An Army sergeant who’s about to retire makes a £50 bet that his final group of National Servicemen will be named the best platoon. However, the recruits are a bunch of misfits…
What’s it spoofing? The concept of National Service conscription (every man between 18 and 21 having to serve two years in the armed forces). The year before, it had been announced that National Service would cease in 1960 – so this movie was marking an era soon to end. Another big influence was ITV sitcom The Army Game (1957-1961), a 154-episode monster hit that shared three of its cast and one of its writers with Carry On Sergeant.
Funniest moment: Captain Potts interrogating new intake James Bailey on the parade ground. Potts: “Who are you?” Bailey: “James Bailey, BSc, economics.” P: “Your number?” B: “I’m not proud of it; it was given to me. I earned my degree.” P: “Your rank?” B: “Well, that’s a matter of opinion.” P [tapping his officer’s pips]: “Look at this, man!” B: “You’ve nothing to complain of. Look at the suit they’ve given me…”
The Big 10: Of the 10 Carry On stars with the most appearances in the series, four feature in this first film.
* Kenneth Connor (1) is very funny as psychology-obsessed hypochondriac Horace Strong.
* Charley Hawtrey (1) gets an entrance where he says a polite “Hello” – we’ll see that again. He plays the meek, friendly, effeminate Peter Golightly. (Connor and Hawtrey have the distinction of appearing in the first scene ever filmed for a Carry On: a conversation in the mess, shot in March 1958.)
* Kenneth Williams (1) is excellent as the louche, laid-back, learned James Bailey.
* Hattie Jacques (1) appears in a few scenes as the camp’s unsympathetic medical officer, Captain Clarke. Most of her scenes are with Connor’s permanently uncomfortable Horace.
* Bob Monkhouse, in his only Carry On, is the de facto lead within the platoon. Charlie Sage is called up on his wedding day in the film’s opening scene.
* Shirley Eaton (later Goldfinger’s iconic Jill Masterson) plays Charlie’s new wife, Mary, who sneaks herself into the camp so they can have their matrimonial perks.
* William Hartnell is terrific as Grimshaw, the eponymous sergeant. The character is tough on the outside, but not an arsehole, and he has a touching final moment. Hartnell is the first of two Doctor Whos to appear in a Carry On.
* Norman Rossington, who was later in A Hard Day’s Night, plays the dopey Herbert, a simple, perennial National Serviceman.
* Eric Barker is good fun as the befuddled Captain Potts.
* Bill Owen – later Compo in 487 series of Last of the Summer Wine – plays Grimshaw’s second in command.
* Terry Scott has a cameo as the Paddy O’Brien, the sergeant with whom Grimshaw makes his bet. Ten years after this, Scott would join the Carry On team for several more films.
* Dora Bryan plays Nora, the soppy kitchen worker who befriends Mary and falls for Horace.
* Terence Longdon plays the aristocratic Heywood, who arrives at the camp in such a nice car (and with such a pretty girlfriend) that Grimshaw obsequiously assumes he must be an officer.
Top totty: Shirley Eaton is beautiful.
Kenneth Williams says: “Filming at Pinewood. Bob Monkhouse is sensitive and kind. Ken Connor is v. amusing, and Norman Rossington a good fellow. The director is Gerry Thomas. V. charming.” – Wednesday 9 April 1958 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p141)
Review: A likeable if gentle ensemble comedy. There are some ongoing plots – the bet, Charlie trying to get his end away – but it’s mostly a sketch-show format. Some bits are better than others, but it’s often amusing. More wry smiles than belly laughs, though. It’s brisk too: only 80 minutes.
Seven chits out of 10