FOR those of a certain age, the recent passing of Dame Barbara Windsor brought the curtain down on a much-loved genre of British cinematic comedy.
The Carry On franchise entertained audiences for decades. Its appeal lay in the fact that it took British behaviours and characteristics and distorted them through a humorous prism. The characters and plots were merely the vehicles for showcasing the actors’ skills.
I was reminded of this classic series when I inadvertently caught up with a Downing Street briefing. Like many, I tend to avoid these doom-laden broadcasts because they seem to be increasingly unhinged. It might be, as we are endlessly told, that the Government is ‘following the science’, but, as other more qualified commentators have noted, the science is far from unanimous.
As this Covid crisis unfolds, the time is surely right to resurrect the Carry On ensemble to lampoon the idiocy and incompetence that have become the leitmotifs of the Government’s actions for the last year. From singing Happy Birthday (twice) as a prophylactic, to discharging elderly and ill patients into care homes, to devastating the hospitality sector, to shunting a generation’s education into the sidings, to telling us to stay home then telling us to ‘eat out to help out’, the litany of muddle-headed groupthink goes on and on.
Meanwhile, judging by the feeble questioning and hopeless analytical skills on display from the media inquisitors at these stage-managed briefings, is it any wonder the general population are so ill informed?
However, a re-make of a Carry On film might just be the thing to lift the nation’s depressed spirit and raise a weak smile in these demoralised times.
The libidinous Leslie Phillips would be a shoo-in for the Prime Minister. How much more fun the pious nostrums that tumble from Boris Johnson’s mouth would be if, for instance, the identification of a new Covid strain were larded with a smattering of ‘ding dongs’. Or maybe the BBC’s hapless Laura Kuenssberg would be flummoxed with the PM’s smiling pronouncement, ‘Oh, I say, there’s a new Brazilian in town!’
For our hopeless Health Secretary, the magnificent Kenneth Williams would make a fabulous cameo. Imagine Matt Hancock’s intimate briefings given via his PC from what resembles a picture-bedecked privy but delivered in Williams’s inimitable soaring vowels and towering condescension.
Perhaps when the pandemic is behind us and the inevitable inquest points the finger of blame, there will be an opportunity for Hancock to resurrect one of Williams’s best-remembered lines, ‘Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!’
What of our voluble but progressively ineffectual Home Secretary? Who from the Carry On pantheon could do justice to Priti Patel? I feel certain that only Hattie Jacques, in a nod to the vogue for colour-blind casting, could accommodate such a demanding role. How more authentic and compelling would be the Downing Street diktats if delivered by such a stern figure as Miss Jacques. But only if dressed in the Matron’s uniform as featured in Carry On Doctor.
The Tweedledum that is Professor Chris Whitty would be an ideal part for the great Kenneth Connor. He was usually cast as a somewhat sympathetic character in the Carry On films but what makes him the favoured choice for the harbinger of doom is his ability to portray neurotic anxiety with such aplomb. All those Technicolor charts and bar graphs would be enlivened with Connor’s trademark raise of the eyebrows and ‘harrumph’.
There is of course one Carry On stalwart not yet included: the legendary Sid James. Rather than try to fit him into a leading role where he might not shine, I have thought he could make much of Professor Jonathan Van Tam – or JVT as our Prime Minister jocularly refers to him – our Deputy Chief Medical Director. Imagine his aphorisms such as ‘the Mum Test’, ‘the goalkeeper can be beaten’ or the show-stopping ‘the train is a long way off’ delivered by the lugubrious James followed by his trademark dirty chuckle?
However what is distinctly unfunny is that the actors currently treading the boards in this farce will never feel the repercussions that should rightly be dealt out to them.
They will carry on getting their ‘repeat fees’ in the form of directorships, ennoblements and gold-plated pensions (the size of which most ordinary citizens can only dream of). People who should be excoriated for calamitous decisions which will have deleterious and long-running consequences for swathes of the population are given a ‘get out of jail free’ card.
This pandemic has exposed how utterly hopeless, badly prepared and woefully inadequate our political class has become. Stripped of educated and experienced people, people of principle, common sense and strength of mind, is it any wonder we are where we are?