We’re already half-way through the Carry On series! Time flies! And to mark the occasion, we are back with Carry On Doctor (Gerald Thomas, 1968), a good, funny and typical Carry On, after the disappointment of Follow That Camel. The film felt like a demonstration of nostalgia, and we LOVED that. Not only it marked the most appreciated return of the great Hattie Jacques, but it also went back to a more “simple” formula. Indeed, after the very adventurous Carry Ons like Carry On Cleo, Don’t Lose Your Head, and Follow That Camel, Carry On Doctor takes place in a more limited setting. It smoothly follows the formula of Carry On Nurse. Barbara Windsor, a memorable figure of the Carry Ons, made her second film in the franchise after having starred in Carry On Spying. Interestingly, one of the first roles was given to Frankie Howerd, who wasn’t a regular in the series. He was seen again in Carry On Up the Jungle (that I haven’ watch yet)!
According to IMDb, this nostalgia effect and the inclusion of many familiar faces gave place to rumours that it would be the last film of the series, due to the flop of Don’t Lose Your Head and Follow That Camel. (1) Of course, out of 31 films, one can’t expect everything to be perfect and please everybody all the time. That was an amusing rumour since Carry On… Up the Khyber and Carry On Camping, which followed Doctor, are considered among the best of the series.
The Carry On team was back in force with Carry On Doctor and proved they hadn’t lost their touch yet. On its release, the film was a hit and placed itself at the third place at the British Box office of 1968 after The Jungle Book and Barbarella. (2) It must have felt good.
I previously mentioned the nostalgia effect present in Carry On Doctor, and it’s more precisely on this that I would like to focus on in the following article.
Very similar to Carry On Nurse, Carry On Doctor tells the story of a hospital with its eccentric patients, the doctors, the nurses, and Matron. The patients are Francis Bigger (Frankie Howerd), a charlatan who doesn’t believe in medicine; Charlie Roper (Sid James), another charlatan who fakes illness to stay at the hospital and avoid spending time with his wife (Dandy Nichols); Ken Biddle (Bernard Bresslaw), who constantly makes trips to the female patient section (when Sister Hoggett, played by June Jago, is not watching) to flirt with Mavis Winkle (Dilys Laye); Mr Barron (Charles Hawtrey), whose wife is pregnant, but he’s the who suffers from the symptoms, and Mr Smith (Peter Butterworth).
The staff is as colourful. On one side, Kenneth Williams plays the unpopular Dr Tinkle, whom Matron Lavia (Hattie Jacques) and the new nurse Sandra May (Barbara Windsor) are in love with. On the other side, Dr Jim Kilmore (Jim Dale) attracts the eye of Nurse Clark (Anita Harris). The patients and the staff of this hospital will create real chaos under the amused eyes of paramedics Henry (Peter Gilmore) and Sam (Harry Locke).
As Robert Ross says it in his books, Talbot Rothwell pays tributes to Norman Hudis (3) with a film that reflects the humour this one had constructed in the early Carry Ons. The effect of nostalgia is embodied by various elements, one of them being the return of Hattie Jacques as Matron. The role was initially intended for Joan Sims, but she refused as she claimed Jacques was the best to play Matron. (4) And she was right! We like to think that, from Carry On Nurse to Carry On Doctor, Hattie Jacques plays the same matron (for the fact that we never know her name in Nurse), but we can spot differences. While Carry On Nurse‘s matron is serious, devoted, respected, but has a sense of humour, Matron Lavina also demonstrates this form of seriousness and professionalism. But she’s eventually driven by her passions and shows her real image to Dr Tinkle in this memorable seduction scene!
The references to Carry On Nurse don’t stop here. One that is particularly noticeable is the reference to Nurse‘s popular daffodils gag. As Francis Bigger is lying in his hospital bed with a pain in his back, Nurse Parkin (Valerie Van Ost) arrives in the room with a vase full of daffodils. It is a gift from Bigger’s faithful friend, Chloe Gibson (Joan Sims). As the nurse takes one of the flowers and gets it closer to Bigger, this one exclaims: “Oh no, you don’t. I saw that film!” to what she answers “I just thought you might like to smell it!”. Frankie Howerd closes the discussion without stopping to refer to the daffodil gag: “Yes, well, you’ve got to be careful – they fill you full of everything!” I had not noticed it, but Ross indicates in his book how the daffodils joke is also referred in the opening credits, which include alternate titles for the film such as, Nurse Carries On Again and Death of A Daffodil. (5)
Even those opening credits have a nostalgia effect in connection with the earliest Carry Ons, with its uplifting sitcom-like music (this time composed by Eric Rogers) and its humoristic drawings. This type of illustration was first seen from Carry On Nurse to Carry On Regardless, and made a come back with Follow That Camel. Anyway, these little drawings refer to the early Carry Ons of the late 50s and early 60s and, once again, pay an amusing tribute to them. The drawings for Carry On Doctor were designed by Larry. That was the first of four Carry On films to include his art. These drawings are obviously not in the same style as the ones from the early Carry Ons, but the idea of producing something fun and cartoonish is still here.
Opening titles for Carry On Nurse
Opening titles for Carry On Doctor, designed by Larry
Matron isn’t the only character to be back in force. Indeed, the role of Sister, this time embodied by June Jago, is clearly modelled on Joan Hickson’s sister in Carry On Nurse. Even if Matron is the chief, the Sisters are the ones to be feared by the disobedient patients, as they are the ones that are truly and constantly watching them. Matron comes here and there to do her rounds, but she’s not the one stopping Bernard Bresslaw from going to the women section, for example. Both June Jago and Joan Hickson portray hospital personnel who take their work very seriously and probably the only fully sane people in the hospital (because the two doctors are far from being). You don’t mess around with these ladies!
Both Carry On Nurse and Carry On Doctor also include a climax taking place in an OR where non-professionals (patients) are willing to perform surgery under most peculiar circumstances (well, just the fact that patients take control of an OR is peculiar in itself). In Carry On Nurse, Leslie Phillips played a patient who urgently wanted to get operated to remove a bunion out of his feet. Because the doctors couldn’t operate him soon enough for him, he and the other patients (after a few drinks) decided that they would be qualified enough to remove it themselves. Kenneth Williams took the lead, and his patient-self got transformed into a mad doctor who, luckily, was stopped by the nurses before he got time to butcher Philips’s foot. In the case of Carry On Doctor, it’s a revengeful Frankie Howerd who gets Dr Tinkle (Williams) in the OR against his will.
One of the major differences between Nurse and Doctor is the inclusion of female patients. That gave place to some of the cutest scenes where Bernard Bresslaw does everything he can to visit the pretty Dylis Laye whom he’s interested in. Those two also played a couple in Carry On Camping, and I thought they had the best chemistry!
While Carry On Nurse really focused on… nurses, Carry On Doctor also gives importance to doctors (well, duh). What’s probably more relevant here is the contrast between those two doctors. Indeed, they give us completely different perspectives on the profession, their relationships with the patients, and their professional (or unprofessional) connexions with the rest of the hospital staff. Indeed, Jim Dale is a cute and nice doctor who is appreciated by all, except Matron. He’s also super clumsy and can’t stop getting himself in some awkward situations, going from bumping into someone to finding himself on the hospital roof, trying to save Barbara Windsor. That gets him into trouble, but because he’s nice and cute, the patients take his side when he gets into trouble. His only “enemies” are Matron and Dr Tinkle. This one, on his side, is maybe more professional, but his attitude doesn’t get him much popularity, apart from Matron and nurse May. Jim Dale and Kenneth Williams had such a different type of acting, which make the whole thing wonderfully believable.
The handsome doctor flirts with a skeleton!
Of course, Carry On Doctor was a good homage to Nurse. However, we can’t help spotting a few similarities to other films that have nothing to do with the series, such as when Mr Bigger falls off the stretcher:
Nurse Parkin: Mr Bigger, whatever are you doing down there?
Francis Bigger: Waiting for a number 13 Bus!
Which could easily be a reference to Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938), one of the most quotable movies ever:
Mrs Randon: What are you doing?
David Huxley: I’m sitting in the middle of 42nd street waiting for a bus!
And one of my favourite bits from the film is that reference to The Invisible Man when Dr Tinkle visits M Wrigley, who seems to be an invisible man as well! Interestingly, the identity of the actor playing Mr Wringley is a total mystery (6)!
We could discuss Carry On films forever, but I would like to conclude this by sharing with you this most amusing anecdote told by Frankie Howerd:
When I made Carry On Doctor, one of the cast was Joan Sims. She played a character who was deaf and to whom I was married at the end of the film-the ceremony performed by a deaf vicar. This took place on the very last day of shooting-and when Joan and I got together for the scene we both, suddenly and inexplicably, started to laugh…and laugh…and laugh. There was no special reason for it… there was some mad chemistry at work-so we just stood there, hooting. Since laughter is infectious, the director and crew joined in… People came from other sets to discover what was happening-and they joined in! The place was a shrieking chaos. (7)
Well, like this story, the film is also highly amusing so, if you haven’t seen it, I hope you will!
Next time, we’ll be discussing Carry On… Up the Khyber!, which is considered to be among the very best of the series!
Want to follow that series closely? Make sure to take a look at my other reviews!
(1) “Carry On Doctor: Trivia.” IMDb, n.d. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061450/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv. Accessed Oct 18, 2019
(2) “Carry On Doctor.” Wikipedia, August 18, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carry_On_Doctor. Accessed Oct 18, 2019
(3) Ross, Robert. The Carry On Companion. London: Batsford, 1998. p. 69.
(4) Idid. note 1
(5) Ibid. note 3, page 70
(6) Ibid. note 1
(7) Frankie Howerd cited in Ross, Robert. The Carry On Companion. London: Batsford, 1998. p. 72.