Encouraged by the fact that the Carry On series of films had just enjoyed its most successful year at the box office, ITV producer Peter Eton approached the films producers and copyright owners, Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas to make a special to be shown on Christmas Eve 1969.
In order to maintain continuity with the film series, Eton employed regular Carry On contributor Talbot Rothwell to write a script which would be an innuendo laden tribute to Charles Dickens, and in particular his popular tale of A Christmas Carol, and then pulled the master stroke of having it filmed in front of a live audience. Unrestrained by a filmed script and able to play to the audience, experienced theatrical turns such as Frankie Howerd, Peter Butterworth and Charles Hawtrey add-libbed and corpsed their way through 50 minutes of outrageously bawdy jokes, many of which were totally unscripted (in fact at one stage Howerd seemed to totally forget the script and went into his own one-man show).
Trying to maintain some order in the middle of all this mayhem were experienced TV regulars Sid James, Terry Scott and Hattie Jacques. Barbara Windsor and Bernard Bresslaw rounded off the regular Carry On compliment. Lending from other literary classics the first part of the show saw Ebenezer Scrooge (James) getting his first visit from Marley's ghost (Hawtrey) to remind him of a loan he turned down for a certain Doctor Frank N. Stein (Scott). This is the cue for the good doctor and his creation (Bresslaw - who had actually missed out on the part for Hammer's 1957 The Curse of Frankenstein in favour of Christopher Lee) to go into a routine about a certain part of the monster's anatomy, which appeared to be missing. The story then moves on apace bringing in such characters as Count Dracula (Butterworth), the poet Robert Browning (Howerd) and an oversexed ghost (Windsor) before old Ebenezer sees the error of his ways and gives his fortune to Hattie Jacques.
In a year that saw both Carry On Up the Khyber and Carry On Camping gross more at the British box-office than any other films, the team rounded off their success with the most watched programme on Christmas TV with an audience of 8.1 million viewers. The show spawned three more Xmas specials and two series totalling 13 - 30 minute programmes.
Published on December 3rd, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.