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Wednesday, December 9, 1998 Published at 13:23 GMT


Carry On at the South Bank

Carry On Constable: Just one of the comic capers

Andy Tighe reports on the opening of a new exhibition:

Andy Tighe reports on 40 years of Carry On comedy from the Museum of the Moving Image
Kenneth Williams, Barbara Windsor and the rest of the comic cast first hit cinema screens in 1958 with Carry On Sergeant.

On Wednesday an exhibition opens at the Museum of the Moving Image in tribute to productions once regarded as the embarrassment of the British film industry, and now regarded as classics.

Theirs was the end-of-the pier world of kiss-me-quick wisecracks and cheesy double entendres and it soon became a British institution.

[ image: Sid James: One of the Carry On gang]
Sid James: One of the Carry On gang
With their trousers firmly round their ankles, the Carry On gang made their first appearance in 1958 and just carried on.

Even though it is rooted in the music hall tradition dating back to before World War II - as indeed do many of the jokes - the Carry On humour is as timeless as Blackpool rock and as hip as dandelion and burdock. So why is anyone still laughing?

"They're funny in a corny way but they've always been funny in a corny way," says Carry On specialist Robert Ross.

"If you look at the great films like [Carry On Up the] Khyber or [Carry On] Camping even, they were made in 1968 or 69 when Monty Python started. Now Monty Python was a radical new form of comedy but Carry On was still popular in the cinema.

"They were old-fashioned even when they were made."

[ image: Barbara Windsor: Carried On to star in EastEnders]
Barbara Windsor: Carried On to star in EastEnders
They were some of the biggest and best-loved in the industry and many of Britain's favourite comic actors and actresses built their careers out of a few saucy innuendoes in the Carry On films.

Liz Fraser, a former Carry On actress, said: "You could insinuate a sexual scene but there was nothing ever in it ...

"There was never anything crude or horrible."

The films kept coming back until 1992 when Carry On Columbus marked the end of an era of cheap and cheerful chuckles.

In contrast to the extravagant budgets of today's blockbusters, the most popular comedy films ever made in Britain were mainly shot at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire - the most exotic location the team ever reached was an army barracks in Guildford.

Ooh! What a Carry On can be seen at the Museum of the Moving Image at the South Bank Centre in London from December 9 to May 19 1999.

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