Carry on Matron (1972)

Rating: C+

Dir: Gerald Thomas
Star: Hattie Jacques, Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Cope

“What, again?” That was my initial reaction to discovering that next up was another hospital-based entry. To be fair, the last one was actually released back in 1969, so in real-time there was a reasonable gap between them – rather than barely a month which passed for this feature. Still, once again you’ve got Jacques as the matron, Williams as the top doc – this time, adding hypochondria to the mix – Barbara Windsor as a hot nurse, etc. If it feels you’ve seen it all before… Yeah, you largely have. Though rather than a general facility, this takes place at Finisham Maternity Hospital, where Sid Carter (James) and his gang, including son Cyril (Cope), plan to steal the supply of contraceptive pills for sale abroad.

Naturally, things don’t go as planned. Not least because said plan includes sending Cyril in, disguised as a female nurse, to scope out the situation. He ends up sharing a room with Babs’s character, Susan Ball, having to deliver triplets in the back of an ambulance, etc. The rest of the film is occupied by the usual shenanigans, such as Sir Bernard Cutting (Williams) and his affection for Matron (Jacques), a patient who simply refuses to give birth (Joan Sims), sexual harassment by the appropriately named Dr. Prodd (Terry Scott), etc. You know the kind of stuff. But I will award bonus points for small roles from Wendy Richards, soon to be of Are You Being Served? fame, and future Bond girl, Madeline Smith.

While the “pill” plot may be dated, it is nicely-handled, feeling like it might have strayed in from an Ealing comedy in concept. The execution, of course, is pure Carry On, mixed with classic British pantomime. To the audience, Cope is as convincing as a panto dame when in his role as “Cyrille”, possessing all the feminine grace of a wounded buffalo. But just about everyone in the film buys into the illusion, such as Dr. Prodd going into full wolf-mode. The eventual heist is an ode to chaos, as the gang first try to purloin the keys to the medicine storage room from Matron, before giving up and resorting to more explosive methods of access. Comedic anarchy ensues, with them pursued through the hospital by staff and patients.

The other stuff isn’t as effective. I did laugh at the story told to Dr. Prodd by one patient (Margaret Nolan, who was the barmaid in Last Night in Soho, shortly before she passed away) about her 88-year-old husband, their lodger and her pregnancy. It’s pure music-hall, and if you don’t groan at the punchline, the odds of you having made it to this, the twenty-third entry in the franchise, are likely slim. That aside, perhaps it’s foreknowledge, yet there is a sense the participants, on both sides of the screen, are beginning to go through the motions. The talent for humour is still there. While that never gets old, I can’t help feeling this is tending towards comedy as contractual requirement.