Monday, 5 August 2013

On Form With Carry On

‘Carry on Nurse’ (1959), the second film in the series, is perhaps most well known for that final scene with the daffodil thermometer.  I’ve always particularly enjoyed it for Charles Hawtrey’s performance as the headphone- wearing radio addict.  And the priceless expression on his face as he slides himself into the role of an illicit night nurse.

I revisited ‘Carry on Nurse’ earlier this year in order to remind myself of some references for a more in depth essay that I am preparing.  Quite unexpectedly, I found myself wholly identifying with a small, quite inconsequential scene that has recently taken on relevance.  Mr Hickson (Bill Owen) is laid up in traction with a broken leg, after an accident at work.  When visiting time comes around, we find Mrs Hickson is pleasingly played by Irene Handl.  Those little tastes of Irene that we find in the 1950s are always delicious.  I think that she was at her best in these small pieces, which leave us more satisfied than a whole film of her might have done.  Anyway she dutifully visits her husband, and brings along with her a form that needs to be completed in order for him to claim compensation.  Although he has merely broken a leg, it is Mrs Hickson that has to fill the form in – despite Mr Hickson holding all the answers to many of the questions.

I found the scene funnier than I ever had before, and not just because of Irene’s portrayal of her character.  A close friend of mine had only recently been telling me of a similar situation she had found herself in twice over. The first time round her OH had broken his arm and so quite naturally it was her that had had to fill in the insurance forms. But now he had hit a spell of unemployment, and despite him being able bodied and at a loose end, there was still an expectation that she should be the one who completed the necessary forms!  She's a working mum, she came home from work and carried out many of her household chores  (the washing machine being as unfathomable as a female’s temperament...apparently) and did general mum stuff, and yet it was still the assumption it was her job to fill in the claim and job application forms! It became quite a contentious issue, and they could easily have ended up as another divorce statistic.

So I found Mrs Hickson’s plight very funny – as my friend said, quoting Morrissey, “I can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible.” But with it came a realisation that it wasn’t just her that had taken up with a big girls’ blouse where holding a pen is concerned.  It would appear from my own little straw poll that quite often, once a man has a woman in his life, anything that involves writing is automatically allocated to her.  It can be forms, cheques or greetings cards.  This may be more of a traditional working classes thing.  Those men who earn a living by manual work are, I suppose, just not confident in their abilities where literacy is concerned.

I wonder how much 20th century education has been to blame for this.  Back in the days when it was assumed that boys would go and work in the coal mine, steel works or foundry, literacy just wasn’t top of the list of concerns.  Not that long ago, a job in the pit was for life.  There would never be any need to fill in another job application form.  Girls meanwhile would be the ones to work as secretaries; to write the invites and thank you notes and letters to family.  I hope that this is therefore a phenomenon that is dying out under increasing educational expectations and changes to our employment patterns.  Or the realisation that these days, everyone needs to know how to fill in a JSA form.
Matron! By @aitchteee

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