Peter Roger' Obiturary
From Telegraph, April 2009.
Peter Rogers, who died on April 14 aged 95, dreamt up the Carry On comedies and went on to produce the entire Carry On oeuvre, from Carry On Sergeant (1958) to Carry on Emmanuelle (1978).
Rogers began his career as a journalist before becoming a screenwriter for J Arthur Rank working on Sunday Thought for the Week - a "religious information" series in which his job was to "gag up Jesus Christ". The experience gave him a strong idea of what cinema audiences did not like: "One night the audience at Edgware threw tomatoes at the screen – and they were rationed."
Some time after Rogers had established himself as a producer, working with the director Gerald Thomas, he obtained an RF Delderfield script, The Bull Boys – a serious piece about the effect of army conscription on a pair of ballet dancers. To avoid any audience irreverence he had it rewritten by Norman Hudis as a comedy: Carry On Sergeant.
The film, which starred William Hartnell and a youthful Bob Monkhouse, with Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey and Kenneth Connor as three hapless army privates, was shot quickly on a budget of under £75,000. The critical response was lukewarm. The Monthly Film Bulletin called it "a conventional farce, in which all the characters come from stock". Yet Carry On Sergeant became an unlikely success - hitting No 3 in the UK box-office charts for 1958, behind Dunkirk and Bridge On the River Kwai, so Rogers decided to make another.
Carry On Nurse, also starring Williams, Hawtree and Connors, topped the box office charts in 1959. Over the next 20 years the formula was applied to many institutions – hospital, police, school – and to locations as exotic as the Wild West, the Khyber Pass and Ancient Egypt. The routine was simple enough. Rogers would think up the title in his bathtub, then summon the scriptwriter.
The recipe changed little over the decades, even when Hudis was replaced by Talbot Rothwell. There were occasional battles with the censors over such matters as Leslie Phillips's pronunciation of the Joan Sims character in Carry On Teacher – the lovely "Miss Allcock" – but by and large the audience got what they paid for – a mixture of music hall gags, colonial prejudices, mockery of authority figures and a liberal spicing of good honest smut. The producer Hugh Stewart recalled that whenever he bumped into Rogers in the back lot at Pinewood and asked him what he was working on, the answer never varied: "Same story, different title." Familiarity helped to establish the Carry On series as a British institution.
In the early days Rogers and Thomas released three Carry Ons a year, cutting and shooting each film in under six weeks – slotted for convenience into the season between pantomimes and summer shows. Rogers was extremely reluctant to travel, partly because of the cost, and partly because he hated to be separated from his beloved Alsatian dogs. Most of the films were made in or near Pinewood Studios. "A tree is a tree anywhere," explained Rogers, "And it's only funny if someone falls out of it. It doesn't matter where it is. We went to Chobham for Carry On Cowboy, and sometimes as far as Windsor or Maidenhead."
Rogers ruled the set with a rod of iron and was famously tight-fisted, remarking that he would "do anything for my actors except pay them". He rarely spent more than £200,000 on a film and top stars like Sid James and Kenneth Williams took home a maximum of £5,000 a film. The women got around half as much: £3,000 for Barbara Windsor, £2,500 for Joan Sims. To make matters worse, they were one-off payments with no share of royalties. Rogers and Gerald Thomas, by contrast, did well out of the series, picking up £15,000 each a film, plus a reported one-third of profits, out of which Rogers treated himself to a new Rolls-Royce every year.
In his defence, Rogers claimed that after the success of Carry On Nurse he had offered his stars the opportunity to take lower fees in exchange for a percentage of the profits, but they or their agents had declined.
Rogers lived to see the Carry On films gain cult status, with critics lining up to rank the scene where Barbara Windsor's brassière flies off in Carry On Camping among the all-time greats alongside the Odessa Steps sequence in Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin. Yet Rogers himself retained a healthy cynicism about the artistic merits of his brainchild.
In 1994, when the Barbican launched a retrospective of all 30 films, he confessed that he had never sat through a Carry On film with an audience and, though he had agreed to attend the screening of Carry On Up the Khyber, he had no intention of attending any of the remaining 29 films. "Even the Marquis de Sade couldn't have devised a worse torture."
Peter Rogers was born on February 20 1914 at Rochester, Kent, and educated at the King's School. After leaving school he began his career as a reporter on the Kentish Express. Moving to the theatre in the late 1930s, he became Auriol Lee's assistant on West End productions such as JB Priestley's People at Sea and John Van Druten's Gertie Maud. Returning to journalism, he worked for a while on Picture Post, then became a radio scriptwriter for the BBC.
Exempted from wartime military service after a bout of spinal meningitis, in 1942 Rogers joined Rank's Religious Films then, after the war, moved to the Rank-owned Gainsborough Studios in Shepherds Bush as an assistant scenario editor. There he met his future wife, Betty Box, who was already establishing a name for herself as a producer. They married in 1949 and worked together on several films including Marry Me and Don't Ever Leave Me (both 1949).
In the late 1940s Rank moved its production operation to Pinewood Studios, where Rogers and Betty Box continued their partnership with such films as Venetian Bird (1952) and the wartime comedy Appointment with Venus (1951). During the 1950s and 1960s, as Betty Box moved on to the Doctor film series starring Dirk Bogarde, the pair formed one of the most formidable partnerships in show business.
In the mid-1950s, working with Gerald Thomas, Rogers went on to produce children's films in which he was able to indulge his love of animals. These included The Gay Dog (1954), Circus Friends (1956) and The Dog and the Diamonds (1953), which won the Venice Film Festival Award in the same year. He also wrote and produced the thriller Time Lock (1957).
During the Carry On years, Rogers continued to produce other comedies, such as the spicily titled Please Turn Over and Watch Your Stern and also produced the television series Ivanhoe, with Roger Moore, and the film version of the Sid James sitcom Bless This House.
The Carry On formula began to lose its way in the 1970s as the films became more risqué and less funny. After the lamentable Carry On Emmanuelle (1978), the series was brought to an end.
Rogers carried on working on television compilations of highlights from the films and in the early 1990s agreed to a proposal by John Goldstone that they should cash in on the anniversary of the discovery of America. The result, Carry On Columbus (1992), starring Julian Clary, Peter Richardson, Richard Wilson and Alexei Sayle, sank with all hands. When, in 1994 Rogers went bankrupt, many commentators cited the failure of Columbus as the reason, though Rogers blamed an unwise investment in a television company.
Rogers continued to commute to his offices at Pinewood until last year, answering mail and looking after the Carry On legacy. When he was not at Pinewood, he was with his pet Alsatians or writing novels, some of which were published. At the time of his death he was working as executive producer on a new Carry On film, Carry On London, which remains in production.
His wife, Betty Box, died in 1999.