Terence Blacker: Carry On flogging a dead horse

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The Independent Online

Intriguing as it is, the news from Cannes that our capital city is to be the subject of a new Carry On film brings with it one great regret. Many of the actors who could do justice to the great pageant of life in contemporary London are dead or getting on in years.

We can only imagine Charles Hawtrey as Mayor Ken Livingstone, skipping about excitedly at the news - brought to him by Lord Coe (Kenneth Williams) - that his city is to host the Olympic Games. It would have been fun to see a visit by a dodgy South American president (I see Bernard Bresslaw in heavy make-up) or follow the misadventures of John Prescott (it has to be Terry Scott) as he chases Tracey Temple (Liz Fraser) around the desk. There would be a permanently disgruntled Labour MP - Glenda Jackson, playing herself - who would forever be complaining to a wincing, ineffective head of the Metropolitan Police, a gift of a part for John Le Mesurier.

Without these great comic actors from the past, I fear Carry On London might turn out to be as embarrassing as the real thing. Its stars will be Vinnie Jones, presumably reprising yet again his ironic, joke-psychotic persona, someone from EastEnders and a Swedish glamour model.

But it is not just the line-up which induces a wince of despair. Because the best comedy is a reflection of a particular moment and social mood, revivals are almost always doomed - a fact that one would have thought that Peter Richardson, the director of the new film, would understand. Richardson's brilliant and subversive The Comic Strip Presents ... helped define the 1980s; last year's attempt to apply the format over 15 years later was an embarrassment.

The humour of the original Carry On films depended on naughtiness and the disapproval of authority. They pulsed with a peculiarly English form of sexual frustration. Today, naughtiness no longer exists in any real form (everyone is naughty), and authority disapproves of other, less interesting things than sex. Erotic need can still be a good joke - Green Wing has revealed that a woman self-combusting with randiness is even funnier than a man in the same situation - but not, one can safely predict, when it is enacted by Vinnie Jones.

In fact, no format proves the evanescence of comedy more comprehensively than that of the Carry On films. The reason that they are funny even today is that they reflect the anxieties and embarrassments of half a century ago. Only a film industry hooked on the easy publicity and cash offered by remakes (Alfie, anyone?) would fail to learn the lessons of the past. When I was in publishing 25 years ago, we published a book based on what was to be the last ever film in the series, Carry On, Emmanuelle. Later there was Carry On, Columbus. But still backers insist on putting up money for what should really be entitled Carry On Flogging a Dead Horse.

Yet the comic material is all around. A model has quadrupled her salary by being photographed snorting cocaine. Palestinian refugee children have this week been given £60,000 by a fat businessmen who wanted to watch two female celebrities snog one another at a charity event. A thuggish ex-footballer earns a living as a joke thug in films. The Mayor of London has praised the human rights record of China based on its reduction of foot-binding. We now need someone brilliant, funny and young to bring the full hilarity of London to the screen.

Donna, the smug litter lout

The case of a bolshie woman called Donna Challice is dividing public opinion. As grumpiness is in fashion, her refusal to recycle according to local council rules has been treated rather sympathetically in the press. Cross-armed, she smiles smugly to camera, apparently confident her decision to risk polluting the recyclable material of others with her own family's rubbish represents the rights of the individual. She is busy, she says. She has three kids. The council in Exeter can take her to court. "It's a day out for me but I can't afford the fine."

What a silly and selfish woman. If she is found guilty and is unable to pay the fine, the court might consider another sentence. Clearing litter for, say, a couple of hundred hours would wipe the smile off her face.

* The quality of public entertainment, private conversation and media discourse will slip down a couple of notches this week. Another series of Big Brother has started. There will soon be discussions about the morality of the whole thing. Someone in the house will try to have sex with someone else. There will be a fight. The behaviour of moronic individualists whom you would take care to avoid in everyday life will suddenly matter. Columnists will start seeing the programme as representing something or other in public life, and will write at length about it. You might even start taking sides.

There is another way. Avoid it. The series provides nothing of value. It may be entertaining now and then, but in a demeaning way, like watching the neighbours through a hole drilled in their bedroom wall. Can we do it, together? Pretend Big Brother does not exist? Let's try.

terblacker@aol.com

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