The Carry On film series primarily consists of 31 British comedy films (1958–92) but also four Christmas specials, a television series of thirteen episodes, and three West End and provincial stage plays. The films' humour was in the British comic tradition of the bawdy seaside postcards. Producer Peter Rogers and director Gerald Thomas drew on a regular group of actors, labelled 'the Carry On team', that included Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, Hattie Jacques, Kenneth Connor, Barbara Windsor, Peter Butterworth, Terry Scott, Bernard Bresslaw and Jim Dale amongst others.
The Carry On series contains the largest number of films of any British series, and it is the longest continually running UK film series, although with a fourteen-year break from 1978 to 1992. Anglo Amalgamated Film Distributors Ltd produced twelve films (1958–66), the Rank Organisation made eighteen (1966–78) and United International Pictures made one (1992).
Producer Peter Rogers and director Gerald Thomas made all 31 films, usually on time and to a strict budget, and often employed the same crew. Between 1958 and 1992, the series employed seven writers, most often Norman Hudis (1958–62) or Talbot Rothwell (1963–74). In between the films, Rogers and Thomas produced four Christmas specials in 1969, 1970, 1972, and 1973, a thirteen episode television series in 1975, and various West End stage shows which later toured the regions of the country.
All the films were made at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire. Budgetary constraints meant that a large proportion of the location filming was undertaken close to the studios in and around south Buckinghamshire, including areas of Berkshire and Middlesex. However, by the late 1960s (at the height of the series' success) more ambitious plots occasionally necessitated locations further afield, which included the Snowdonia National Park, Wales (with the foot of Mount Snowdon standing in for the Khyber Pass in Carry On Up the Khyber), and the beaches of the Sussex coast doubling as Saharan sand dunes in Follow That Camel.
The first film, Carry On Sergeant (1958) was about a group of recruits doing National Service at the fictional Heathercrest National Service Depot. The film was sufficiently successful to inspire a similar venture, again focusing on an established and respected profession in Carry On Nurse focusing on the happenings at the Haven Hospital and what the various patients and nurses get up to. When that too was successful, further forays with Carry On Teacher set at a school, and Carry On Constable, about a police station, established the series. This initial 'pattern' was broken with the fifth film in 1961, Carry On Regardless, which centred around a 'helping hands' agency, but it still followed a similar plot to that of many of the early films—a small group of misfit newcomers to a job make comic mistakes, but come together to succeed in the end.
The remainder of the series developed with increased use of the British comic traditions of music hall and bawdy seaside postcards. Many titles parodied more serious films, such as their tongue-in-cheek homages to James Bond (Spying), westerns (Cowboy), and Hammer horror films (Screaming!). The most impressive of these was Carry On Cleo (1964), after the Burton and Taylor epic Cleopatra (1963), where the budget-conscious Carry On team made full use of some impressive sets which had been used for that film. Carry On Emmannuelle (1978), inspired by the soft-porn film Emmanuelle, brought to an end the original 'run'.
The stock-in-trade of Carry On humour was innuendo and the sending-up of British institutions and customs, such as the National Health Service (Nurse, Doctor, Again Doctor, Matron and the proposed Again Nurse), the monarchy (Henry), the British Empire (Up the Khyber), the armed forces (Sergeant, Jack, England and the proposed Flying and Escaping), the police (Constable) and the trade unions (At Your Convenience) as well as camping (Camping), foreign holidays (Cruising, Abroad), beauty contests (Girls), caravan holidays (Behind), and the education system (Teacher) amongst others. Although the films were very often panned by critics, they mostly proved very popular with audiences.
In 2007, the pun "Infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me", spoken by Kenneth Williams (playing Julius Caesar) in Carry on Cleo, was voted the funniest one-line joke in film history.
A film had appeared in 1957 under the title Carry On Admiral; although this was a comedy in similar vein (and even featured Joan Sims in the cast) it has no connection to the Carry On series itself. The much earlier 1937 film Carry On London is also unrelated (though it coincidentally starred future Carry On performer Eric Barker).
The cast were poorly paid—around £5,000 per film for a principal performer. In his diaries, Kenneth Williams lamented this, and criticised several of the movies despite his declared fondness for the series as a whole. Peter Rogers, the series' producer, acknowledged: "Kenneth was worth taking care of, because while he cost very little [...] he made a very great deal of money for the franchise."
Main article: List of Carry On films cast members
List of films
- Carry On Sergeant (1958)
- Carry On Nurse (1959)
- Carry On Teacher (1959)
- Carry On Constable (1960)
- Carry On Regardless (1961)
- Carry On Cruising (1962)
- Carry On Cabby (1963)
- Carry On Jack (1963)
- Carry On Spying (1964)
- Carry On Cleo (1964)
- Carry On Cowboy (1965)
- Carry On Screaming! (1966)
- Don't Lose Your Head (1966)
- Follow That Camel (1967)
- Carry On Doctor (1967)
- Carry On Up the Khyber (1968)
- Carry On Camping (1969)
- Carry On Again Doctor (1969)
- Carry On Up the Jungle (1970)
- Carry On Loving (1970)
- Carry On Henry (1971)
- Carry On at Your Convenience (1971)
- Carry On Matron (1972)
- Carry On Abroad (1972)
- Carry On Girls (1973)
- Carry On Dick (1974)
- Carry On Behind (1975)
- Carry On England (1976)
- That's Carry On! (1977)
- Carry On Emmannuelle (1978)
- Carry On Columbus (1992)
Main article: Carry On series on Stage & Television
The characters and comedy style of the Carry On film series were adapted to a television series titled Carry On Laughing, and several Christmas specials.
Main article: Carry On series on Stage & Television
In 1971, Music For Pleasure released a long playing record, Oh! What a Carry On! featuring songs performed by Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale, Kenneth Connor, Frankie Howerd, Bernard Bresslaw, Joan Sims, Barbara Windsor, and Dora Bryan.
A 50-minute television documentary, What's a Carry On?, was made in 1998 for the 40th anniversary of the first film. It included archive clips, out-takes and interviews with surviving cast members. It was included as an extra on the DVD release of Carry On Emmannuelle. Also released in 1998 was A Perfect Carry On, presented by Barbara Windsor and Carry On Darkly, a documentary revealing the secrets of regulars Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Frankie Howerd, Barbara Windsor and Hattie Jacques.
A two-hour radio documentary Carry On Forever!, presented by Leslie Phillips, was broadcast in two parts on BBC Radio 2 on 19–20 July 2010. A three-part television retrospective with the same title, narrated by Martin Clunes, was shown on ITV3 in the UK over Easter 2015.