Saturday, April 18, 2009

“One must have an integrity to the banks”

Carry On producer Peter Rogers, pictured above with perennial star Kenneth Williams on what looks like the set of Carry On Abroad, has died at the age of ninety-five.
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The Carry On films were his life's work, and it's hard indeed to imagine a more eccentric legacy for a grown man to leave the cinematic world. It is true that on their original release they were films adored by the public and loathed by the critics. But both thought of them as basically disposable. It is only recently that these films, surely among the most unpretentious ever made, have come also to be recognised as among the most beautiful, due to the bludgeoning simplicity of the writing, the peerless ensemble casts of great British comic players, the historically-specific attitudes and trappings, and that little refrain played on a cornet when a scene ends on a punchline.
Rogers produced them all bar the last, and as recently as last year was proposing reviving the series, announcing plans to make, characteristically, not another one but another three in rapid succession.
Interviewed by (I think) Films and Filming magazine in 1970, he expounded on his art thus:

“One must have an integrity to the banks. Of course it's nice to see that people are willing to finance minority pictures nowadays, but it always frightens me when art gets out of hand. There are film-makers now who say "Fuck the front office!" - which is more or less what I said when we were making Carry On Sergeant [the first in the series, made in 1958], but I was sure it would earn money.
The new men can afford to work for their own self-indulgence. It's as if they're saying, "If you've got worries, come and see mine." What I say is, "If you've got worries, come and forget 'em!"
I know there are sleepers like Easy Rider that cost very little and then surprise everybody by doing extremely well at the box-office. But I'd like to see the same people do it again...
I see no harm in hippies. But it's a trend. It won't last...
Our audiences have told us what they want by coming to see the films all these years.”

“The origins of what we do would date back to the heyday of the British music halls. It's basically the same vulgarity that made George Robey so popular. And the Crazy Gang. We're only doing what they did. The lavatorial jokes are traditional to the French as well: a pissoir gag was always good for a laugh in the French music halls.”

“In the Carry Ons, though, we only talk about sex. Nobody gets into bed unless they're on their own. But permissiveness and the relaxation of censorship have led us to go a bit further than before. We changed from the U to the A certificate because we were feeling rather cramped, innuendo-wise.”

“Didn't see it (Midnight Cowboy). Didn't see that (Bonnie and Clyde) either. I heard about the violence, and I don't want to see that. As a matter of fact, I hardly ever go to the cinema... I went to see The Graduate and I really loved that. It's got everything - symbolism, comedy, everything.”

“I'm a Beethoven fan; also Brahms and Schubert. I play the piano all the time at home, and the electric organ as well. Taught myself, with an instruction book. I'm teaching myself to play the balalaika now. And sometimes I can indulge myself musically in the Carry Ons - introduce something like a little Rossini... There's a scene in Carry On Up The Khyber where Sidney James is walking around the room while he dictates a letter to Queen Victoria, and the music we used with that is Tchaikovsky's Letter Song from Eugene Onegin. And in Carry On Doctor, when a pregnant woman comes to collect Charles Hawtrey from the hospital, the music is The Unhatched Chicks from Mussorgsky's Pictures From An Exhibition.”

“People in the business keep telling me that now I can write my own ticket, and virtually make any film I choose. But for the time being I'm content to stay in my own back yard. The view's not bad. So as long as audiences want Carry Ons I'll go on making them. When they don't want them anymore, they'll soon let me know. The takings will go down. Time enough then to think about doing something else.”

Peter Rogers (20th February 1914 - 14th April 2009)