Monday, 29 August 2011

what's his name from the carry on films

Charles Hawtrey has been destined to be remembered as whatshisname, the skinny one with glasses from the Carry on films.  You know the one a bit like Kenneth Williams.

In a cruel irony, Hawtrey career was blighted by arguments over billing.  He would often lose out on work or put people off employing him because he wanted to be top or higher up the bill.

Far from being just that chap in the Carry on films, Hawtrey had a incredible career.

He started out as a child actor in silent movies and in the theatre, he was Englands leading boy soprano with 'hit' records. He worked with a vast who's who  of film and stage in the 1930's and 1940's.  Errol Flynn, Lawrence Oliver, Douglas Fairbanks Jr,  Max Miller, Alastair Sims, George Formby and on almost endlessly)    Admittedly he would exaggerate his links with such stars. 

He was a writer, director and composer. (although without great success, except in one murder mystery where he played a role in drag only to be revealed as a man at the end of the play, so convincing was he, even theatre critics were stunned by the revelation)

The Henry and Norman Bones Mysteries (No I've never heard of them either) which he starred in with Patricia Hayes ran for 17 years on Radio, yet his involvement ended over an argument as to whether the billing should be Charles Hawtrey with Patricia Hayes, or Charles Hawtrey and Patricia Hayes.

Our House - an hour long sitcom on ITV he starred in with Hattie Jaques and Joan Sims ran to 39 episodes and a spin off series best of friends a further 13.

More remembered are his film with Will Hay and perhaps his time in the Army Game, another early sitcom.

In his early days, Hawtrey was well known for being utterly professional and very talented as a performer.
Unfortunately, Hawtrey acquired a drink problem which descended into alcoholism.  For most of his later years the only people who would employ him were the Carry On Films and one organiser of theatre shows - Aubrey Philips who had to work round his drunkenness.

In another cruel twist of fate, Hawtrey felt he wasn't given big enough roles or high enough billing - which no doubt fueled his drinking and his awkward and rude behaviour - but these were the reasons people felt they could not give him bigger role or higher billing.

For the Carry On Film he was paid £2000 a time, (for 6 weeks filming) compared to £5000 commanded by Sid James and Kenneth Williams.  Although he grumbled about the films, he was usually keen to promote them, as it meant a free meal., drink and being treated like a star for a day.

For touring in panto and such, he could get £250 a week plus expenses. Not bad, but not the £1000+  a week top stars would expect.

Well known as an eccentric - he would buy cheap cigarettes and expensive champagne. He's drink tea and bring sandwiches when filming to save money yet take a taxi for ridiculous journeys.

He did become very reclusive towards the end of this life, but was not without friends.  It was his wish that few people came to his funeral.  Admirably he was one of the first stars to come out as being gay.

People would ask for autographs thinking his name was Kenneth Williams or Kenneth Connor, so much so that he started saying "I suppose you think I'm fucking Barbara Windsor" and would be incredibly rude.

Did this mean he was right to be so concerned about billing all along ?

He felt typecast by the carry on films, yet without them and the endless repeats, for which he received no money, he would probably be hardly remembered at all.

whatshisname - the life and death of Charles Hawtrey by Wes Butters ISBN 13:978-0-9557670-7-4

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