The milk float we follow along the road seems as harmless as the milkman who sails unchallenged through numerous prohibitive notices and checkpoints, arriving in the laboratory of Professor Stark (Frank Forsyth) who, engrossed in a profound chemical experiment, fails to notice the lethal preparation the milkman slips into a test tube.
An explosion, a new face in heaven, and the milkman – actually foreign agent Milchmann (Victor Maddern) – is away with top-secret Formula X.
Consternation reigns at B.O.S.H. (British Operational Security Headquarters) when news of the coup reaches The Chief (Eric Barker), who hasn’t time to digest the evil tidings before receiving gloating confirmation over the phone from the mysterious Dr Crow (Judith Furse), the sinister head of S.T.E.N.C.H. (Society for Total Extinction of Non-Conforming Humans).
The explosion is not The Chief’s only headache. He has three trainee secret agents on his hands, and agent Desmond Simkins (Kenneth Williams) who is in charge of them, is even a bigger nitwit than his charges, which is saying something.
The three are well-meaning gump Harold Crump (Bernard Cribbins, pictured below); Daphne Honeybutt (Barbara Windsor in her Carry On debut), who has a photographic memory which is handy, and a remarkable bust-line which is even handier; and Charlie Bind (Charles Hawtrey), who must have got into the secret service when no one was looking.
Our man in Vienna is Carstairs (Jim Dale) who sends urgent word to The Chief that Milchmann has arrived in the Austrian capital with Formula X. What to do?
Only Simkins and his band of incompetents are available for duty, so they are packed off to Vienna to help Carstairs recover the top-secret document.
Arriving in Vienna by devious routes, our gormless quartet receives orders to rendezvous at the Cafe Mozart where, blissfully unconscious of what’s happening, they become involved with Milchmann and two other villains, The Fat Man (Eric Pohlmann) and the Head Waiter (Jon Bluthal). There is also an elusive but eye-catching young lady by the name of Lila (Dilys Laye).
Blundering around, the four B.O.S.H. agents accidentally stumble on a clue that leads them to a warehouse where they find Milchmann dying – eliminated by The Fat Man. Just before he expires he is able to gasp that they will find what they are seeking in Algiers in the Street of a Thousand . . .
But he doesn’t live to complete the sentence.
Heavily disguised, the intrepid foursome arrive in Algiers where many adventures befall them in their pursuit of the elusive Formula X. We follow them to Hakim’s Funhouse; the Orient Express; and the terrifying underground HQ of S.T.E.N.C.H – with its frightful electronic “persuaders” and the horrors of the Automation Process Plant.
The four glide through each scenario with a beautiful lack of elegance, dodging bullets and drugged drinks until suspicion is aroused when a ‘reserved for British agents’ place card appears on their table.
Finally, the four adventurers meet the dreaded Dr Crow and involve themselves with yet another organisation – S.N.O.G. (Society for the Neutralisation Of Germs).
It is a celebration of the absurd dogged attitude of the British: gullible, likeable, humbling and inexperienced but always certain to pull through in the end.
Bernard Cribbins, in his last Carry On appearance for almost 30 years, returns as loveable bumbler agent Crump and successfully chats up Daphne Honeybutt while also indulging in inspired bits of horseplay with the lads.
Carry On Spying is what the great Carry Ons are all about: jam-packed with spirited performances from everyone involved; a subtle musical score; less than subtle jokes, moments of real tension and a script of grease-lightning wit and fun that leaves the audience gasping. Vintage.
The Fat Man
John Bluthal (voice)