CARRY ON CORTINA
C&SC’S resident film expert marks six decades of the comedy franchise with a tour of some of its most famous locations
Touring locations from the famous film franchise in our very own ‘Glamcab’
To the uninitiated, the appeal of the Carry On films is as obscure as the attractions of football or banger racing are to me. Yet 60 years after the first was screened, they have become an integral part of British popular culture, and one of their most intriguing aspects is often the street scenes. They were never devised as B-pictures, but their budgets were not far above a second feature, which meant the use of unadorned street footage. The result was frequently a 1960s/’70s version of John Betjeman’s Metroland: FX4 taxis lined up outside Home Counties rail stations; Hillman Super Minxes and Vauxhall Victor FBS on the less-than-mean streets of Windsor, Maidenhead and Slough; newsagents with signs advertising Woodbines and The Daily Sketch;
and pubs offering Watneys Red Barrel.
Revisiting some of those sites provided the ideal way to mark the genre’s sixth decade. As for the choice of transport for our grand tour of Carry On locations, it had to be a Ford Consul Cortina. The series frequently had guest appearances from various models, and it was tempting to bring a Ford Consul MKII Highline in tribute to Camping, but the films took a serious turn for the worse in the 1970s and the 17th Carry On
marked the point of no return. The Austin LD Wandsworth ambulance of Again Doctor would have been impractical, and there was little
‘The Consul conjures that iconic scene of the lined ranks of Glamcabs, in an indelible moment in British cinema’
chance of tracking down a 1904 Brushmobile, as used in pseudo-horror Carry On Screaming.
But as the only movie in the franchise with a motoring theme – and one of the few to feature a proper car chase – Cabby was the natural choice. Likewise the Ford, which conjures that iconic scene of the lined ranks of Glamcabs, in an indelible moment in British cinema.
The comedy focused on Speedee Taxis, a traditional black-cab company run by Charlie Hawkins (Sidney James), and the challenge it faced from an up-to-the-minute minicab firm with a fleet of new Fords. Would the film have been so successful with an alternative marque, such as a line of Morris 1100s? Certainly, the ADO16 and the Cortina represented the zenith of affordable automotive fashion when filming commenced in spring of 1963, but BMC reputedly wanted payment for its products. This was certainly not the philosophy of series producer Peter Rogers, so the Glamcabs were to be Cortinas – much to the satisfaction of Dagenham, which had recently launched the Super version. London dealer FH Peacock & Co of 219 Balham High Road arranged the cars, and a mock-up of its showroom appeared on screen in return.
Peacocks was a large organisation with several major contracts, including one deal to supply lorries to the NAAFI, and another with the Rank Organisation, both for its Xerox division and for Pinewood. “To have the Cortinas on screen was very good for our publicity, but when you look at Cabby, it is obvious that there were not enough four-door Supers to go around,” recalls Phil Luderman, who was then working as a delivery driver for the dealership. “Demo cars were in short supply – Peacocks only had a couple of two-doors – and our manager was constantly ringing round other dealers. In the end, we used a mixture of cars from other showrooms and Dagenham PR Cortinas, which is why there are De Luxes and Fleetlines on screen. We were kept busy delivering the vehicles for the film – there was a special car park at Pinewood for the Glamcabs and Peacocks provided a service vehicle to take the drivers back to base.”
None of the Glamcabs is known to survive, and ‘our’ Cortina is a 1964 De Luxe with the unusual combination of a two-door body with a split bench front seat, a four-on-the-column gearchange and a 1200cc engine. “It gets there… eventually,” says owner Stan Wilkinson. Not that Dagenham’s finest was required to travel vast distances at high speed, because the series rarely ventured beyond a five-mile radius of the studios. Occasionally a narrative would require a journey to north Wales, Camber Sands or Brighton, but in the main a Carry On location shoot meant a trip into the wilds of Buckinghamshire. Loyal audiences soon learned to recognise the same locations from film to film as much as they appreciated the many and varied continuity errors, plus scripts that often derived from the Dead Sea Scrolls of Wardour Street.
The key site was, of course, Pinewood itself – with a such a tight schedule, there was little point in straying beyond the confines of the studio. The Mansion Entrance served as the gates of the army barracks of Carry On Sergeant, the original film of 1958, while the Heatherden Hall block doubled as a hospital in Nurse, the governor’s residence in Up the Khyber and the school in
Camping, not to mention the ‘Moore-nookey’ clinic (oh, the subtlety!) of Again Doctor.
Pinewood would double as a lavatory factory in the typically understated and nuanced At Your Convenience and, with the addition of a left-handdrive AEC Regal coach and some very strange accents, Abroad created the wholly unconvincing illusion of taking place in Spain. There is now a new entrance, but the original gates will forever be associated with the studio and, with the Cortina’s Duotone paintwork, they create an agreeable atmosphere of low-key glamour. To arrive at Pinewood in a Rolls-royce Phantom is a cliché, but to draw up via Glamcab clone is the epitome of true style.
Our next destination is one that forms a major part of the heritage of British cinema. There are times when you can suddenly be assailed by memories when travelling through a film location; for some it may be The Italian Job’s Great St Bernard Pass, for others it’s Pinewood Green housing estate, a seemingly innocuous road network that will be instantly familiar for anyone raised on these films… and it’s also where Joan Sims lived in Carry On Camping.
No true aficionado of cinema and classic cars alike could be expected to curb their enthusiasm when at the very site of not only Camping, but also the Inspector’s house in Constable and the residence of Sid James and Hattie Jacques in
At Your Convenience. Pinewood Green had the advantage of being just a few hundred yards from the studio, thereby saving Rogers even more £sd. The leafy roads of the estate were the location for much of the car chase in Cabby, and the crowning touch on our visit is a very plausible looking K6 telephone box. The A/B button mechanism therein is wholly illusory, of course, but there is still the ever-present temptation to dial Balham 1271 and request that Peacocks supply another batch of Cortinas.
Before departing, there’s just time to pay a visit to the adjacent Pinewood Close, which the Carry Ons used as their stock ‘ upmarket’ set. These were not films with a sophisticated approach to characterisation, so Terry Scott arriving home in a bowler hat and pinstriped suit in Camping meant ‘city businessman’. The same street was used for Bernard Bresslaw’s residence in Behind seven years later, a picture that boasts an early Jaguar XJ6. Other more glamorous cameos include an Aston Martin DB5 (Doctor) and a Ferrari 365GT 2+2 (Matron), both the property of director Gerald Thomas.
Our final location is Maidenhead Town Hall, a fine building that was still within easy reach of Pinewood and possessed the innate ability to double as a public institution. Simply by parking a Bedford J1 ambulance near the front door, it could be instantly transformed into a hospital. In Behind, its noble portals served as a university campus – and looked more convincing than most of the undergraduates. As with many works of cinema, a suspension of disbelief is essential: in Dr. No, cinemagoers were not supposed to notice the ridiculous back-projection of the Sunbeam Alpine chase, and in a Carry On film you are not meant to point out that ‘young people’ all seemed to be at least 37 years old.
The 31 pictures made extensive use of such venues as Datchet Road in Windsor and Maidenhead High Street, but to see them today is to be reminded that the Carry Ons belong to another time. They were intended to be the main attraction of an evening at the cinema – together with the newsreel, Look at Life, Edgar Wallace and a Kia-ora in the interval, all for just 1/9d. Experiencing a Cortina 1200 on the A4 you realise that, as with Cabby, it dates from a slower-paced world. “It is spacious and enjoyable to drive,” says Wilkinson, “even if the position of the gearlever means that you keep hitting the front passenger’s knees!”
He also notes that “it never fails to attract attention”, and this is quickly proved by the many cars that come perilously close to the Ford to admire it. By the standards of the early ’60s, a Consul Cortina was generally regarded as a medium-sized car, yet it appears Lilliputian compared with the latest generation of Fiestas. This sense of vulnerability is exacerbated by yet another Astra or Galaxy hovering just inches from the rear bumper, as its owner attempts to read the wording on the bootlid.
Cinema can help to create the mythology of a car, often regardless of the money involved. The best Carry Ons had a polish that belied their parsimonious budgets. “It was great fun to make,” says Amanda Barrie, who played Athena in Cabby and fondly recalls the professionalism and high standards of the enterprise. The casts comprised some of Britain’s finest character actors, while the Fords darting around Wexham, Iver Heath and Pinewood Green created imagery as memorable as any Bond adventure.
This year, Aston Martin launched a limited edition of 25 Goldfinger replica DB5S at a hefty £2.75m each (plus tax). I would never seek to disparage the dream inherent in such a car, but merely suggest that if Ford decided to recreate an exacting Consul Cortina Glamcab it would not only be somewhat cheaper, but also equally valid for thousands of enthusiasts.
From top: Consul pays a visit to Maidenhead Town Hall; Peggy Hawkins (Hattie Jacques) and Flo Sims (Esma Cannon) with the Glamcabs in Cabby
From top: front bench seat has room for three; poster reveals sensibilities from a time before political correctness; outside the famed Pinewood Studios
Cortina looks entirely at home in the quiet surroundings of Pinewood Green housing estate. Below: 1.2-litre ‘four’ musters gentle pace