Thomas was one of the key driving forces behind the most successful
British comedy runs of all time…the ‘Carry On’ series.
In partnership with Peter Rogers they turned out film after film to
meet the nearly insatiable desire of the British public for these
was born in Hull on 10 December 1920, and was educated in Bristol
and London. He started off his educational career as a doctor but
as the country rolled into WWII he joined the army. By the end of
the war he had decided that it was too late to resume his medical
career and instead he joined Denham Studios. His first key role was
as an assistant editor on Lord Olivier's Hamlet (1948). In the first
half of the 50’s he worked on a number of projects which included
‘Doctor in the house’ (1954) and ‘Above the waves’
a director his first film was ‘Time Lock’ (1957), which
producer Peter Rogers had adapted from a play originally broadcast
on Canadian television. Thomas handled the dramatic tension well,
and the film marked the start of a successful partnership with Rogers.
‘The Duke wore jeans’ (1958) would be made the following
year but also in 1958 they would make ‘Carry On Sergeant’
and this would be the first in a long and successful collaboration.
They could get no studio to properly fund the project – a blessing
eventually to them – so they raised the money themselves.
series was to the kick-start of a number of careers - Kenneth Williams,
Hattie Jacques, Charles Hawtrey and Terry Scott. The early films had
their own set of regulars, Eric Barker and Bill Owen. The title role
was wonderfully played by William Hartnell (yes! The ‘Dr Who’
more films followed, with the same stars appearing many times. Kenneth
Connor, Joan Sims and Charles Hawtrey headed the list with over twenty
films apiece; but the key players were Kenneth Williams and Sid James
and who enjoyed cult status at the time – even more so now.
Thomas knew exactly what he wanted to achieve and what the public
wanted from his films and in that regard he was a master craftsman.
As the series continued the team turned to historical comedy settings
such as ancient Rome or the court of Henry VIII. The screen writer
who worked with Rogers and Thomas was a man called Talbot Rothwell.
Some of the scripts were straightforward and bawdy – others
were simply inspired and they were lucky to have someone who was working
so closely on their own wavelength.
vast majority of Thomas’ work was comedy and in particular the
‘Carry On’ series. To this degree he was stereotyped as
a director but he had an eye for what the public wanted to see and
could handle in his movies and this is to his credit. He did demonstrate
that he could handle serious topics by making The Second Victory (1986),
set in Austria in the aftermath of the second world war. Thomas summed
up his approach to filmmaking on the set of the film:
‘Shooting for me means having a simpatico unit. A very quiet
floor with everybody happy - artists and crew - with laughter off
the set but very serious work on the set’
casting a critical eye over his films it should be stated that Thomas
was not concerned with camera angles or very specific visual details.
The ‘Carry on’ series in particular is filled with technical
mistakes but these seem in keeping with the culture or ‘feel’
of the movies. He was nearly regimental about the script and it would
generally be rehearsed, rehearsed and then recorded. In the 1970’s
as the sexual taboo’s rolled back – there was little to
make fun of anymore and the series, and Thomas ran out of steam.
1992, Thomas and Rogers were persuaded to make one more film, ‘Carry
On Columbus’. By this time many of the familiar stars - Sid
James, Hattie Jacques, Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey –
had passed this mortal coil. Thomas cast the film with some of the
new generation of 'alternative' comedians such as Julian Clary and
Rik Mayall, but the film was not a success with audiences. It was
an unhappy note for Thomas to go out on. He died the next year at
his home in Beaconsfield on 9 November 1993.
nephew is the film producer Jeremy Thomas, a one-time chairman of
the British Film Institute. Gerald Thomas donated his production files
to the BFI in 1993, shortly before his death.