Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Spending a Penny

"Carry on Constable" is an early black & white Carry On film, made in 1960.  I prefer these earlier films in the series - the humour is more subtle and restrained.  At the turn of the 1970s this charm had been well and truly lost.  "Constable" benefits from a smut free Sid James, a Charles Hawtrey with a delightful turn of phrase ("You merry quipper you!") and a sublime Joan Hickson as a genteel drunk.

As one of a group of raw police recruits filling in during a flu epidemic, Kenneth Connor plays Constable Constable.  On his first beat, he is dropped off the line at a public convenience. A lady stands outside, frantically rooting about in her endless handbag.  When Connor asks her if she needs any help, she replies "I could do with a copper and no mistake".

While laughing delightedly at this pun, it struck me that anyone watching now under the age of around 25, would have little idea of what was going on.  The phrase 'spending a penny' might sound familiar, but hold no meaning.  It seems that with the rise of the out of town shopping centres, public conveniences have disappeared from the suburban high street.  We now visit toilets in shops and malls where the need to pay a penny for the upkeep of the facilities has gone.  Those remaining stand-alone purpose built conveniences - maybe at the seaside or at the park, no longer seem to charge either.  Has the level of upkeep dropped, or is payment coming in from another source? Car parking charges perhaps?  Judging by the smell in a lot of them it is the former.

I don't include those big metal tardis toilets in town centres.  Does anyone actually use these?  I for one am far too terrified that the door will open on me in my own Carry On moment.  The days of entering a low, concrete and tiled building with a penny for the big metal box on the door are gone.  Probably much to the chagrin of bus drivers, taxi drivers and especially to those who have to pick up the bottles of dubious looking liquid from grass verges on A roads.

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