Headed by Sidney James and Kenneth Connor and featuring cameos from the likes of Janet Webb and Joe Gladwin, All This and Christmas Too! doesn’t lack for on-screen talent.
Sidney James is probably best known for his appearances in a string of Carry On films, but his film career in general (particularly during the 1950’s) was extensive – The Lavender Hill Mob, The Belles of St Trinians, Quatermass 2 and Hell Drivers are just a few highlights. He also served as an excellent comic foil to Tony Hancock, both on radio and television, as well as starring in a number of different television series – such as Citizen James, Taxi!, George and the Dragon and Bless This House.
Kenneth Connor was also a familiar Carry On name, although prior to his appearance in the first of the series, Carry on Sergeant in 1958, he’d already amassed a diverse list of credits – appearing alongside Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan during their early forays into television, for example.
So by the time All This and Christmas Too! was broadcast in 1971, both had built up a considerable reserve of affection from the British public, which was probably just as well. All This and Christmas Too! is a variable fifty minutes of pretty broad comedy – but thanks to the star quality of Sid James and Kenneth Connor I can’t help but feel a little indulgent towards it.
James plays Sid Jones (they must have spent hours thinking that name up) whilst Connor is his rather dim next-door neighbour, Willie Beattie. Like the not completely dissimilar Sid Abbot in Bless This House, this Sid is also a devoted family man – with a wife, Peggy (Beryl Mason) and two daughters, Linda (Juliette Kempson) and Sally (Katie Allen).
The best gag is reserved for the opening scene, where – to the strains of Also sprach Zarathustra – a spaceman (Sid) makes his entrance. The incongruity of a spaceman walking down the streer is quickly explained though, as Sid’s been entertaining the kids at a local party (although why he didn’t remove his costume before returning home is anyone’s guess ….).
With Sally shortly due to give birth, the hapless Sid is put in charge of keeping an eye on her whilst Peggy heads out to do some last minute Christmas shopping. But any thoughts of a quiet few hours are quickly dismissed when Willie pops around – he wants Sid’s advice on negligees (for Willie’s wife, naturally).
I have to confess to being somewhat smitten with Juliet Kempson, who plays Sid’s non-pregnant daughter Linda. She’s really rather lovely and her presence helps to make the programme a little more enjoyable. Sam Cree’s script mines familiar generational tropes as Sid finds himself frequently baffled by his youngest daughter – the music she likes, the make-up she wears, etc. Watch out for the moment when Sid tells Linda to turn her record off, it stops several seconds before she reaches the player. The grams operator must have been a tad quick off the mark!
When Sally tells her father that it might be a good idea to call for a taxi, Sid goes into panic mode. The baby! James and Connor are both excellent at playing flustered – Willie rushes off to call a taxi whilst Sid runs round and round in circles, attempting to get Sally’s suitcase ready. Clearly forward planning isn’t big in the Jones’ household ….
Next day, Sid is surprised to find a baby in the hall. Even though it’s black, he decides that it must be Sally’s (it’s not of course). Cue more frantic activity from James and Connor as they attempt to stop the baby crying (the production clearly didn’t record a real child’s cries – it’s painfully obvious that what we can hear is an adult doing a baby impression).
When news of Sally’s baby comes through, Sid and Willie decide to toast its health, several times in fact. James and Connor both indulge in a nice spot of drunk acting, although the speed at which they become virtually insensible (mere seconds after taking a drink) is bizarre.
Unfortunately they have to try and pull themselves together and entertain Sally’s husband’s parents, Mr and Mrs Hall (the ever lugubrious Gladwin and the stoney-faced Rose Power). What’s interesting about Sid’s attempt to make casual conversation with the foreboding Mrs Hall is that the same exchange (“I tried it once, didn’t like it”) also turned up in the following year’s Carry on Abroad.
Janet Webb, like Gladwin, has a nice comic cameo – she plays the flighty Aunt Maud. Her interplay with Gladwin’s vitually catatonic Mr Hall is something of a treat, as is the transformed Mr Hall after Sid’s special drink has taken effect.
A mixed bag then, with some of the farce elements feeling rather forced, but Sid James and Kenneth Connor do their best with the material on offer.