Carry On Sergeant

Carry On Sergeant is a 1958 British comedy film about National Service starring William Hartnell, Bob Monkhouse and Eric Barker; it is the first in the series of Carry On films, with 31 entries released from 1958 to 1992. The film was based on a play The Bull Boys by R. F. Delderfield and was adapted into a script by Norman Hudis with John Antrobus contributing additional material and replacing the conscripted ballet dancers of the novel into a married couple. It was directed by Gerald Thomas and produced by Peter Rogers, a partnership which would last until 1978. Actors in this film, who went on to be part of the regular team in the series, were Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Hattie Jacques, Kenneth Connor and Terry Scott. This successful first film was screened to the trade and cinema-bookers on 1 August 1958 after which some regional screenings were held from 31 August including Aberdeen & Birmingham. It wasn’t until 19 September 1958 that it received its London cinema release at the Plaza, and then the film rolled out nationwide on general release from 20 September onwards. [1] The soundtrack music was played by the Band of the Coldstream Guards, conducted by the composer.

Carry On Sergeant
Original UK quad poster
Directed byGerald Thomas
Produced byPeter Rogers
Kenneth Myers
Written byNorman Hudis
StarringWilliam Hartnell
Bob Monkhouse
Shirley Eaton
Eric Barker
Dora Bryan
Bill Owen
Kenneth Connor
Charles Hawtrey
Kenneth Williams
Terence Longdon
Norman Rossington
Hattie Jacques
Gerald Campion
Terry Scott
Music byBruce Montgomery
CinematographyPeter Hennessy
Edited byPeter Boita
Peter Rogers Productions
Distributed byAnglo-Amalgamated
Release date
31 August 1958[1]
Running time
84 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office£500,000 (UK)

Carry on series

Carry On Sergeant had not been conceived as the start of a film series; only after the film's surprising success did the producer Peter Rogers and the director Gerald Thomas set about planning a further project. After reusing the Carry On prefix and some cast members in their next project Carry On Nurse (1959) and having success with that film, the Carry On series of films evolved.[3] The term "Carry on" is typically issued by an officer to an NCO when handing over control of a parade or inspection.


Newly married Mary Sage (Shirley Eaton) is distraught when her husband Charlie (Bob Monkhouse) receives his call-up papers during their wedding breakfast. He travels to Heathercrest National Service Depot, meeting fellow recruit Horace Strong (Kenneth Connor), a terminal hypochondriac who is devastated at having been passed as fit.

The new recruits are assigned to Sergeant Grimshaw (William Hartnell). Grimshaw is retiring from the army and takes on a £50 bet with Sergeant O'Brien (Terry Scott) that his last bunch of squaddies will be his first champion platoon.

With beady-eyed inspection from Captain Potts (Eric Barker) and disgruntled support from Corporal Copping (Bill Owen), Grimshaw decides to use some psychology and treat his charges kindly rather than simply shouting at them. But basic training does not start well and he struggles to take his platoon through it. They include failure Herbert Brown (Norman Rossington), upper-class cad Miles Heywood (Terence Longdon), rock 'n' roller Andy Galloway (Gerald Campion), delicate flower Peter Golightly (Charles Hawtrey) and supercilious university graduate James Bailey (Kenneth Williams). His attempts seem doomed.

Mary is determined to spend her wedding night with her husband and smuggles herself into the depot to get a job in the NAAFI, a situation Charlie is eventually able to legitimise. Strong spends most of his time complaining to the Medical Officer, Captain Clark (Hattie Jacques). It is only the adoration of doe-eyed NAAFI girl Norah (Dora Bryan), which he initially rejects, that makes him realise his potential and inspires him to become a real soldier.

On the eve of the final tests, Grimshaw is in despair, but he is overheard bemoaning his lot to Copping. The squad decide to win the best platoon prize at all costs. On the day, they indeed beat the other platoons at all tasks and Grimshaw is awarded the cup for best platoon.



"Carry on, Sergeant" is a normal expression for an Army officer to use; the American equivalent is, "As you were." The title that replaced The Bull Boys was suggested by Stuart Levy to cash in on the popularity of the 1957 film Carry on Admiral, which was written by Val Guest.[4] At the time, the success of Carry On Sergeant prompted applause and audience laughter in serious settings where the phrase was used, including amongst audiences of the film The Devil's Disciple (1959).[5]

Box office

  • Budget – £73,000 (estimated)
  • Gross – £500,000 (UK)
  • Modern Budget Equivalent: £1,573,126.06
  • Modern Gross Equivalent: £10,774,836.00

The film was the third most successful movie at the British box office in 1958.[6]

Filming and locations

  • Filming dates – 24 March 1958 – 2 May 1958



Critical reception

Variety summarized Carry On Sergeant as a "Corny but mostly very funny Army farce that will click in U.K. provinces, and is not designed for any other type of audience" adding, "A bunch of talented character comedians have been handed these situations and, in their respective styles, they wring a lot more out of them and the dialog than the writers provide."[7] The Monthly Film Bulletin called it "a traditionally English mixture of old farcical situations, well-worn jokes, and comic postcard characters. Charles Hawtrey, as a weedy incompetent, and Kenneth Williams, as a condescending intellectual, provide some genuine laughs. The rest of the humour is either overdone or half-baked."[8]


  • Davidson, Andy (2012). Carry On Confidential. London: Miwk. ISBN 978-1-908630-01-8.
  • Sheridan, Simon (2011). Keeping the British End Up – Four Decades of Saucy Cinema. London: Titan Books. ISBN 978-0-85768-279-6.
  • Webber, Richard (2009). 50 Years of Carry On. London: Arrow. ISBN 978-0-09-949007-4.
  • Hudis, Norman (2008). No Laughing Matter. London: Apex. ISBN 978-1-906358-15-0.
  • Keeping the British End Up: Four Decades of Saucy Cinema by Simon Sheridan (third edition) (2007) (Reynolds & Hearn Books)
  • Ross, Robert (2002). The Carry On Companion. London: Batsford. ISBN 978-0-7134-8771-8.
  • Bright, Morris; Ross, Robert (2000). Mr Carry On – The Life & Work of Peter Rogers. London: BBC Books. ISBN 978-0-563-55183-6.
  • Rigelsford, Adrian (1996). Carry On Laughing – a celebration. London: Virgin. ISBN 1-85227-554-5.
  • Hibbin, Sally & Nina (1988). What a Carry On. London: Hamlyn. ISBN 978-0-600-55819-4.
  • Eastaugh, Kenneth (1978). The Carry On Book. London: David & Charles. ISBN 978-0-7153-7403-0.


  1. "60 Years of Carry On". Art & Hue. 2018. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
  2. Carry on cashing in Leigh, Andrew. The Observer (1901- 2003) [London (UK)] 18 Oct 1970: 17.
  3. Ross, 1996. p. 17
  4. p. 155 Whittle, David Bruce Montgomery/Edmund Crispin: A Life in Music and Books Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2007
  5. Ross, 1996. p. 16
  6. FOUR BRITISH FILMS IN 'TOP 6': BOULTING COMEDY HEADS BOX OFFICE LIST Our own Reporter. The Guardian (1959–2003) [London (UK)] 11 December 1959: 4.
  7. Rich. (24 September 1958). "Carry On, Sergeant". Variety. p. 18.
  8. "Carry On, Sergeant". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 25 (296): 112. September 1958.
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