Carry On up the cultural reference

"INFAMY, INFAMY, they've all got it in for me". Once, Kenneth William's classic quote from Carry On Cleo, would have been an accurate summary of the British film establishment's attitude to Carry On films. Not so now.

To mark 40 years since Carry On Sergeant started the series, the National Film Theatre is planning to show a season of Carry On films at the South Bank from January.

And its sister organisation, the Museum of the Moving Image (Momi),is planning to run a six-month exhibition from 9 December that will pay homage to the suggestive film series. The exhibition will be complete with lectures about their cultural impact, how they represented machismo and effeminacy and a laughter workshop.

Robert Ross, author of Ooh! What a Carry On and one of the lecturers, thinks it is time that Carry On movies were appreciated as part of Britain's film heritage.

"The 20 years during which the main films were made covers a period of great change in British history,"he said."They went from post-war austerity to the Sex Pistols and say much about the change in society.

"At the beginning they were very much about the post-war cross class consensus of all mucking in.

"In Carry on Constable, and many of the hospital-based films, upper class characters like those played by Kenneth Williams, work with the working class, Sid James-type characters, to help save the police station or the hospital."

Carry On actress Barbara Windsor also believes that the films were reflections of society.

"Alright, when you went into hospital you didn't get daffodils stuck up your behind, but like the McGill seaside postcards they show how we were then," she said. "I remember walking on Blackpool front once and saying to a friend `God, they're all here'. There was a fat woman sitting with her legs open, a couple of lechy blokes leering, a blonde with a bigger chest than me and even a couple of queens.

"It makes me laugh that we were so innocent then that they still made out that camp blokes like Kenny [Kenneth Williams] or Charlie [Charles Hawtrey] were interested in women."

Ms Windsor cannot believe the films are being treated with such reverence: "But it looks like the attention will go on and on," she added.