Before Sid James and Kenneth Williams became the focal points for the Carry On films and invariably took up position at the top of the cast list, another member of the team was seen as the star of the series. That man was Kenneth Connor.
Appearing in a run of seven straight Carry Ons from the very first, Carry On Sergeant, through to Carry On Cabby, Connor was often cast in the central role; acting as the focal point, the character around which much of the plot threads wound themselves. In Sergeant for instance, despite the presence of guest stars Bob Monkhouse and William Hartnell, it is Connor's character, hypochondriac Horace Strong, who gets the majority of screen time. Similarly in Carry On Constable, it is the love-struck, astrology-fearing Constable Constable (Connor) who features in one of the film's major story lines, as he tries and fails to convey his love for WPC Passworthy (Joan Sims).
The next entry in the series, Carry On Regardless, features one of Kenneth's greatest ever performances as the nervous Sam Twist, who is desperately trying to give up smoking. Scriptwriter Norman Hudis believes Regardless to be the weakest of the six Carry On entries he penned and it is fair to say that the plot is somewhat loose, with the film basically breaking down into a series of sketches. However, it is the wonderfully funny Connor who gets the best of these mini stories as, in turn, he fends off the amorous advances of Fenella Fielding, mistakenly believes himself to be caught up in a spy game and, in the best moment of the entire film, desperately tries (and fails) to remain quiet in a stuffy old gentlemen's club. This final moment is a true master-class in the art of physical comedy from Connor, as he slowly descends into manic fits of laughter.
After another excellent performance of shy awkwardness in Carry On Cruising and a staunchly dependable turn in Cabby (featuring some great interplay with the master Sid James), Kenneth Connor would play what is arguably the most famous role of his career - Carry On or otherwise - in the shape of square-wheel maker Hengist Pod in the almighty Carry On Cleo.
With Kenneth Williams and Sid James tearing up the screen as Julius Caesar and Mark Antony and Amanda Barrie making a bewitching Egyptian Queen, it is a testament to the talent of Kenneth Connor that his performance as henpecked husband-turned-unlikely-gladiator is held in such high esteem. Once again, his portrayal of shy, bumbling awkwardness is truly wonderful, this time capped with moments of false bravado.
Due to commitments in the theatre, it would be another five years before Kenneth Connor would appear in another Carry On. His return was as Frankie Howerd's assistant Claude Chumley in 1969's Carry On Up the Jungle.
During his absence from the series, new recruits Bernard Bresslaw and Peter Butterworth had embedded themselves firmly into the fold and the famous plot dynamic of Sid James vs Kenneth Williams was now in full swing (see Cowboy, Don't Lose Your Head and Up the Khyber). This meant that, unfortunately, Kenneth Connor's future Carry On roles would be reduced. The silver lining in this cloud of course was that Kenneth could now delve into his 'character actor' box of tricks.
These smaller, more character based roles saw Kenneth as a scheming Lord in Henry, an officious but endearing railway worker in Matron, a bumbling ineffectual Mayor in Girls and a dithering but randy Parish Constable in Dick.
In between all of these, Carry On Abroad featured Connor in his greatest Carry On role of the seventies, that of sexually frustrated husband Stanley Blunt. Forging a nice on-screen partnership with June Whitfield and engaging in some nice banter with old sparring partner Sid James, this is a memorable Carry On for Connor and remains a favourite of fans. Connor would somewhat reprise this role in Carry On Behind as similarly frustrated Major Leap.
Despite the quality of the series declining as the decade wore on, Kenneth Connor would stay in the team, never giving less than his best. A tremendously talented actor, he remains one of the most underrated members of the Carry On gang.