Carry On Abroad (1972)

Rating: C

Dir: Gerald Thomas
Star: Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims, Peter Butterwotth

A seventies comedy set in a largely unsuitable hotel, run by an inept man and his shrewish wife. They are wholly unqualified to deal with the residents, or any of the subsequent situations, which escalate over the course of time, ending in complete farce. Sound familiar? But a full two and a half years before the first episode of Fawlty Towers was recorded, the Carry On team got their first. Of course, there are massive differences. The hotel in this question is in the Spanish resort of Elsbels, rather than Torquay, and is operated by Pepe (Butterworth) and his wife Floella (Hattie Jacques). Pepe is considerably less irritable than Basil, though has a similar “Everything is fine! FINE!” approach – along with a mock-Spanish accent, reminiscent of a certain waiter from Barcelona.

Oh, and the builders are in: not Irish ones, though the local variety are little more proficient. Hence, the hotel is unfinished when a party from Wundatours, under Stuart Farquhar (Williams), shows up ready to enjoy a weekend of fun and sun for the low price of seventeen quid, all in. Among the tourists is pub owner Vic Flange (James) and his wife, Cora (Sims) – the latter a late stand-in for his bit on the side, Sadie Tomkins (Barbara Windsor). There’s also a group of monks, two dolly-birds on the pull (Sally Geeson and Carol Hawkins), a couple who are about as gay as you could get away with at the time, and a random Scotsman, played by legendary entertainer Jimmy Logan.

You will not be surprised to hear that anything that can go wrong, does, from the weather to the hotel collapsing on the final night during a torrential downpour. Not that the guests mind, the champagne punch at the final night reception having been spiked with aphrodisiac by multiple parties. Chaos ensues, unsurprisingly. While the similarities to Fawlty Towers are almost certainly purely coincidental, it’s still a comparison which does not reflect well on the movie. Indeed, it goes to show how near-perfect the John Cleese vehicle was, both in content and execution. There’s hardly a slack line of dialogue or moment over the dozen episodes. Here? Not so much, despite what’s likely Butterworth’s best performance (or performanceS) of the franchise. 

He is the exception rather than the rule, and few of the others deliver much worthy of note. It’s most notable for stoically refusing to shoot much further afield than the Pinewood back-lot, where the hotel was built. Still, it’s convincing enough for the purpose, which is to be a backdrop for the expected casual lechery and cheerful nationalism (pretty sure there’s not a single actual Hispanic in the entire cast!). I did note the presence of June Whitfield as straight-laced Evelyn Blunt; future TV husband Terry Scott had a role too, but it got cut out. Little else will stick in the mind, although it was the last entry in the series for Charles Hawtrey. It’s not a great send-off.