If you ever wanted to see the Sorting Hat sexually harass the Hogwarts faculty, Carry On Teacher is your movie. I forgot to mention this last time, but Leslie Philips voices the judgmental topper in several of the Harry Potter films. Here, he’s a love-addled psychologist. He’s not the only one struggling to keep his mind on work, making this the first “typical” Carry On of the series, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The plots of these movies are always very thin; they primarily serve as a structure to hang the jokes around. In Sergeant the plot seemed to get in the way. Screenwriter Norman Hudis solved that problem in Nurse by jettisoning plot, relying on a single setting and a tightly-focused timeframe to hold things together. Here, Hudis uses plot to move the jokes along.
The movie is set in the Maudlin Street School, where the kids are rowdy and the Headmaster is looking for a way out. A new school is being built in his old hometown, and he plans to apply for the job.
Unfortunately, both a Ministry Inspector and a renowned educational psychologist have chosen to visit the school at the last minute. Felicity, the Inspector, is a disciplinarian and a bureaucrat. Alistair, the psychologist, is more of a permissive type. Pleasing one means upsetting the other; either could tank his application for the new job. He thinks all he needs to do is keep discipline problems out of sight, but the students have an entirely different idea — they begin a persecution campaign of pranks and jokes with the aim of driving the two observers off school grounds.
Oh, the students. They are everywhere, of course — clogging the hallways, populating the classrooms. Some of them even have names. But the story is told entirely from the perspective of the faculty who seem to see perceive the students as a slightly malevolent hive-minded creature. Even Alistair, who considers himself an advocate, doesn’t really see them.
Case in point: he attempts to flush out the ringleader using psychology. He writes those digits in reverse on the blackboard, whispering to the math teacher that the child that objects is clearly the ringleader. (I know, I don’t follow the logic either.) This goes on for several rounds until a student calls out “thirty-three!” When Alistair does a double-take, the student says “go on, muck about with that one, then.” The kids are smarter than even Alistair thinks.
The math teacher (Hattie Jaques) prefers a direct approach: she looms over her students. “What size is this hand?” she asks. “Hand sized?” one responds. “Smack size,” she proclaims, then starts her lesson.
The kids aren’t the only distraction; the literature teacher (Kenneth Williams) and the music teacher (Charles Hawtrey) are at each other’s throats over a student production of Romeo and Juliet. They’ve both been in the last two Carry Ons, but this is the first time they’ve been thrust together. They play off each other fantastically, establishing one of the great recurring comedy pairings of the series.
Alistair is completely lovestruck by Sarah, the P.E. teacher. (Her last name is “Allcock.” No one ever so much as cracks a smile when saying it.) Sarah reacts the same way; passing in the hallway the first time, their eyes lock as they each do a quarter-orbit around the other before moving on. “Ding dong, breathes Alistair. It’s one of the best bits of comic timing in the whole movie.
Finally, Felicity — the inspector — is smitten by the awkward science teacher Gregory (Kenneth Connor). The Headmaster tries to use this to his advantage. “She must be mellowed,” he says to Gregory, and encourages him to lead her on as a distraction technique. Gregory, tongue-tied at the best of times, is not prepared to sweet-talk anyone.
The movie ends, strangely enough, with one of the more touching scenes in the series. I won’t spoil it for you although you can probably guess why the kids are acting up. Maybe if the teachers had been paying more attention to them instead of their own sexual and professional goals, the teachers would have seen it earlier, too. Does this make Carry On Teacher a message movie? Well, it makes it a movie with a message at least. It is still (just barely) the 1950s after all. This was a funny enough movie, but I am looking forward to Sid James.