Carry On… Up the Khyber (1968)


India, 1895. When a local discovers that members of the colonial 3rd Foot and Mouth Regiment are wearing pants under their famous kilts, the British reputation is left in tatters…

What’s it spoofing? The British Raj, a period of colonial rule in the Indian subcontinent (1858-1947). Although obviously set in other places entirely, Michael Caine movie Zulu (1964) and Charlton Heston’s Khartoum (1966) are also being referenced.

Funniest moment: The dinner scene at the end – the British characters calmly and serenely getting on with their meal while the entire building is attacked by the local warlord.

The Big 10:

* Sid James (9) plays Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond, the randy British governor.

* Joan Sims (11) is Sir Sidney’s working-class wife, Joan, who’s so smitten with the Khasi that she betrays her husband in hope of a bunk-up.

* Kenneth Williams (15) plays the Khasi of Kalabar, the local native leader who wants to incite anti-British sentiment. Williams mostly uses a vaguely ‘foreign’ accent for the part, but gets laughs when he slips into earthy English if the character is annoyed.

* Charles Hawtrey (15) is Private James Widdle, the soldier who’s caught wearing undergarments. His regiment’s fearful reputation comes from being known as the ‘Devils in skirts’, so his affection for underpants is a problem.

* Bernard Bresslaw (5) plays Bundgit Din, an Indian warrior. The name is a spoof of Rudyard Kipling’s Gunga Din.

* Peter Butterworth (6) plays missionary Brother Belcher. The Brits use a honey trap to blackmail him into helping them.

Notable others:

* Julian Holloway plays Sir Sidney’s aide-de-camp, Major Shorthouse (pronounced with a posh accent, it sounds like ‘short arse’).

* Angela Douglas appears in a Carry On film for the final time, as Princess Jelhi, the Khasi’s daughter. She plays the sitar in a couple of scenes.

* Terry Scott (Sgt Major MacNutt) was in Carry On Sergeant in 1958, but hasn’t appeared since.

* Roy Castle, in his only Carry On, essentially replaces Jim Dale in the young romantic part. His earnest Captain Keene falls for Princess Jelhi.

* Alexandra Dane is Busti, a well-endowed member of another Carry On harem. Dane also had a tiny role in Carry On Doctor.

* Valerie Leon, uncredited, also plays a girl in the harem.

* Wanda Ventham appears as a wife of the Khasi (he has many), who visits Sir Sidney and offers to sleep with him in reparation for Joan running off with the Khasi.

* Peter Gilmore has a small role as Private Ginger Hale, one of the 3rd Foot and Mouth Regiment.

Top totty: Alexandra Dane.

Kenneth Williams says: “Got the script of Up the Khyber Carry On film. They’re offering me the part of Khasi. Which is Hindustani for lavatory [note: it isn’t]. I imagine they think it’s appropriate.” – Monday 12 February 1968 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, pp319-320)

“First day’s work on Up the Khyber. It was a lousy little scene between me and Sid James but he blows a raspberry in the middle which will get a big laugh. Roy [Castle] is v. good in the rushes & photographs v handsomely: he is incredibly naïve & ingenious.” – Tuesday 16 April 1968 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, pp324-325)

Review: Well, it’s based on a ridiculously silly premise. And you have to turn a blind eye to yet more ‘comedy’ racism. But while this is perhaps not the masterpiece some people think – it once made a BFI list of the 100 best British films – it’s still broadly enjoyable stuff. There’s also a mildly interesting structure in that there’s no lead character. Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Roy Castle all have vague claims on that position, yet no one really drives the story.

Eight fakirs out of 10

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