm. The actual séance scenes are numerous, and become increasingly lengthy and jokeless as the script goes on. These sections are littered with the sisters’ gibberish-sounding incantations that appear to be in a made-up language, one of which runs almost a full page of unbroken nonsense dialogue.

The film ends with a riotous final séance that literally brings the house down, killing everybody but Hardoni and Barbara’s Edith Fock, and we close on Scraper and Lugs finally finding the jewels in the rubble, but unable to pick them up, as they’re now ghosts.

At this point, I hit a dead end. I tried to scan the script to post online, but the files always corrupted. I checked the entries in Kenneth’s diary for the filming period, but there was no mention. In desperation, I posted an appeal on Twitter, with the bare details and a plea for more information, but received no retweets or replies.

I took to re-reading the script most nights in bed, and my eye would always get snagged on the strange language spouted by Babs and Joan’s characters when they were raising the dead. It was so out of place for a comedy, especially in a series built on broad misunderstanding and innuendo, that I thought there must be a phonetic dick-joke hidden away; a double-entendre that only became clear when read aloud. So, standing in the living room that evening, I did just that, feeling a little silly as I read carefully from the page in a loud, theatrical voice, and wondering if it would suddenly make sense as spoken word. It still seemed like gobbledygook, but the instant the final syllable left my mouth, there came a loud knock from the hall. I could see through the frosted glass of the front door that nobody was stood outside, and opened to an empty porch. Then I glanced down, where an unmarked VHS tape sat on the front step. I think I knew, somehow, the second I heard the knock.

It was with a sickly feeling I pushed it into the mouth of the video recorder I’d fished out of the attic after buying the other tape. As you’d expect with an unfinished print, there was no title sequence, just the text CARRY ON TO THE OTHER SIDE in white lettering on black, over absolute silence. It opened on the first scene from the script, where Kenneth’s Hampton got the phonecall informing him of his brother’s death. There was no soundtrack, and as there’d been no post-production dubbing, all sound was live from the day, giving each scene a disconcertingly real, almost documentary feel.

Next, we cut to a Victorian pub, where Hardoni was performing. The set was reminiscent of the one in Oliver! Busty barmaid; dirty-faced, bawdy patrons. And there, in the background, sitting at a table by himself in 1970’s clothing, was a very recognisable Sid.

It’s here that the picture quality began to rapidly degenerate, with a wash of static obscuring the image and the audio dropping out. Within a further couple of scenes, the film became completely lost beneath a silent white crackle. There were at least forty-five minutes left on the tape, so I kept watching, in case the image might suddenly improve. It didn’t. Perhaps it was just my imagination, but there seemed to be shapes in the snow; faces that formed and held the lens with a very direct gaze. First out of the static came the wrinkles, ears, and great big hooter of Sid himself. Then, others. Hattie, who died in 1980. Kenneth Williams, 1988. Bernard Bresslaw, ’93. Butterworth, Connor, Hawtrey, Sims, Esma Cannon. Though the image was faint, each of them appeared to be silently crying. Their mouths weren’t open or wailing in pain, nor were they sniffling or shaking. They wore flat, expressionless faces, completely devoid of emotion, but for an endless trickle of tears spilling from both eyes. They looked directly at the screen as they wept, before fading back into the electric fog. At a running time of 57:22, the footage reached its end and cut to the cold blue of an empty tape. I did not watch it again.

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I ended up moving out of that house not long after. Didn’t even take any of my stuff. I wonder if they hear it too, whoever lives there now? It’s never close, but it’s always there. In the darkness, at the end of the hallway, or muffled through the floorboards downstairs while you’re laying in the bath. That throaty, dirty laugh…

“…hyuk hyuk hyuk!

This piece first appeared on my 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 provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, and all kinds of other stuff.

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~ by Stuart on November 22, 2018.

2 Responses to “The Lost Carry On”

  1. I absolutely loved this. It’s completely captivating. I’m going to read it again right now. Brilliant.

    – Esmeralda Cloud applauding heartily

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