If you say matron to someone that is now familiar with the Carry On series, the first person he or she will associate with that word would automatically be Hattie Jacques. Indeed, the actress has portrayed the role on several occasions during the series and, as Joan Sims said, she pretty much was perfect for it. Carry On Matron (Gerald Thomas, 1972) is also the fourth film of the franchise where most of the action takes place into a hospital. This time, it’s in a maternity ward. This makes a significant contrast with the previous hospital-based Carry Ons, as those tended to focus mainly on male patients. There were a few female patients in the stories like those played by Dilys Laye or Barbara Windsor, but they still were part of the minority.
Carry On Matron was the second and last film in which Kenneth Cope starred and also the last time we saw regular Terry Scott among the Carry On cast. Otherwise, the film features a large number of regulars, including Kenneth Connor. He had made a come back to the series with Carry On Up the Jungle.
After the failure of Carry On at Your Convenience explained by the fact that this one was making fun of the working class (basically, the Carry On public), Carry On Matron oriented itself towards a more traditional approach, in the Carry On codes at least but, in opposition to Carry On Nurse, Doctor, and Again Doctor, it doesn’t focus exclusively on “life in a hospital”. As a matter of fact, both the external and the internal world (the hospital) are in connection in a rather particular way. Sid James plays Sid Carter. He isn’t a patient, either a doctor. No, he is the head of a criminal gang that has for mission to steal contraceptive pills at the hospital and then sell them on the black market. Ernie Bragg (Bernard Bresslaw), Freddy (Bill Maynard), and Sid’s son, Cyril (Kenneth Cope), also form the gang. However, Cyril is a rather honest person and is part of it despite himself, controlled by his father’s indirect blackmail. Poor Cyril actually becomes the tool to have easier access to the pill. Dressed as a nurse, he becomes part of the hospital staff and faces a few obstacles such as Dr Prodd (Terry Scott)’s appetite for young nurses, and having to share a room with lovely Nurse Susan Ball (Barbara Windsor). Cyril fools the hospital easily since the staff other problems occupy its staff. One of their patients, Mrs Tidey (Joan Sims) has an overdue pregnancy and mostly spends her time eating. Her husband, Mr Tidey (Kenneth Connor), pretty much spends his time at the hospital as well, hoping the baby will arrive one day. Sir Bernard Cutting (Kenneth Williams) is a hypochondriac. He’s also interested in Matron (Hattie Jacques) and faces jealousy when he thinks that she and Dr Francis A Goode (Charles Hawtrey) are having an affair (in reality they only have a common interest for the same tv show). Jacki Piper plays Sister, and Patsy Rowlands plays Cutting’s secretary (well, she’s Kenneth Williams’s teammate as usual).
First of all, can I say that I absolutely LOVED the chemistry between Kenneth Cope and Barbara Windsor? That made me regret even more the fact that Cope was only in two films in the series. He didn’t give me THAT much of an impression in Carry On at Your Convenience (well, I liked him, but that’s about it), but in Matron, I thought he was quite delightful. I just loved the way his character and Barbara Windsor’s character interacted together. She sees he’s a bit shy at first (well, she doesn’t know he’s a man dressed as a woman) and when she discovers the truth, she remains friendly and tries to understand what’s going on. They were just very adorable together.
One that really made me laugh is Bernard Bresslaw. His character takes everything way too seriously. When he dresses as a pregnant woman, he almost thinks and feels he’s really a pregnant woman. He also almost believe that Cyril is a real girl, to the great despair of his peers.
Kenneth Williams sort of reprises the role that Kenneth Connor had in Carry On Sergeant as a sort of hypochondriac, but it’s not felt that the same way, so it doesn’t seem repetitive. It goes to another extreme such as when he thinks he is possibly becoming a woman! His interactions in the film with Charles Hawtrey and Hattie Jacques are quite a good contribution to the funny aspects of the story. As I’ve said it before, if Hattie Jacques’s characters were the one chasing after Kenneth Williams’s ones, this time, it’s the opposite. As a matter of fact, while staying faithful to himself, the forever bachelor Kenneth Williams started to change a bit from Carry On at Your Convenience in which he had a son. [SPOILER ALERT]: Matron (Jacques) and Cutting (Williams) even get married in the end! [END OF SPOILER] Charles Hawtrey and Hattie Jacques also have these memorable interactions together but in a different way. It’s still in a way that gives clues that they were Carry On partners who had known each other for a long time. They were among the originals after all!
The rest of the cast was great as well (honourable mention to Kenneth Connor), but these are the ones that marked me the most.
What I then particularly liked from Carry On Matron is the absurdity of some situations which built the humour of this film in a way that everyone would expect from a Carry On. It doesn’t try to take itself too seriously (something that happened with Carry On at Your Convenience) and definitely puts Matron among the great post-Carry On Golden Age films. Interestingly, Robert Ross doesn’t rate the film high. However, the British Film Institute considers it among the five best Carry On films (1). And I can see why! I think what worked best is the fact that they decided to include Sid and his gang of bandits as a side story, so it doesn’t feel too repetitive after Nurse, Doctor, and Again Doctor. The British Film Institute says that Matron was “the series’ last genuinely memorable entry”. (2) True? Not true? I know some bad ones are coming ahead, but I’ve heard that Carry On Abroad was pretty good!
The great absurdity in this film, of course, begins with the always memorable alternative titles! I’ve noted my favourite while watching the film, more precisely From Here to Maternity and Womb at the Top, that are direct references to From Here to Eternity and Room at the Top!
Then, the character played by Kenneth Connor, Mr Tidey, is also built on a ton of little gags. For example, he uses a Rail worker whistle when he wants to get Matron’s attention (and have more news about his wife). Ok, in some situations, it could be called cat-calling, but here, seriously, the guy looks simply desperate, and it’s a damn whistle, you know, the ones policemen also use. Unless you take everything very seriously, I think you’ll be able to understand the joke. Poor Mr Tidey is also seen sleeping at the hospital with a thermos (containing coffee we suppose)!
I also liked how Dr Goode (Hawtrey) is introduced to us while he is literally trying to hypnotise himself. Of course, this is interrupted by one of Charles Hawtrey’s typical “Oh, hello!” I mean, that was his trademark!
Finally, in terms of funny and absurd situations, my absolute favourite part of the film is when Dr Prodd (Scott) and Cyril Carter “Nurse Cyril” (Cope) are taking actress Jane Darling (Valerie Leon) to the hospital by ambulance as she is about to give birth. Because Carter accidentally knocks out Dr Prodd with an injection, this one faints, so Carter finds himself in a situation where he has to give birth alone. Remember: he has no experience in any medicinal domain. The faces of the hospital staff when they discover he has given birth to triplets (and successfully) is priceless (and his I-don’t-believe-I’ve done it face as well!).
The film also presents a lot of memorable lines (thanks Rothwell)! I’ve noted a few of my favourite while watching the film. Honestly, there were many!
1- Sid Carter [entering the hospital]: Good morning!
Arthur (the hospital guardian): Visiting?
Sid Carter: Well, I’m not producing.
Arthur: *bored* I mean are you expecting a baby, or what?
Sid Carter: Oh, definitely a baby. I don’t like whats.
Arthur: *unmotivated* The waiting room is over there.
Sid Carter: Thank you, mate! If it’s a boy, I’ll name him “Happy” after you.
2- Sid Carter [coming out of the hospital and getting in the car where his teammates are waiting for him]: Get moving!
Cyril Carter: What’s all the rush, dad?
Sid Carter: I’ve just become the father of twins!
Ernie Bragg (who REALLY takes everything too seriously): Congratulation!
3- [Cyril is dressing as a woman]:
Sid Carter: Come on son, hurry up! I want to get you in there by 6!
Cyril Carter: I’m nearly ready.
Ernie Bragg: Funny, women always take a long time dressing.
Freddy: …especially when they’re men.
4- [Cyril finally comes out of the bathroom in nurse’s clothes]
Ernie Bragg: Cyril! You look lovely!
[Freddy teases him]
Ernie Bragg: Leave her alone!
5- Matron [handing envelops to Sir Cutting]: By the way- your mail.
Sir Bernard Cutting [who’s not so sure if he’s really becoming a woman after all]: Yes, I am! And I can prove it! Do you hear? Prove it!
6- Ernie Bragg [dressed as a pregnant woman to infiltrate the hospital]: Pregnant and I got to carry me old bag!
I tried to find out if Carry On Matron was a box office success, but I haven’t really found it. I suppose it must have been somehow, at least, in England. Most of the Carry On films were and, despite the failure of At Your Convenience, Matron went back to a more traditional formula, included many of the regulars, so I don’t see why it couldn’t have been one. However, we have to remember that 1972 was a year of big films such as The Godfather and The Poseidon Adventure. On my side, I really liked it, which I’m sure you could feet through my review.
We now have less than 10 Carry On films left to watch! The next one I’ll be reviewing is Carry On Abroad, which marked the return of June Whitfield, 13 years after a small role in Carry On Nurse!
Want to follow that series closely? Make sure to take a look at my other reviews!
(1) Mitchell, Neil. “The five best Carry Ons… and the five worst.” BFI, November 26, 2018, https://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/lists/five-best-carry-ons-five-worst. Accessed Nov. 23, 2019