Best Film Carry On At Your Convenience Films 31 - Sergeant, Nurse, Teacher, Constable, Regardless, Cruising, Cabby, Jack, Spying, Cleo, Cowboy, Screaming, Don't Lose Your Head, Follow That Camel, Doctor, Up The Khyber, Again Doctor, Camping, Up The Jungle, Loving, Henry, At Your Convenience, Abroad, Matron, Girls, Dick, Behind, England, That's, Emmannuelle, Columbus
Gerald Thomas was born on 10th December 1920 in Hull, Yorkshire. He was educated at Bristol and London and studied to become a doctor. During the war he served with The Royal Sussex Regiment in Europe and the Middle East. When he demobbed, he entered the film industry as an assistant editor at Denham Studios and working on outstanding films like The October Man and Laurence Olivier's Hamlet. In 1948 he was given his first assignment as an editor on Madness Of The Heart. His associate editing credits are impressive including The Third Man and Pandora And The Flying Dutchman. In his partnership with Peter Rogers he discovered his niche in comedy but is equally at home in either styles.
Gerald has an older brother Ralph Thomas who worked with Peter Rogers' wife Betty Box on the popular Doctor series which Ralph directed. Gerald worked as an editor in the cutting room with Betty but he had ambitions to direct and Peter, then a young producer, backed him. Together they made a formidable team whose skill has combined to create a British Institution. The first film that they made together took a year to set up and was called Circus Friends made for the Children's Film Foundation but he has also directed other genres including the highly praised Time Lock and The Vicious Circle starring John Mills.
The Bull Boys, a straight drama concerning a ballet dancer whose boyfriend is called up on the day they are to be married became a turning point in his career as it was re-scripted and re-named as Carry On Sergeant. One film led to another until it became clear that there was a series. At first Thomas was directed three Carry Ons a year, then two and by the '70's just one. Over the years the films have made a fortune, not only for the distributors but also for the director and the producer who are both millionaires.
The Carry Ons are low budget films made to the limits of what can be raised by British finance alone and this shapes the way that they are directed. Thomas (virtually) never over-run on his shooting schedules of six weeks. There was no elaborate cosseting of the cast, no massive salaries, no over-time and no big expense accounts and no faraway locations. One of Thomas' skills was the makeshift way in which sets were created: the Welsh farm gate which guards the Khyber Pass in Carry On Up The Khyber, or the wind blown South Coast sand dunes along which the desert legionnaires tramp in Follow That Camel. If Rogers is the Barnum of the Carry On circus, then Thomas is the Ringmaster. "We've all been at it together for so long", he said, "that everyone knows everyone else's style and pace. I find myself less and less having to direct. I just crack a whip and everyone goes through their paces." He ensures that the schedule is maintained by ironing out all the problems in advance and then sticking strictly to what has been planned. Actors can make suggestions and add things during rehearsals but once shooting begins no adlibbing is allowed. "The script is our bible", Thomas explains, and the cast are chosen for their professionalism and their ability to bring their own style and interpretation to the written words.
The relaxed atmosphere of the Carry On sets was legendary. Whilst other film sets often had a cathedral-like hush, both Rogers and Thomas boast of the happy, easy-going conditions. Thomas is something of a father-confessor to his family of unruly children listening to everybody's problems and offering advice. He had a great sense of fun and enjoyed playing tricks on the cast - filling Joan Sims' glass with gin instead of water whilst filming the drunk scene in Regardless or hosing down the beauty contestants in Girls when they were expecting a mild damping from the sprinkler.
"It's fun making them", says Thomas, "It's not like work, more like a holiday. It's like going back to school and being a headmaster".
Gerald Thomas died on 9th November1995 in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, leaving behind a devoted wife, Barbara and three daughters, Sarah, Deborah and Samantha.
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