Carry on England (1976)

Rating: C+

Dir: Gerald Thomas
Star: Kenneth Connor, Windsor Davies, Patrick Mower, Joan Sims

Going by its reputation, I expected to hate this, and I didn’t: I dare venture to suggest, it improves on the previous year’s Carry on Behind. While there is a similar sense of it being a retread (in this case, of Carry On Sergeant), there is enough fresh to make it feel somewhat original. However, I would definitely suggest not expecting a traditional Carry On film. It works better treated as a stand-alone entity, closer in tone to other British sex comedies of the time like the Confessions series. In a weird, meaningless coincidence, I almost watched WW1 flying epic The Blue Max instead of this, only discovering later both were David Pursall and Jack Seddon scripts.

England takes place in the next global conflict, specifically in 1940 when the Luftwaffe are threatening British cities. One of the groups tasked with keeping the air free of Nazi planes is the 1313th Anti-Aircraft Battery, to which Capt. Melly (Connor) is sent, in order to get them into shape. He soon discovers they are far more interested in other pursuits, being a mixed gender outfit. They’re thoroughly unused to military discipline, despite the presence of the formidable Sergeant Major “Tiger” Bloomer (Davies). Melly tries to lick them into shape, only for Sergeant Len Able (Mower) – and, yes, there are other soldiers called Ready and Willing – to lead a campaign of civil disobedience against the new regime.

What I loved about this is Davies, who is the very epitome of the yelling NCO. Now, obviously, it’s a blatant copy of his role as Sergeant Major Williams in now-“forbidden” sitcom, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, which was a huge hit on TV at the time. The presence among the soldiers beneath him of Melvyn Hayes, another actor from the show, is no coincidence. But it’s still glorious to watch, his character perpetually seeming about the thickness of a blood-vessel away from a fatal aneurysm. I also enjoyed future voice of The Book in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Peter Jones, as an inspecting Brigadier with a nice line in dry puns, to which nobody else ever reacts.

There’s no doubt that the lack of any regular players save Connor in the major roles (there are small parts for Sims, Jack Douglas and Peter Butterworth), weaken the film. The sex-positive plot would certainly have benefited from the earthy humour of Sid James: he was unavailable due to signing on for a touring stage play, and actually died on stage, a week before filming started. This was originally intended as a sketch in the TV series, Carry On Laughing, and might have worked better at that length. However, I liked it better the longer it went on, and it started to feel like a parody of PoW movies and series. For example, how the men try to tunnel into the women’s quarters, at the same time the women are tunneling into theirs. Not great, to be be sure, but not as irredeemably terrible as I expected.