Carry On Spying

carry on spying poster
"Oh, Mr Simpkins, I hope I can get my draws off as fast as you can!"
The Carry On series began in 1958 and released regular films until 1978. It was resurrected in 1992 but that venture (Carry On Columbus) proved that the series belonged to the fifties and - especially - the sixties and seventies and should probably remain there. The films, produced by Peter Rogers on very modest budgets and directed by the unflappable Gerald Thomas (who often managed to get scenes done with one take to save time and money), span out of the British tradition of saucy seaside postcards and music hall. Double entendres and innuendo.
Though critics were sniffy, audiences loved the films and they often featured in the top ten domestic box-office hits of the year. The Carry Ons were a uniquely British institution (Peter Rogers was proud of the fact that they didn't use any foreign money to fund them).
One of the secrets of the success behind the series was the stock company that formed around them. Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, Hattie Jacques, Peter Butterworth, Kenneth Connor etc. These were not out and out comedians but rather actors who had the ability to play comedy. It was an important difference and the reason why they were chosen.
Only the James Bond series can really claim to trump the Carry Ons when it comes to longevity. One can still find the Carry Ons on television to this day, winning new generations of fans. Some of the films are better than others but the Carry Ons are fascinating to explore as they move from Ealingesque black and white to colourful historical parodies to the more risque seventies.
1964's Carry On Spying was naturally inspired by the incredible success of the Cubby Broccoli/Harry Saltzman produced James Bond films with Sean Connery. The James Bond series gave 1960s audiences an irresistible cocktail of glamour, exotic locales, humour, suspense, stunts and scantily clad women. Bond spawned countless imitators and parodies in what rapidly became a spy mad decade.
What is the plot of Carry On Spying? The British Secret Service need to get a formula back that has been stolen by STENCH (the Society for the Total Extinction of Non-Conforming Humans). Agent Simpkins (Kenneth Williams) has the task of getting the formula back along with a handful of trainee Agents.
Carry On Spying is an enjoyable romp that has fun lampooning the gadget festooned nature of the Bond films with the team a bunch of often incompetent spies. There are also riffs on The Third Man in addition to Ian Fleming's superspy. Midnight assignations. Vienna. Eric Pohlmann, a Viennese theatre, film and television character actor who worked mostly in Britain, plays the 'Fat Man' here and was actually in The Third Man.
Kenneth Williams deploys his Hancock 'snide' character/voice to good effect as Desmond Simpkins while Bernard Cribbins is good value - this time as Bernard Crump. I think this was the last Carry On Cribbens was in. He only made two or something.
carry on spying james bond
Barbara Windsor joins the team as Agent Daphne Honeybutt and proves to be a great piece of casting - adding real zest and charm to the gang. She would of course become one of the most famous and recurring of the Carry On performers. Babs has a photographic memory in the film.
Charlie Hawtrey (as ever in a bizarre world of his own) is on good form as the accident prone Charlie Bind. Peter Rogers later recalled how he was badgered by Harry Saltzman's lawyer after rumours that Charles Hawtrey was going to be called 001 in the film. Rogers claims that he dumped the prefix but stood his ground when EON even objected to the name "Bind" being used in the film.
Jim Dale, although not yet a leading player in the franchise, makes a welcome return for a slightly larger role than he had in his earlier Carry On appearance. Dale is a very likeable presence onscreen and it's no surprise that he became the stock young leading man for the series.
The film breezes along at a good pace and with the shortish running time of these early pictures never threatens to outstay its welcome. Giving the team a specific genre to spoof proves to be a successful idea here and other film genres & historical periods (Western, Horror, Foreign Legion, Roman Empire, French Revolution, British Empire, Tarzan etc) would soon get the Carry On treatment.
Carry On Spying was the last of the black and white Carry Ons and it's a shame I think that it just missed out on being a colour entry. Although the budget was obviously modest it works as a decent spoof of Bond with its black cat suit clad female guards and gadget jokes aplenty.
The climax is a roller-coaster ride on a factory train and a lot of fun. There would be better Carry Ons (like, for example, the forthcoming Carry On Cleo - which was able to use abandoned sets and props from the doomed Elizabeth Taylor Cleopatra epic) but Carry On Spying is an enjoyable slice of vintage fun from the spy crazed sixties.
- Jake

c 2015 Alternative 007

james bond alpine