Helping Hands is an employment agency that offers any service a customer might require – cleaner, translator, waiter, babysitter, dog-walker, dogsbody, boxer’s second…
What’s it spoofing? The concept of the film – essentially a gimmick to justify lots of self-contained comedy scenes – was based on a real company, Universal Aunts, which offered any service as long as it was legal.
Funniest moment: An Englishman (Terence Alexander off of Bergerac) hires Francis Courtenay to translate for him when his German wife will only argue in her own language…
The Big 10:
* Sid James (2) plays Bert Handy, the boss of the company. He therefore doesn’t get a huge amount to do yet still feels central.
* Kenneth Connor (5) is Sam Twist, who begins the film as a Labour Exchange clerk. When his punters all rush off to work for Helping Hands, he joins them. He’s a typically nervous but good-natured Connor character, who gets a fun sequence that parodies The 39 Steps.
* Kenneth Williams (5) reprises his upper-crust intellectual as Francis Courtenay. One of his assignments is to take a pet chimpanzee for a walk.
* Joan Sims (4) is often very funny as HH employee Lily Duveen – her best solo spot comes when the character gets plastered at a posh wine-tasting event.
* Charles Hawtrey (5) takes part in a boxing match and visits a strip show as Gabriel Dimple.
* Hattie Jacques (5) was originally meant to be one of the main gang, but illness prevented her taking part. Her intended role was heavily rewritten, with Liz Fraser cast as a replacement. Then, near the end of shooting, Jacques came in for a day’s work to cameo as a hospital sister.
* Terence Longdon appears in a Carry On for the final time, as minor HH staffer Montgomery Infield-Hopping.
* Bill Owen is likewise a secondary member of the gang: Mike Weston.
* Liz Fraser is joint female lead with Joan Sims. She plays Delia King, a beauty whose jobs include modelling underwear in her high heels for a nervous husband.
* Stanley Unwin appears a few times as Bert’s landlord. His unique style of speaking (called Unwinese and used on many other projects) is brilliant because it sounds so tantalisingly close to English. Only Kenneth Williams – who later mentioned loving the scenes in his autobiography – can understand the gobbledygook.
* Fenella Fielding is in one of the episodes as a husky-voiced, cleavage-thrusting housewife.
* Fred Griffiths – my mate Johnny’s great uncle – plays the taxi driver who gets a killer gag when Kenneth Williams wants a lift with the chimp. “I’ll take you but not your brother!”
* Nicholas Parsons has a tiny role in the wine-tasting scene. It’s his only Carry On appearance, reportedly because he annoyed director Gerald Thomas by asking for more takes.
* Joan Hickson is in the same hospital sequence as Hattie Jacques – oddly, their roles from Carry On Nurse have been reversed, so here Hickson is the matron.
* Betty Marsden has a cameo in the 39 Steps spoof.
* Norman Rossington plays a boxing referee.
Top totty: Liz Fraser.
Kenneth Williams says: “Got wet again in the House sequence. Suggested gag about the outhouse, greenhouse, washhouse and etc. shithouse, and they put it in! Hope it works. No cold as yet.” – Friday 30 December 1960 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p167)
“Saw Carry On Regardless which was quite terrible. An unmitigated disaster.” – Friday 17 March 1961 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p171)
Review: The episodic structure – it’s just a series of sketches, really – means the whole film zips along, and if you don’t like one sequence then another will start soon. It’s the first Carry On to push into silly and surreal territory, while another big development, which has bubbled away in earlier films, is male wish-fulfillment. Sex, or more accurately the possibility of sex, is not far away from many of the situations. The scene where a male doctor gives medicals to female nurses (who are dressed in underwear but still with their caps on) gets a proto-gurn from Sid James. And when he’s later rumbled trying to do the same thing, he gives us his first classic cackle. The most enjoyable film so far.
Eight chimpanzees out of 10