I adore Jim Dale. I think he’s a very gifted, talented actor. The Carry Ons were lucky to have him in the majority of the prime 1960s series entries when everything was firing on all cylinders. Jim was that rarity back then – a good looking, funny comedy actor with a natural sense of timing and great physicality.
It was such a shame when he left the series in 1969 after making Carry On Again Doctor. Much the same as the later films missed Charles Hawtrey, the films following Jim’s departure were lacking all the talents only he could bring to the team. Attempts to replace him (if that’s what they were) never quite worked out. Julian Holloway was excellent in the films but he never quite got the screen time he deserved. Richard O’Callaghan and Kenneth Cope are both superb actors but neither would ever have committed to the Carry Ons long term.
I’ve written before about who could possibly have filled Jim Dale’s shoes in the Carry On films. While there were several other actors of his ilk breaking through in the early 1970s, I can’t really imagine any of them gelling with the team. Richard Beckinsale was a gorgeous young actor with bucket loads of talent but his skills were probably not rooted in seaside innuendo. Likewise Richard O’Sullivan was a huge star at the time, possibly too big a star to feel the need to join the gang at Pinewood. Robin Askwith, who did play a sort of romantic lead in the dreadful Carry On Girls, ended up going a whole lot further up at Elstree with the Confessions films. Which brings me in a roundabout way to Barry Evans.
Barry Evans is now viewed as a rather tragic figure. His descent into unemployment, depression and a suspicious early death in the late 1990s, not to mention gossip about his personal life are factors that tend to over power the fact that he was an excellent comedy actor. If you erase the awful Mind Your Language ITV sitcom from the late 1970s, he was an up and coming star of film and television by the end of the 1960s. His breakthrough role as the sex-starved Jamie McGregor in the swinging sixties film Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush opposite Judy Geeson set him on the path to stardom. Barry also found fame as Dr Michael Upton in both Doctor In The House and Doctor At Large for LWT between 1969 and 1971.
Starring in such a series must have put him on the radar of Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas at Pinewood, however for whatever reason Evans never made a Carry On appearance. I think he would have been perfect. Sadly by the mid 1970s Barry Evans had been lured to star in a different kind of saucy comedy film. As the star of the awful Adventures of a Taxi Driver in 1975, Evans lost his dignity, not to mention his underpants, in what proved to be a highly popular soft porn comedy film which unbelievably co-starred the likes of Liz Fraser, Ian Lavender, Judy Geeson, Diana Dors and Robert Lindsay. It was very much a continuation of the Confessions style of comedy and began the slippery slope to the career doldrums for Evans. Put it this way, there’s a lot more of him on display than just his acting talents…
Despite refusing to star in the sequels (his role being taken by future record producer Christopher Neil), Barry Evans eventually ended up in the dire Under The Doctor the following year, again co-starring with Liz Fraser. There was no going back from this and sadly Evans’ was pigeon-holed. Attempts at serious theatre and dramatic parts were fruitless and he ended up in several series of the aforementioned Mind Your Language on ITV. As successful as it was, it was probably not the career path Barry Evans would have chosen.
So would Barry Evans have faired better if he’d joined the Carry On team? Who knows. I still think he would have made a great bumbling romantic lead in the likes of Carry On Loving, Matron or Abroad. What do you think?