Carry On Sergeant! The Beginnings of the Carry On Saga I didn’t particularly want high-flying characters; that wouldn’t have been right because they wouldn’t have fitted in. They had to be part of a team, with nobody above the title – ever. The star of the film was Carry On – everybody came underneath it.1 As I have demonstrated previously, the Carry On film series has its basic roots in the traditions of both the British Saucy Seaside Postcard and Music Hall tradition. Loose sketch-based narratives, outrageous female and male characters, risqué and bawdy jokes, and British institutions were often the targets for the artists of the stage, and film producer Peter Rogers utilised these traits and conventions to make the first (although he could not have realised it at the time) of the Carry On films, Carry On Sergeant. This chapter will examine how this first film came into being, and how it represents British society of the 1950s.
The British filmic canon had already explored in great depth many aspects of its culture through numerous wartime adventures. Such films as Ealing Studios remarkable expressionistic docudrama Went the Day Well (UK, 1942: Alberto Cavalcanti) seemed to find impetus in uniting the socially stratified society of Britain into a cohesive whole. Through a movie such as this, one unified mass of individuals could be seen to overcome almost insurmountable odds – in this case, German paratroopers infiltrating a quiet English village. Others such as the macabre, yet ultimately uplifting A Matter of Life and Death (UK, 1946: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) opted for a fantastical tale that merged both the 1
Richard Webber, 50 Years of Carry On (London: Random House Publishing, 2008), p.26
real horrors of combat with the opening possibility of American dominance both politically and socially over the British Isles. What must be remembered here is that these films were made during the war years. As such they reflect the ethos of community, class, sexuality and ethnicity at a time when the world was undergoing rapid social change.
Cinema is reflective of its time. It seems only natural, then, that British cinema would begin to depict acts of heroism that would not only boost morale for the public, but that could also help alleviate any contextual social concerns. Chapman argues that the rise of the patriotic film – especially between the years 1940 and 1943 – came about through various channels. Filmmakers, who were acting under government legislation to promote a sense of unity through the war effort, wanted their films to be imbued with a sense of propaganda 2. There was a need to show how Britain was combating the Axis powers whereby the ideals of a promoted heroism and valour ranged from those in combat to those working at home. Each subject could help bridge any significant developments in the Armed Forces and relay that information quickly to the audience. 3
As far as propagandist films were concerned, the most blatant examples mostly took on the mantle of documentary, short or feature films. Yet, despite the work of such brilliant documentary filmmakers as Humphrey Jennings and his This is 2
See James Chapman, “A Policy for Film Propaganda” in James Chapman, The British at War: Cinema, State and Propaganda, 1939-1945 (London: I.B. Taurus Publishers, 1998), p.41-57 for an introduction into how and why the Ministry of Information viewed cinema as a propagandist tool. 3
England, Listen to Britain, Fires Were Started and The Silent Village (1941, 1942, 1943 and 1943 respectively) hammering home the idea of a united country against a common enemy, it could justifiably be argued that the imagery of Will Hay, in The Goose Steps Out (UK 1942: Basil Dearden and Will Hay) infiltrating a German training school as a Nazi lecturer and telling his class of brown-shirt students to honour a huge portrait of Hitler in a two-fingered salute was worth more as a propaganda tool to the cinema-going audience than any amount of documentaries, PathĂŠ newsreels or political speeches could hope to muster. Indeed, this seems to be borne out when the Programme for Film Propaganda recommended that The film being a popular medium must be good entertainment if it is to be good propaganda. A film which induces boredom antagonises the audience to the cause which it advocates. For this reason, an amusing American film with a few hits at the Nazi regime is probably better propaganda than any number of documentaries showing the making of bullets, etc.4 This is not to say that a film had to be amusing if it was to succeed as propaganda. Filmmakers used fictional representations from all the armed forces in their narratives. The following table indicates just some of the films, their themes and the relevant branch of the armed forces or home front shown in them.
Chapman, (1998), p.55
Armed Force Home Front
The Lion Has Wings (UK 1939: Michael Powell, Adrian Brunel and Brian Desmond Hurst) 49th Parallel (UK 1941: Michael Powell) Pimpernel Smith (UK 1941: Leslie Howard) In Which We Serve (UK 1942: Noel Coward and David Lean) The Next of Kin (UK 1942: Thorold Dickinson) Went the Day Well? (UK 1942: Alberto Cavalcanti) The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (UK 1943: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) Millions Like Us (UK 1943: Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat) The Way Ahead (UK 1944: Carol Reed)
Mobilization of the RAF – the first narrative-based propaganda of World War Two.
A team of U-Boatmen walk across the wilds of Canada to neutral America. This is an updating of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Based on the true story of the sinking of HMS Kelly, captained by Louis Mountbatten. Propaganda piece about “Careless Talk Costs Lives” Invasion of an English village
A German officer
Lives of women as individuals and their families during the conflict. A rough sergeant trains his new recruits for battle in the African campaign. The Way to the Stars (UK The lives of both RAF and 1945: Anthony Asquith) USAAF bomber crews in the latter stages of the war.
Espionage Navy Home Front Army Home Front The Home Guard
The Home Guard The Home Front Army RAF and USAAF
Indeed, many of these films utilise a basic narratives that are then accentuated through an almost-documentary ‘feel’. For example, in Millions Like Us, most of the film’s narrative takes place around the lives of women working in an aeroplane manufacturer’s factory. The film examines how ordinary women from all classes - and this is accentuated by the foreman of the factory informing them that all are equal during wartime – cope with their new-found lives during the war. The film ends on an optimistic note, with the idea that Hitler and his minions cannot overtake the Common Man. The film’s title could be seen as a rebuke
against Churchill’s famous and rallying cry speech that the country owed so much to so few. However, it is also a testament to the filmmakers that they use the ‘ordinariness’ of everyday life, and everyday people as a propaganda tool which appeals to the masses. The film uses real life footage during the scenes set in the factory, with long-shots indicating the row-upon-row almost-banality of the women’s existence working in this area. What is also striking is the employment of everyday topics for discussion by the characters: men, loneliness, family, lack of money, the handsome American GI’s, all of which were direct reflections of the attitudes of women up and down the country.
Films such as In Which We Serve use a narrative device of backward-looking perspective, through which the lives of the ordinary seamen are charted before boarding HMS Torrin and the fateful night it is sunk. The Torrin is hit by a torpedo, and as the boat sinks, a few bedraggled survivors cling to a life raft. Each man begins to relate his story of life before and during the War. Again, as in Millions Like Us, the emphasis is very much on the individual working within and together as a team. Also, it is interesting to note that whilst Noel Coward plays the upper-class Captain E V Kinross (based on Louis Mountbatten), and middleclass British cinema stalwarts James Donald and Bernard Miles are Doc and Chief Petty Officer Hardy respectively, equal time is given to the working-classes. This is primarily seen in the story of Able Seaman “Shorty” Blake (played by John Mills). Blake’s story is of how he meets his wife, Freda and how they got married and their plans to have a child. The marriage is cut short by Blake’s return to the
Torrin. Freda moves in with her relative, CPO Hardy’s wife, and hopes to raise the child in a safe, warm and loving home. Blake receives a telegram to say that he has become a father, but the same telegram states that Hardy’s wife has died during a night-raid in the blitz. The end of the film sees the men being rescued, but all are sent to other warships to carry on fighting.
The film has a rather typical view of the class divide in Britain at this time. The upper and middle classes are stoical, flag waving, and clipped in their delivery of speeches. The working classes are seen as hard-working, likeable and humorous, but that they need to be lead by those ‘superior’ to them. Janet Moat writes that Coward, the director-writer-star …gives a rather humourless performance as the Captain, hampering the characterisation with his clipped and affected speech delivery. He also takes care to script for himself several fatherly speeches addressed to the crew (in which) Coward (offers a) condescending view of the lower classes.5 Interestingly, many of these films used the idea of recruitment with which to hang their narrative. Arguably the most powerful was The Way Ahead. The narrative has the strict Sergeant Fletcher (William Hartnell) and Lieutenant Jim Perry (David Niven, who was himself a Major in the British Army) attempt to unify a motley collection of men into a fighting-fit unit ready for action in North Africa. The film was apparently conceived in the winter of 1942, at a time when “moralestiffening in and outside the Army was sorely needed” 6 after its source5
Janet Moat, “In Which We Serve” at http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/477131/ (accessed on 30th November 2010) 6 Geoff Brown, “The Way Ahead” at http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/460745/ (accessed on 30th November 2010)
inspiration, The New Lot (UK 1943: Carol Reed) was screened as part of the growing documentary film movement. The New Lot concentrates on the actual recruitment and training of real-life soldiers. According to Geoff Brown, In line with the film's non-commercial function, no names of personnel are given onscreen: instead, we are informed the film is "supervised by an officer appointed by the General Staff". The Home Guard exercise sequence proves a limp way of demonstrating the recruits' teamwork; aside from that, director Carol Reed, editor Reginald Mills, and scriptwriters Peter Ustinov and Eric Ambler (both with experience as Army privates) devise ingenious ways of fulfilling their propaganda brief. Class stereotypes remain, and condescension curls round the presentation of Loman - happy to spend his entire life laying bricks. But the humour is spry and the understanding of the ordinary conscript genuine; and the war film spoof, with Robert Donat and Stewart Rome, makes a clever and unexpected finale.7 The Way Ahead takes this premise and then expands upon it via an open-ended narrative which sees the men being conscripted, entering the platoon’s site, getting acquainted to the rigours of army training, until finally they meet their fate in battle. The final heart-wrenching scene has the men, in the midst of fighting, walking through the rubble of a desert town. As they walk into the distance, with bullets and mortar shells crashing around them, they become shrouded in mist and so disappear into…? The film’s open-ended narrative structure allows the contextual audience to guess as to the individual’s outcome. Whilst it is certainly an incredibly tearful and heartfelt moment as the soldiers disappear, what was most important about The Way Ahead, was that it showed the credibility to the argument that conscription was a vital part of securing the defence of Britain
Geoff Brown, “The New Lot” at http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/730052/ (accessed on 30th November 2010)
during the war and beyond into the post-war years. This is a theme of Carry On Sergeant.
It was arguably in the genre of comedy that the war film had arguably its greatest success in providing a sense of alleviation away from the actual horrors of warfare. Through these comedies, the populace could not only explore such fundamentally wartime concepts as patriotism, but also begin to address such burgeoning questions as gender, and in particular the role of the male through, during, and after the conflict. Whilst films such as Millions Like Us and The Way Ahead illustrated the hardships of war – both either on the Home or the Battle Front – and as such were embraced by the public, that very same public needed to use other cinema as a means of escapism from the horrors that they were enduring.
Through the propagandising works of comedians as George Formby in Let George Do It! (UK, 1940: Marcel Varnel) , The Crazy Gang in Gasbags (UK, 1940: Marcel Varnel), and Will Hay in The Goose Steps Out (UK, 1942: Will Hay and Basil Dearden), who almost between themselves overturned any threat of invaders overthrowing their sceptre’d isle, British comedy propelled forward the impression that through the quintessentially English notions of ‘the fool’ in turn overcoming any obstacle, then so the idea of a united Britain would, and indeed could, through comedic jingoism address various strata within society directly. As cinema was aimed, in the majority, towards the working classes, so the main
targets for this propagandist ‘machine’ were the ordinary and everyday Joe Public who frequented the cinema on a weekly basis. 8
But that was during wartime when morale-boosting comedies and dramas were aimed at providing thought-provoking entertainment for the masses faced against a common enemy. Tim Pulleine argues “…within a few years of the war’s end, retrospective accounts of wartime events came to form what during the 50s was arguably British cinema’s dominant genre.”9 Most of these 50s war movies were concerned with real-life dramatisations, prison-escape movies, novel adaptations, and fictional tributes to the armed services. 10 Yet, only a few made comments about contextual British society. Admittedly, films such as The Colditz Story (UK, 1954: Guy Hamilton) and The Cruel Sea (UK, 1952: Charles Frend) tried to portray ordinary men in circumstances that could befall most servicemen and women during wartime activities. However, the characters are placed, for the majority of the audience at least, into almost-fantastical, somehow nostalgicised and romantic situations far removed from the austerity that post-war Britain, with its clothing and food rationing (the second of which came into existence on 8 th January 1940, and continued until 1954)11 was still a bane of existence for the 8
George Perry, Forever Ealing: A Celebration of the Great British Film Studio (London: Pavilion Books Limited, 1981), p.39-61 9
Tim Pulleine, “War films” in MacFarlane, Brian (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of British Film (London: British Film Institute/Methuen, 2003), p.703 10
For a brief overview of the history of food and clothing rationing for the period in question, go to: (author not known) http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/4/newsid_3818000/3818563.stm (accessed on 30th November 2010)
majority of people. It is possible that these films offered the populace a sense of nostalgia, a period that could be looked back upon as not one of hardship but one of community, where all the fabric of daily life was important to a ‘greater cause’ against the common enemy. This sense of community is a firm component of Carry On Sergeant.
With this in mind and Britain still reeling from the effects of the Second World War, cinema and especially its rival, television, could help to alleviate at least on a basic level the post-war turmoil that the country was undergoing. Coming almost directly as a parody/remake of The Way Ahead, and pre-dating such populist American conscription movies as The Dirty Dozen (USA, 1967: Robert Aldrich), M*A*S*H (USA, 1970: Robert Altman), Private Benjamin (USA, 1980: Howard Zieff), Stripes (USA, 1981: Ivan Reitman), and most notably Heartbreak Ridge (USA 1987: Clint Eastwood) and Full Metal Jacket (UK/USA 1987: Stanley Kubrick) Carry On Sergeant is arguably the most important of the canon due to its setting the template for the next five institution-based entries into the series. But what of its contextual background?
Conscription had been re-introduced to the country via both The Emergency Powers (Defence Act) of 193812 and The Military Training Act of 27th April 193913 as a clear indication of Britain preparing for conflict against the Axis powers of 12
Peter Teed, Britain 1906-60: a Welfare State (London: Hutchinson Educational Ltd, 1963), p.253254 13
(Author not known) “Conscription into Military Service” http://www.ppu.org.uk/learn/infodocs/st_conscription_l.html (accessed on 30th Nov 2007)
Europe. By the end of the war National Service, as conscription was known, was still in practice and continued until 1963. During the post-war period some 2.5 million personnel had been drafted into the armed services via conscription methods which sought to find all fit men between the ages of 20 and 21 to enlist into the army, navy or air force.14 Stories are rife of various (mis)‘adventures’ that had befallen these conscripts15 and both cinema and television were keen to exploit these ‘stories’. Andrew Marr writes of conscription It brought all classes together at a young and vulnerable age, subjecting them to strict discipline, a certain amount of practical education, often to privation, and sometimes to real danger. Teenagers were introduced to drill, cropped haircuts, heavy boots and endless polishing, creasing and blancoing of their kit.16 Even in today’s multi-channel network of broad and narrow casting, programmes such as Bad Lad’s Army (UK: ITV, 2000-date)17 and That’ll Teach ‘Em! (UK; Channel Four, 2002-date)18 hold a fascination with a bygone era, with either the 14
David Prest, “The Peacetime Conscripts: National Service in the Post-War Years” at http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/war/wwtwo/peacetime_conscripts_01.shtml (accessed on 14th Nov 2007) 15
For an absolutely fascinating look into the lives of conscripts, please read the various (mostly comic, though ultimately heartbreaking) memoirs of British comedian, Spike Milligan. Volumes include: Adolf Hitler – My Part in His Downfall (London: Michael Joseph Publishers, 1971), Rommell? Gunner Who? a Confrontation in the Desert (London: Michael Joseph Publishers, 1974) Monty: His Part in my Victory (London: Michael Joseph Publishers, 1976) and Peace Work (London: Penguin Publishers, c.1991), which chart his conscription in the Second World War, through to his battles with authority and the German army, to his returning to ‘Civvy Street’ at the war’s end and settling into a life as a comedian. For a semi-fictional account, read Leslie Thomas’ ‘memoirs’ – The Virgin Soldiers (London: Constable and co., 1966), Onward, Virgin Soldiers London: Michael Joseph, 1971) and Stand Up Virgin Soldiers (London: Eyre Methuen, 1975) which describe the life of soldiers overseas during the fifties 16
Marr, Andrew A History of Modern Britain (London: MacMillan Publishing, 2007), p.116 (author not known) http://www.itv.com/uploads/filelibrary/1122551789390_0.17500508494601108.pdf (accessed on 30th Nov 2007) - see this website for an entertaining insight into the life of a conscript in the 1950s. The website not only examines the programme, Bad Lad’s Army but also has numerous quotes taken directly from the many conscripts who served in the armed forces 17
archetypal sergeant barking out orders across a military training ground or a matronly figure meting out some form of punishment to the relevant parties.
It seemed only natural then, that cinema and television would use something that was still fresh in the public’s eyes, if only for comedic purposes, to open up cinema as a negotiating tool which could reflect and comment upon the state of Britain’s conscription services, without pandering to the normally-seen heroics of (f)actual wartime heroism. John Boulting’s satirical jab at army protocol, Private’s Progress (UK, 1956) sees upper-class buffoon, Stanley Windrush (played by character actor, Ian Carmichael) being drafted into the army before his university education is finished. Amidst a welter of familiar actors, Windrush’s buffoonery as an incompetent, but somehow charming, innocent abroad 19, seems to fit well into the idea that all the male population was unable to ‘escape’ the dreaded conscription call up. Through his mostly comic adventures, both he and his companions endure the lives of conscripted soldiers.
From the popularity of this film, ITV then made arguably the basis for Carry On Sergeant in their long-running comedy, The Army Game (UK; ITV 1957-1961). Bearing in mind that the BBC had begun to show The Phil Silvers Show (USA;
(author not known) http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/T/teachem/series.html (accessed on 30th Nov 2007) - this website examines the programme, and the attempt to show how the social, sexual and political climate in the United Kingdom has altered over the decades since the 1940s onwards 19
For other examples of Carmichaels’ caricatured roles, see the Boulting Brothers satirical movies against British institutions - Brothers-in-Law (UK, 1956), Lucky Jim (UK, 1957), Left, Right and Centre (UK, 1959), I'm All Right Jack (UK, 1959) and Heavens Above! (UK, 1963)
1955-1959)20 only two months prior to this, the show chronicled the lives of a group of disparate army recruits based at Hut 29, SOD (Surplus Ordnance Department), near the (fictional) village of Nether Hopping in Staffordshire. Each week these work-shy recruits had to deal with the everyday running of their camp, whilst trying desperately to outwit their fierce sergeant-major, Bullimore (played by veteran stage and screen actor, William Hartnell who had played virtually the same role in The Way Ahead). The series caught the public’s imagination, and such was the popularity of the programme, bearing in mind that conscription was still ongoing and as such was as much a part of the fabric of daily lives of many people as was going to the pub, that characters had their own spin-offs, with Bootsie and Snudge (UK, ITV; 1960-1974), and a movie, I Only Arsked (UK, 1958: Montgomery Tully) which featured always-welcome actors, Alfie Bass, and Bernard Bresslaw .Such catchphrases as “I only arsked”, which became indelibly linked with the character, Private ‘Popeye’ Popplewell passed into the national culture.21 Rogers and Thomas would look to The Army Game directly for inspiration with Carry On Sergeant.
According to Richard Webber, the origins of the whole Carry On canon began in 1953, when archive material belonging to Rogers-Thomas indicate that producer Sydney Box had approached R. F. Delderfeld to write a story about life in the 20
The Phil Silvers Show (USA, CBS Television; 1955-1959) was an army comedy based around the exploits of the fast-talking, wise-cracking Sergeant Bilko. It was the basis for the cartoon series Top Cat (USA, Hanna-Barbera; 1960-1961) which re-used many familiar elements from its source material. Phil Silvers later appeared as Sergeant Knocker in Carry On Follow That Camel. 21 Played so wonderfully by Bernard Bresslaw, who later went on to appear in fourteen film, ten television, and two stage productions under the Carry On banner. Indeed, Bresslaw’s catchphrase, “I only arsked” was written into his Carry On performances, usually when in conversation with Sid James.
National Service.22 The script was written but abandoned until 1957 when Box recommissioned Delderfeld to update/alter the story. Again, no backing was found, but the script was sent to Peter Rogers who disliked the original idea of ballet dancers being conscripted and instead wanted a comedic slant – albeit laced with sentimentality – to the story. This was duly provided by Norman Hudis who had previously written Rogers’ The Tommy Steele Story (UK 1957: Gerald Bryant). Despite having different scripts to fall back on, Hudis was happy to write his first out-and-out comedy and whilst “There might have been a couple of things that trickled into the film” most notably “Bob Monkhouse’s character being called up on the day of his marriage and, deprived of his wedding-night consummation, smuggling his bride into the army camp” 23 the main thrust of the story was Hudis’ alone.
With Hudis completing the script, the next thing was to focus on casting. Rogers and Thomas wanted an ensemble cast, at once recognisable to the audience, and therefore familiar to the viewing public. The titular Sergeant was played by William Hartnell, following on directly from his role in The Army Game. Whilst Rogers admits that Hartnell may not have fitted into the later movies, he was “ideal for the job of sergeant – nobody else could have done it better.” 24 Out of all the cast (see the relevant appendix for details), Rogers argues that the actor/light entertainer Bob Monkhouse, who had been employed at the behest of 22
Webber (2008), pp.17-41 23
Ibid., p.24 Ibid., p.26
distribution company, Anglo-Amalgamated stood out as ‘different’ from the rest, and would not have become a part of the Carry On repertory company: “he was very good and played his part well… It was simply because I think he stuck out too much as an individual to be part of a team.” 25
Other character actors such as Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Connor, Hattie Jacques, Bill Owen and Dora Bryan appeared alongside Hartnell and Monkhouse, with much of the comic element being taken up by these talented actors. An interesting point to note here is that Jacques plays the doctor, Captain Clark: a question arose as to the possibility of a female doctor working in a unit full of men. The War Office confirmed that there was no reason as to why this was not feasible which indicates just how important the role of the female was to the film and more-importantly, to the structure of workplace-Britain when women had become (in most aspects of society) equal to their male counterparts.26 As for Hawtrey, Williams and Connor, they immediately exhibit traits of McGill caricatures which cemented their future-Carry On personas, and repeating their already-known film/TV acting styles. For example, Hawtrey forever played the effete, camp and mischievous schoolboy, Williams the nostrilflaring egotist, and Connor as the bumbling and hapless ‘little man’. 27
Ibid., p.27 Ibid.
See individual chapters relating to these individuals for their roles in the series.
The film’s plotline is fairly standard and basic for a conscription-based movie. A ragtag group of misfits are conscripted into the army for their National Service. Whilst there, the bellowing Sergeant Grimshawe wages a £50 bet with his colleagues that his final platoon will be the best of the year. Their first weeks are an absolute disaster, but once cod-psychology is applied to the group by Williams’ character, Bailey they transform into a highly-efficient group of trained military personnel who beat the other platoon in a series of training exercises. As Grimshawe picks up his bet and the men leave for either pastures new or return to civilian life, he is presented with a cigarette lighter “from the boys.”
Despite this simplicity, the film is worthy of analysis in four key aspects: historical contextuality linked to world events; the role of the male when linked to the battle between authority and the ‘everyman’; the Battle of the Sexes; and finally, how the film influenced the whole Carry On canon.
Marr writes that “National Service mingled and disciplined much of a generation of post-war manhood and helped therefore set the tone of the times.” He argues that the Fifties was still “imaginatively gripped by the Second World War” and that whilst there was the feeling of consensus in the air, National Service managed to keep the ‘spirit’ of the Forties alive for a whole decade after they had ended. He sees Britain as a place where schoolboys wear caps, young women wear smocks, a moustache is a fashion-accessory statement and that most women were still housewives.28 28
Marr, (2007), p.115
However, conscription ensured that the elitist class system in Britain had the opportunity to become partially eroded. By this I mean that all classes were called up for National Service. As such, intermingling of classes became commonplace, and indeed, everyone was supposedly the same in the army induction process. Whatever antagonism there was felt between classes – indeed, a sense of class warfare that had pervaded through Britain for hundreds of years – could, technically be wiped away. Marr sees this sense of class warfare having a positive effect on the country, arguing that with the classes becoming mixed together, the sarcasm and anti-authority anger that was felt between the classes – almost in an antagonistic approach between strata – ensured that a sense of authority for all had become the norm. 29 People could now be equal. This is, of course, open to debate, but it does suggest that films could openly construct a debate whereby class was investigated directly. It should also be noted at this point that Britain was still an Empire. For almost two hundred years, Britannia had ruled the waves. During the violent upheavals of the industrial revolution, where coal and iron had become the two items that ensured that Britain could spread itself across the globe via a massive network of railways, the country had prospered. Nations had been conquered; their lands had been claimed for Britain. With land came wealth and prosperity for the conquering nation. Massive amounts of material wealth had been used and brought to Britain; the lands and the people abroad had been exploited. But, after
the Second World War, Britain’s empire began to dwindle and collapse. The term Commonwealth began to be used more than Empire. India’s struggle and eventual gaining of independence in 1950 ensured that whilst Britain seemed to cling onto notions of a faded by-gone era (and bearing in mind that the Commonwealth still comprised of huge land masses such as Australia, Africa and New Zealand), the Empire was collapsing. The Raj of India had ended.
In 1956 another blow was dealt to British morale. The Suez Crisis of 1956 was deemed a political failure in which Britain was seen as a fading power. The Suez Canal formed a vital link between the Mediterranean and Indian Sea. It allowed the safe and quicker passage of goods to and from West and East rather than ships having to navigate the dangerous waters of the South Atlantic around the Cape of Good Hope. Before, during and just after the Second World War, the canal was primarily used to allow safe convoy of ships and goods to help protect British colonies abroad, namely India. The Egyptian president, Nasser, ordered the nationalisation of the canal on the 26 th July 1956: this hit Britain’s economic and military interests in the area. The British government decided to reaffirm its status and following the forming of a military alliance with both Israel and France, aimed at regaining control of the canal. Britain began its mobilisation of troops on 2nd August 1956, and over the course of the next four months, embarked on a series of minor invasions, alongside both Israeli and French troops, in which to try and attempt to take back the Suez Canal. However, with the threat of USSR involvement in the conflict, and the USA threatening to withdraw financial support
to the UK, Anthony Edenâ€™s government wanted to bring the conflict to a swift end. That end was not to be victorious, and on 24 th December 1956, British troops left Egypt.
The political effect this had on Britain cannot be underestimated. Anthony Eden resigned from his post as Prime Minister, to be replaced by Harold MacMillan. MacMillan, wanting to restore the countryâ€™s diplomatic relationship with America, began to accelerate the governmentâ€™s de-colonisation program. This meant that former-colonies could gain their independence away from the sovereignty. The Empire was slowly crumbling, and as such, this once-mighty world power could be seen as a now-faded power. In turn, it could also be argued that the transference of World Power had been wrestled from Britain and into the hands of the two new Super Powers, the USA and the USSR. In terms of Carry On Sergeant, this idea of a nation losing its grip on world power may seem too farstretched, but as will be borne out in the training-scene analysis in this chapter, the filmmakers are deliberately stating that Britain still has a part to play in military conflicts around the world, and in particular, at protecting notions of the Empire.
The film itself begins with a strident militaristic-style score playing over the main titles. These titles, written in blunt army-font and on packing crates, immediately give over the emphasis that this is to be a war film. The first seen-image is of a couple leaving a wedding, and at the reception, the groom, Charlie Sage,
receives his ‘call-up’ papers for National Service. His honeymoon is curtailed, and this is the first time in the Carry On films that sexual failure – or rather, the lack of ‘getting it’ – is mentioned. Indeed, the fact that the very first image of the whole canon is of a wedding and of the wedding-night failed-nuptials, whilst impossible for future writers to imagine, has set the tone of the series: that is, the film’s connotations are of failure, and this resonates through all the following movies.
Charlie travels by train to the army barracks, and whilst travelling meets another conscriptee, Horace Strong, a hypochondriac.
Charlie Sage and Horace Strong Here, the film series makes its first word-by-play, with Strong and hypochondria as two sides of one person’s psychological make-up. Later movies would use much more blatant signifiers of sexual or physical content: for example, Daphne Honeybutt (Spying), Senna Pod (Cleo), Chief Big Heap (Cowboy), Gladstone Screwer (Again, Doctor), WC Boggs (At Your Convenience) and Big Dick (Dick), which emphasises two things: character style/traits and a link to Freudian emphasis on word-play. Over the next five minutes, the audience is introduced to the barking Sergeant Grimshawe and more recruits.
An important aspect of the Carry Ons is the battle between classes. It is in one of the opening scenes of the film that this first occurs. A natty sports car pulls up to the barrack’s gates: in it are a young and beautiful woman dressed in a fur coat, and her boyfriend, a tall and erudite man in his late-twenties. Sergeant Grimshawe walks up to the car and salutes, asking if the young man would like the sergeant to take his suitcase towards the Officer’s rooms. The young man, Miles Heywood replies with aristocratic charm, “Thank you, Sergeant.” He has a middle-class, Etonian-style accent. The sergeant then takes the suitcase, and rather blushingly, waits for the well-spoken Miles to kiss his girlfriend goodbye.
Once this is done, the two men set off in an army truck. When it reaches its destination, the two men disembark and the sergeant points to the Officer’s Mess. Heywood replies “And very nice it looks, too. But I happen to be a National Serviceman.” The sergeant does a comedy double-take, shoves the suitcase into the man’s midriff and screams at him to “Get in the back of that truck, will you, fast!” The message here is twofold: firstly, that the working-class sergeant has been duped by the middle-class man, and that to make amends for this and reassert his authority, the sergeant can only shout at him, feeling superior once he has done so.
The next sequence sees all the major characters introduced, during which the Sergeant introduces himself and Corporal Copping to the men. The set up is in the army barracks, with two rows of beds and cupboards on the outer sides, with communal tables in the middle.
Grimshawe walks along the line of conscripts, and stops at some of them. One of the beds is empty. Grimshawe asks Copping who and where this man is. Here, the second name-word-play comes in: the character is called Peter Golightly, and is played by Charles Hawtrey. Golightly runs in a mincing-fashion into the barracks, knocking over the corporal as he does so. Golightly apologises to the sergeant and stands by his bed. Grimshawe: Where have you been? Golightly:
Well, I, um, I got locked in somewhere.
(Golightly points off-screen. He sees Copping rubbing his arms where Golightly hit him)
Have you hurt yourself? (Cut to a medium-wide shot of Horace grabbing a bottle of medicine from his trunk) Horace:
I’ve got some lotion ‘ere.
(Cut back to wide-shot of Grimshaw, Copping and Golightly) Grimshawe: Quiet, the lot of you!
Another voice is heard off-screen. At the nasally-produced words, “Stop shouting, please” everyone turns around to see a new character reclining on his bed. He is smartly dressed, with collar and tie, a pullover and a sports jacket. This character is James Bailey (played by Kenneth Williams). The sergeant moves towards him.
Grimshawe: You there! Bailey:
Is that remark addressed to me?
Grimshawe: Stand to attention when I am talking. Bailey:
Grimshawe: Why? Don’t ask why. Do as you’re told. You’re in the army. (Bailey stands to confront the sergeant) Bailey:
Not quite. I’m still a civilian. With civilian rights. Don’t shout.
(Bailey puts his hand to his ear) Grimshawe: What is your name? (Pause) Please. Bailey:
Bailey. James Bailey. How do you do?
Grimshawe: Fine. Absolutely bloody fine. But I’ll feel even better once you’re in uniform. Bailey: Thank you, sergeant. (Grimshawe looks back at Bailey, tells the men to get ready for kitcollection and then leaves) Whilst this scene is merely written to introduce the main supporting characters, it is interesting to note that class/social warfare has seeped into this barrack room. Supposedly, in the army, the soldiers/conscripts are all equal. Here, however, we see a different idea; namely, that class warfare does exist in the army, and that the sergeant, as a working-class man, is confronted and beaten by both Miles outside the barracks and Bailey within it. The fact that Grimshawe has to say ‘please’ to Bailey to get him to listen and answer him, shows that the sergeant feels inadequate to his intellectually-superior, though lesser-ranked colleague.
Later, the soldiers are drill-marching. They halt when their commanding officer, Captain Potts approaches. He inspects the platoon, stopping at certain
individuals asking them of their names and serial numbers. Strong says he can only think of blood – his blood; Sage can only think of his beloved wife, Mary. Potts berates them all as inefficient. He then approaches Bailey. Potts:
Who are you?
Bailey, James. BSc. Economics.
Your number, man.
I’m not proud of it, it was given to me. I earned my degree.
Well, that’s a matter of opinion.
(Potts points to his own military pips on his jacket) Potts:
Look at this, man.
You’ve got nothing to complain of. Look at the suit they’ve given me. (Picks at his jacket and pulls at his beret) Look at this plumped on my head without even the pretence of fitting. As a good soldier I accepted it without complaint. As a good officer, what do you think? Potts:
Well, pride in appearance plus confidence in one’s superiors equals good start. Fall out. Get yourself a new hat.
Thank you. (He leaves the shot)
Of course. What?
The way that this simple exchange of dialogue is filmed is interesting. Whilst economically made and with little fuss, most shots are – as seen above – in medium-wide shot positions, with the camera placed to capture and emphasise the actor’s words and not image. In these screenshots above, the two classes are seen as both oppositional (they are facing each other) and similar inasmuch as they are given equal screen time and space. Also, and more importantly, is that it becomes apparent that Bailey is either a working-class man who has risen through university life to become an academic scholar ‘forced’ into his incumbent situation, or that he was of middle-class ‘breeding’ and therefore sees army life as a ‘chore’ that must be done if he is to return to his life in academia. It is only later on in the film that Bailey realises he can help the platoon to become a single-unit, with one outlook, and it is he who cements the unit into that position
towards the end of the film, when he informs the group of how to work as a team to beat the other squads. It could be argued that Bailey is the most important character, inasmuch as he ‘gels’ the group, uniting a now-common-man with a common goal, namely the task to become the best unit. Kenneth Williams, throughout the rest of the films never played anything other than a character like Bailey, although one who didn’t resist authority, but rather became the establishment.
As the captain moves down the parade line, he stops at Miles. Here, another interesting dialogue takes place. The camera set up is as before, with equal time and space given to both men, but it is in the wordage employed that Potts’ readdressing of the balance of power is made. He asks Heywood if he knows General Heywood (“My father, sir”), Rear-Admiral Heywood (“My grandfather, sir”) and Air-Commodore Heywood (“My uncle, sir”). Potts’ face lights up as he has now found possible officer material for his command. This is confirmed when Potts asks Heywood a question: Potts:
What’s the first thing that comes into your mind?
You’re a soldier by tradition and instinct.
This is investigated further in the movie when Potts asks to see Heywood in his office. Potts tells Heywood to sign a form that will enable Heywood to progress to an officer without the usual formalities, as if rank and ‘superior’ class instincts will enable this to happen. Heywood politely declines the offer, looked on with some
admiration by Grimshawe, whilst Potts is incredulous, stating “”The principle of hereditary is shattered.” He cannot believe that Heywood is descended from military-stock. But then Heywood asks of his background, to which he says “Potts, Potts, Potts. Chinaware manufacturers.” This proves a point to both men that it doesn’t necessarily follow that a middle/upper-class background and its inherent ‘privileges’ actually ‘mean’ anything in British Fifties society. With the army primarily lead in its past history by those with title, the film is actually obliquely critiquing this stance, arguing that all should be equal. This proletarian approach is brought out in every Carry On film, whereby the authority figure, whilst conservative, has to be a part of the nation-assembly if it is to survive.
With relation to the platoon itself, as mentioned, Bailey represents the catalyst for the team to unite as a single entity. One man, Private Herbert Brown, is always excused duty as he thinks he is a worthless addition to the squad. He has various excuses not to attend parade, etc. As he brings out these little paper chits with all excuses attached to them, Strong says “You’re just a heap of chits” which is the nadir of Brown’s life in the army. However, Bailey sits alone with him and shows him how to dismantle, clean and then reassemble a rifle. Brown then proceeds to learn how to complete his ‘webbing’ duties. These two simple scenes, with no editing in either but one shot which takes in the two characters, indicate how important both teamwork and individualism are for this society. That is, with consensus still on the political agenda, the two men work side-by-side to accomplish a task. In a way, this could be read as a form of egalitarian
communism, with the both men now equal to one-another. On the one hand there is Bailey who, admittedly intellectually superior to Brown, is seen as a representation of the middle-classes, whilst Brown represents the populace. That is not to say that one does not regard the other as ‘other’, but that in the confines of these two scenes and in the movie series in general, the two classes have to interact and are mutually beneficial to one another’s survival.
This is no more evident that in the unit’s final series of tests. Bailey gathers the men together in their barracks and informs them that Grimshawe has tried to use psychology on the men in order to get the best out of them; as such, the men should try their best to be the best platoon on the parade and battleground. Within seconds, they are transformed into a military machine, capable of swinging across ravines, shooting rifles with 100% accuracy, charging with bayonets extended and hitting their targets with ease, and above all else, marching with military discipline and precision. This cod-psychological approach by Bailey to turn the men from useless to useful seems to have both a masculine and historical aspect.
With regards to the historical approach, the men of the platoon are all linked in one common goal – that is, they are representing the nation state through the ‘safety’ of violence and therefore cementing the idea into the audience that British soldiers are amongst the best trained and equipped in the world. They are reflections of Britain trying to regain its footing on the world stage. By this, I mean that whereas the men are comedic and often seen as ‘useless’ (for example, Horace’s numerous trips to the army doctor who then enlists the help of numerous medical personnel to ‘conquer’ his ‘ailments’ which turn out to be figments of his imagination), they come to represent the male during the Suez Crisis, whilst the newly-trained men are representative of a new fighting force that is at once traditional yet modern in its approach.
This is particularly borne out with a link to the film’s historical aspect in one scene in particular. During an earlier bout of training, the men have to take it in turns to bayonet a dummy swinging on a gibbet. Each man takes a turn in running towards the dummy, stabbing it with his bayonet and then returning to the men. Horace drops his rifle and the bayonet sticks into the ground, narrowly missing the sergeant’s foot. The second man, the guitar-playing Andy Galloway, can’t remove the bayonet. Charlie loses his bayonet in the dummy. Miles runs past the dummy and into the distance. Bailey charges at the dummy hitting it with precision. He then turns and talks to Grimshawe: Bailey:
Don’t you think this is a trifle out of date, sergeant for a world bristling with H-Bombs?
(A scream rings out. The two men jump back as Private Golightly runs past them and hits the mannequin with incredible force. The bayonet sticks into the dummy and Golightly still tries to stab at it) Golightly:
Now then, you beast, peasant, commoner. Have at you! Varlet. Hand back that cup final ticket!
Grimshawe: Private Bailey, in answer to your question, I’d back him against the H-Bomb any day. Golightly:
You beast, peasant, commoner!
Grimshawe: Well, don’t just stand there, help me get him out! They both go to help Golightly, but he tries to shrug them off saying “Get off, it’s my turn.”
Again, with simple filmic economy, the director and writer have given the movie a direct contextual meaning that would have resonated with the audience in two ways. Firstly, the H-Bomb was a real and pervasive threat, especially with the Cold War at its height, and the fear of nuclear war becoming more valid as time went on. It was also the case that Britain had dropped nine atomic bombs, exploding them in the atmosphere near to both Christmas Island and Malden Island in the Pacific Ocean during 1956-1958, during Operation Grapple. This was arguably a show of strength for Britain to be included as a nuclear power amongst the superpowers of the world. In the confines of Carry On Sergeant, the
fact that H-Bombs are mentioned, shows that breaking headlines and news made it into the film. It is also interesting to note here that Britainâ€™s own nuclear station, Windscale, in Cumbria had on 10th October 1957 released masses of radioactive contamination into the countryside only a year prior to the release of the film. It is no coincidence that Sergeant makes a reference to H-Bombs, and as such, the film is just as important in using its comedy to suggest notions of a declining Empire that still perceives itself as a world power as to more-potent films such as The Day the Earth Caught Fire (UK 1961: Val Guest) which uses nuclear catastrophe as its main narrative thrust.
With regards to Baileyâ€™s psychological approach, the 1950s saw psychology being prominently used in film. Directors such as Alfred Hitchcock in his paranoia-laden film Vertigo (USA 1956) and Anthony Mann with his existential western, Winchester â€™73 (USA 1950) used the cognitive processes of the human brain as devices by which to hang their narratives and to explore the inner turmoil of their characters. Their films are replete with images of madness, familial decay and violence meted out because of trauma repressed within the (anti)hero. Gerald Thomas and Norman Hudis do not attempt anything vaguely approaching this stance, but rather use a basic cod-psychological approach whereby a simple phrase uttered to one person is enough for that person to change their personality and become a fighting fit soldier. This happens three times in the film: firstly, with Herbert, secondly with Horace and his visit to the psychology ward, and thirdly with the entire platoon transforming. This psychological approach is
not, in any stretch of the imagination, meant to suggest that such an occurrence/change could happen within an individual/group in such a small space of time, but the filmmakers have taken another newspaper headline and used it – albeit incredibly basically – into their narrative strand.
Whilst the Carry Ons do use both historical and class warfare approaches, undoubtedly the core idea of them is that of a sexual battle. When Talbot Rothwell took over the writing duties from Norman Hudis, the battle became an exaggerated playground in which men and women were directly referenced from the world of Donald McGill and his caricaturist postcards. Hudis did use this approach, but albeit in a more-toned down way, arguably reflecting the ‘status’ that men and women had in the Fifties. The caricatures are still there right from the very beginning of Sergeant; the ineffectual husband, the weak-willed man who transforms into a virile one, the effeminate, and the educated ‘snobbish’ bookworm are there to see. Also, the two female characters, whilst occupying only minimal screen time, are a vital component of the narrative and prove just as interesting for study.
Nora helps Mary to make chips
These two characters, Mary Sage and Nora represent idealistic young/not-soyoung love, but simultaneously come to represent the McGill caricatures: that is, Mary is the young love interest, very beautiful, chaste, but still desperate to be loved; Nora is the woman who has entered into her thirties/forties, and has seen love pass her by. She is willing to take any man who will fulfil her innermost desire to be wanted. Whilst Mary has the young, good-looking Charlie, Nora sets her sights on Horace, despite his being terrified of her.
The two shots above seem to represent the McGill-caricature of marriage at its best. On the one hand there is Horace and Mary, still yet to consummate their legitimate relationship and as such, blissfully in love: at one point, they both attempt a kiss, only stopped by the intervening pane of glass. Horace, on the flipside of this, is terrified of Nora. Whilst Mary and Charlie are married, Horace is not. When Horace first encounters Nora, in the NAAFI, she smiles at him and asks â€œAnything I can do for you, soldier?â€? In a medium close-up shot, Horace looks genuinely frightened by this proposition and quickly runs out. Across the rest of the film, whilst Charlie and Mary try to accept their marriage has not got off to the best start, Horace tries desperately to avoid Nora, at one point running
out of the canteen at speed past Grimshawe and Copping, to which the sergeant says “At least he can do something well.”
However, by the end of the film, and after Horace has undergone a series of tests (both medical and psychological), he realises that Nora is the woman for him, saying to himself, “Nora… Phwoar!” He runs back to the NAAFI and, being cured of his hypochondria, swaggers into the canteen. Whilst the jukebox plays in the corner of the canteen, Horace pushes open the door. He enters, and rather than stand aside for another soldier to pass, shoulders him out of the way. He then begins to walk from the back of the shot and into the foreground.
Whatever is the matter with you, Horace? Are you ill or something?
Ill? Me? Cor, your marbles must be loose.
Whatever’s happened to you, Horace?
Answer the question, kid. Wanna be my doll?
Yeah. But not the type that squeals ‘mama’ when I squeeze her. Okay?
I’ll have to have time to think about it.
(Horace leaps over the counter and grabs her around her waist) Horace:
Okay, think. Time’s up. Through there. Move.
(He takes her in his arms and moves her through into the larder) Nora: Oh, Horace. This change, however simultaneously dramatic and comedic it may seem, is one of the logical conclusions of marriage in the McGill-Carry On oeuvre. As has been demonstrated in the chapter regarding McGill, the Carry Ons have taken marriage – and the supposed sanctity of it – and used it for comedic purposes. Charlie and Mary want marriage; they are young and in love. Horace does not, Nora frantically pursues him; they are approaching middle-age and so on the one side, Horace wants to be free (until he is ‘cured’ by the merest of psychological approaches), whilst Nora ‘wants’ to be imprisoned within the marriage itself. It would seem that whilst Horace has taken ‘control’ of his and Nora’s destiny, and in the structure of this one-off film that cannot be disputed, over the context of the entire series, it would become obvious that marriage is something that some may want to achieve (although it would appear that in most instances, it is the ‘chase’ that counts for more than marriage itself) but once it has been done, the only existence one is left with is one of tolerance towards each other.
Therefore, it becomes apparent that Horace and Nora are prototypes for such later Carry On couples as Caesar and Calpurnia (Cleo), Dr Soper and Matron (Camping), Sidney and Emily Bung (Screaming), Vic and Cora Flange (Abroad)
and the ultimate married, squabbling, bored, frustrated couple, Mayor Frederick Bumble and his harridan wife, Mildred in Carry On Girls. That the final shots of the film see both couples in the back of an army truck, with Horace and Charlie having completed their basic training, is a ‘rounded’ end to all these characters as far as this film is concerned. All is content with their conservative world. Even the sergeant is left feeling proud of his last unit; they present him with a cigarette lighter with a small note saying “For Sgt. Grimshawe. From the Boys.” As this image comes into focus, the music begins to swell from a gentle repeat of the main theme to the more-robust militaristic march heard at the beginning of the movie. Grimshawe almost smiles and the truck trundles out of the compound.
Whilst this film may have only been conceived, at least originally, as a one-off comedic production, it became apparent that a winning formula had been hit upon. The British public liked their comedies to have a feeling of warmth and cosiness about them; the first Carry On film has this in abundance. Whether this is easy to say with hindsight is open to debate, but whilst it does have an air of satire about it, most jokes are well-worn and repeated from other films or TV
series, and, because of a familiar storyline that could be easily related to, and with the recognizable and well-beloved actors so known to the British public, the film was an immediate financial success and Carry On Nurse was soon being planned, written and filmed.
The film was released in August 1958. The film’s press book cover 30 illustrated as follows bills it as “The Funniest Film of the Year”, whilst other such banner headlines as “All laughter entertainment that all the family will love” and “…a great new British comedy with terrific appeal for all the family” appear throughout the book.
For a more-comprehensive examination of reviews of Carry On Sergeant, please see Webber (2008) pp.40-41, and the relevant trade releases/books housed at the British Film Institute library.
The book also suggested various movie tie-ins to help promote it. Such ideas included shopkeepers displaying signs with the wordage: “Shop […] for the bargains of the year. For the laughter of the year, see Carry On Sergeant at the […] cinema this week!” Cinema managers were encouraged to liaise with the local army recruitment office/r to plug the film with possible parades to emphasise “It’s more fun today in the regular army – For still more fun, see Carry On Sergeant at the […] Cinema this week!” There was also a suggestion that an army slang competition be done with the local “Top Brass” to judge the winner; there is no evidence to suggest this idea was taken up by cinema managers. 31
Reviews were equally in praise of the film or had negative views towards it. For example, Kinematograph Weekly wrote that the film was “a bright and breezy Service extravaganza”32 and the Observer’s film critic, Penelope Huston labelling it as “commendably brisk and played with great determination.” 33 Other such favourable reviews claimed that it was “on parade for lots of laughs in a Service farce the way we like ‘em. Cannot fail to hit the bull’s-eye in popular houses” 34 and that “every old sweat and every young sweat in the Service will revel in it.” 35 Those negative reviews concentrate on the staleness of the situations and the comedy. Monthly Film Bulletin poured faint praise onto the film, singling out Hawtrey and Hartnell for being able to “provide some genuine laughs (whilst)… 31
See the Press Book for Carry On Sergeant held at the British Film Institute library.
(Author not known) Review in Kinematograph Weekly 7/8/58 33
Penelope Huston, Observer, 21/9/58 34
(Author not known) Review in The Daily Cinema, 6/8/58 35
(Author not known) Review in The News of the World, 21/9/58
The rest of the humour is either overdone or half-baked.” 36 Other negative comments included “a modest, unimportant film,”37 “not terribly funny,” 38 and perhaps most damning of all, the reviewer Campbell Dixon wrote that William Hartnell was “a sad human being lost in a charade” whilst the rest of the cast were merely “stock figures speaking lines rising from the smutty to the banal.” 39
Despite the negativity of the reviews, the public flocked to the film. With hindsight, Webber seems to sum up the appeal of the movie: It is clear that Sergeant has aged well, unlike so many other films from the same period. The warmth and subtle humour which… combined with fin performances and slick production, help retain the film’s accessibility; watching it now is just as entertaining as it was for the millions who crammed into the cinemas up and down the country back in 1958. 40 It was obvious that with a hit on their hands, another comedy was called for. This production was Carry On Nurse, which was on general release in 1959. That film was based on ideas found in the play, Ring for Catty and through the real-life stories told to Norman Hudis by his wife, Rita. It concerned life in a male general ward at a cottage hospital. Much of the same cast appeared (see appendix for cast details) and again there was a British institution ripe for demolition: the National Health Service. Such was the popularity of Carry On Nurse (it was the team’s only bona fide box office hit in America) that more Carry Ons were 36
(Author not known) Review in Monthly Film Bulletin, September 1958 37
(Author not known) Review in Variety, 24/9/58 38
Hollis Alpert, Saturday Review, 7/9/58 39
Campbell Dixon, Daily Telegraph, 20/9/58 40
Webber (2008), pp.41-42
demanded for. And so, the Carry On saga had begun, and over the next twenty years they became a British institution capable of questioning the fabric of British society. From its attempt at destroying or at least questioning Britainâ€™s inherent class system, to the Battle of the Sexes, Carry On Sergeant, despite lacking the more-anarchic, pun-laden, sexually awakening and free-wheeling style of the later films, is without doubt, the progenitor of the whole canon. That it is often overlooked is a shame; the film is both offering a reflection and a commentary upon British society of the Fifties. Whilst it might not be as memorable as others in the series, the fact that it tackled issues either obliquely or directly, and was a direct influence on every other movie in the canon, is an indication of how important this minor-budgeted movie is.