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Film / Carry On, Sergeant

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"I tell ya mate - two of everything ya should have two of, and you're in!".
Private Horace Strong complaining about being called up into the army.

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 Bob Monkhouse, William Hartnell, Shirley Eaton, Eric Barker, Dora Bryan, Bill Owen, Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Connor, Kenneth Williams, Terence Longdon, Norman Rossington, and Gerald Campion.

Many claim that the title came from the phrase that the army officer 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 Monkhouse as a man named Charlie Sage, who receives National Service recruitment letters minutes after his wedding to new wife Mary (Eaton). On his way to the base he meets a fellow Private, the Hypochondriac Horace Strong (Connor), who spends most of his time bothering Captain Clark (Hattie Jacques) about his so-called issues; Charlie later gets to know the harmless yet scatterbrained Peter Golightly (Hawtrey), obnoxious university graduate James Bailey (Williams), utter failure Herbert Brown (Rossington), upper-class cad Miles Heywood (Longdon) and rock 'n' roller Andy Galloway (Campion).

They are assigned to the calm Sergeant Grimshawe (Hartnell), who is secretly in competition with rival Sergeant Paddy O'Brien (Terry Scott) 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 Bill Copping (Owen), who seem to relish roaring at the hopeless men every minute.

Meanwhile, Mary smuggles herself into the depot to get a job in the NAAFI, where she helps out Norah (Bryan), who has a crush on Horace.

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:
    • Terry Scott as SGT O'Brien.
    • 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 tee, 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.
  • Either/Or Title: One of R. F. Delderfield's original treatments was titled The Long and the Short and the Tall or This Side of the Ocean.
  • A Father to His Men: SGT Grimshawe could be this, in contrast to Potts and Copping's Drill Sergeant Nasty.
  • Gentlemen Rankers: Both Terence Longdon and Kenneth Williams' characters were examples of these, albeit in different ways:
    • Longdon's character (Miles Heywood) 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 (James Bailey) 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.
  • Inconsistent Spelling:
    • The distributing media don't know whether to write William 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.
    • Dora Bryan's character is called "Norah" but the name also been called "Nora" from time to time.
  • 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.
    Captain Potts: Who are you?
    James: James Bailey, BSc Economics.
    Captain Potts: Your number?
    James: I'm not proud of it, it was given to me! I earned my degree.
    Captain Potts: Your rank!?
    James: Well that's a matter of opinion.
    Captain Potts: Look at this, man!
    James: You've nothing to complain of. 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.
  • Tagline: "The biggest shower that ever 'reigned' in the British army!".
  • 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.
  • Visible Boom Mic: When Miles climbs down from the army lorry, a boom mic can be spotted in the reflection of the cab window.