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Carry on Doctor: Laughter=best medicine

RAMNATH N PAI RAIKAR | NT NETWORK

Rank Organisation, a British entertainment conglomerate founded in 1937 produced large number of movies until it became defunct in 1996. Among these highly amusing movies, those produced by this film company under the ‘Carry on…’ series are still remembered and relished by the audiences.

The ‘Carry On…’ franchise primarily consists of a sequence of 31 low-budget British comedy motion pictures – usually on time and to a strict budget – produced between 1958 and 1992, besides four Christmas specials, a television series of thirteen episodes, and three West End and provincial stage plays.

‘Carry On Sergeant’ (1958), the first movie in the franchise, was about a group of recruits doing National Service; its title, the command commonly issued by army officers to their sergeants in the course of their routine duties, was in keeping with its setting. The film was sufficiently successful to inspire a similar venture, again focusing on an established and respected profession in ‘Carry On Nurse’. And then more and more ‘Carry on…’ films followed, one after another.

Producer, Peter Rogers and director, Gerald Thomas drew on a regular group of actors, thus forming a ‘Carry On…’ team that included Sidney James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, Kenneth Connor, Peter Butterworth, Hattie Jacques, Terry Scott, Bernard Bresslaw, Barbara Windsor, Jack Douglas and Jim Dale.

The stock-in-trade of ‘Carry on…’ humour was innuendo and quipped at the British institutions and customs, such as the National Health Service, in films like ‘Carry On Nurse’ (1959), Carry on Doctor  (1967), ‘Carry on Again Doctor’ (1969), and ‘Carry On Matron’ (1972).

Scriptwriter, Talbot Rothwell, who worked on ‘Carry on..’ films, during the period between 1963 and 1974 wrote ‘Carry on Doctor’.

Director, Peter Rogers was wary of including two well known ‘Carry on…’ performers namely Kenneth Williams and Frankie Howerd, in the cast. The de facto lead role of Francis Bigger, which was enacted by ‘Carry on…’ debutant Frankie Howerd, was initially offered to Kenneth Williams, but he apparently balked at the responsibility of ‘carrying’ the movie on his ‘frail’ shoulder, and instead opted to play the conniving Dr Tinkle. Incidentally, Frankie was also unsure whether to accept the role of Francis Bigger or not, but finally agreed to play it.

Actress, Joan Sims was offered the role of Matron Lavinia, but she claimed that actress, Hattie Jacques was the best matron, especially after playing one in the 1959 film, ‘Carry On Nurse’.

During the production of ‘Carry on Doctor’, there were rumours that this would be the last ‘Carry on…’ film, as ‘Carry on… Don’t Lose Your Head’ (1966) and ‘Carry on… Follow That Camel’ (1967), the previous two films in the series had made the least money. It’s probably why many familiar faces reappeared in ‘Carry on Doctor’, those who had not been in the series for at least 3 years or more.

‘Carry on Doctor’, like many of the films in the series was made at Pinewood Studios near Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire. The budgetary constraints meant that a large proportion of the location filming was undertaken close to the studios in and around south Buckinghamshire, including areas of Berkshire and Middlesex. In fact, the exterior shots of the hospital in the film are actually of Maidenhead Town Hall, in Berkshire, England. The shooting of the film began on September 11, 1967 and ended on October 20, 1967.

The film boasts of an ideal score from Eric Rogers, who scored the series from 1963 to 1975, and then from 1977 to 1978. In a strong nod to its ‘medical’ predecessor, ‘Carry on Matron’ (1959) with which it shares more than a passing resemblance, ‘Carry on Doctor’ opens to the melody by Bruce Montgomery – the earlier composer of the series – which is probably most heavily associated with the ‘Carry on…’ franchise. It hits the real heights with the elegantly grand theme as well as the love theme that’s mostly used to soundtrack the snatched moments of potential romance between Dr Jim Kilmore and Nurse Clarke.

When released, the film produced at a budget of £214,000 was the third biggest general release hit at the British box office in 1968, after ‘The Jungle Book’ (1967) and ‘Barbarella’ (1968). The film was released almost a decade later in India and was lapped up by the Indian audiences.

The success of ‘Carry on Doctor’ prompted the producers to come out with ‘Carry on Again Doctor’ in 1969. However, ‘Carry on Again Doctor’ is not exactly a sequel as even though it has the same actors as in ‘Carry on Doctor’, the names of their characters are different.

TRIVIA

Actor, Sidney James’ character is bedridden for the majority of the movie as he himself was recuperating from a heart attack sustained shortly before shooting. This however doesn’t exactly explain why he is smoking in the film.

Producer, Peter Rogers was uncertain in adding ‘Doctor’ in the movie title, in fear that the makers of the ‘Doctor…’ series of films – such as ‘Doctor in the House’ (1952) and ‘Doctor at Sea’ (1953) among others, all based on comic novels by British physician, Richard Gordon – would sue him. Subsequently his wife, Betty E Box, who was the producer of the ‘Doctor…’ series of films allowed him to, and was paid a percentage of the credit in return.

‘Carry on Doctor’ is the fifteenth film to be made in the ‘Carry on…’ series. It is the second in the series to have a medical theme.

PLOT

Francis Bigger (Frankie Howerd) is a charlatan faith healer, convinced that “mind over matter” is more effective than medical treatment. During a lecture, he stumbles offstage and is admitted to the local hospital. In the hospital, he incessantly groans and whines about being “maltreated”, demanding better treatment than the other eccentric patients. These include bedridden layabout Charlie Roper (Sidney James) who shams illnesses to stay in hospital; Ken Biddle (Bernard Bresslaw) who makes frequent trips to the ladies’ ward to flirt with his love interest, Mavis Winkle (Dilys Laye); and Mr Barron (Charles Hawtrey) who seems to be suffering sympathy pains while his wife awaits the birth of their baby. While being treated, Bigger meets two very different doctors. Clumsy yet charming Dr Jim Kilmore (Jim Dale) is popular with the patients and loved from afar by the beautiful Nurse Clarke (Anita Harris), while hospital registrar, Dr Kenneth Tinkle (Kenneth Williams) is universally detested, as is his battleaxe Matron Lavinia (Hattie Jacques), who harbours an unrequited love for him.

After Bigger’s arrival, novice Nurse Sandra May (Barbara Windsor) arrives at the hospital with her intention to declare her (questionable) love for Dr Tinkle, and enters his room, violating hospital rules that female staff are not permitted in the male quarters. Matron and Dr Kilmore burst in on her declarations of love, which are cruelly rebuffed by Dr Tinkle. Matron throws Nurse May out, and she leaves while tearfully announcing she’d rather die than live without Dr Tinkle. Dr Tinkle fears for his position after this incident, and contrives with Matron to get rid of Dr Kilmore and Sandra May, lest they reveal the truth.

Shortly after, Sandra May climbs on to the roof of the nurses’ home to sunbathe in her bikini top. Dr Kilmore and Nurse Clarke assume she is going to throw herself off the roof in despair after Dr Tinkle’s rejection. Dr Kilmore rushes to save her and climbs on to the roof. He realises she is sunbathing and prepares to leave, but Sandra assumes to her horror he is leering over her, and shrieks in fear. Her screams attract attention and soon the entire hospital staff and townspeople flock to watch. Nurse Clarke attempts to help Dr Kilmore before he falls off. He however, accidentally tears her skirt off, leaving her in her underwear and stockings. Dr Kilmore then crashes through a window to safety, but lands in a bath… with a nurse in it, who assumes he is attacking her. His good reputation is destroyed among everyone except his patients.

Dr Kilmore is given a hearing with the hospital governor, where Matron and Dr Tinkle deny his revelation of Nurse Sandra May’s fight with Dr Tinkle. As Nurse Sandra May has left the hospital, Kilmore has no proof to support him and is forced to resign. Nurse Clarke reports the treachery of Dr Tinkle and Matron to the patients and together they decide to exact revenge upon the pair for what they have done. The patients stage a nocturnal mutiny – their first victim is Sister Hoggett (June Jago), whom the female patients overpower and leave bound and gagged in a linen cupboard, incapacitating her from alerting the orderlies. The male patients take care of Dr Tinkle, while the females take care of Matron. The ladies manage to get Matron to confess by torturing her with a towel bath, while the men get Dr Tinkle to confess by performing an enema on him, since their previous attempt to do so by giving him an icy cold bath failed. The next day, Dr Kilmore is appointed the new hospital registrar, while Dr Tinkle is reduced to a simple doctor. Mr Barron is now fully recovered and cured, and his wife finally given birth to their baby, while Bigger and his newly wedded wife, Chloe Gibson (Joan Sims) bicker as they leave the hospital. However, on their way out, Bigger deliberately falls on the steps and injures his back again to avoid anymore difficulties with his wife and is brought back to the hospital.

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