The Carry on films have been a staple favourite of many with their awful gags and OTT performances but were very much of their time with the last proper film being 1978’s Carry On Emmanuelle and a hoped for revival in 1992 with Carry On Columbus. But whilst they still provide laughs it wasn’t always the case and what has come to light over the years is the Dark Side of Carry On films.
Amanda Barrie, now 88 years old, appeared in just two of the films but was reportedly forced to visit a hormone specialist in a bid to make her breasts bigger having been told, ‘You’re the nearest thing to a hermaphrodite I’ve ever seen. Well…It doesn’t fill you full of enthusiasm.” It would be even worse for her on set when the actress alleged that co-star Kenneth Williams tore off her dressing gown in front of the dinner queue. “He ripped it off and went, ‘It’s mine!’” she said. “I was left there stark naked. It was a shock, even in the ’60s’.
Rogers was notoriously mean with his budgets filming beach scenes in a studio car park and occasions when cast members’ lives were put at risk due to the tight schedules and tiny budgets. Filming conditions were allegedly unsafe with Amanda Barrie discussing a bath scene in 1964’s Carry On Cleo where she was to walk into what turned out to be an extremely hot bath, “They said: ‘We’ve got to get this shot tonight’ and I said: ‘I’ll do it but, just stand by.’” Amanda recalled. “I was alright going down the steps but as I got to the bottom two and it went past my heart, oh jeez, I suddenly felt myself going. One of the prop guys got hold of my wig and luckily it was clamped to my head and pulled me towards the side. If I’d gone under, I’d have been a goner.”
Added to the indignation was the fact that the women in the cast were paid notably less than their male counterparts earning just half the £5000 fee that the male leads were paid. The series producer, the late Peter Rogers even joked about it saying, “Most important of all, of course, are the artists. I love them very much and would do anything for them except pay them more money’. Should any cast member have the temerity to ask for a raise they would find themselves not appearing in further films which were churned out at the rate of at least one a year. Joan Sims who had appeared in 24 of the films never once got a raise in her salary and when the actress began having medical issues later in life Rogers refused to contribute to her medical bills and she eventually passed away in 2001 aged only 71
The late Barbara Windsor regarded the pay disparity as immoral claiming that. “They should pay us for those compilations. I don’t care about the films, showing them in their entirety on telly. There’s a lot of actors who didn’t earn a lot of money who could do with those few pennies.’ Some of the cast eventually clubbed together to make a legal claim. ‘We put a few quid together to go to a lawyer. He said we didn’t stand a chance.’ said Windsor
Charles Hawtrey, a veteran of 23 Carry On’s, had asked for more money for 1962’s Carry On Cruising only to be told he would be replaced and wasn’t allowed back until 1963’s Carry On Cabby and 1964’s Carry On Jack. Eventually he walked away from the films in 1972 when his demand for star billing in Carry On Stuffing, a TV Christmas special, was rejected and he died in 1988 aged 73 with little money. By then he had developed a drink problem and struggled for money soo bad that he could not afford to reply to fan mail “I remember him saying to me: ‘I can’t afford to buy stamps to reply to fan mail’ He’s said to have collapsed and shattered his femur in 1988 and reportedly discovered that he had peripheral vascular disease. The condition affects the arteries and was told his legs would have to be amputated to save his life but refused the operation. He died days later on 27th October 1988.
Shot quickly the conditions were rarely comfortable with the crew shooting exteriors in cold weather and the women finding themselves further humiliated according to Sherrie Hewson when filming Carry on Behind in 1975 in a bikini when there was snow around. “We were blue with cold and they painted us this yellow colour to make our skin look normal,” she said. “It was my baptism of fire. It wasn’t funny.”
Synonymous with the films was Kenneth Williams but depression affected him and he died aged only 62 on 15th April 1988. The cause of death is said to have been an overdose of barbiturates and an inquest reportedly recorded an open verdict, so it’s unknown whether it was intentional or an accident. Sid James another stalwart of the series died at the same age too in 1976 from a heart attack in the middle of a stage production
1992’s Carry On Columbus was a far from happy production despite having a huge budget by the franchise standards of £2.5m with a plethora of modern comic stars Rik Mayall, Richard Wilson, Alexei Sayle, Maureen Lipman, Sara Crowe, Nigel Planer, Tony Slattery and Julian Clary.
But the old stars of the franchise noticed a distance between them and the new stars who would do their bit and then just leaver never staying for drinks and even sitting in a different part of the canteen at lunch time. The four week shoot saw the film in the cinemas within a matter of months and just about broke even but plans for a sequel Carry on London were made but within a year the films director Gerald Thomas who had helmed all the previous films passed away but the films lacklustre response from the public put an end to further films despite the rumours of the franchise being revived
related feature : Dame Barbara Windsor – OBITUARY