As a nation Britain has been delighted to carry on watching "Carry On's" for forty-six years. When the modest comedy film Carry On Sergeant was released in 1958 - with its borrowed army command of a title and impudent attitude to military authority - its appeal to a country still facing mandatory national service was overwhelming. A sequel was demanded. And then another. And another. These early comic capers reflected a growing common awareness that Britain had to cast off its rusty padlocked Victorian shackles, and continuing in the tradition of Carry On Sergeant, took inelegant but often sniggeringly smutty swipes at putrefying British institutions hospitals in Carry On Nurse, the police force in Carry On Constable, the education system in Carry On Teacher and so on. Yet these films were still easily recognisable as standard comedy fare, and it was not until Carry On Spying in 1964, with James Bond in cinematic ascendancy, that the concept of spoof entered the equation, and the established "Carry On" team of actors, until now astutely keeping one toe dipped in the pool of Shakespearean tradition, decided to go for broke and be just plain silly. Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Connor and their fellow travellers discovered that being plain daft on screen was the key to opening the door on continued success. Future films would become more outrageous, more vulgar, and more successful!
Although the general public eagerly queued around two and three-quarter blocks for each new episode in the "Carry On" saga, the films, with their seemingly crass dialogue, overt mugging and basic cinematic technique, were denied critical plaudits for the longest time although one reviewer did consider Sid James' lecherous performance as Henry VIII in Carry on Henry more historically probable than that of Richard Burton's take on the monarch in Anne Of The Thousand Days! The venomous quills of the reviewers were finally dipped in something other than vitriol for Carry On Up The Khyber, which gained praise not only for the hard-working cast but also for the film's editing, when it was finally admitted that the film makers really did know what they were doing after all.
In fact what they were giving the nation was the most successful series of films Britain had ever encountered. Eventually those twenty-nine films (I'm not mentioning the retread that was the later Carry On Columbus
damn, I've mentioned it now!) have become established as a national institution. You can gauge when a film has become such a treasure when it crops up on television for the umpteenth time and everyone in the household groans "oh no, not again!" only to avidly watch the movie through one more time to the very last frame! The films even export, and have gained many devotees in the USA though I do have to mention catching a re-run of Carry On Camping in 1975 with an American friend of mine who after the screening commented
"that was a film?". We can regret that when making Carry On Cleo the assembled repertory company were advised not to lampoon the Elizabeth Taylor version of Cleopatra and that the gang were actively disbarred from giving us their version of Gone With The Wind but nevertheless the "Carry On" legacy is still considerable.
Given the overriding popularity of these films down through the decades it seems amazing that there has never been an all-encompassing audio tribute in the marketplace. Luckily a few years back a number of choice musical cues from scores for "Carry On" films were newly recorded and did make it to commercial disc
but only now are we being afforded a compendium truly capturing the essence of these extraordinary movies a two CD set of delightfully dodgy dialogue and memorably mirthful music.
Here is a judiciously chosen selection of the best or is that "the worst" - jokes from the films augmented by some pertinent musical episodes. The original music tracks from the movies are no longer extant, but all the brazen main titles are here, plus numerous other orchestral episodes free of overlaying dialogue or too many sound effects. One of the greatest strengths of this compilation is the expert way in which music has been edited into the albums to give particular impact to punch lines. This clever interaction between dialogue and music makes for something rather special a seamless listening experience which totally entertains for over two and half hours. Even given that many people will come to these discs fuelled by nostalgia this is one of the funniest audio trips I can remember and its not merely down to the proliferation of (cough, splutter) jokes from the films, but also that the music is hilarious in itself.
Composer Bruce Montgomery launched the "Carry On" series with the musical equivalent of a bubbly bottle of faux champagne, a jaunty, cheeky, militariesque march theme for brass, woodwind and percussion - with a more relaxed trio - for Carry On Sergeant, then added strings to his basic creation for Carry on Nurse, then literally jazzed things up for Carry on Teacher and Constable On Constable. But it may have been too much to hope to continue with this irresistible musical signature through another twenty-odd movies, and with the untimely death of Bruce Montgomery, composer Eric Rogers lifted his baton on an ever-changing but ever comical cascade of scores sporting main titles reflecting each film's subject matter. To have all these main titles - and score excerpts - gathered together is a genuine treat and certainly a tribute to the robustness of Bruce Montgomery's original concept and the later versatility of Eric Rogers' muse.
Listening to the seasoned and familiar voices of Kenneth Williams, Sid James, Barbara Windsor and Kenneth Connor et al is like pulling up a comfy chair to a cosy open fire of a winters evening, the glowing embers of nostalgia and the crackle of coarse farce warming the spirit. Of course there's no shovelling on of the coals of political correctness, nor hankering after the kindling of Wildean wit this is good, honest, lowly grate fare which is, well, great. Even so it must have been a marathon endeavour for the producers of this compilation to sit through all the movies selecting gems, albeit of the paste rather than the carat variety. But the rummaging among the sparkling gags has paid off handsomely.
The ambitious accompanying twenty-four page booklet comes replete with extensive notes, colour reproductions of posters, choice stills, and an introduction from producer Peter Rogers and director Gerald Thomas. We are also treated to no less than three pieces of differing "front cover" artwork one for the slip case, one for the "separate" booklet, and another for the CD booklet. Hang on
another booklet! That makes two - this time with eight pages housing plots for all the films plus a liberal smattering of even more stills.. The mono sound is deep and crisp and even which would have pleased good King Wenceslas but will also appeal to all but the most dedicated audiophile.
The four star rating is obviously not for those averse to groan jokes or the whole "Carry On" stance, or even those who only search for albums of music from films, but for the many of us steeped in the laugh-along legacy of these movies. Finally I'd like to risk ending this review with a choice double entendre but I just can't hope to compete
Ian Lace adds:-
There is no grey area here punters will either love or loathe this 2 disc compilation.
I will quietly admit to having laughed my way through a select few of these British seaside-holiday-postcard romps: notably Carry On Up The Khyber, Carry On Nurse, Carry On Cleo and Carry On Cowboy; but the very few others I saw left me cold. It has to be said that 'Carry On' comedy is just as much visual (the cast's facial expressions and the body language as they deliver those outrageous gags) and, of course, this important element cannot be delivered through the medium of a purely audio experience.
The music was written first by Bruce Montgomery and then by Eric Rogers. Much of it was loud, frenetic, brassy and blowsy with the inevitable brass raspberries and off-colour glissandos. But common to practically all the music is a sense of fun and irony. Even when the music tends towards the serious and heroic as in the Title Music for Carry On Up The Khyber, it only tends to underline the lunacy to follow. As for the dialogue, all the favourite gags are here and those unmistakeable tones of Hattie Jacques Barbara Windsor, Kenneth Williams, Sid James and Charles Hawtrey et al.
A fulsome tribute for the more desperate fans. Love it or loathe it what a Carry On. A compilation that's truly beyond categorisation!