Today’s entry in the films-I-should-have-seen-years-ago-but-have-only-just-caught-up-with stakes … Carry On at Your Convenience (1971).
An odd one, this. It was apparently among the least profitable Carry Ons – popular wisdom suggests that this was down to its crotchety, conservative (in this case, Big C Conservative too) union-bashing, which appealed to traditional working class Carry On audiences rather less than, say, the mockery of ‘women’s lib’ in Carry On Girls. Modern sensibilities might be more offended by the dumpy secretary (Patsy Rowlands) frustrated because her boss (Kenneth Williams) doesn’t sexually harass her – though Rowlands, an often-overlooked performer, gets an honest-to-god character arc, and is splendid in her triumph, bagging her chosen man (weedy Williams) on a literal piss-up works outing to Brighton. It’s true that the management of W.C. Boggs & Sons are depicted as unbelievably blameless in the industrial disputes at the centre of the plot, and trouble on the factory floor is all down to bolshy Fu Manchu-tached inadequate Vic Spanner (Kenneth Cope), who calls strikes on afternoons when there’s a home match and is apparently liked only by his dim biker sidekick (Bernard Bresslaw). A typical gag has strikers show up for work only on the day of the outing then then cheated of their dinner because the restaurant staff are also on strike and their shop steward’s a giant (Leon Greene) who punches Vic. Vic also loses his trousers (in an obligatory scene) and is finally put over his mum’s knee and spanked for being such a git.
However, for some reason or other, this particular entry is funnier than many better-liked entries in the series. Surprisingly, a film mounted entirely as an exercise in toilet humour does little with the caught-short or spend a penny jokes and goes off on all sorts of bizarre, amusing tangents … Vic’s acid-tongued Mam (Renee Houston, full-throttle) playing strip poker with the lodger (Charles Hawtrey) and pouring venom on anyone who looks at her wrong … a pre-Taxi Driver trip to a crowded cinema to sneer at a travelogue showing natives making stew (‘a ritual few white people have ever seen’) and a sex documentary banned by the BBFC but shown under local council license (all we see of this is the great Harry Towb as a flustered, lascivious academic sexologist) … foreman Sid Plummer (Sidney James) discovering the budgie his weird google-eyed wife (Hattie Jacques) sweet-talks can predict race winners, and his sudden prosperity allows a hideous make-over for his home (yes, that blue-faced Asian girl picture is put up) which is as close to Mike Leigh as director Gerald Thomas was ever going to get … and an against-the-odds affecting parody of Brief Encounter in Sid’s wistful near-miss relationship with cheery, brassy Chloe (Joan Sims), who is married to an undersexed travelling salesman (Bill Maynard).
A triangle between Vic, Sid’s teagirl daughter (Jacki Piper, bright and underused) and the boss’s son (Richard O’Callaghan) evokes the film’s obvious model, I’m All Right Jack – the sort of ‘proper’official British comedy classic once used to batter the Carry Ons and which really is near-unwatchable these days. Indeed, though made in colour on the cusp of the ‘70s with a few dollybirds (Margaret Nolan, Shirley Stelfox, Anouska Hempel) on hand, this is closer to the early days of the series, rooted in contemporary, ordinary life (the NHS, National Service, Labour Exchanges) than the smuttier, strained middle-aged attempts to keep up with the Confessions films that didn’t help the 1970s Carry Ons at all – a process which culminated in the disaster of Carry On Emmannuelle.
Screenwriter Talbot Rothwell does sustained innuendo jokes and gags like the toilet-shaped inkwell but also fits in all sorts of funny little absurdities (the ‘no hot pants’ sign in a club with underclad bunny girl waitresses) and lets some regulars (especially the women – Sims, Jacques, Houston, Rowlands) claw attention from the established Sid, Ken and Charles. Williams and Hawtrey give the impression of getting their roles out of the way in a few days, but James – who comes off as a bullying creep in the likes of Carry On Henry and Carry On Matron – has one of his best outings, toning it down and seeming almost human. Even perennial just-stand-there player Marianne Stone, who worked on the Carry Ons (and practically every other British film for thirty years) because her husband Peter Noble was a showbiz columnist producers liked to keep in with, has a genuinely funny bit of business (her career highlight was the wordless role of Vivian Darkbloom in Kubrick’s Lolita). Eric Rogers, the regular composer, does knees-up variations on rowdy (and in some versions bawdy) songs like ‘The Quartermaster’s Stores’ and ‘So Long at the Fair’ (‘three old ladies locked in the lavatory’).
Funniest bit: Richard O’Callaghan walking in on Patsy Rowlands who is sitting on a demonstration toilet in the boss’s office and saying “Oh, I’m sorry” and walking straight out again, as if she was on a real toilet. It’s a little joke, but so British in a silly way that it tickles me.
Also, don’t forget Sid James in Carry On Matron used as his alias… Doctor Zhivago.