Carry On Christmas 1969 TV Special is a raucous re-telling of A Christmas Carol with Sid James as Scrooge, says RICHARD MARKWORTH
TITLE: Carry On Christmas
DIRECTOR: Ronnie Baxter
CAST: Sid James, Terry Scott, Charles Hawtrey, Hattie Jacques, Barbara Windsor, Bernard Bresslaw, Peter Butterworth, Frankie Howerd
Review of Carry On Christmas 1969
By 1969 the beloved Carry On film series was firmly established as a British comedy institution. It was perhaps inevitable the producers would look to the medium of television as a means of further expanding the franchise.
Produced by Peter Eton and scripted by Talbot Rothwell for Thames Television, the first of the Carry On Christmas specials spoofed the quintessential Yuletide ghost story, Charles Dickens’ immortal classic, A Christmas Carol. It is fair to say, and probably no great shock, this version of Dickens’ tale is arguably the loosest screen adaptation of the source material to date.
The latest entry in the cinematic series, Carry On Up the Jungle (released 1970), had barely wrapped filming before cameras rolled on Christmas. The TV production featured the majority of the film’s core cast, as well as fellow Carry On regular Barbara Windsor, with most of the actors taking multiple roles.
Sidney James plays mean-spirited Ebeneezer Scrooge, whose business sign reads “Money Lent. Bankruptcies Organised. Burials Arranged. Marriages Broken Up”. Reinforcing his miserly credentials, we see Scrooge taking money from a beggar’s coin box before kicking his crutch away. James, in a wink to the audience, then addresses the camera with “I’m a nasty bit of work, aren’t I?” before delivering his signature cackle.
Despite it being the season of goodwill, Scrooge mistreats his unfortunate employee Bob Cratchit (Bernard Bresslaw), decides he wants nothing to do with Christmas and plans to retire to bed until it’s all over. However, true to Dickens’ story, he is visited by three ghosts who endeavour to convince him to change his penny-pinching ways.
Firstly, a decidedly camp Spirit of Christmas Past (Charles Hawtrey) appears at his bedside. Scrooge is distinctly unimpressed quipping, “Well past if you ask me”.
Nonetheless, the ghost transports Scrooge back to a previous Christmas where we learn the miser had refused to fund Dr Frank N Stein (Terry Scott) who, aided by Dracula (Peter Butterworth), was attempting to create a partner for his over-sexed female monster, Fanny (Barbara Windsor).
This sequence invokes the spirit (!) of Carry On Screaming (1966) with its ribald sending up of Hammer and Universal horror and it’s a pleasure to watch Scott and Butterworth clearly enjoying themselves as they play against each other.
Next up, the lecherous Scrooge is delighted when the comely Spirit of Christmas Present (Windsor) visits him. Resisting his advances, she unveils the story of lovelorn poet Robert Browning (Frankie Howerd) who plans to elope with the object of his affection, Elizabeth Barrett (Hattie Jacques), after failing to secure a loan from Scrooge.
Howerd, providing his familiar fourth wall-breaking, put-upon thespian, act instantly elevates the production and Jacques provides the perfect straight-faced foil.
Finally, Christmas Future (Bresslaw) arrives, portrayed as a cliché-ridden hippy (this was 1969 after all). He introduces Scrooge to Cinderella (Windsor once again). Featuring Hawtrey as Buttons, Scott and Butterworth as ugly sisters and Howerd as Cinderella’s fairy godmother, this episode is the most seasonal of the three as it dives headlong into pantomime territory.
If you are not already a Carry On fan, this production is unlikely to convert you. The humour is very much of its time i.e., totally non-PC and rife with double-entendres, and it is difficult to imagine anything remotely similar being commissioned today.
However, if like me, you are a lover of this classic movie cycle, or 60s and 70s British humour in general, this is a fun, nostalgic romp perfectly suited to the Christmas viewing season.
The much-missed cast are quite simply comedy legends, and here each of them joyously showcases their iconic personas, from James’ libido-driven, loveable working class rogue to Windsor’s coquettish, giggling dolly bird.
Director Ronnie Baxter and Rothwell, a veteran script writer for the film series, stick closely to the established Carry On formula and deliver a show that fits companionably alongside its cinematic counterparts.
Pour yourself a festive snifter, leave your 21st century sensibilities behind and enjoy this cheeky seaside postcard (or should that be Christmas card?) from a simpler, some may say happier, time. By the way, if you are pouring, mine’s a large one (well, I’ve had no complaints).
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