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Film / Carry On, Sergeant

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Carry On, Sergeant is a 1958 British black-and-white Summer Blockbuster that began the popular Carry On film series, which was known for its Universal-Adaptor Cast of recurring comic actors. It starred Charles Hawtrey, William Hartnell, Kenneth Williams, Shirley Eaton, Kenneth Connor, Eric Barker and Bob Monkhouse.

Many claim that the title came from the phrase that the army office would say when misspoken (the US Army equivalent would be "As you were"), however, it's more likely that this film was trying to reference the popular 1957 comedy movie Carry On Admiral. (Funnily enough, Carry On series regular Joan Sims appeared in that movie, but didn't show up in the Carry On film series until this movie's sequel Carry On Nurse.)

Considering that Sergeant was the first movie in the franchise, no one would've known of the success that it would become; the average user that had seen films from the rest of the series before this one would expect the regular cast members like Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey to be the leading actors. This isn't exactly the case.


Sergeant stars Bob Monkhouse as a man named Charlie Sage, who receives National Service recruitment letters minutes after his wedding to new wife Mary (Eaton). He reluctantly turns up at the base and meets hypochondriac Horace Strong (Connor), harmless yet scatterbrained Peter Golightly (Hawtrey) and the obnoxious university graduate James Bailey (Williams).

They are assigned to the calm Sergeant Grimshawe (Hartnell), who is secretly in competition with a rival sergeant over winning an award for the best platoon. He doesn't think that the ignorant men should be verbally abused when they do wrong — unlike the smug and devious commanders Captain Potts (Barker) and Corporal Copping (Bill Owen), who seem to relish roaring at the hopeless men every minute.

Hilarity Ensues.


Tropes included are:

  • And Starring: Bob Monkhouse.
  • Armed Farces: The new recruits are an assortment of good-natured but bumbling buffoons, snobs, and hypochondriacs, although they get themselves shaped up by the end of the film.
  • Artifact Title: The title of the film being a real catchphrase from the army.
  • Call to Adventure: Charlie getting his recruitment mail, moments after his wedding to Mary.
  • The Cameo:
    • An uncredited Terry Scott as SGT O'Brien in a one-scene wonder.
    • Hattie Jacques, at the time best known for a radio career spanning over a decade and later to become a Carry On regular, appears as a medical officer named Clark.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Peter Golightly is the first of many such Carry On characters to be played by Charles Hawtrey. When he doesn't rattle off his name, rank, and number quickly enough to satisfy Captain Potts, the officer snaps, "Slow! Slow!" To which Golightly eagerly responds, "Quick quick, sir!", as though reciting dance steps.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Grimshawe is a downplayed example of this, trying calmer methods than usual in what is going to be his last squad. Corporal Copping fits the role to a T, however.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: It feels more like an Ealing Studios comedy than a Carry On film, being more grounded. There's also the presence of players who never returned to the series, like Bob Monkhouse, who plays the kind of romantic lead role that Jim Dale would specialise in.
  • A Father to His Men: SGT Grimshawe could be this, in contrast to Potts and Copping's Drill Sergeant Nasty.
  • Gentlemen Rankers: Both Terrence Longdon and Kenneth Williams' characters were examples of these, albeit in different ways:
    • Longdon's character came from a traditional upper class background with the stereotypical easy air of command, to the point he was initially mistaken for an officer candidate when he arrived to start his national service.
    • Williams' character was a snotty university graduate who spent most of his time sneering at common soldiers and had failed to dodge his national service so ending up in the ranks.
  • Happily Married: Charlie and Mary, even though they've been married for an afternoon.
  • Home Guard: The plot sort of revolves around this. The Home Guard in this movie is the National Service and the men called up have no choice but to draft in.
  • Hypochondriac: Horace, who is devastated when Medical Officer Clark runs out of patience and has him thoroughly examined by a group of specialists, all of whom pronounce him one of the healthiest individuals they've ever seen.
  • Ironic Name: Horace's surname is Strong. He believes he is anything but, and is a regular visitor to the camp's medical office (to the mounting frustration of Medical Officer Clark).
  • Military Academy: The movie in a nutshell. National Service was an actual military training system that all young men in the UK had to do after leaving high school (or a higher form of education). It is argued whether it deceased in the middle or the end of the 1950s.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The platoon of amateurs. Several promotional material refers to them as this.
  • The Rival: SGT O'Brien to SGT Grimshaw, who's racing to have the best platoon in the National Service base.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: James believes he deserves better treatment because he went to university. The army base is having none of this, although an offhand remark indicating some faith in Captain Potts as an officer spares him from being put on a charge for insolence.
    CPT Potts: You.
    James: Yes?
    CPT Potts: Who are you!?
    James: James Bailey, B.Sc. Economics.
    CPT Potts: Your number!
    James: I'm not proud of it, it was given to me! I earned my degree.
    CPT Potts: Your rank!
    James: Well, that is a matter of opinion.
    CPT Potts: (angrily indicating his epaulettes) Do you see this!?
    James: You've nothing to complain about, look at the suit they've given me!
  • Smug Super: CPT Potts and CPL Copping can be seen as this, whereas Grimshaw wants to treat the drafted men with respect.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": The distributing media don't know whether to write Hartnell's character's surname as either "Grimshaw" or "Grimshawe". Neither does the film itself, as the former spelling is used on the door of his quarters, and the latter is used on the chart showing the progress of his squad.
  • Those Two Guys: CPT Potts and CPL Copping.
  • Title Drop: Justified, as the title comes from a military phrase.
  • Training from Hell: Most of the men that are training are rather weak individuals, so their training might be seen as this.
  • Ur-Example: It can be argued that every Armed Farces Carry On film that came after this one, that featured two really strict army teachers, were based on Eric Barker and Bill Owen's Potts and Copping.
  • Vine Swing: Peter doesn't let go of the rope swing in the training assualt course and ends up falling in the water.


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