“I don't like to see men lying about. It makes the ward look untidy."
This was the second Carry On film, and possibly the best. It fits into the earlier pattern of Carry Ons in which national institutions (the police force, the army, and in this case the NHS –but never, alas, the BBC) were sent up. More than any other Carry On, it captures the idiosyncratic social life of an English institution (in this case, an NHS hospital) to a T. It has a superb ensemble cast, including Kenneth Williams as an arrogant intellectual (his first, and funniest, Carry On incarnation, which first appeared in Carry On Sergeant), Joan Sims as a clumsy and easily irritated student nurse, Charles Hawtry as a dotty radio enthusiast, Leslie Philips as a debonair ladies’ man who needs to get a bunion removed so that he can go away for a week with his mistress, Kenneth Connor as an insecure boxer, and, of course, Hattie Jacques as the formidable Matron. Wilfred Hyde White makes a special appearance as a betting-mad colonel, and then there are a host of memorable minor characters, including a snob who is embarrassed when his wife, on a visit to the hospital, talks loudly about their building society account and Co-op dividend. He is forced to remonstrate with her: “Don’t say ‘what’, dear, say ‘pardon’!”
The film is anarchic (the patients rebel against Matron by sneaking away from the ward at dead of night to try to remove Leslie Philips’ bunion, which results in the unforgettably hilarious laughing gas scene), irreverent in its satire of a sacred national institution, determined not to take sex seriously, and surprisingly tender where the romance between Shirley Eaton’s staff nurse and Terence Longdon’s journalist is concerned, all but surrounding it with violin music and birds tweeting. It is vulgar, big-hearted, and very funny. Carry On films were never great art, but this one is perfect for a quiet Sunday afternoon. Watch it with a mug of cocoa. –Isabel Taylor