Thursday, 27 November 2008

The Sound of Britain

On TV a few years was one of those crappy chart programmes - 'top something or other of Britain', which is a cheap way of filling a whole evening of the schedule. On one such programme, the 'discussion' turned to the most well-known or representative sounds of Britain.

Apart from the fact that it's nonsense (e.g. trying to rank a Scottish bagpiper against a city square nightingale), it did get me thinking about what was the sound that most represented Britain to me. My personal answer:

The laugh of Sid James.

Many of my peers will be quietly horrified I just wrote that.

Sid James (1913 to 1976) was best known as being an actor in the Carry On series of films. There's many clips on YouTube and elsewhere; here's a short one one from Carry On Camping. Sid is the one laughing several times, especially at the end - it's that particular laugh which is my Sound of Britain:


Carry On Camping was the highest grossing film of 1969 in the UK (seriously). The Carry On films were massive in the UK, especially in that oddly misunderstood decade, the 1960's with the films at their best in 1967 to 1969. Basically, each film revolved around some aspect of British life (or perceived life), with every excuse possible used to enter innuendo and double-entendres.

They made a lot of Carry On films, well over 30, though the quality markedly went down from the mid-1970's onwards as lighter smut and innuendo was replaced by less subtle humour and the most well-known characters left. For me they really finished in 1972. I've seen every Carry On film several times, and ones such as Carry On Screaming and Carry On Doctor around 25 - 35 times each. (Side note: where do you think the humour in some of the Ariadne caption competitions was derived from?)

Most people younger than me will probably be baffled by the Carry On films. As will all non-Brits. I tried explaining the humour to some colleagues in Finland last year. Didn't work. At all.

In terms of political correctness, like Benny Hill (another adolescent favourite) the films fell severely out of favour as the century rolled on, especially Carry On Up The Khyber for the portrayal of Indian people. Even now, mention of a liking of Carry On films can cause uncomfortable foot shuffling and looks amongst peers.

Being born in 1968 and being brought up surrounded by lots of older relatives, it was easy to see where the Carry On film series was coming from culturally. Two world wars and massive social changes had left Britain outwardly a repressed country - in many ways it still is. Smut, innuendo and double-entendres were almost essential. Though Barbara Windsor wasn't my early, muddled, adolescent fantasy woman (that would be Suzi Quatro, and Carrie Fisher a la Return of the Jedi), the films did have a strong impact on one of that age. They were shown a lot on the television in the 1970s and 1980s, and in those days of just three television channels, no video recorder and no Internet there weren't many other options. (Thinks) actually, in rural Worcestershire, any other options for such cultural, social and adult enlightenment.

They should have just stopped them when the quality was still high, and they were still relevant to society at the time, in the early 1970's. Still, there's some good clips in this documentary:


Anyway, all I've got left to say is 'tiffin' (insert Sid James laugh here).


  1. The one joke I don't remember hearing in a Carry On:Blonde walks into bar and asks the barman for a double entendre.So he gave her one.

  2. "As will all non-Brits."There you are wrong, very wrong. :-) I do consider "Carry on Up the Khyber" one of the best films ever and after watching it for probably 20 times, I still laugh out loud."Oh dear, I think I'm a little plastered." Priceless, absolutely priceless.