'I was a Carry On girl and I never felt like a sex object'

Louise Burton starred in two Carry On films and is featured in a new book on women of the British comedy series

Louise Burton on the set of Carry On England with Producer Peter Rogers. (Peter Rogers Productions/ITV)
Louise Burton on the set of Carry On England with Producer Peter Rogers. (Peter Rogers Productions/ITV)
  • Louise Burton starred in Carry On England in 1976 and in 1978's Carry On Emmanuelle, but while the saucy comedies have been criticised for its depiction of women the actor argues that she never felt sexualised onscreen or on set.

  • The Carry On Girls by Gemma Ross and Robert Ross celebrates 50 years of the women who starred in the iconic franchise.

I'm beyond proud to have been one of the Carry On girls, they were films that made people laugh and I never felt like we were depicted as sex objects by being a part of it.

It's such a different era now, isn't it? All the things that were on TV then they wouldn't even get past the first word, let alone have whole series of films made of them. But it was harmless fun, there was nothing terrible in them.

It was just funny and we used to spend the whole week laughing and laughing. I think it was fantastic and I think it's a shame that that type of humour, which is completely harmless, is all gone.

If you look at the dramas now — some of the sex scenes today they're unbelievable, they verge on porn, but it's just totally acceptable.

We weren’t doing anything anywhere near as graphic, but if it's in a drama that's okay? You think of things nowadays. I think they're far more sexual, more explicit. I personally would just rather have the humour, the marked humour without the actual graphic scenes.

Judy Geeson, Windsor Davies, Kenneth Connor & Diane Langton Film: Carry On England (UK 1976) Characters: Sergeant Tilly Willing,Sergeant-Major 'Tiger' Bloomer,Captain S. Melly & Private Alice Easy  Director: Gerald Thomas 31 October 1976   **WARNING** This Photograph is for editorial use only and is the copyright of THE RANK ORGANISATION and/or the Photographer assigned by the Film or Production Company and can only be reproduced by publications in conjunction with the promotion of the above Film. A Mandatory Credit To THE RANK ORGANISATION is required. The Photographer should also be credited
Carry On England also starred Judy Geeson, Windsor Davies, Kenneth Connor and Diane Langton, and it followed the escapades of at a mixed anti-aircraft regiment. (PA Images)

Is somebody depicted as being obscene because they do a sexual scene? Of course not. It's part of life and it was part of life then. You'd never have been able to get away then with what you do now, and likewise now you'd never get away with what we did then.

It's most bizarre, it's turned around. It seems that the visual is allowed but the narrative isn't.

My time on the Carry On films began with Carry On England as Private Evans, I was still in drama school or had just left when I was told they were casting for the new Carry On film, at the time they were really iconic and for me it was really exciting to even dream of going to Pinewood, let alone be going for a casting.

When I got there, Gerald Thomas and Peter Rogers told us 'look, initially we are just looking for certain types, we are literally going to be looking to see who we feel would be good for the film height-wise, size-wise, hair colour etc.' and they literally had us all lined up — but it wasn't like a cattle train, I can't explain it. The ones that were rejected, they weren't made to feel as if they weren't good enough.

Carry On England, poster, top from left: Judy Geeson, Patrick Mower; center: Windsor Davies; bottom left: Kenneth Connor, bottom right: Jack Douglas, 1976. (Photo by LMPC via Getty Images)
1976's Carry On England starred Judy Geeson, Patrick Mower, Windsor Davies, Kenneth Connor, Jack Douglas, and more. (LMPC via Getty Images)

They were looking at us and saying ‘they'd look very good with that person, and they look good with that one’, and then I heard the name Melvin Hayes mentioned. Melvin is a very small guy, and funnily enough he taught at my drama school, and they wanted me, I believe, initially to do quite a bit with him. So I became one of the Carry On girls, that's how it all started.

I was 17 or 18, driving in through Pinewood Studios, and here was this young nobody from Brighton from a very ordinary working class family. It was just mind-blowing, exciting and mind-blowing.

The first day I went straight to make-up, meeting the other girls. The first morning I was so nervous, excited, and terrified. What if they don't like me? What if they decide to send me back home again? What would I tell my mum and dad? What would I say to all my friends? What excuse would I give if they didn't like me once they got me on the set? Silly things like that would go through your head.

Director Gerald Thomas (left) and Producer Peter Rogers, 9th December 1964. (Photo by Staff/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Carry On director Gerald Thomas and Producer Peter Rogers were 'absolute gentlemen', according to Louise Burton. (Getty Images)

Gerald Thomas and Peter Rogers were absolute gentlemen, really kind, and caring. Because I came from Brighton I never had anywhere to stay, every night I was staying somewhere different. They were genuinely worried about me, I was the youngest on the set and they used to ask ‘But where are you staying tonight? You're gonna be alright and how will you get to the station and how are you gonna get back in the morning?’ They were genuinely concerned, but absolute gentlemen.

In the end I filmed a lot of scenes that were not shown in the movie, but I did a lot of scenes with Melvin Hayes. All my scenes were really with the group of girls.

When we filmed the scene where the girls were nude from the waist up you couldn’t see anything. At the time, most beaches you could lie topless so the guys, the actors, had seen it all before. They were not at all interested in us being topless. Seriously, it was just nothing.

CARRY ON EMMANNUELLE, l-r: Suzanne Danielle, Kenneth Williams on Australian poster art, 1978
1978's Carry On Emmannuelle was the 30th Carry On film, and was the final one for many of the regular stars including Kenneth Williams and Joan Sims. (Alamy)

It isn't what people thought, they weren’t — all the men, all the backstage people and all the cameras — all standing there with their tongues out. They're too worried about the lighting, and ‘did that person get in line quickly enough?’ and ‘what was that noise in the background? Was that a bird flying over? Is that going to ruin the sound?’

And it was just so black and white, it wasn't at all sexual. It just wasn't sexual. I think all the girls were running late and weren't dressed, it's funny. What's so terrible about that?

I didn't think anything of it, I must be honest, didn't think anything of doing it. And, of course, at the time you had all the Page 3 girls in The Sun every week, and it was just part of everyday life.

Louise Burton appearing at a SitComs Legends day in April 2023 on stage with Robert Ross, Linda Regan and Brian Murphy (Adam Lee Promotion Media.)
Louise Burton appearing at a SitComs Legends day in April 2023 on stage with Robert Ross, Linda Regan and Brian Murphy (Adam Lee Promotion Media.)

My next film was Carry On Emmanuelle playing a girl at the zoo, that was just such a lovely character, Jack Lyons was a lovely guy and it was just full of nonsense.

He meets me in the zoo and I'm sucking a lolly, which apparently has become iconic. I turn the lollipop round and the other side says knickers, and Jack’s character comes up and says ‘do you feel like going for a walk?’ We end up in an empty cage, and it’s a gorilla’s cage. I mean, really, it’s ridiculous.

Read more: Jim Dale: Carry On Cast Was A Resentful ‘Clique’

It's total nonsense, but the lolly became iconic. Apparently I was scheduled to do other films, but they never made any more which was a shame.

Jimmy Logan, Kenneth Williams, Barbara Windsor, Sid James, Joan Sims and Kenneth Connor in 1972's Carry On Abroad. (Alamy)
Jimmy Logan, Kenneth Williams, Barbara Windsor, Sid James, Joan Sims and Kenneth Connor in 1972's Carry On Abroad. (Alamy)

I am thrilled that I was one of the people to be involved with Carry On, and humour of that type. I don’t think it’s right to say we were objectified or empowered by them, I don't feel one has to feel empowered. I just saw it as a job to make people laugh, to give people amusement.

It wasn't anything other than that, you were in an iconic film with iconic people making everybody laugh. So that made me happy, and I used to come out everyday laughing and looking forward to going back the next morning. I think the majority of people, they just get so much pleasure watching the films that it's just pride, that's what I feel: Pride. Nothing more than pride to have been in it.

Louise told her story to Roxy Simons

The Carry On Girls by Gemma Ross and Robert Ross will be released on 23 November, 2023.