Carry On Sergeant was the beginning of the long-running Carry On series. Producer Peter Rogers’ main coup was his casting of William Hartnell in the title role, his combination of aggression and affection is invaluable.
Fellow refugees from ITV were Norman Rossington and Charles Hawtrey, while others included Bob Monkhouse, Gerald Campion, Terence Longdon, Kenneth Williams and Kenneth Connor.
While the comic vignettes were given the full flamboyant treatment by the eccentric squad members, Monkhouse wanders through the proceedings as Charlie Sage – an everyman caught up in frustrating bureaucracy.
It is he who is separated from his young wife, Mary (Shirley Eaton) and bluffs and whines his way through the hellish National Service system.
It is undoubtedly Connor, though, who leaves the deepest comedic paw print on the film as terminal hypochondriac Horace Strong.
While the dubious romantic ducking and diving and stolen kisses of Monkhouse and Eaton are at the plot’s centre, the real joy of the script is the army environment and the battle between officialdom and the man in the street.
Training Sgt. Grimshawe (Hartnell) accepts a bet that his last platoon of National Servicemen before he retires will pass out as a Star Squad. His hopes are dashed when he meets the recruits.
The finest moments come from the recruits’ failure at every turn of their basic training: the priceless unease of Connor as he swings on the rope, Williams’ high-brow objections to the bayonet practice, Rossington’s bumbling and eventual quick skill at dismantling the rifle.
The film’s ultimate message is the love and affection that the recruits hold for the dreaded figure of Hartnell.
Made for the relatively small sum of £74,000, the film’s original title was The Bull Boys. Filming took place between March and May 1958 at the Queen’s Barracks in Guildford and Pinewood Studios. The film was a box office success and eventually took over £500,000.
Cpl. Bill Copping