Careying On

“The new advertising campaign for Easter hopes to harness the spiritual longing which followed the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The Churches’ Advertising Network’s posters depict a pile of floral tributes and cuddly toys beneath the slogan: ‘If all this started you thinking, carry on at Church this Easter.” [Church Times, February 20]

ALL THE GIRLS and boys in the extensive focus group (ethnically balanced and gender inclusive) which services ‘The Way We Live Now’ are delighted that we can at last reveal the full truth about the Churches’ Advertising Network. The wacky, zany bunch which brought you ‘Bad Hair Day’, (‘an iconoclastic, daring, post-modern rendition of the old incarnation theme, ’ – Barry Norman; ‘What the Hell is this?’ – Edward Norman; ‘A must-see for all you girls out there’ – Sr Lavinia Byrne) have followed it up with a side-splitting sequel ‘Carey on at Church this Easter’, in which the part of Mrs Eileen Carey will be played by Barbara Windsor.

The plot, which, as in all the ‘Carey On’, films is both slender and fantastic, deals with the hilarious events in the Church of England following the establishment of the new Archbishop’s Council. Dull stuff? Not a bit of it! ‘It would be hard to imagine a situation more suited to our particular brand of slapstick comedy and vulgar innuendo, ’ said veteran Sid James, who is playing the Rt. Revd Michael Turnbull, Bishop of Durham.

Controversially cast as the angst-ridden Archbishop of York, Kenneth Williams sees the darker side of the production. ‘I have always thought that the ‘Carey On’ films owe a debt to the bleak cinematography of Eastern and Northern Europe. I see my character as essentially in the soul-searching existential tradition – Franz Kafka out of Thomas Mann. I am working hard on the accent.’

Jim Dale, who is on a crash eating course to fill out for his part as burly romantic lead Andrew Carey, the dashing young author-journalist whose affair with an antipodean woman bishop gives the film its love-interest, is taking his role equally seriously. Other much-loved actors play parts which will be familiar to addicts of the long running ‘Carey On’ saga.

George Cole as the Archdeacon of Northolt brings a touch of plausible, loveable spivery to a part which might get tedious without it. And the inimitable Alister Sim adds warmth and sparkle to the otherwise dour figure of Philip Mawer. In Dr Christina Baxter, Hattie Jacques has a part which takes full advantage of her command of the audience and her split-second timing. ‘I am an old pro who learnt everything she knows in Rep,’ says Hattie. And in ‘Carey on in Church this Easter’, it shows! In a welcome guest appearance Sir Alec Guiness adds a touch of class with his impeccable performance as Brian Hanson.

Though it became a cult movie in Tasmania, CAN Productions lost money on ‘Bad Hair Day’. ‘But this time we think we are on to a winner’, said Rev. Chris Davis, communications officer for Barchester diocese (played by Stephen Spielberg). ‘One of the features of the production is a series of walk-on vignettes by stars of other well-loved British comedies. Joyce Grenfell makes a hit as the ubiquitous and ever-inventive Dr Mary Tanner, and Leslie Philips has a minor part as the Bishop of Ely.’`

‘What we at CAN try to do is to portray the Church as the sort of good-humoured, uncomplicated romp which viewers enjoy. Market research has shown that ‘thoughtful’, ‘difficult’ films like ‘Shadowlands’, ‘Slaughter of the Lambs’ and ‘Amistad’ are pretty limited in their appeal. We are trying to reach the wider market with something less high-brow, something which will be able to rival ‘Gladiators’ and ‘National Lottery Live’. And when you have got a winning formula, why not re-use it? The ‘Carey On’ package is ideal; you don’t need a plot to speak of, and we already have an endless cast of loveable eccentrics which will keep the script-writers going well into the next century.’

Rev. Chris is enthusiastic about future productions. ‘I know it’s ambitious, ’ he says, ‘and some people will condemn it as derivative; but we hope to do a remake of all the classic Ealing Comedies. We think that they will gain an added ‘extra’ from their relocation within the Church of England.

‘‘Passport to Lambeth’ will be the hectic and hilarious story of a small province which thought it could go it alone. ‘The Millbank Mob’ will feature the antics of a loveable bunch of scallywags who, despite their own incompetence, manage to loose £800m. And in ‘Kind Hearts and Lawn Sleeves’, Denis Price will play a plausible, dapper, well-spoken clergyman of modest social background who kills a number of perfectly viable parishes on his irresistible rise to the House of Lords.’

And funding – always the problem with the Church of England and the British film industry?

Chris is quietly confident. ‘We have got together an anonymous group of evangelical businessmen who call themselves the ‘Lambeth Angels’ who will fund virtually anything, ‘ he says. ‘And failing that there is the National Lottery and Chris Smith.’

Geoffrey Kirk is Vicar of St. Stephen’s Lewisham, in the diocese of Southwark.