Thirty years ago I saw my first Carry On film.
At the time I had no idea that Carry On Spying was part of a series, however every subsequent encounter with the team has been a disappointment, because no other entry was ever as good as this one. And I'd only ever seen the second half.
Weirdly, I have never even once seen it billed again, and believe me, I actually have been looking for 30 years. Even a year or so back when the Daily Mail were giving away dozens of Carry On DVDs for free, Carry On Spying was not among them. TV schedulers seemed to have an aversion to it.
Until three days ago that is, when it was showing on Film4. Admittedly, I've been out of the country quite a bit this decade, and we have only got a digital set-top box in the past month.
So this morning I put in the VHS that I had recorded of it, and proceeded to look for the answers to three 30-year-old questions:
1. What happened in the first half?
2. How accurate was my memory of the second half?
3. (important one this) Was it really as clean as I remember it being when I was a child?
1. In the event, rather than having missed the first half, I turned out to have missed more like the first half hour. This ran quite slowly, but unsurprisingly it featured the four protagonists - Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Bernard Cribbins and Barbara Windsor - being sent out on a case.
2. Despite the passage of three decades, I remembered absolutely tons. Tons. I could list examples, but it would just be too long. While I would like to think of this as a positive achievement of my long-term memory, the more likely explanation is just how much I enjoyed this at age ten (or thereabouts).
I even recognised some of the musical cues!
3. Yes! Despite Carry On's reputation, this is almost a kid's movie. Sure there's the odd funny sounding name or vague innuendo, but I can't help supposing that fans of Carry On are probably non-plussed by this entry's tameness. Conversely, for me, this is exactly why I loved this so much. Even the scene in the brothel runs more like a pantomime.
The film is edited so slickly that the rhythm of gags just keeps getting tighter, packing more and more ideas in. The movie's rollercoaster final sequence features quite a long linear geography to keep track of, revealed and then revisited at a breakneck pace. It really helps that it looks as though the four leads have been left free to improvise and react to everything individually. Wherever you look, there's someone being funny!
And I've never been a huge fan of Kenneth Williams, but here he is astounding. Despite the larger than life slapstick of the whole movie, in every shot his performance manages to be even more over the top. The result is that he has more screen presence than anyone else I can think of. What an inspiring performer.
The calender to my right might tell me that I'm 41 these days, but right now I feel ten again.
To me, the only disappointment about this film is that the series did indeed carry on, but not in this vein.