Friday, 28 November 2014

Frightful Frying

In my previous blog post I wrote about the British horror film, made popular by the Hammer Studios’ output from the 1950s onwards. There are two points which indicate just how popular they became.  Firstly, the sheer number of them that were turned out – Hammer made over 50 features in this genre.  But the second major indicator is the spoof tribute film, ‘Carry On Screaming’ (1966).  If the Carry On crew were prepared to give it a good send-up, then that is all the evidence you need for something being an established part of British culture.

‘Screaming’ is one of my favourites – Kenneth Williams is perfectly cast in the role of a mad Victorian doctor; with Fenella Fielding vamping it up admirably as his sister.  They are sending out werewolf – like creatures to abduct women and this is investigated by Harry H Corbett’s policeman. The underrated Peter Butterworth plays his assistant, providing many of the comedy highlights.  There are always many references to contemporary British culture in the Carry On films.  Even those set in a historical period make a point of sneaking in snide comments about modern Britain. My favourite example is in ‘Carry on up the Khyber’.  When Princess Jelhi reacts with horror to the news that the Khasi has decreed a “death by a thousand cuts”; he retorts “Nonsense!  The British are used to cuts!” A clear reference to contemporary government policies.
Dr Watt by @aitchteee

 ‘Screaming’ was recently shown again on the television and I caught the final chunk of it with my eldest daughter.  She asked me what was so funny about Kenneth Williams’ catchphrase – and also, what did it mean? “Frying tonight” is the phrase in question, called out gleefully as the kidnapped women are dunked in the bubbling vats in his lab.  I explained to her that this is how chip shops used to alert people to the fact that they were open and frying fish and chips that evening. She looked rather confused, and I realised that I was getting old. Of course we now live in a culture where fast food is always available at any time of the day or night. Macdonalds or KFC have no need to advertise that they are cooking – they just always are.  No wonder we’ve all got so fat; fast food is no longer a treat and it is viewed almost as a necessity.  The very idea that chip shops would advertise in this way now seems quaint.  So, it just goes to show, even in a film as far removed from reality as ‘Carry On Screaming’, it is possible to pick up a tiny gem of our lost culture, viewed from a world that most of the cast would no longer recognise. 

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