Carry on Theo - Rick Farnworth

Interview by Simon Gwylan

Published in The Edge Magazine

 

Every religion has to start somewhere, and a lot can happen in a millennium or two. It's said, for example, that Aleister Crowley has more followers half-a-century after his death than Jesus Christ had half-a-century after his, so there you go. Crowley is going to be bigger than Christ. And Carry On is going to be bigger than either. Well, maybe not.

But we aren't half-a-century on from the death of even the earliest-dying of the Carry On team, so we will just have to wait and see. And yes, I did say Carry On. And yes, I did say religion. The number of adherents of that religion is - as Sandy Shore, one of Barry Humphrey's lesser-known creations, would put it - approximately in the region of one. In fact it is one. His name is Rick Farnworth and he is probably quite mad. But who am I to judge?

 

SIMON GWYLAN: You're Canadian, so when did you first come across the Carry On films?

RICK FARNWORTH: Oh, we're not as free of British influence as all that yet, but yeah I probably would never have got to know them except by an outside chance. But I wouldn't say I came across them. I actually went out and tracked them down. It was that line on [the Beatles album] Let It Be, you know, the between-tracks rapping Lennon does. Well, not between-tracks in this case. It started everything off. You'll remember it if you've ever heard the album. [Puts on surprisingly good Scouse accent (which sounds nothing like John Lennon, however)] ' 'I Dig A Pygmy', by Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf-Aids. Phase One, in which Doris Gets Her Oats.' Then George Martin laughs and they go into 'Two of Us' '.

 

And you didn't know who Charles Hawtrey was?

Got it in one. I was doing a Beatle fanzine at the time. It was back in the early seventies, I was still at college, and man, was I into the Beatles. John Lennon was like a fucking god to me. Everything - but everything - he said or did was significant, yeah? I was one of the crazies 'Glass Onion' [off the White Album] was aimed at. One of the substitutes on the bench for the Mark Chapman Allstars, yeah? [laughs] Anyway, John Lennon, aka God, mentions Charles Hawtrey, aka 'Who the Fuck is He?', so Charles Hawtrey was important, right? Trouble was, like I said, who the fuck was Charles Hawtrey? I wasn't even sure how to spell his surname, let alone decide where to start looking for it in the reference books. At first I thought he must be a musician, an old British one, like that ugly one from the north, I forget his name. No chin, big Adam's apple. Ugly as fuck.

 

George Formby.

Yeah. But Hawtrey didn't turn up in the right places so I guessed he wasn't a musician. Shortly afterwards I found out he was an actor and the name of a film he starred in. So I got hold of it.

 

Which one was it?

Of the Carry Ons?

 

Yeah.

No, get this, it wasn't a Carry On. The British biographical dictionary I got hold of with Charles Hawtrey's name in it was so fucking old that it didn't even mention the Carry Ons.

 

So what was the film?

Something called Good Morning, Boys! An old Will Hays comedy. 1935 or thereabouts. Now, the funny thing was that I had heard of Will Hays, because - useless trivia time, folks - I'd been really into astronomy as a kid and he - Will Hays, that is - discovered a white spot on Saturn. Like Jupiter has a red spot, yeah? And he went and discovered a white one on Saturn. He was a famous amateur astronomer as well as being a movie-star. Told you it was useless trivia, yeah?

 

Well, I never knew that. Did you watch the film when you got it?

Yeah. I didn't even know which actor Charles Hawtrey was until the credits. And, like, he didn't have that big a part, so I had this feeling that maybe it wasn't that movie that brought him to Lennon's attention. I mean, it was made before Lennon was born even, and in those days, before video and television, movies tended to disappear from public consciousness once their theatre runs were over, you know? So I thought Hawtrey must have gone on to bigger and better things, and that's how Lennon picked up on him. So I did more research.

 

And you discovered the Carry Ons?

And I discovered the Carry Ons. And that was it, I was hooked. I don't think I even finished the article I was writing for my Beatles fanzine about the pop-culture references on Let It Be. Don't think I even listened to Let It Be again for years. Even looked at the album. And by then I valued it more for the Charles Hawtrey reference than for the fact that John Lennon made the reference. I mean, this was it, everything else had just been a preparation for Carry On. I knew it was gonna be my life. And it has been. It's been everything.

 

Your god?

Yeah, my god. My religion. Yeah, I know people look at me like I'm some sort of kook when I say that, but it's true. Carry On is more than comedy, it's cosmic. It's got a deeper meaning. Charles Hawtrey, Sid James, Barbara Windsor, Hattie Jacques, Kenneth Williams, Bernard Breslaw, they're archetypes, man.

 

Of what?

Of gods and demi-gods. And goddesses.

 

Which ones?

Oh, for some of them it's obvious. Sid James is Silenus, you know, Pan's sidekick. Drunken, horny, always out for a good time. Barbara Windsor is Aphrodite. Hattie Jacques is Athena.

 

What's Charles Hawtrey?

He's more than one. There's a dwarf-god in Egyptian mythology called Bes, one. There's a mischief-god in Norse mythology called Loki, two. And a couple of others in Meso-American and Amerindian mythology.

 

Why so many for him?

It's not just for him. Most of them have more than one, but he tends to change more than the others. James is almost always Silenus, for example.

 

Are you saying they are literally these gods?

No, not literally. It's something deeper than 'literally'. That's for this level of existence. It's shadowy, insubstantial, like everything on this level. Carry On connects to the next level up, and the next, and the next. The characters are conduits to the divine. They're realer than real, realer than our real. Realer than you or me or this table or that beer-glass or that window or that fucking wall.

 

How long did it take you to realise this?

Oh, a couple of years. I was hooked on Carry On from like the first film I saw -

 

Which was?

Carry On At Your Convenience. In the shittiest little flea-pit movie-theatre you ever saw in your life, appropriately enough.

 

In Canada?

In Canada.

 

Sorry, I interrupted you. You were saying about how long it took you to realise that the characters were gods and demi-gods.

And goddesses. What was I saying?

 

It took a couple of years.

A couple of years, yeah. Yeah, I was hooked from the first movie I saw, but I didn't know what it was in them that hooked me until much later.

 

What made you realise?

A drug-experience. And yeah, I know what you're thinking, but it wasn't that sort of drug experience. It's just the nearest I can come to describing it. It was a drug called COM. Short for Carry On Movie. Like I said, one day, a couple of years after I'd first got hooked, I had this idea, the sort of ultimate fan homage, you know? I was gonna watch every single film through without stopping. One after the other, without stopping.

 

Christ. It would be days.

46 hours, 23 minutes, 42 seconds, to be exact. But it wasn't as bad as that. That's what I wanted to do, but I couldn't, 'cause I didn't have all the films in my collection yet. I had Carry On Sergeant, Carry On Nurse, Carry On Teacher, Carry On Regardless [goes on to list sixteen Carry On films in chronological order, ending with] and Carry On Abroad. Only sixteen of them.

 

And how many are there?

Thirty-three. But that's counting ones made after the year I first had the idea.

 

Which was?

Sorry?

 

Which year was it you had the idea?

1975.

 

So which ones were you missing at the time?

At the time, fourteen of them. [Goes on to list the missing fourteen Carry On films in chronological order.]

 

So did you wait until you'd got the missing ones?

No way. It might have been years. It was years. The ones I had were enough. It was still the ultimate homage I as a fan could carry out under those circumstances. When I'd got all the films I'd do it again. So I did it with the ones I'd got.

 

Watched sixteen Carry On films non-stop?

Yeah.

 

Alone?

Yeah. None of my friends could see what I saw in the series. My girlfriend at the time hated them. She was French-Canadian, so she hated anything Anglo-American, yeah? So she cleared off back to her folks for the weekend, leaving our apartment free for me and my homage. Sixteen Carry On movies non-stop. I had some of 'em on sixteen millimetre, some of 'em not, so I had to rig up two separate projectors, two separate screens, to save time. If I could have afforded it, I would have had sixteen separate projectors, sixteen separate screens, one for each film, and time switches for each one, so there wasn't even a second between one movie ending and the next starting. But I got as close as I could at the time. It was sixteen Carry On films non-stop, near enough.

 

And it was like a drug-experience?

Yeah, like a drug-experience, yeah. That's as close as I can come to describing it. But deeper, richer. Because, like, I had had the real thing. Real drug experiences, yeah? I dropped LSD quite a few times when I first started at college. Smoked pot, of course, for way before that. Bit of peyote too, you know. So I knew what it was like. And this was like a drug-experience, as near as I can describe it. But deeper, richer. And that's when I realised the truth about the actors in Carry On.

 

That they were gods and goddesses?

No, look, you gotta get away from thinking it's just that they're gods and goddesses. That's just symbolic, just words, yeah? They're archetypes. Not just in Jung's sense, or Plato's. In a sense you couldn't understand unless you'd experienced it for yourself. The closest I can get to conveying what I mean to you is saying that they're gods and goddesses. Like the closest I can get to conveying what that non-stop twenty-six hours of watching the films was like is by saying it was like a drug-experience.

 

And it was non-stop?

Non-stop. I hardly breathed. Didn't go to the john once. Pissed into empty bottles, didn't even move from the sofa unless I had to change the reels. Just ate and drank and watched the movies.

 

What did you eat and drink?

High-sugar stuff. Ice-cream, coke, TV snacks. Coca-cola, that is. Brain-fuel. To keep my attention levels up.

 

And have you done the full thing since?

All the films non-stop, you mean?

 

Yeah.

Oh, of course. I finally thought I'd done the full, final and complete non-stop viewing in 1982, when I moved to the UK permanently and finally plugged the gaps in my collection. 'Cause the series was finally over, right? No more to come, so my collection was complete. At last! And then they brought out Carry On Columbus in 94, the fuckers!

 

So you had to do it again?

I'm always doing it again, if you want to put it like that. Once I got the full, final and complete collection together - or so I thought - in 82 I was watching it non-stop on a regular basis. Once a month or more. Seeing more and more all the time. Seeing deeper all the time. Adding Carry On Columbus didn't make much difference, just meant it was finally the full, final and complete non-stop viewing I was doing. Unless they bring out another one, but I've heard nothing about that and believe me, if anyone would know about it first, I would!

 

So you keep up with the series?

Am I a full-blown Carry On collector, do you mean?

 

Yeah.  

Oh, no, I'm not into that side of it at all. Programmes, publicity posters, signed photos, all that side of it, you mean? Oh, no, no way. No, I have my contacts, they keep me informed of what's going on, things like is there going to be another film, has a new print of an old one been discovered, things like that. Because it's the films I'm interested in, yeah? Just the films. Just watching the films.

 

What about the actors?

Am I a stalker, you mean? [laughs] No, they don't interest me outside of the films. And even if they did, there's no way I'd want to get involved with them, not in that way. I mean, Christ, if I wound up in prison how could I keep watching the films? That dickwad, Hinkley, Mark Hinkley or whatever, the one that shot Reagan to show Jodie Foster how much he loved her. If he was such a fan why'd he fucking shoot Reagan? Not much chance to watch Jodie Foster movies when you want to in a maximum-security jail cell, is there? No, I wouldn't go near them even if I wanted to. I had the chance to meet Kenneth Williams once, at a party, but I didn't go just 'cause I knew he'd be there.

 

Why? Because it would be a disappointment?

No, not a disappointment. Just a waste of time. It would be like meeting your ultimate sex fantasy figure when she was fourteen years old, face full of acne, mouth full of fucking stainless steel orthodontic work. Like trying to eat a meal before it was cooked. Like trying to read a fucking book before they'd even cut down the tree to make the paper to print it on with.

 

I'm not quite sure what you mean...?

I mean the actors are just people outside of the films. It's the films that make them what they are when they're inside the films. It's like a light-bulb, yeah? You have to stick it in the socket for it to make light. If it's not in the socket it's just a lump of fucking glass and metal. The actors are just mediums. Light-bulbs. The films are the sockets. That's as close as I can get to expressing it in a way other people can understand. And it's more complicated than that. The actors are light-bulbs and the films are sockets, but the sockets need the light-bulbs as much as the light-bulbs need the sockets. It's like there's no socket until the light-bulb is in it, but there's also no light-bulb till it's in the socket, either. Like, real Zen stuff, yeah? You have to experience it to understand. You can't convey it in words.

 

So if I watched all thirty-three Carry On films non-stop I would understand?

Yeah. But it wouldn't have to be all thirty-three. At least ten, but not necessarily the full thirty-three.

 

But it would be certain if I watched the full thirty-three?

No, it would be certain with fewer than that. What I've been talking about only applies to twenty-nine of the films. Four of them are just films like any other films. There's nothing there. Nothing special. Nothing sacred. Just films.

 

Which ones?

Funnily enough, the first one, Carry On Sergeant. Also Carry On Jack, Carry On Screaming and Carry On Henry. Except Carry On Jack does have a twenty-three minute real segment. You take that, discard the rest, add it to the twenty-nine full real ones, and that would guarantee it. If you could watch them non-stop, you'd understand. You'd see.

 

What sort of preparation would I have to undergo?

I usually fast beforehand. I just take liquids while I'm watching. I've worked out the optimum combination of sugars, salts to keep off tiredness, dehydration, that sort of thing. At one time I thought of using an intravenous drip, but it would be distracting having to change the bottles and I've never liked needles.

 

Is it not distracting having to drink?

I take it through a tube. Just suck when I want to. Piss through another tube. And watch the films. Usually in the lotus position, nowadays. After fifteen years, I've finally perfected the lotus position!

 

Someone's told me it wasn't intended for Westerners' bodies.

You mean because yoga comes from Asia? Yeah, I heard the same. I can believe it.

 

So you're saying that if I can watch these twenty-nine Carry On films -

And the twenty-three minute segment from Carry On Jack.

 

 

- and the twenty-three minute segment from Carry On Jack, I would achieve enlightenment?

Yeah. You'd understand. You'd see.

 

It's a long time to spend.

If you did it , it wouldn't be a long time. It would be the best time you'd ever spent. The least time for the most reward.

 

What did you eat and drink?

High-sugar stuff. Ice-cream, coke, TV snacks. Coca-cola, that is. Brain-fuel. To keep my attention levels up.

 

And have you done the full thing since?

All the films non-stop, you mean?

 

Yeah.

Oh, of course. I finally thought I'd done the full, final and complete non-stop viewing in 1982, when I moved to the UK permanently and finally plugged the gaps in my collection. 'Cause the series was finally over, right? No more to come, so my collection was complete. At last! And then they brought out Carry On Columbus in 94, the fuckers!

 

So you had to do it again?

I'm always doing it again, if you want to put it like that. Once I got the full, final and complete collection together - or so I thought - in 82 I was watching it non-stop on a regular basis. Once a month or more. Seeing more and more all the time. Seeing deeper all the time. Adding Carry On Columbus didn't make much difference, just meant it was finally the full, final and complete non-stop viewing I was doing. Unless they bring out another one, but I've heard nothing about that and believe me, if anyone would know about it first, I would!

 

So you keep up with the series?

Am I a full-blown Carry On collector, do you mean?

 

Yeah.

Oh, no, I'm not into that side of it at all. Programmes, publicity posters, signed photos, all that side of it, you mean? Oh, no, no way. No, I have my contacts, they keep me informed of what's going on, things like is there going to be another film, has a new print of an old one been discovered, things like that. Because it's the films I'm interested in, yeah? Just the films. Just watching the films.

 

What about the actors?

Am I a stalker, you mean? [laughs] No, they don't interest me outside of the films. And even if they did, there's no way I'd want to get involved with them, not in that way. I mean, Christ, if I wound up in prison how could I keep watching the films? That dickwad, Hinkley, Mark Hinkley or whatever, the one that shot Reagan to show Jodie Foster how much he loved her. If he was such a fan why'd he fucking shoot Reagan? Not much chance to watch Jodie Foster movies when you want to in a maximum-security jail cell, is there? No, I wouldn't go near them even if I wanted to. I had the chance to meet Kenneth Williams once, at a party, but I didn't go just 'cause I knew he'd be there.

 

Why? Because it would be a disappointment?

No, not a disappointment. Just a waste of time. It would be like meeting your ultimate sex fantasy figure when she was fourteen years old, face full of acne, mouth full of fucking stainless steel orthodontic work. Like trying to eat a meal before it was cooked. Like trying to read a fucking book before they'd even cut down the tree to make the paper to print it on with.

 

I'm not quite sure what you mean...?

I mean the actors are just people outside of the films. It's the films that make them what they are when they're inside the films. It's like a light-bulb, yeah? You have to stick it in the socket for it to make light. If it's not in the socket it's just a lump of fucking glass and metal. The actors are just mediums. Light-bulbs. The films are the sockets. That's as close as I can get to expressing it in a way other people can understand. And it's more complicated than that. The actors are light-bulbs and the films are sockets, but the sockets need the light-bulbs as much as the light-bulbs need the sockets. It's like there's no socket until the light-bulb is in it, but there's also no light-bulb till it's in the socket, either. Like, real Zen stuff, yeah? You have to experience it to understand. You can't convey it in words.

 

So if I watched all thirty-three Carry On films non-stop I would understand?

Yeah. But it wouldn't have to be all thirty-three. At least ten, but not necessarily the full thirty-three.

 

But it would be certain if I watched the full thirty-three?

No, it would be certain with fewer than that. What I've been talking about only applies to twenty-nine of the films. Four of them are just films like any other films. There's nothing there. Nothing special. Nothing sacred. Just films.

 

Which ones?

Funnily enough, the first one, Carry On Sergeant. Also Carry On Jack, Carry On Screaming and Carry On Henry. Except Carry On Jack does have a twenty-three minute real segment. You take that, discard the rest, add it to the twenty-nine full real ones, and that would guarantee it. If you could watch them non-stop, you'd understand. You'd see.

 

What sort of preparation would I have to undergo?

I usually fast beforehand. I just take liquids while I'm watching. I've worked out the optimum combination of sugars, salts to keep off tiredness, dehydration, that sort of thing. At one time I thought of using an intravenous drip, but it would be distracting having to change the bottles and I've never liked needles.

 

Is it not distracting having to drink?

I take it through a tube. Just suck when I want to. Piss through another tube. And watch the films. Usually in the lotus position, nowadays. After fifteen years, I've finally perfected the lotus position!

 

Someone's told me it wasn't intended for Westerners' bodies.

You mean because yoga comes from Asia? Yeah, I heard the same. I can believe it.

 

So you're saying that if I can watch these twenty-nine Carry On films -

And the twenty-three minute segment from Carry On Jack.

 

- and the twenty-three minute segment from Carry On Jack, I would achieve enlightenment?

Yeah. You'd understand. You'd see.

 

It's a long time to spend.

If you did it , it wouldn't be a long time. It would be the best time you'd ever spent. The least time for the most reward.

 

What kind of reward?

Oh, nothing that you'd think of now as being a reward. Nothing monetary. Nothing like power or sex, nothing that means anything on this level. Something a lot deeper, a lot more worthwhile than that. You'd understand. I mean, understand the way things are. Why they are the way they are. How they're going to be.

 

You mean what's going to happen? The future?

No, not the future. The future doesn't exist until it arrives. The choices we make now change now, if you see what I mean. You know, like there is no other place than here, no other time than now. So there's no future, no past, no time other than the present. But you'd see what might be, if certain choices are made now, certain other choices not made.

 

Could you give me an example?

Carry On Up the Khyber. One of the best in the series - I'm talking as a fan on this level, you understand -- but also one of the best on all the levels. So rich, man. Spiritually rich. I could stay here all night interpreting it to you, but most of what I said wouldn't convey anything to you. But there's one simple interpretation of it you could understand. Like, it's kind of an allegory, yeah? An allegory of what's going to happen if the human race keeps turning away from nature. Turning away from its animal side.

 

I've seen the film but I can't see how it might be an allegory. Can you explain a bit more?

The Scottish soldiers in kilts. The devils in skirts. They start wearing underpants. They deny their animal side, their sexuality, so they lose their ability to inspire divine terror. To keep chaos at bay. So everything starts to fall apart. The Burpas start an uprising, attack the British consulate. That dinner party, when plaster is falling into the fucking food and everyone pretends that nothing's going on, that's symbolic of modern society and what's going to happen to it if we don't change our ways. We've suppressed so much that we're sitting on a fucking volcano. Like it's almost classic Freud. Super-ego suppressing id, id fighting back. The message of the film is we have to admit our animal side to ourselves, embrace it, or we're going to be destroyed by it.

 

You mean we've got to take off our underpants?

And start wearing kilts. No, man, you wouldn't ask questions like that if you knew what these films really meant.

 

But there isn't any other way to do that? Other than watching the films non-stop?

There are a few other ways. Like Sid James's laugh, for one.

 

I'm sorry?

Sid James's laugh. It's one of the most powerful spiritual elements in the films. It's like a mantra. It's one of the ways the films break through from this level to all the others. If you took a recording of Sid James's laugh and made an endless loop of it, and listened to that for long enough, that would put you some of the way there. You wouldn't see, but the light would start coming through your closed eyelids and make you want to try and open them.

 

How long?

How long listening to the laugh?

 

Yes.

Oh, several hours. I do it sometimes when I'm not in the right frame of mind for a viewing. But I'll tell you, don't do it unless you approach it in the right spirit. It's not a game that I'm telling you about here, it's dangerous. Approach any of this like a game and you'll get hurt. I can't tell you how or how badly, all I can tell you is you'll get hurt. You'd be like a kid with matches fucking around with dynamite. Look ma, no hands! Look ma, no fucking head!

 

Thanks for the warning.

Don't mention it.

 

And thanks for the interview.

Thank you. It's been worthwhile, I hope

 


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