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Re-watching the 60s

James from London

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Carry On Constable (22 February 1960) v CORONATION STREET (9 - 28 December 1960)

I re-watched the three '50s Carry Ons first -- Sergeant (the most innocent and best so far), Nurse (lovely, even if it's little more than a series of sketches) and Teacher (the weakest, although the ending still makes me cry like a baby). The sauciness steadily increases each time until in Constable, we get our first glimpse of Carry On nudity; the collective buttocks of Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Leslie Phillips and Kenneth Connor. By now, the formula's pretty well-established: bungling new recruits join veritable British institution (in this case, the police force) and everything that can go wrong, does. Replacing flinty William Hartnell (Sergeant) and kindly Ted Ray (Teacher) as the long-suffering authority figure is a world-weary Sid James making his Carry On debut. He's a brilliant addition - effortlessly real as always (not for nothing has he been called the Spencer Tracy of the Carry Ons) - and his presence elevates the whole film, which again is pretty much a series of set pieces that provide a succession of comedy character actresses (Irene Handl, Joan Hickson, Esme Cannon, plus the gorgeous Shirley Eaton) with some nice cameos, and Williams and Hawtrey with an excuse for a spot of cross-dressing. (They're a kind of cut-price version of Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis.) It's notable that far and away the most efficient new bobby on the beat (or at least the switchboard) is a woman, Joan Sims. And it ends with Sid and lovely Hattie Jacques getting together, thereby setting them up nicely to play a married couple in Carry On Cabby.

Like all self-respecting soaps, THE STREET (as it used to be abbreviated to; none of that over-familiar CORRIE business) starts with the arrival of a newcomer to the ranch/cul-de-sac/square/mansion, through whose eyes we are then introduced to the regular characters. In this case, it's Florrie Lindley, new owner of the corner shop. Surprisingly, she disappears into the background after an episode or two, but not before saying she can't imagine ever living in a bungalow and not going upstairs to bed. Given that she'll later turn into the bungalow-dwelling Edna Cross on BROOKSIDE, this probably qualifies as the earliest recorded example of Soap Irony. Florrie reappears just before New Year when she hears a banging sound coming from the wall of the house next door, which she ignores, unaware that it's the sound of THE STREET's very first fatality, May Hardman, pounding her last before sliding to the floor with one of those Mysterious Headaches which will go on to prove the undoing of everyone in Soap Land from Gavin Taylor to Paul Galveston to Arthur Fowler to Krystle Carrington. Spookily, it also foreshadows Florrie/Edna's own end on BROOKSIDE, where we see her through a kitchen window sliding to the floor with a stroke as her husband Harold and Sandra the nurse argue obliviously outside.

The two characters who make the biggest impression in THE STREET's first seven episodes are Elsie Tanner and Ena Sharples, but the two don't appear together on screen. Aside from one trip to the Rovers, we only see Elsie inside her house, dealing with the problems of her twenty-something kids, Dennis and Linda, while spitting onto her mascara brush as she makes herself up in the mirror -- the kind of warts and all behaviour that had simply never been seen on telly before.

Just as Melissa Agretti would later make her debut on FALCON CREST played by an all but silent bit player, Miss Nugent (i.e., the future Emily Bishop) also first appears played by a mute extra.

Oh and Ken Barlow's mother Ida makes a brief appearance in Carry On Constable to report her missing pussy. "The name's Fluff," she explains. "I"m so sorry, Miss Fluff," replies PC Charles Hawtrey sympathetically.

And the Top 2 are ...

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Mel O'Drama

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28th September 2008
Oh my. This thread is hitting all kinds of heavenly spots already. And I didn't even know I needed it until now.