Thursday, 3 January 2013

The "Curse" of the Carry Ons

The “Curse” of the Carry Ons

We’re currently putting together some ideas for our 2012 Christmas show (which airs on the 29th Dec.) and trying to find something to top last years’ festive broadcast.

Last year   for our New Years Eve broadcast we covered that very British institution the “Carry On’ film. 

The Carry On films were made between 1958 and 1992 and with 31 films in total the Carry On series is the largest British film series ever (beating  even James Bond!).  Specialising in slapstick, double entendre and saucy postcard humour they were made on a low budget with a recurring cast of well loved actors.  In addition to being very poorly paid for their efforts, the women being paid exactly half what the men were, many of the most famous actors experienced tragic personal lives and untimely deaths leading fans of the series to talk about the “Curse of the Carry Ons”.

Saucy Sid James suffered a heart attack whilst performing on stage in Sunderland and died on reaching hospital.  The Stage Manager had to ask the audience three times if there was a doctor in the house as theatre goers thought it was all part of the show.  Comedian Les Dawson refused to play the venue after apparently being visited by the ghostly apparition of James whilst in his dressing room in the same theatre.  During his lifetime James lost tens of thousands of pounds due to his gambling addiction and his three marriages broke down because of his repeated infidelities.  One affair with co-star Barbara Windsor resulted in Windsor’s then husband, gangster Ronnie Knight leaving an axe in the floor at James’s home. 

Both Joan Sims and Charles Hawtrey battled alcoholism.  Sims, whose life was marred by crippling depression, was hospitalised following a nervous breakdown in 1982.   Never confident in her evident comic talent Sims suffered from ill health throughout her later life including a fractured rib, a fractured spine, bells palsy, diverticular disease and hip replacement surgery.

Whilst Sims was popular with her fellow cast members, Hawtrey was regarded as a belligerent and tedious drunk.  Barbara Windsor recalls there were “occasions when he got really pie-eyed and would pass out” during filming. Increasingly unpopular and unreliable Hawtrey severed all ties with the Carry On crew and retired to the seaside town of Deal. Here he was free to indulge in his twin passions; brandy and teenage male prostitutes (the age of consent in the UK for homosexuals at this time being 21). Reliant on taxis and rent boys, who he rarely paid for their services, Hawtrey found himself barred from most of Deals’ pubs.  In the 1980s he was snapped by a tabloid newspaper, naked and without his toupee, being rescued from his burning house by firemen, along with a semi naked young man. In 1988 he was transferred to a nursing home after collapsing in a pub doorway. Refusing the amputation of both of his legs, which would have saved his life, he died a few days later.  His final appearance was in the children’s TV comedy ‘Supergran’.

Joan Sims appeared in Morrissey’s video for the song Ouija Board Ouija Board.  Morrissey’s letter to Hawtrey inviting him to duet with him went unanswered.

It is diarist Kenneth Williams who has the last word on the ‘curse’. Williams kept comprehensive and coded diaries for 48 years which were published posthumously.  Along with his , often scathing, observations of his fellow Carry On stars Williams documented his frustration at not being taken seriously as an actor, his self hatred, loneliness and declining mental health. Unable to accept his homosexuality Williams lived celibate and alone. His unconsummated crushes were refered to as “tradiola”, from the homosexual slang ‘Polari’ which had been popularised by the radio show “Round the Horn”, in which Williams starred prior to his Carry On success.

In 1962 Williams’ father, with whom the actor had a difficult relationship, died after accidently drinking poison from a cough mixture bottle. It was later claimed that Williams was denied a work permit for the US as he was considered to be a suspect in his fathers’ death by Scotland Yard.

Williams died alone in his home in1988 from an overdose of barbiturates. Although the inquest returned an open verdict Williams had written often about his suicidal thoughts and his last journal entry read “Oh what’s the bloody point?”

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