The 24th entry of the Carry On franchise, Carry On Abroad (Gerald Thomas, 1972), was a special one on many aspects. First, just like the previous entry, Carry On Matron, it features a good number of regulars. And these create a strong feeling of nostalgia. June Whitfield’s presence has such an impact. More than ten years before, she was part of Carry On Nurse‘s cast as meg, a relatively minor role. However, her part in Carry On Abroad was much more significant. It was also the return of Sally Geeson after a small role in Carry On Regardless. Her sister, Judy Geeson (To Sir With Love), had her only Carry On role in Carry On England (yet to be seen). Peter Butterworth and Kenneth Connor also had much more important roles than the ones in the last few Carry On films they were part of (Butterworth’s roles in Loving and Henry were pretty much cameos). If this is good news, prepare yourself for a shock: Carry On Abroad was Charles Hawtrey’s last appearance in the series. Yes, I have no idea how to “emotionally” collect this information. With actors like Sid James and Kenneth William, Charles Hawtrey was pretty much at the heart of Carry On. According to IMDb, the production fired Hawtrey from the series due to his alcoholism (ironically, he plays an alcoholic in Abroad). (1) Sad. We already knew he had problems and wasn’t always easy to work with BUT, think of it; there are still seven films to see… Without Charles Hawtrey!? And, on top of that, it was also Hawtrey’s last film of his whole career which had started in 1922.
Carry On Abroad will probably mark the end of a good time as it seems to be the last truly good entry of the franchise. I might be wrong, and maybe I will enjoy the following ones even if they don’t have a very high reputation (I mean, Carry On films as a whole is pretty much guilty pleasure material). Anyway, Carry On Girls, England, Emmanuelle, and Colombus are all considered among the five worst Carry Ons by the BFI. Robert Ross doesn’t rate them very high either. So, no, overall, they don’t have a good reputation. But, I don’t want to anticipate that too much. I said I’d watch and review them all. And that’s what I will do. I could be surprised! After all, I DID like Carry On Jack.
Abroad is an echo to Carry On Cruising as it bases itself on the concept of travelling. However, if Cruising takes place on a cruiser, Abroad takes place on land, more precisely in Spain. A group of Brits is going on an organized trip led by Stuart Farquhar (Kenneth Williams), representative of Wundatours Travel Agency, and by his assistant Moira Plunkett (Gail Grainger). The group of travellers is composed of a bunch of distinct and unique (in their own kind) people: Vic (Sid James) and Cora (Joan Sims) Flange; the sexy Sadie Tomkins (Barbara Windsor) – or pretty much the reason why Vic decided to go on this trip; Stanley Blunt (Kenneth Connor) and his conservative wife Evelyn (June Whitfield); mamma’s boy Eustache Tuttle (Charles Hawtrey); Scotsman Bert Conway (Jimmy Logan), young friends Lily and Marge (Sally Geeson and Caroline Hawkins); a group of monks which includes the timid Brother Bernard (Bernard Bresslaw), who might be more interested in girls than in his new vocation, and friends Robin Tweet and Nicholas Phipps (John Clive and David Kernan). What was about to be a great vacations turns out to be more of a nightmare because the hotel where they are going to stay is still under construction and staff is lacking. Only the manager, Pepe (Peter Butterworth), his choleric wife, Floella (Hattie Jacques), and their son, Giorgio (Ray Brooks), are here to take care of the business. Of course, this leads to many catastrophic and hilarious situations.
If Carry On Matron reunited a great group of Carry On regulars, I feel it is even more effective with Carry On Abroad. What I particularly liked is that the film gives importance to everybody, and all the characters become interesting. None of the regulars has super minor roles like it could have been the case in previous films of the franchise, except maybe for Patsy Rowlands who plays the brief role of Miss Dobbs, one of the employees of the agency that we only see at the beginning of the film. Even Giorgio, who seems to be a minor character at first, becomes relevant as he pretty much changes Mrs Blunt’s vision of her husband.
We always feel that Joan Sims and Sid James were “made for each other” in these Carry On films although their characters often enter into conflict. But that’s what made these films thrilling to a certain extent as we are never sure how it will end up between the twos. We feel that, whenever they play a married (or unmarried) couple, their relation is pretty much the same from one film to another. On the one hand, they did marvellous work together. On the other hand, it tends to be a bit repetitive. Joan Sims showed great diversity in the first half of the Carry On series but, after that, I feel her roles were pretty much all the same. Yes, that was clearly the case with Kenneth Williams as well, but Williams was larger than life, and it would have been weird to see him becoming completely different out of the sudden (he sort of does in Carry On Cowboy, and that wasn’t his best role). But, don’t get me wrong, Joan Sims was great and one of the many memorable aspects of the Carry On franchise.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, that was Charles Hawtrey’s last film. What I particularly found pertinent about his character is that it somehow seems to make a parallel with his real-life self. Indeed, not only Hawtrey had (sadly) alcohol problems (in the film, alcoholism is presented comically) but, from what I’ve read, his mother was often assisting to the shooting (which gave place to many great anecdotes) at Pinewood Studios. Thus, it reflects that mamma’s boy characteristic of Eustache Tuttle. Was this the most glorious way for Hawtrey’s to bid adieu to his career? In all respective Carry On fashion, yes, but the reality was sadder.
One of the newest cast members that worked the best for me was Gail Grainger who plays Moira Plunkett. The role was initially (and unsurprisingly) intended for Valerie Leon. However, I feel Grainger gave more flavour to her character than it could have been the case with Leon, who was, unfortunately, mostly used as an object of beauty throughout the series. Grainger’s character is not the most important one, but it’s one people will easily appreciate. I loved her interactions with Kenneth Williams as well as with Barbara Windsor, who turns out to be her roommate (due to lack of space in the hotel). Her character is a pretty optimistic one, just like Williams’s, so they match each other pretty well.
And talking of Williams, his performance was among my favourites in the film. But then, it’s rare that I don’t like him. How can we forget that part where he meets all the members of the trip or when he finds himself in charge of the phone at the hotel reception (always very optimistic, more or less saving the life of the poor Pepe)? Talking of Pepe, Peter Butterworth was back in force with a significant role. The poor hotel manager tries to run his place, but he has quite a hard time doing so! We love his devotion to trying to arrange things even in the most desperate situations! Hattie Jacques, who plays his wife, didn’t impress me this time. Normally, I always like her, but her effort to create the Spanish accent didn’t work for me. It reminded me of this situation where Joan Sims played an Arabian woman in Follow that Camel.
Bernard Bresslaw became one of these actors that I now look forward to seeing in a Carry On. And, once again, he didn’t disappoint in Abroad. He’s so tall and clumsy and, therefore, adorable as Brother Bernard! Of course, the gag of a priest being impressed by girls is not surprising coming from a Carry On. But you expect it and want it to be that way. There’s much more potential for comic situations! Brother Bernard often finds himself in embarrassing situations in the presence of his colleagues, such as when he accidentally tears off Lily’s skirt, or when he politely accepts to put sunscreen on Marge’s nude back (scandalous!).
Kenneth Connor came back with a role that was a bit more developed, just like it was the case in the early Carry Ons, and so it was the case for June Whitfield. I’ve got to admit, I don’t remember her much in Carry On Nurse, but that is probably because her role was a minor one. Anyway, I thought she was a great addition to the cast as her character makes a strong contrast with the young female actresses of the lot. Probably because she wasn’t so much of a regular, June thought the film was going to be shot in Spain and had a surprise when learning it was going to be filmed in Pinewood Studio’s car park. (2) Well, the Carry On production team never made a lot of efforts for on-location shooting.
Except for the funny characters, the hotel itself (the building and the people who participate in it) becomes a real joke. It brought back memories to me! When construction awakes the characters at 5 am, it reminded me of that time when a house next to ours was under construction with drills at 7 am on a Saturday. Such a great feeling! (Not.) The hotel presents other issues such as walls not being built between closets, which puts Brother Benard and Lily in an awkward situation (you can imagine)! And there are also shared bathrooms! Consequently, Vic surprises Sadie in the shower, and a shocked Mrs Blunt surprises Eustache Tuttle in the bath, tasting a bottle of red wine. “Oh hello”, he answers as if this was perfectly normal!
As I’ve said before, I particularly liked the scene where each character is introduced as they enter the bus that is to take them to the airport. Some stand out more than others for me. First of all, there is Tuttle (Charles Hawtrey), who is accompanied by his overprotective mother (which reminds us of Joan Sims’s mother in Carry On Camping). He explains to Farquar why she couldn’t accompany him: “Mommy has to stay behind to look after the hamster”. That’s perfect. Jimmy Logan’s entrance is pretty memorable too. His character, Bert Conway, enters the coach energetically and says to the bunch that is already here: “Hello there! All ready for a wild weekend, eh?” He has a big smile, and everybody is looking at him with a very neutral and bored face. “Oh well, maybe not”. Finally, Lily and Marge are hoping some handsome men are going to be part of the trip. When Faquar announces that they are still waiting for 12 men, it seems like their wish is going to be fulfilled, until they realize it’s a bunch of monks (including Brother Bernard). Oh, the disappointment!
There’s a lot going on in Carry On Abroad, so I will stop myself here and let you discover the rest by yourself if you haven’t seen it yet! On its release, the film was a success at the British box office.
Next, we’ll review Carry On Girls which, yes, is considered among the less good Carry On films. Update: it isn’t THAT bad really!
Want to follow that series closely? Make sure to take a look at my other reviews!
(1) “Carry On Abroad: Trivia.” IMDB, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0069847/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv. Accessed Nov. 29, 2019.