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‘Once a week’s enough for any man!’* – Sex Education via the Carry On films

The Carry On films. Classic rainy Sunday viewing since forever. All PG rated family fun. I certainly saw enough of them when I was very young indeed.  I will occasionally re-watch some of the better ones (especially ‘Khyber’ and ‘Screaming*’) when they’re on ITV3. Actually, to be honest, I’ll re-watch some of the rubbish ones too, even though I’ll probably wince until my face hurts.

Growing up in the 80s, the media’s messages about sex were somewhat confused. You catch watch a Hollywood film, which implied it was a sort of secret sport with bragging rights and then cut to an ad break where a John Hurt voiceover would tell you that you could ‘die of ignorance’ or images of grey ice bergs. The Carry On films suggest that sex is can be dangerous too, but only if your wife, Joan Sims (or Hattie Jacques), finds out that you’ve been thinking about having it with a glamorous young lady who isn’t her.

There’s a lot of innuendo in the Carry Ons. Certainly far more thinking about shagging, than actual shagging. And of course, they didn’t show any actual rumpy-pumpy (I haven’t seen Carry On, Emmanuelle – yes, a parody of the kind of softcore film in which everybody is an ambassador of some kind – it was a certificate ‘15’ so there might have been some actual rudery there) – instead, sex would usually involve a man making a growling noise and advancing rapidly towards the lady. The scene would then cut to something unrelated or might stay in the same scene just to show a man hiding in a bush and saying something like, ‘Corrrrr!’

Oh and another important lesson from Carry On films and indeed lots of comedy is that bosoms are always hilarious. Like having a mini-bouncy castle with man luring abilities strapped to your chest at all times. Penises, however, are something which can only ever be alluded to, usually with a comedy sound effect to suggest their presence.

A lot of the characters in Carry-On are very interested sex (even though ones who didn’t seem to like it), but very few of them would actually get any. The act of ‘How’s Your Father’ was something that happened once in a while with a big old build-up***.  Like a bank holiday trip to the seaside, but with more gurning and less ice cream.

I’m surely someone’s probably done it, but I reckon there’s an interesting study to be made in the representation of British culture in the Carry On films. The franchise ran between the fifties and the seventies (and, yes, there was Carry on Columbus in 1992, but that was just…well, have you seen it?) a long enough period of take in a lot of social change. When it gets to the later period Carry Ons, it becomes obvious that the writers are from a previous generation. Hence the dismissal of hippies in Carry On Camping, feminists in Carry On Girls*** and unions in Carry On At Your Convenience. And the odd depiction of sex fits in with all of this. It sort of slips in. Round the back. *Cue jaunty tuba music.*

*This is Hattie Jacques’s lovely response to Kenneth Williams confessing that he was ‘once a weak man’ in Carry On Doctor.

*Carry on Screaming is ace. An affectionate Hammer Horror parody, which take place in a parallel universe in which Kenneth Williams is Peter Cushing.

** (Insert Sid James guffaw or Barbara Windsor giggle here).

***In which June Whitfield plays a formidable lady called ‘Mrs Prodworthy’.

E.M.

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