Saturday, 1 March 2014

Stop Wineing

‘Carry on Abroad (1972) takes full advantage of the package holiday phenomenon of the 1970s.  Suddenly, the British found themselves in the position of being able to head for the sun for their summer breaks.  Package holidays to Spain and other Mediterranean countries boomed.  Resorts, keen to cash in on the boom times, sometimes couldn’t quite keep up with demand.  I vaguely remember the consumer programme reports of the late 1970s/early 1980s where people wrote in to complain about tour operators that had sold them two weeks on a building site.  Rich pickings indeed for Talbot Rothwell.  ‘Carry On Abroad’ exaggerates the problems encountered by most, but as with all comedy it is based on familiarity and there are elements of truth in the unfinished hotel in the middle of nowhere, run by amateurs.

A strong theme running through the film, and a looming sign of things to come is the conspicuous consumption of alcohol.  The character of Eustace Tuttle, played by Charles Hawtrey (though mainly being himself rather than acting, by all accounts) is rather symbolic.  A Mummy’s boy, whose maternal bondage seems to revolve entirely around his bowel movements, he uses his holiday to temporarily break free.  To him, to break free entails indulging in copious amounts of drink.  He spends the entire film on the sauce.  Meanwhile, Mrs Blunt, played by June Whitfield, is a hugely uptight woman.  She is the butt of that famous line of Sid’s, where, after telling him that she has tried every vice once and didn’t like it, he can only assume that she has just the one child.  Of course, all it takes is a bottle of champagne to loosen her up and become open to amorous advances.  Finally, at the end of the film, all of the characters bond over a huge bowl of punch.

If we go on the older black and white British films, it used to be the case that our pubs kept to strict opening hours, that men drunk only pints of flat beer or traditional spirits, while any woman unladylike enough to frequent a public house drunk a port and lemon, or possibly a gin. Certainly drunkenness existed – but was it to the same extent that we have now?  These new trips abroad broadened our horizons where drinking was concerned and holidaymakers partook specifically to enhance the relaxation experience.  Trips began to be made across the Channel specifically to drink, and we imported these new habits in an attempt to recapture the holiday spirit, to break up the horror of returning to the daily grind.

Unfortunately, like Eustace, we do seem to have taken it too far, as scenes on a Saturday night up and down the land attest.  And I do believe that we have rather made a name for ourselves on the continent as a nation unable to hold their drink.  As ‘Carry On Abroad’ shows, we do it to escape and to loosen ourselves from the bonds of our natural national reserve.  It is time that we grew up now, and found some confidence elsewhere.  

My first holiday abroad in Tenerife, 1982.  I wasn't on the booze though....

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