I’m glad to officially enter in my Carry On blogging series with a first feedback! As I told you in my announcement post, I began my exploration with Carry On Sergeant (1958), which marked the beginning of the Carry On film series. The film based on the play The Bull Boys’ by R.F. Delderfield was initially not intended to launch a series of 30 films. It’s only after its success that director Gerald Thomas and producer Peter Rogers initiate a next project, Carry On Nurse (1959) which was a success as well. A series was beginning to be made. (1)
It’s interesting to take note that “Carry on, sergeant” is an expression normally used by army officers.
Carry On films all have their proper background to their silly story. This time, it’s National Service. The film starts when Charlie Sage (Bob Monkhouse) receives the paper ordering him to join the military service on his wedding breakfast at the great despair of his (very) new wife Mary Sage (Shirley Eaton). After all, they didn’t even had the occasion to spend their wedding night! On the train taking him to Heathercrest National Service Depot, Charlie meets a hypochondriac wearing the ironical name of Horace Strong (Kenneth Connor) who has also been called for service as well.
Sergeant Grimshaw (William Hartnell) is the leader of their squad. He has for objective for his platoon to be awarded the best before his retirement. However, with the men forming it, it won’t be easy. Sage had his mind occupied on spending his wedding night, Strong has the typical hypochondriac attitude, and the rest of the gang doesn’t help to the military seriousness: university graduate snob James Bailey (Kenneth Williams), rock ‘n’ roller Andy Galloway (Gerald Campion), daydreamer Peter Golightly (Charles Hawtrey), upper class cad Miles Haywood (Terence Longdon), etc. On her side, Mary has incorporated the army personnel with the idea in mind of spending her wedding night. NAAFI girl Norah (Dora Bryan) will help her.
Carry On, Sergeant, and that’s probably the case for most of the films constituting the series, doesn’t lose time during the introduction of the story and the course of its peripeties. Indeed, the film and its story are developed in a way to keep us altert, with a sparkling dynamism, and has as many gags as possible. If a situation seems plain, don’t worry, in two seconds you’ll laugh about it. On my side, I was only 15 minutes into the film and had already laughed on several occasions. As you might know, I’m a big fan of comedy and laughs that come with it. I find it very therapeutic and to be a form of escapism. So, I was obviously pleased. If I was not laughing, then, I just had a big smile on my face.
This is encouraged by a bunch of comedic situations such as:
Or simply the “misadventures” taking place during military training (and, consequently, Sergeant Grimshaw’s impressive patience), Strong’s regular visits at the army clinic, Bailey’s overall attitude, Norah’s obsession with Horace, etc. These are way too numerous to be all listed. The screenplay written by Norman Hudis contains a bunch of crazily hilarious lines that accentuate perfectly the desired spirit of the film:
1 – Sergeant Grimshaw : Now I’m a quiet, reasonable, human man. I know, my mother told me. Oh yes, I had a mother and a father, even tho I’m a sergeant.
2- Sergeant Grimshaw (after his welcoming speech): Right, any question?
Horace (holding his stomach): Can I report sick, please?
*Sergeant Grimshaw and Corporal Copping trying not to lose their temper*
Grimshaw: What’s your name?
Horace: Strong, Horace, Strong
3- [Charlie has managed to reasemble a Bren machine gun, despite being distracted during the demonstration]
Gun Sergeant: Looks like you *were* listening.
Charlie Sage: I wasn’t listening.
[Jerks his head towards the Bren]
Charlie Sage: I used to work in the factory where they make these things! (2)
4- James Bailey: [During bayonet practice:] Don’t you think this is a trifle out of date in a world bristling with H-Bombs, Sergeant?
[Golightly charges, only to get caught up in the hanging sack]
Sgt. Grimshawe: Private Bailey, in answer to your question, I’d back him against the H-Bomb any day! (3)
But sometimes, it’s not really what they are saying but the way they are saying it that makes the situation comical.
And this is helped thanks to the brilliant comedians. Many of them became Carry On regulars such as the inimitable Kenneth Williams, the versatile Kenneth Connor, the lovely Shirley Eaton (three-time Carry On cast member and, later, bond girl in Goldfinger), Bill Owen, Charles Hawtrey, Terence London, the prolific Hattie Jacques, etc. On his side, William Hartnell became famous for playing the first Doctor Who. Bob Monkhouse who plays Charlie, unfortunately, appeared only in this first Carry On film, which is too unfortunate as he would have made a highly appreciated regular. Of course, he kept itself busy in many fields such as film, stage, radio, television, stand up comedy, music, writing, etc.
You have to keep in mind that, with their very distinctive personalities, it’s not surprising that Kenneth Connor, Kenneth Williams, and Charles Hawtrey were chosen to embody the spirit of the Carry On films. We like the idea of having the occasion to see them caught together in hilarious on-screen situations many times during the series.
Not a masterpiece but…
No, Carry On Sergeant is, first and foremost, entertainment at its most primitive form. However, if you pay enough attention, the film contains its moment of cinematic brilliance. For example, I thought the editing work by Peter Boita was particularly efficient as it managed to perfectly create the dynamic ambiance of the film and the desire for quickness. There’s also this brief moment where the soldiers are waiting at the counter to receive their uniform. The camera makes a track between the soldiers receiving their army clothes and the men giving them. I thought it introduced the scene perfectly.
You can actually see what I mean at the begining of this tailer! :
Carry On Sergeant premiered at Screen One in London on August 1st, 1958 (4). The film was a commercial success and ranked #3 among the most financially successful films of 1958 in Britain. (5) Critics agreed on the efficient comedic effect of the film and the talent of its comedians. (6)
If you’ve never seen Carry On Sergeant, I hope you are now convinced to do so!
I’ll see you soon with Carry On Nurse!
(1) “Carry On Sergeant,” British Classic Comedy, February 22, 2015. https://www.britishclassiccomedy.co.uk/from-the-beginning-lads-carry-on-sergeant. Access Oct 1, 2019.
(2) “Carry On Sergeant: Quotes,” IMDB, nd. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0051453/quotes/?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu. Accessed Oct 1, 2019.
(4) Ibid note 1
(5) “Carry On Sergeant: Trivia,” IMDB, nd, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0051453/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv, Accessed Oct 1, 2019.
(6) “Carry On Sergeant,” Wikipedia, September 27, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carry_On_Sergeant#cite_note-6. Accessed Oct 1, 2019.