Sergeant Grimshaw, on the point of retirement, wants to leave the army on a high note by winning the Star Squad prize for the best-drilled platoon of National Servicemen. However, he has the misfortune to be put in charge of a group of misfits and foul-ups who seem very unlikely soldier material. After comic failures, the platoon learns how much the prize means to their sergeant and shape up to do him proud.
The foundation stone of a great British institution, this is only a Carry On in embryo. Based on The Bull Boys, a novel by R.F. Delderfield, it’s a collection of all the jokes and anecdotes that accrued during a decade or so of peacetime National Service, and is at once a parody of the gung ho American basic training picture (Take the High Ground, etc) and a sketch of the foul-ups-who-get-in-shape plot endlessly reused since (Police Academy, etc).
Hartnell, typecast as a tough guy before becoming the BBC’s first Doctor Who, is the incarnation of every unwilling conscript’s worst nightmare, shouting and growling at soldiers who don’t know how to button their uniforms or hold their guns, but showing that sentimental streak which motivates them to become parade-ground smart in the finale.
Bob Monkhouse takes the light leading man role that Jim Dale would later specialise in, and key players (Sid James, Barbara Windsor) aren’t yet in place, but the direction of the series can be discerned in the scene-stealing bits by Charles Hawtery and Kenneth Williams as blithely camp idiots and Kenneth Connor as the hypochondriac ‘Horace Strong’. Hattie Jacques is in there in a bit part, but the cast is filled out by Britfilm names who wouldn’t go on to be associated with the Carry Ons – Shirley Eaton, Dora Bryan, Norman Rossington and Bill Owen.
The father of the Carry On films, this is not yet the paradigm of the franchise but interesting as a curio.