Director: Gerald Thomas
Stars: Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Frankie Howerd, Bernard Bresslaw, Jim Dale, Barbara Windsor, Hattie Jacques, Charles Hawtrey, Anita Harris, Joan Sims
Imagine a world where the National Health Service actually worked. Where the nurses were pretty and the doctors were dedicated, where the managers were upper-class twits and the Matrons ruled with a rod of iron, and where it was still possible to get an injury or illness and be treated for it in the same decade. Welcome to the world that is Carry On Doctor.
Now, in my view, Carry On movies are like Marmite. You either love them or you hate them. And personally, there are few better pleasures in life than to give yourself 90 minutes of pure indulgence, take the telephone and your brain off the hook, and sit back in the expectation that you will be completely unchallenged for the duration of the movie. That’s the beauty of Carry On. And that’s why they remain the most successful and best-loved of British comedy films.
Everyone (at least, all the marmite-eating pleasure seekers) has their own favourite, and they will invariably choose one of the ‘classics’, produced by Peter Rogers, directed by Gerald Thomas, and written with consummate ease by the king of the double-entendre, Talbot Rothwell. From Carry On Cabby in 1963, through to Carry On Dick in 1974, Rothwell turned out sublime scripts, that the familiar cast took to comedic heights. Carry On Doctor is the one for me. It managed to push all of the right buttons, and it’s one I return to regularly for my spoonful of cheer.
Let me give you a brief summary: Jim Dale is Dr Kilmore, a dedicated, hard-working, and well respected doctor. The patients (and one nurse in particular) love him, but he is hated by Dr Tinkle (Kenneth Williams) and Matron (Hattie Jacques). And unfortunately, they are in positions of authority, so they are just waiting for him to slip up.
The hospital has its full complement of seriously ill people and malingerers, such as Charles Hawtrey, whose ‘phantom pregnancy’ gives more realistic symptoms than those of his wife, and Bernard Bresslaw, who manages to get a fortnight in hospital for an ingrowing toenail. In addition, the doctors are suffering under the scorn of Francis Biggar (Frankie Howerd), a travelling quack who is promoting “The Biggar Way to Health” when a fall from the stage leads him to forsake ‘mind over matter’ for excruciating pain and a private room in the hospital. Overhearing part of a conversation, he’s led to believe that he only has a week to live, and therefore fulfils his promise to marry his dull, plain assistant, Chloe. When he finds out that they only meant him to have the hospital bed for a week, he’s a little annoyed to say the least.
Anyway, back to Drs Tinkle and Kilmore. Enter Student Nurse Sandra May (Barbara Windsor) whose uniform shows that she could balance a tray of drinks and still have her hands free. She has an infatuation for Dr Tinkle, who she believes saved her life when she was a child, but he spurns her. Suspended from duty, she then decides to sunbathe on the roof of the nurses home opposite, prompting Dr Kilmore to think she’s suicidal and attempt a spectacularly ineffective rescue, resulting in disrobed nurses and a splash-down in a nurses bath. The scandal this causes is all the ammo that Dr Tinkle and Matron need, and Dr Kilmore is fired. This upsets both the patients (who are well used to Dr Tinkle’s ‘traditional’ healing methods, such as ice baths and no booze) and the infatuated Nurse Clark (Anita Harris). But unlike the demure Nurse Clark, the patients won’t take this lying down, and suddenly there is a full-scale rebellion…….
The regular cast are all here, including Sid James, whose scenes were almost entirely shot in bed. He’d suffered a heart attack shortly before filming began, and this way he could rest up. Bernard Bresslaw, Charles Hawtrey, Peter Butterworth and Joan Sims are all very good, as are some of the lesser actors of the age, including Dilys Laye, Peter Gilmore, Derek Guyler, Pat Coombs, and a very young Penelope Keith. However, the star of the show is Frankie Howerd. This movie was one of only two Carry On films in which he starred (Carry On Up the Jungle was the other), and that’s a shame, because he’s very good as the ‘mind over matter’ psychologist, Francis Biggar.
The other reason that I love this particular film is the attention to detail. Much of the exterior filming was carried out in Maidenhead, Berks (my home town), and the entrance to the hospital is still in use today – it’s the main entrance to the Town Hall, slap in the centre of town. When you watch the rooftop scenes, you will see below a car park, which is the actual Town Hall car park (still there) and over the back of the nurses home (shot on location in another town) you can see the old Bus Station – all exactly what you would have seen from the roof of a building opposite the Town Hall that never actually existed…