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A&E Home Video presents
Carry On Laughing: The Complete Series (1975)

Sir Walter Raleigh: He says he's incredibly rich because he exports fighting bulls all over the known world.
Sir Francis Drake: That's true. He's the biggest bull-shipper in Europe!

- John Carlin, Sid James

Review By: Robert Edwards   
Published: May 30, 2004

Stars: Sid James, Kenneth Connor, Joan Sims, Barbara Windsor, Bernard Bresslaw, Jack Douglas, Peter Butterworth, David Lodge, John Carlin
Director: Various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (humorous sexual situations and language)
Run Time: 05h:15m:14s
Release Date: May 25, 2004
UPC: 733961713268
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
C C+A-B+ D-

DVD Review

The "Carry On" series of films is one of the longest-running franchises in Britain's (or any other nation's) movie history, with 31 films released between 1958's Carry On Sergeant and 1992's Carry On Columbus. While they may be mostly unfamiliar to U.S. viewers, it's hard to imagine any UK citizen who couldn't reel off at least half a dozen of the movies' titles, and many of the actors' names, as deeply imbedded in UK pop culture and consciousness as they are.

Even the reader who has never heard of the series has probably already guessed that all of the movies' titles start with "Carry On", and some of the select things that carry on include Doctors, Matrons, Girls, Dick, and even Emmannuelle! They're all comedies, and fairly lowbrow at that—closer in spirit to Benny Hill than Masterpiece Theatre, and many of them are parodies of historical events. Sexual situations of the harmless variety abound, and there's loads of double entendre, some of it genuinely clever, some of it jaw-droppingly awful (and thus even funnier!). One of the true delights of the Carry On series is that many of the actors reappear over the years in various films, and when you see a familiar face in yet another amusing role, it's like seeing an old friend. It may be due to repetition and longevity, rather than inherent acting skill, that the names Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Sid James, Joan Sims, Hattie Jacques, and Barbara Windsor have entered UK pop culture, but the fact remains that they're some of the best-known, and best-loved of all British actors.

By the mid-1970s, the Carry On films were in their decline, but after four Christmas specials, one of the UK's television channels commissioned 13 half-hour episodes, which were broadcast in 1975. Unfortunately, neither Kenneth Williams (the campy aristocrat) nor Charles Hawtrey (the campy nerd) participated, and they are sorely missed. Sid James (the wisecracking everyman) appears in many of the episodes, but the lead roles are often taken by less-interesting actors such as Peter Butterworth and Kenneth Connor. As a whole, the TV episodes aren't as clever as the films, and some of them (the three Lord Peter Flimsy episodes) are downright awful, mirroring the decline of the film franchise during the same period of time. But fans of British comedy, and especially fans of the Carry On films, will find much to like in this two-disc set.



VOLUME ONE

The Prisoner of Spenda

It's courtly intrigue in the country of Pluritania, as the evil Duke Boris (David Lodge) imprisons Crown Prince Rupert (Sid James) in the castle dungeon, to prevent him from ascending to the throne. And just to be safe, Boris has also imprisoned all of Rupert's lookalikes. Arnold Basket (James) and his wife Vera (Barbara Windsor) arrive from London on their honeymoon, and wouldn't you know it, Arnold is the spitting image of the Prince. Before you can say "deceptive impersonation," Count Yerrackers (Peter Butterworth) is giving Arnold lessons in royal comportment, but there's one problem—Arnold is blind as a bat, while the Prince has perfect vision. The plot's fairly amusing, and there's lots of cartoonish violence on tap in this episode.

The Baron Outlook

The English are invading France, so the cowardly Sir Gaston (Brian Osborne) exchanges clothing with his busty page Marie (Barbara Windsor). Captured, she's escorted to the dilapidated castle of Baron Hubert Outlook (Sid James), whose fellow castle-dwellers include the Cockney "harmored" knight Sir William (Kenneth Connor), and the alchemist Friar Roger, who has discovered that the best way to turn lead into gold is by stripping the castle's plumbing and selling it. To make matters even more complicated, the King's Inspector General of Royal Castles is on his way, and he'll be none to happy if the castle isn't in tip-top shape. This episode is fairly weak, despite some amusing incidents during the trip to the castle.

The Sobbing Cavalier

In a page torn (then shredded) from English history, it's Oliver Cromwell and his Roundheads versus King Charles Stuart and his Cavaliers. The problem is, Sir Jethro (Jack Douglas) has received letters from both, threatening him with "chattel sequestration" if he supports the other side. His brother-in-law Lovelace (Sid James) thinks the Cavaliers will prevail, but things don't quite work out, and he's forced to disguise himself as the cook. There are a few good jokes as Lady Kate (Joan Sims) tries to prevent Cromwell (Peter Butterworth) from finding Lovelace, but this episode is mostly noteworthy for the unappetizing sight of Sid James in drag.

Orgy and Bess

It's England versus Spain, and Queen Elizabeth (Hattie Jacques) sends for Sir Francis Drake (Sid James) in an attempt to prevent all-out war. The two flirt shamelessly until interrupted by the arrival of King Philip of Spain (Kenneth Connor), who plans to marry Elizabeth and thus keep the peace. The plot thickens as Lord Essex (Jack Douglas) arrives victorious from war in the Low Countries, but discovers that he's no longer the Queen's favorite, and decides to discredit Drake. This is by far the funniest episode, and was notably written by Barry Cryer and Dick Vosburgh, unlike the other episodes. Not only do the double entendres fly fast and furious, but there's a surreal news broadcast, a guest appearance by the wonderful Hattie Jacques, and John Carlin as an incredibly campy Sir Walter Raleigh.

One in the Eye for Harold

It's the year 1066, and the Saxon King Harold (Norman Chappell) desperately needs a means to repel the invading Norman French. Ethelred (Jack Douglas) accompanies the monk Athelstan (Kenneth Connor) and the secret weapon that he's just invented North to the king, but there are Norman spies afoot, and not only in the person of Else (Joan Sims), whose French accent goes unnoticed by the two. Athelstan just happens to be carrying a supply of his new invention, gunpowder, which he calls "bird powder," since the only use he sees for it is in scaring off pesky avians. There's a lot of physical humour in this episode, especially when Athelstan accidently invents the can-can!

The Nine Old Cobblers

In this first adventure with the mystery-solving Lord Peter Flimsy (Jack Douglas) and his faithful sidekick Punter (Kenneth Connor), the pair are summoned to a small village, where a body has been discovered during concert rehearsals. But there's more foul play in store, as the ninth church bell (the "cobbler") rings again, alerting the village folk to another murder. The mystery plot is complete nonsense, but this episode does feature some funny musical numbers, including Amelia Forbush's (Joan Sims) wonderfully eccentric drum performances.



VOLUME 2

Under the Round Table

King Arthur (Kenneth Connor) assembles the majority of his dissolute knights at the round table, accompanied by the sexually-frustrated Lady Guinevere (Joan Sims) and his High Steward, the very gay Sir Gay (Jack Douglas). The last to arrive, Sir Pureheart (Bernard Bresslaw), has vowed not to remove his armor until he becomes the top knight in the land, and since it's been seven years, the stench is considerable. The evil Black Knight (Oscar James) challenges Pureheart to a joust, which Pureheart accepts, under the condition that his fellow knights will take a vow of chastity, temperance and virtue, if he wins. That's the last thing they want, so it's lucky that Pureheart has to joust on foot! If you're thinking "Monty Python," you're right—there's even a discussion of using coconuts to mimic the sound of horse hooves, à la Monty Python and the Holy Grail!

The Case of the Screaming Winkles

When a hotel guest dies from arsenic-tainted winkles, Admiral Clanger (Peter Butterworth) is convinced that he was the intended victim, and telegrams Lord Peter Flimsy (Jack Douglas). Flimsy arrives quickly, with his faithful sidekick Punter (Kenneth Connor) in tow, and soon they're knocking heads with Inspector Bungler (David Lodge). What follows is a mishmash involving a fortune teller, a skeleton, silly poems, a reliance on alliteration, and a yogi, and this episode, like the other Lord Peter Flimsy episodes in the collection, quickly grows tiresome.

My Lady's Chamber

It's Upstairs, Downstairs time, as we view the events in the household of Sir Harry (Kenneth Connor) and his daughter Virginia (Sherrie Hewson). Son Willie (Andrew Ray) has just returned from an expedition to the Amazon, and they're joined by the vampy Lottie von Titzenhausen (Barbara Windsor), an old "acquantaince" of Sir Harry's. The happy lives of the downstairs folk, led by the cook Mrs. Breeches (Joan Sims) and butler Clodson (Jack Douglas), are thrown into turmoil when Sir Harry proposes to Lottie, who has threatened to reveal a few secrets they'd rather keep hidden. This episode is far from the "hilarious spoof" promised on the DVD jacket, but it does have its moments, especially in its portrayal of over-sexed, befuddled upper class twits.

Short Knight, Long Daze

Sir Point of No Return has run off with all of the Knights of the Round Table's money, and King Arthur (Kenneth Connor) is desperate. Salvation comes in the form of a stranger from the North, as foretold by prophecy. The problem is, he's supposed to be a knight, but the stranger (Bernard Bresslaw) is a bumbling, cowardly dimwit. Arthur dubs him Sir Lancelot (because he's just lanced a large boil on the King's bum), and tries to get him into shape, Pygmalion-like, for the big jousting match. The perpetually horny Lady Guinevere (Joan Sims), campy Sir Gay (Jack Douglas), and scheming Merlin (Peter Butterworth) are all along for the ride in the intermittently-funny episode.

The Curse of the Coughing Parrot

Dr. Janis Grunbitt (Joan Sims) has just taken delivery of the sarcophagus of King Rametupem, but there's one thing out of order—the mummy inside has been replaced with a dead body. What's more, Professor Bloomers, due to deliver an Egyptian papyrus to Dr. Grunbitt, has gone missing. In this, the third and (thankfully) last episode with the mystery-solving Lord Peter Flimsy (Jack Douglas) and his valet Punter (Kenneth Cooper), there are more silly plot twists, a reliance on alliteration in an attempt to induce laughs, and generally unamusing nonsense.

Who Needs Kitchener?

In this second parody of Upstairs, Downstairs, war with Germany is on the horizon, so the over-sexed, perpetually befuddled Sir Henry (Kenneth Connor) is stocking on fifty million pairs of boot laces for the troops. Daughter Virginia (Sherrie Hewson) is campaigning for women's rights, while cowardly son Willie (Andrew Ray) will do just about anything to avoid military service. And there's something suspicious about the new footman, Klanger (Bernard Bresslaw), who speaks with a German accent and keeps carrier pigeons as a hobby. Despite a few amusing moments, this episode is nowhere as funny as My Lady's Chamber.

Lamp-Posts of the Empire

BUGS (The Bermondsey Universal Geographical Society) agrees to send newspaper reporter Stanley (Kenneth Connor) to find the long-lost Dr. Pavingstone (Bernard Bresslaw). He's accompanied by Lady Mary (Barbara Windsor) and the geographically-challenged explorer "Elephant" Dick Darcy. But Pavingstone's had a run-in with a witch doctor, and may not be too eager to return to civilization. Another episode that has some amusing double entendre, but not much else going for it.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: For a videotaped television production from 1975, the image is surprisingly good. Colors are strong, if a bit unrealistic and inconsistent from episode to episode. Some shows are slightly soft, but most feature quite a bit of detail. About the only complaint that one could have about the image is that the black levels are never very good, but this is a minor nitpick.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: The mono sound is at all times crisp and clear, which helps with the accents, which are occasionally a bit difficult to decipher.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 65 cues and remote access
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Other than scene selection menus, there are no extras.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

The thirteen half-hour episodes of Carry On Laughing are intermittently amusing, with lots of harmless sexual humor and double entendre. Fans of the "Carry On" films will enjoy seeing some familiar faces, but others may find that the lowbrow British humor outstays its welcome.

 


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