A few days in the life of a hospital surgical ward, following both the patients – an injured boxer, an undercover journalist, a down-on-his-luck aristocrat and others – and the overworked staff…
What’s it spoofing? The NHS, which when this film came out was less than 12 years old. The movie is a loose adaptation of a play called Ring for Catty by Patrick Cargill and Jack Beale. (Oddly, so was the 1962 comedy Twice Round the Daffodils, which was directed by Gerald Thomas, written by Norman Hudis and featured Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims and Jill Ireland – all of whom had worked on Carry On Nurse!) Another influence must have been the successful adaptations of Richard Gordon’s medical-based comic novels – so far, there’d been Doctor in the House (1954), Doctor at Sea (1955) and Doctor at Large (1957); another four followed after Carry On Nurse.
Funniest moment: A group of patients get drunk and decide to operate on Mr Bell’s bunion – they have a book to tell them the procedure, and a cylinder of laughing gas to knock him out…
The Big 10:
* Joan Sims (1) makes her Carry On debut as accident-prone nurse Stella Dawson (a role first offered to Dora Bryan). It’s easy to see why she became a part of the team: she’s very funny.
* Kenneth Connor (2) plays nervous boxer Bernie Bishop, who’s bust his wrist during a bout. Connor’s young son also cameos as Bernie’s son.
* Kenneth Williams (2) shows his acting chops (and keeps the campery switched off) as Oliver Reckitt, an academic who gets a romantic subplot.
* Charley Hawtrey (2) plays Humphrey Hinton, a dotty patient who constantly listens to the radio on his headphones: he laughs along at comedy, mimes playing the piano when it’s music, and gets wrapped up in soap opera Mrs Dale’s Diary.
* Hattie Jacques (2) premiers her stern, officious matron, a character type she’ll return to later.
* One of the first two people you see – a pair of ambulance drivers more concerned with hearing the racing results than their patient – is played by character actor Fred Griffiths, who was my mate Johnny Hughes’s great uncle.
* Terence Longdon returns from Carry On Sergeant. Here, he’s playing newspaper reporter Edward York, who has appendicitis but is urged by his editor to write about his hospital stay. This subplot was trimmed down and shorn of its exposé nature – originally, it was going to highlight nurses’ low pay and the like. Funnily enough, an insert shot of Edward’s feet is actually of future Carry On star Bernard Bresslaw, who was in Pinewood on the relevant day so – as it were – stood in.
* Joan Hickson plays the ward sister.
* Bill Owen, another Sergeant veteran, plays chain-smoking patient Mr Hickson.
* Shirley Eaton returns too – here as staff nurse Dorothy Denton, who has a flirtation with Edward York.
* Wilfred Hyde White gets a special credit for his role as the Colonel, a patient with a private room who gets the caretaker to place his bets and constantly calls for the nurses. The movie’s famous punchline is the Matron finding him with a daffodil up the bum (a practical joke played on him by the nurses).
* Norman Rossington cameos as a vague, punch-drunk boxing buddy of Bernie’s.
* Leslie Phillips shows up late on as Mr Bell, the guy with the bunion. “Ding-dong,” he says within seconds of arriving: one of Carry On’s earliest catchphrases.
* June Whitfield gets a scene as Megsy, Bell’s girlfriend.
* Rosalind Knight is very funny as naïve, ditzy Nurse Nightingale.
* Jill Ireland plays Oliver’s love interest.
Top totty: Shirley Eaton (who also won this category for Sergeant) is daydream pretty. And playing a nurse. Not a bad combination.
Kenneth Williams says: “Saw rushes of the love scene today. They are very good I think. Both [producer Peter] Rodgers and Gerry [Thomas, director] congratulated me.” – Friday 14 November 1958 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p146).
“Up at 630 for Pinewood call. Out there all day and never in one shot. Outrageous.” – Wednesday 3 December 1958 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p146).
Review: The tone of the series is now edging towards ribald humour – “What a fuss about such a little thing,” quips a nurse after she’s pulled a coy Bernie’s trousers down – and there are some fun bits of slapstick too. But this is still a largely innocent, gentle character-based comedy. The lack of a through-line means it can be a bit meandering, but it’s enjoyable enough.
Six daffodils out of 10