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Film / Carry On Spying

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Bind: Just now, somebody tried to shoot me.
Simpkins: Shoot you? Where?
Bind: In the Schnitzelstrasse.
Simpkins: Ooh, sounds like it might've been very painful.
Agents Charlie Bind and Desmond Simpkins discussing an attempted shooting.

Carry On Spying is a 1963 film and the ninth Carry On film, a take on spy flicks (particularly James Bond) and Film Noir. It stars Kenneth Williams, Barbara Windsor (in her first film in the series), Bernard Cribbins, Charles Hawtrey, Eric Barker, and Dilys Laye. Notably this was the last black and white film in the series, and sparked much controversy during production between many film studios because of certain plotlines and names.

Although claimed to be a James Bond parody (and in at least some respects marketed as one), it mostly takes plot devices from The Third Man as well as other film noirs. It's the tale Agent Desmond Simpkins (Williams), and his trainees Agents Daphne Honeybutt (Windsor), Charlie Bind (Hawtrey), and Harold Crump (Cribbins) at a supposed Spy School being reluctantly recruited by the Chief (Barker) to go and search for a missing formula that is said to have been stolen by a villainous company called STENCH, or, the Society for the Total Extinction of Non-Conforming Humans.

Along the way, they meet master of disguise Agent Carstairs (Jim Dale) and mysterious Lila (Laye), who both cause a stir in the story, especially upon the introduction of the Fat Man (Eric Pohlmann) and Dr. Crow (Judith Furse).

Hilarity Ensues.

Tropes Included:

  • Abandoned Warehouse: After reading a letter from a cigarette packet that was meant for the STENCH agents, Harold, Simpkins, and Bind sneak to a warehouse, thinking that they're going to meet up with Carstairs.
  • Accidental Pervert: When Daphne faints, Harold follows his CPR training and tries to take off her clothes so that he can balance her body heat. She wakes up in the middle of it and tells him off but eventually relaxes after she's reminded what happened.
  • The Ace: Carstairs is probably the best BOSH agent there's ever been, however, he's no match for the idiocy of Simpkins' group.
  • Action Girl: Lila, who is played off as a damsel in distress at first, but reveals that she is a secret agent for the SNOG agency.
  • Actor Allusion:
    • A minor one, in the case of The Fat Man's actor, Eric Pohlmann, who was a waiter in The Third Man, Paul in the television adaptation, and did voice acting for Blofeld in From Russia with Love.
    • Kenneth Williams generally delivered at least a few lines in each Carry On film in the "Snide" voice he had used in many episodes of Hancock's Half Hour, including the character's catchphrases of "No, don't be like that!" and "Stop messin' about!" In this film, he delivers the entire performance using the "Snide" voice, and the two catchphrases make inevitable appearances.
  • Advertised Extra: Although Carstairs is only a minor character, Jim Dale got great attention in the publicity material, which makes sense in hindsight as after this film, Dale would consistently be a star and mostly get third or fourth billing.
  • Affectionate Parody: Of From Russia with Love mostly, as well as other James Bond films before it, along with The Third Man.
  • Agents Dating: Daphne and Harold start to show feelings for each other after Daphne gets drugged in a restaurant by a STENCH agent disguised as a waiter.
  • All There in the Script: We don't get to know Simpkins' first name, but the back of the DVD in "The Classic Carry On Film Collection" boxset gives it as "Desmond".
  • Ambiguous Gender: Dr Crow, the head of STENCH is part of a race of new super-humans embodying the strengths of both men and women while not being wholly one or the other.
    Dr Crow: I am Doctor Crow. You are surprised?
    Daphne Honeybutt: Yes, I am! I expected you to be a man... or a woman.
  • Anachronism Stew: The British sentries are armed with MP40 sub-machine guns, which weren't used by the British at the time, but rather the German Army during World War II.
  • And Another Thing...: As with Carry On Jack (however, this time, the man is actually dying), Harold and Bind mishear a dying Milchmann, so he briefly comes back to life to correct them, before dying for real.
  • Betty and Veronica: A downplayed one with Harold (Betty) and Bind (Veronica, albeit a subverted, idiotic one) to Daphne's Archie. Bind, being the James Bond expy, is the complete opposite of the character he's a reference to, but had no chance with Harold being in the way (and being much smarter than him) anyway.
  • Big Bad: Dr. Crow.
  • Bond, James Bond: Since he's supposed to be a parody of James Bond (an idiotic parody, to be specific), it's unsurprising that Charlie Bindnote  has this as an introduction to Simpkins.
    Charlie Bind: Name's Bind.
    Desmond Simpkins: James?
    Charlie Bind: No, Charlie. Charlie Bind. Double 0-Oh.
  • Book Ends: Simpkins' first and last scenes involve him emerging from the safe in the Director of BOSH's office.
  • Bridge Bunnies: Female STENCH agents in their headquarters walk past Simpkins's team as they're shown around. Bind can't stop leering and making sexual jokes about them under his breath.
  • The Calls Are Coming from Inside the House: Used as foreshadowing. When Dr. Crow threatens MI6 in a phone call, the Chief of Police makes his secretary trace the call, who discovers that the phone number is identical to theirs, making the two men assume that their technology wasn't strong enough for the signal. It's revealed that STENCH's lair is directly underneath MI6 and can be easily accessed through the wardrobe in the Chief's office.
  • The Chanteuse: Lila, the nightclub singer that Simpkins later meets on the train, making him suspicious.
  • Colorful Theme Naming: The hired agents' codenames.
    • Simpkins — codename Red Admiral.
    • Daphne — codename Brown Cow.
    • Bind — codename Yellow Peril.
    • Harold — codename Blue Bottle.
  • Conspicuous Trenchcoat: Bind is wearing one once the group leaves the restaurant, probably because was in a cyclist disguise and wanted to keep warm.
  • Conveyor Belt o' Doom: Simpkins' group gets stuck on STENCH's factory conveyor belt, which leads to a welding room and a furnace.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Harold becomes suspiciously protective of Daphne throughout the movie, especially when it comes to going into the fun-house in Algiers, to the point of disguising as a dancer with her.
  • Deep Cover Agent: Lila, who spends her first appearance as a travelling restaurant entertainer and points a pistol to Dr. Crow's head when they're torturing Simpkins' gang.
  • Delivery Guy Infiltration: Milchmann's job at the beginning of the movie. It stumps BOSH, who wonder how a terrorist act could get past the security.
  • Den of Iniquity: The Algiers funhouse.
  • Disguised in Drag:
    • One of Carstairs' disguises is a big-breasted prostitute.
    • Harold when he attempts to steal the formula from the distracted Fat Man with Daphne.
  • The Ditz: Daphne is in a way, but shows more common sense than leader Simpkins and supposed "hero" Charlie Bind.
  • Door Roulette: In a hotel, Simpkins opens a wardrobe door in the middle of a conversation, notices that a woman is in there, and slams it shut after apologising. He does a Double Take, opens the door, and discovers that the woman isn't there.
  • The Door Slams You: In the restaurant, Carstairs is close to stealing the secret formula from Milchmann, but meets this fate by the power of Simpkins.
  • Dumb Blonde: Daphne is a downplayed version, but shows much more common sense than supposed heroes Charlie Bind and Desmond Simpkins.
  • Eat the Evidence: Simpkins forces Bind to eat the formula sheet on the train before the STENCH agents could catch up with them. To make it less obvious, the group share out bowls of soup to eat in case they get caught in the act.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: STENCH headquarters, as it turns out. Strange, considering it's underneath BOSH, and all we see of BOSH is the Director's office.
  • Everyone Knows Morse Code: In prison, Harold knocks against pipes to contact a prisoner that might be sitting next door. When the prisoner next door taps back, Bind translates the tapping as "Stop that tapping! I'm trying to sleep!"
  • Evil Gloating: Dr. Crow phones the Director of BOSH to boast about bombing a research lab.
  • Evil, Inc.: STENCH (the Society for the Total Extinction of Non-Conforming Humans), who steal a drug.
  • Fake Boobs: When Carstairs disguised as a prostitute, he uses basketball-sized fake breasts.
  • Females Are More Innocent: Daphne, who asks the group what a fun-house is.
  • Femme Fatale: Nightclub singer Lila is supposed to be this, but only gets the chance to flirt with Simpkins once when they're on the train.
  • Femme Fatale Spy: Daphne is probably a minor version of this. Double agent Lila is this, though.
  • Film Noir: The movie has elements of the tropes in this trope, not to mention the Deliberately Monochrome.
  • Foreshadowing: This film contains a rather clever example from a film series which generally places little emphasis on narrative. When STENCH leader Dr. Crow calls the Director of BOSH at the beginning of the film to taunt him about the theft of the formula, the Director orders the call traced, and the number comes back Whitehall 66066. The Director realizes that is their own number and assumes the trace has failed. It turns out the STENCH base is directly below the headquarters of British Intelligence; at the end of the film, Simpkins and his team emerge from a secret exit in the safe in the Director's office in which Simpkins had been locked at the beginning of the film.
  • Fun with Acronyms:
    • STENCH (the Society for the Total Extinction of Non-Conforming Humans)
    • SNOG (the Society for the Neutralisation Of Germs).
      Simpkins: [upon being invited to join SNOG at the end of the film] Ooh, yes! I've always wanted to do a bit of SNOGgin'!
    • BOSH (British Operational Security Headquarters).
    • SMUT (the Society for the Monopoly of Universal Technology).
  • Gainax Ending: A bizarre one in itself. After eventually making Dr. Crow surrender, the agents (and Lila) use an elevator, which leads them to the office of the Director of BOSH, where the Director of BOSH and Carstairs are fretting. Simpkins reassures them that Dr Crow has been arrested, and that STENCH has been detonated because he pressed a button to self-destruct the place. Upon realising that STENCH's headquarters is directly underneath BOSH, Simpkins immediately realises what he's done, and there is an explosion, filling the room with smoke, ending the movie. It's not clear whether BOSH has been blown sky high as well or whether anyone had a chance of making out alive.
  • Genre Blindness: After Daphne reads out the STENCH secret message to Simpkins' group (see the Reading The Enemy's Mail section below), the table are immediately given martinis (by a STENCH agent disguised as a waiter) that are "compliments from the kitchen", and no one sees it as suspicious, choosing to celebrate on their first task being so-called completed. Unsurprisingly, the drinks are drugged this time (see the Slipping a Mickey section below).
  • Going by the Matchbook: The group read a message for STENCH agents from a matchbox in the nightclub, thinking that it is from Carstairs.
  • Hero of Another Story: Carstairs is clearly a James Bond expy who would normally be the hero. Unfortunately for him, he's in a parody.
  • His Name Is...: Milchmann's howls of pain when Simpkins' group find him parody this trope when the group assumes the groaning is the name of his leader.
  • Human Doorstop: Simpkins stands on Bind so that he can open the warehouse window.
  • Idiot Hero: Simpkins and Bind, although they're portrayed as better than Harold and Daphne.
  • I Meant to Do That: Harold tries to break into a warehouse where STENCH agents are waiting, presuming that Carstairs will be there to give his team a message. He pulls at the door handle, rests his foot on the side ... and falls into the warehouse. He stands up, adjusts himself, and awkwardly looks out to the non-existent crowd watching.
  • In Name Only: Charlie Bind is nothing like the agent he's meant to be in this movie's universe. Instead of being a womanizer that gets the job done, Charlie has mommy issues, is incompetent when he's not around his teacher Simpkins (who's equally as incompetent), and is genre blind. He doesn't even get with Daphne or any foreign women on the team's travel, despite being a man who's probably in his early twenties.
  • Inconsistent Spelling: Kenneth Williams' character's name has been spelt both "Simpkins" and "Simkins" on many different occasions.
  • Incredibly Conspicuous Drag:
    • Carstairs' prostitute disguise, which wouldn't have been too bad if not for the giant Fake Boobs.
    • Harold tries to pass himself off as a Belly Dancer, despite his obviously male physique.
  • Ironic Nickname: Bind's code-name is "Yellow Peril", which is a racist phrase for the threat/fear of Eastern Asians, but he's obviously not Asian and he's not a threat to anyone.
  • I've Got an X, and I'm Not Afraid to Use It!: Bind threatens STENCH agents on the train that he's got a pistol, but his trousers fall down instead.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: Upon first meeting Harry, Daphne, and Bind, Simpkins consistently addresses them as "men". Harry politely points out that Daphne is a woman, making the use of the term "men" seem inapt, but Simpkins points out that as far as the espionage business is concerned, there is no difference between men and women, as they all take the same risks, they all eat the same food, and use the same... password (no, not bathroom, which is what he seems about to say).
  • MacGuffin: The formula sheet.
  • Mission Control: The Director of BOSH and his partner Cobley become this, even though they appear in this briefly when Simpkins' team go to Algiers.
  • Mummy's Boy: Bind is seen writing a letter to his mother before he holds back the STENCH spies on a train.
  • Newcomer Saves the Day: Even though new recruits Harold, Daphne, and Bind are almost as incompetent as their more experienced superior, Simpkins, they end up foiling STENCH's plot and delivering Doctor Crow into the hands of British Intelligence by sheer luck.
  • Nice Guy: Harold and Daphne. The other two in the group are both smug, condescending and terrible secret agents.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Too many times to count when it came to Simpkins and/or his students. It was enough to irritate (and later hospitallise) Carstairs.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: If Dr. Crow hadn't boasted to the enemy that a research lab had been bombed, BOSH wouldn't have intervened, and the STENCH plan would've run smoother and quicker.
  • Non-Fatal Explosions: Milchmann's delivery, in which he chooses to stand in the same lab with the exploding milk directly behind the scientist adds the liquid to his experiment. The entire building nearly blows up, resorting to the department of the explosion's source.
  • Oh, Crap!: When Simpkins realises that he's not only self-destructed STENCH's headquarters, but BOSH as well.
  • The Oner: The opening scene contains a tracking shot of Milchman going through several doorways.
  • Orient Express: Simpkins suspects that STENCH agents would be on the plane waiting for his team that's travelling back to England, so the group takes the train. And so did the STENCH agents...
  • Overt Operative: No matter how much the four newcomers try to be secretive, the STENCH agents know where they are.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Carstairs wears a lot of these in order to relay messages to the four newcomers. Half of them are too obvious to be convincing, yet the newcomers don't recognise him when he holds the Fat Man at gunpoint in the fun house. Naturally, he is unarmed and knocked unconscious by the group.
  • Parody Names: Several, from James Bond films to film noirs. See the Shout-Out section of this page for more information.
  • Photographic Memory: Daphne Honeybutt literally has one. Her eyelids can make a camera shutter noise as she "photographs" important documents to commit them to memory.
  • Plot Hole:
    • The formula must be kept at -300°C, despite the fact that nothing can be colder than -273.15°C.
    • Harold is neat and clean after leaving the sewer despite the fact.
    • When the train brakes suddenly, the background still shows the train moving, and also in the same scene Simpkins claims that pulling a train's emergency brake cable is a £10 fine, when at the time it was only a £5 fine.
  • Police Are Useless: Unintentionally invoked by the Director of BOSH, who hires the worst and most inexperienced secret agents to solve the case.
  • Portal Door: The cupboard in BOSH's head office, which leads to STENCH's headquarters.
  • Publicly Discussing the Secret: Simpkins threatens his group to be anonymous in the restaurant, but being ... how he is, he immediately breaks cover when the waitress shows him around the table by sitting with Harold and Daphne and they loudly discuss what they've discovered, within earshot of all the STENCH agents nearby.
  • Punny Name:
    • Daphne's codename is part of the pronunciation phrase "how now brown cow".
    • Harold's codename is basically a type of fly.
    • STENCH agent Milchmann's name is German for "milkman", and this is how he disguises himself to steal the formula from BOSH.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The heroes come across as this. The idiotic self-centered Simpkins, the absent-minded so-called "hero" (considering how he's named after James Bond) Bind, the decent-but-ditzy Daphne and the Only Sane Man Harold.
  • Reading The Enemy's Mail: In the restaurant, Simpkins loudly moans about how the cigarettes that a waitress is trying to sell him are probably drugged by STENCH agents and picks a packet of cigarettes that contains the message that was meant to be shared between the STENCH members. When Daphne reads it to the table, she suggests that it's a message from Carstairs as the room fills with STENCH agents facepalming and frowning.
  • Right Under Their Noses: The headquarters of the evil S.T.E.N.C.H organisation is right under the headquarters of the British Secret Service where the spies started their mission. After the Elaborate Underground Base blows up, the heroes take the elevator to the surface and emerge from a closet in Da Chief's office.
  • Ruritania: Algiers where Simpkins' team go to look for the Fat Man.
  • Shaking the Rump: Our heroes are taken to the villain's Elaborate Underground Base, which is full of catsuited females bustling about.
    Dr Crow: This is our headquarters.
    Charlie Bind: Looks more like hindquarters to me!
  • Shoe Phone: Simpkins's group have different household items to talk to each other with. Simpkins has a watch, Daphne has a purse, and Harold uses a toy snake.
  • Shout-Out:
    • One will find that most of the conventions are from Film Noir, from the cigarette packet in the nightclub having a message inside it, to Dilys Laye as the femme fatale, who doesn't actually get many chances to flirt and mostly spends time trying to get away from the protagonists because of how obnoxious and incompetent some of them are.
    • Harold's codename "Bluebottle" comes from a character from The Goon Show.
    • The Fat Man being The Third Man (however, it can also be argued that his name is also a shout-out to The Thin Man).
      • Other nods to The Third Man include characters emerging from manhole covers, the Café Mozart meeting place and the subtle inclusion of a cuckoo clock.
    • Most of the movie is filled with James Bond and other spy flicks references.
      • Charlie Bind = James Bond. Was originally "James Bind", but copyright wouldn't allow it.
      • Dr Crow being Dr. No.
      • The acronyms based on a variety of organizations from the series, mostly SPECTRE and SMERSH.
      • Daphne Honeybutt's surname is based on the name Honeychile Rider from Dr. No as well.
      • The fight on the train being straight from From Russia with Love. And let's not forget the poster. At one point, Carstairs has a watch containing a garrotte wire like Red Grant.
      • This movie shares many similar story threads from The Living Daylights (ironically before the film was made twenty years later), such as the locations the characters go and the plot point of exploding milk bottles.
    • Eric Pohlmann and John Bluthal's roles were intended to be the comic answer to Sydney Greenstreet in Casablanca and Peter Lorre in The Maltese Falcon (1941).
    • Simpkins says "Stop messing about!" at one point, which was a Kenneth Williams catchphrase from the popular Hancock's Half Hour.
    • Characters emerging from the Director of BOSH's cupboard after using an elevator in STENCH's headquarters as if they were coming from another world. Hmmm...
  • Slipping a Mickey: When Simpkins and his team gather in the restaurant in Vienna, the STENCH agents are expecting them (they have even reserved a table for four British spies) and offer them a tray of four champagne cocktails, compliments of the house. Simpkins, however, tells his agents not to drink them as they might be drugged... and he proceeds to "test" all four of them by drinking every last one. As it turns out, they're not drugged, but a second tray of champagne cocktails is brought over moments later, and Daphne takes one sip from her glass, gasps, and falls unconscious.
  • Something Person: The Fat Man.
  • Spy Catsuit: The STENCH workers wear them in the base.
  • Spy School: The film is supposed to be set in one, in which incompetent agent Desmond Simpkins gives a minimal amount of training to three new recruits, the enthusiastic but awkward Harold Crump, the eager yet naive Daphne Honeybutt, and the clumsy Charlie Bind.
  • Stealth Insult:
    Desmond Simpkins: Oh, Vienna! Lovely! I've always wanted to see Vienna before I die.
    BOSH Director: With a bit of luck, you'll do both.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: The Director of BOSH.
  • Suspect Is Hatless: Simpkins asks the Director for information about The Fat Man. All he and the team are given is that The Fat Man is an obese male.
  • Tagline: "They're at it again - O.O.Oh!".
  • Tap on the Head: Simpkins knocks out a guard at the funhouse with a large basin.
  • Too Dumb to Live: If there wasn't any of these characters in the movie, the plot probably wouldn't have happened.
    • Specifically, Desmond Simpkins, whose Never My Fault attitude and claims of brilliance makes him genre blind when the team goes to different locations to solve the case, meaning that they go around and trust every stranger they meet. Not to mention, if he did know who Carstairs was, he should've told the team to look out for specific facial features and mannerisms in case he was in disguises, which wouldn't've lead to Carstairs getting injured. Also, he even self-destructs the villain's lair and killed everyone in BOSH's headquarters as well. Or not.
    • BOSH's headquarters as well, for not having tighter security. The German STENCH agent, disguised as the milkman, easily walked through the front doors and into the laboratory where he stole a formula and blew up the building.
  • Tuxedo and Martini: Carstairs. Through no fault of his own, his work is rendered completely ineffectual because of the comedic incompetence of the main characters.
  • Wardrobe Malfunction: This happens to Bind when he tries to stop the enemy on the train journey back to the airport. It works though — it does stall them for a long enough time to get Simpkins two carriages down.
  • We Do Not Know Each Other: Simpkins reminds Harold and Daphne that "mum's the word" and they don't know each other, but when being shown around by a waitress that points to a table on the other side of the room, Simpkins immediately spots Harold and Daphne, snapping at the waitress that he shouldn't be sitting by strangers because "we don't know each other". Regardless, once the waitress walks out, Simpkins sits at his apprentices' table.
  • Wham Line: In Algiers, Simpkins' group follow the Fat Man to a building named a "fun-house", leading the men of the group to make several snide remarks and in-jokes in front of a clueless Daphne. When she asks them what happens in a "fun-house", the men briefly go quiet and change the subject.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: This was the plan for Charles Hawtrey's character, who was originally named James Bind, but legal objections forced them to change the character's name to Charlie Bind (although Simpkins does ask if his name is James when he first introduces himself as "Bind").
  • You Have Failed Me: The Fat Man is threatened with this.
  • Your Mom: When trying to rescue Harold and Daphne from inside the funhouse, Bind is told by Simpkins to insult the doorman's father in order to get the door open. When Bind does, the doorman thinks it was a description and offers to let the two men who knew his father inside, but Bind refuses, claiming that he should "come out here and hear what I have to say about your mother".