Thursday, June 20, 2024

A podcast on Charles Hawtrey and the Carry On films

The latest edition of the Writers on Film podcast is well worth a listen:

Roger Lewis comes back to the pod to talk about his small masterpiece of biographical investigation, and fitting testament to a comic genius whose place in British cultural history is now assured. Charles Hawtrey, the skinny one with the granny glasses, was everybody's favourite in the Carry Ons - but who exactly was he? Up to now the man has remained a mystery.

Examining Hawtrey's origins as a child star and performer in revue and the Will Hay films, this wonderful little book looks at his career in radio and television, and then to the sad and slow decline of a belligerent recluse on the Kent coast. The high camp exuberance of his acting gave way to bitterness and alcoholism and if you asked Hawtrey for an autograph he'd be more likely to call the police instead.

Roger Lewis's short life of Hawtrey opens out like a Chinese box to address such issues as the nature of fame, neglect, loss, sexual confusion, Drambuie, betrayal, marine bandsmen, and fine cambric knickers trimmed with lace and blue ribbon. Its moral would seem to be that you don't necessarily turn out as the person you thought you'd become.

Lewis's book is Charles Hawtrey 1914–1988: The Man Who Was Private Widdle from 2002.

A recent appreciation by a blogger, Sam Young, says of it:

Lewis’s book is not a biography in the traditional sense. All biographical accounts have an agenda, regardless of what their writers may claim, but in Lewis’s case there is no pretence of objectivity. He writes as though in conversation, dispensing with neutrality in favour of unfettered opinion. 
The result is a writing style that’s as witty as it is catty (Lewis loves a wry bracketed or footnoted aside) but is never cruel. Quite the opposite, in fact. For all his sharpness of tone, Lewis writes from a place of profound affection for Hawtrey, as actor and individual.

Hawtrey, incidentally, is the station master whose misunderstood announcement sets the action underway in Powell and Pressburger's A Canterbury Tale.

And a final point. It's a little alarming for Malcom Saville fans that Charles Hawtrey, still playing child parts at the ago of 29, was David Morton in the 1943 radio adaptation of Mystery at Witchend.

Harry Fowler as Tom Ingles sounds a more convincing casting.

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