Pen & Sword Review: Carry on Regardless, by Caroline Frost

By Caroline Frost
Imprint: White Owl
Pages: 232
Illustrations: 32 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526774781
Published: 5th May 2022
Expected Re-release Date: 30th June 2022

Blurb

The completely updated story of Carry On, Britain’s largest film franchise, all the way from the gentle capers of the 1950s, through the raucous golden age of the 1960s, to its struggles in the years that followed.

We take a happy walk down memory lane to enjoy again Sid James’s cheeky chuckle, Kenneth Williams’ elongated vowels, Charles Hawtrey’s bespectacled bashfulness and Barbara Windsor’s naughty wiggle.

It all seemed effortless, but exclusive interviews with the series’ remaining stars including Bernard Cribbins, Angela Douglas and Kenneth Cope shed new light on just how much talent and hard work went into creating the laughs. For the first time, the loved ones of some of the franchise’s biggest names – on and off screen – share their personal memories from this unique era.

Was Carry On really as sexist, racist and bigoted as critics claim? Three of the films’ female stars explain why they never felt remotely exploited, plus we take a fresh look at some of the series’ biggest titles and discover that, in reality, they were far more progressive than their detractors would have you believe.

Finally, with constant talk about new films, fresh productions and tantalising speculation about a brand new era of Carry On, we ask – does this unique series still have legs?

My Review

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book. It came with my latest box of books from Pen & Sword. I have always enjoyed the Carry On… films, they are a fond memory from my childhood, where we collected the VHS tapes and then the DVDs. I still have the DVDs but got rid of my tapes when I moved out in 2014. I have always been fascinated by the personalities behind the films, especially the ensemble cast of the 60s who come to mind when I think about the films. I’ve been re-watching the films lately. They’re a nostalgic blanket on a wet Sunday afternoon.

I can also quote quite a few lines from most of the films.

This book is an overview of the films, the cast and crew, going from the earliest film, Carry On Sergeant, to the final film, Carry On Columbus. Over the series the films poked gentle fun at institutions, cracked jokes and threw out double entendre all over the place. Unfortunately, by the late seventies, they struggled to cope with changing social mores and the attempts at keeping up with the times fell flat.

Frost writes from a position of fondness and the author clearly enjoyed interviewing as many people as she could who had been involved, and using the auto/biographies of those she could not, to give a positive view of the films. However, she doesn’t give us many details of the actual production process, and she gets repetitive at times. We hear time and time again how much the cast enjoyed filming, and how it was ‘just like going back to school’ every time they went back to Pinewood Studios. It also gets a bit ‘Great British Humour’ at times, all a bit jingoistic.

I found the discussion of criticism of the films interesting. Certainly the sort of stuff they got away with wouldn’t happen now, such as the black face used in Carry On…Khyber and …Up The Jungle. The roles for women could be a bit limited, although as the author points out, many of the women characters were strong, determined women. Carry on Cabby is a fantastic early example. However, the cheap jokes at the expense of women’s appearances is galling, and actually contributed to Joan Sims’ possible Binge Eating Disorder. I thought that Frost’s attitude to the criticism of what she and others refer to as ‘Woke’ and ‘PC’ critics is a bit hypocritical. People have made valid points about the films and the attitudes they display, and you have to be a very canny viewer to realise there’s a bit more going on.

There is a discussion of the likelihood of new Carry Ons…end the book; there are some deluded people out there that think it could happen. I’m sorry, but times and humour have changed. The films are a snap-shot of a time and place, a period of social change that is reflected in the attitudes of the films and the tension between the past and present in the 1960s and early 1970s. The films also worked because they had an ensemble cast of comedic actors. As we saw with the rebooted ‘St. Trinians’ films, what worked in 1960 doesn’t work in the 2000s; social mores and humour have changed, and there is a dearth of the sorts of comedic actors who would be willing to work as part of an ensemble cast, or with the training on stage, TV and film that the cast had.

Over all, it’s okay, but could be better.

Review: Brazen, by Julia Haart

My Review

Thanks to Anne of Random Things Tours for organising this blog tour and to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book.

I found this book fascinating and shocking. The author writes with candour about her struggles, life within the closed community of fundamentalist Judaism her parents adopted, and her journey to freedom. She is not afraid to call out the hypocrisy of fundamental religions and their followers, and identifies the mechanisms of control that permeate them. Her anger is clear and makes it’s appearance several times as she discusses the abuses in her former community, as well as the ways people take advantage of those who escape controlling groups. She trusted people who she thought were good people only to discover that they were cheats and liars. Help from good people, who understood that getting everything is writing and having contracts is the only way to go in business, got her into a better position and eventually her hard work and creative flare saved her business and freed her family.

The author correctly identifies that women are often used to reinforce their own oppression in these groups; teaching the ‘laws’ to the next generation after a lifetime of indoctrination and abuse, by means of indoctrination and abuse, because they’ve been told it’ll make them holy. Since they can’t be holy or good just by being a decent human, only men can be that. Social pressure, gossip and ostracism are tools used to control women by other women; once the system is set up and in place for a couple of generation, the men no longer have to actively police it, they merely passively benefit from it and never question the problem. In some fundamentalist communities, young men are also thrown out and the stories of their struggles to adapt to a world they haven’t been prepared for are used as lessons to keep others in line.

I would be interested to know how she brought her children and ex-husband away from fundamentalism, as he’s now a Modern Orthodox Jew and the children are all in higher education. The denial of education to children and forcing adults into pre-defined roles based on genitalia are major problems in all fundamentalist religious groups, unfortunately.

Haart’s devotion to her children shines through and she is at pains to make it clear that every risk she took was to give them better lives away where they wouldn’t be forced into early marriage or denied an education.

It doesn’t matter which particular prophet they follow, when your god is a psychopath and his priests can get away with manipulating the people, you’re going to get abuse. Fear of being called a bigot often prevents authorities from intervening where they can, such as in the unregulated and unregistered schools children of fundamentalist parents are often sent to, and to ‘schools with a religious ethos’ in the UK. Just because the parents are *insert religion or denomination here* doesn’t mean the children should be subjected to ignorant, outdated ideas and denied an education. And the ‘God/Allah/YHWH/Jehovah says so’ excuse is lazy and stupid. No, a bunch of old men wrote a load of myths and rules about how to live safely at different times over a thousand years and in different cultural contexts and now you’re trying to force that crap on children living in totally different cultural contexts, in a world with more knowledge available than ever before. You want to believe the myths, go ahead, but you don’t get to force that on other people. Can you tell I have little time for the god of Abraham, and a lot of time for his victims? My Gran would be so upset if she read this.

Back to the book

I found the writing spirited and easy to read. It is a heartfelt plea against fundamentalism and a demand for freedom. I found the descriptions of her creative process and the difficulties of starting a business gripping, while her life in her former community and her travels are fascinatingly told. The details of lives usually hidden from the wider world are enough to give anyone pause, and her discussion of her mental health struggles as she fought to escape and then to build a business are compassionate to herself and others. I’m still surprised at how much compassion she has for her ex-husband, given his behaviour, and that she still has a belief in a higher power, but everyone is different.

I didn’t particularly enjoy reading about Haart’s post-separation sexual adventures, but that’s just me. Some people might be interested. I found some of the phrasing repetitive. There’s only so many times I can read that returning to Monsey was like returning to jail for her, or that she doesn’t let people take advantage of her now. And it felt like it finished a bit abruptly.

In summary

A worthwhile memoir, and peak into the behind the scenes life of a fashion designer.


About the Author

Julia Haart is the star of the Netflix docuseries My Unorthodox Life.

She is the CEO, co-owner and chief creative officer of Elite World Group, the world’s first talent media agency, which is comprised of 48 global agencies representing the most dynamic and culturally connected talent in the world.

She was previously the creative director of La Perla, the luxury Italian intimates brand, and launched her career as a designer with her namesake shoe collection.

Julia lives in Manhattan.

Instagram: @juliahaart.

Review: Through A Vet’s Eyes, By Dr Sean Wensley

Gaia | £20.00 | 28th April 2022

Dr Sean Wensley is an award-winning vet and lifelong naturalist who has contributed to animal welfare and conservation projects all over the world. His debut book is about how we can choose a better life for animals, from the chickens we eat to the pets we keep.
As our societies become more urbanised, we are further removed from the reality of where and how our food is produced. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the humanisation of our pets is a risk to their welfare; with 60% of UK dogs being overweight or obese, we are effectively killing them with kindness. Through a Vet’s Eyes seeks to redress this imbalance so that we see all animals as thinking, feeling beings not dissimilar to ourselves.

There is high public and political interest in animal welfare, with current attention focused on high-profile topics such as animal sentience, humane and sustainable global agriculture and breeding pets, such as flat-faced dogs, for looks over health. To fully consider and improve the lives of animals, evidence-based information is needed to help us all understand these issues, what they mean from the animals’ perspectives and what we can all do to help.

A polemic with elements of memoir and nature writing, the book takes us through the years in which Sean trained to become a vet and shares his first-hand experience of how animals are treated and used for our benefit. It interrogates the different levels of welfare afforded to them and reveals
how we, as consumers and informed citizens, can reduce our animal welfare footprint through the choices we make every single day.

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Pen & Sword Review: Broadmoor Women – Tales from Britain’s first criminal lunatic asylum, by Kim Thomas

By Kim Thomas
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 192
Illustrations: 20 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526794260
Published: 12th April 2022

Blurb

Broadmoor, Britain’s first asylum for criminal lunatics, was founded in 1863. In the first years of its existence, one in five patients was female. Most had been tried for terrible crimes and sent to Broadmoor after being found not guilty by virtue of insanity. Many had murdered their own children, while others had killed husbands or other family members.

Drawing on Broadmoor’s rich archive, this book tells the story of seven of those women, ranging from a farmer’s daughter in her 20s who shot dead her own mother to a middle-class housewife who drowned her baby daughter. Their moving stories give a glimpse into what nineteenth-century life was like for ordinary women, often struggling with poverty, domestic abuse and repeated childbearing. For some, Broadmoor, with its regime of plain food, fresh air and garden walks, was a respite from the hardships of their previous life. Others were desperate to return to their families.

All but one of the women whose stories are recounted in this book recovered and were released. Their bout of insanity was temporary. Yet the causes of their condition were poorly understood and the treatment rudimentary. As well as providing an in-depth look at the lives of women in Victorian England, the book offers a fascinating insight into the medical profession’s emerging understanding of the causes and treatment of mental illness.

My Review

Rosie Crofts, who does the marketing for Pen & Sword, sent me an email about this book a couple of weeks ago. I sat down and read it over the weekend.

I quite enjoy microhistories; the life of a single person or building can tell you something about the world around them. This book investigates the lives of seven women who were incarcerated in Broadmoor in the first forty years.

Most of them killed their children, one killed her husband and one killed her mother. Most of them had hard lives, limited by social conventions and/or poverty. Respectability was important to them all, and in court could be leveraged by a defendant so that they received a ‘guilty but insane’ or ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ verdict. Often judges and juries were sympathetic to women who killed new born children in ‘puerperal insanity’ or ‘lactation insanity’. Psychiatrists and doctors didn’t really understand what was going on in people’s minds, and were still clinging to the idea that uteruses could cause madness; one particular belief was that women were so fragile that breast feeding for too long would cause madness.

Some of them had pre-existing mental health conditions before they committed their crimes and hadn’t received any or very limited care. Medical care for mental illness was limited at the time, as people were expected to look after their family members and doctors didn’t really understand how brains and hormones worked. Really bad cases were dropped in asylums and either left or experimented on, observed and drugged. Except in rare cases, like Tukes’ Retreat in York where the Quakers believed in calm, purposeful activity and loving kindness.

They averaged about 7 years in Broadmoor and were often released back to their families. Some husbands started petitioning for their release almost immediately after they were convicted, out of love or desperation for someone to care for their children. Returning to their families was often the worst thing that could happen to the women for several years, since it was the family/home environment that triggered the mental breakdown in the first place.

The regime at Broadmoor in the early years was based on improvement and calm, providing patients with a safe place to recover from their madness, time to heal and return to equanimity before being released. The early superintendents took after Dr. Tuke in their care of the patients; nutritious food, rest and care by sympathetic staff. Their regime was based on the latest (in the 1860s) scientific information. It would still be considered good care, now. Unfortunately, in between 1900 and 2000 there was a change in attitudes from care to abuse and back again. Seriously, I’m working on a project about this for work and it gives me nightmares to think about what happened to people with mental illnesses, learning disabilities or who were otherwise neurodivergent in asylums and residential centres.

I found this book interesting, it humanises the history of Broadmoor and gives us a snapshot into the social conditions of the late Victorian period. It would have been interesting to learn about the lives of the women warders alongside the patients. How did some working class women end up as warders and some as patients?

Could have done with some copy editing.

TBR Review: Neuroqueer Heresies, by Nick Walker

Available from Amazon for £14.99

My Review

I’ve come across Nick Walker’s work before, seen neurocosmopolitan and Neuroqueer referenced by other writers, and used Walker’s list of definitions in my own work, particularly the heritage project I’m working on – many people are unfamiliar with neurodiversity, the concept, paradigm and movement, and the vocabulary tha to has developed around it – but I hadn’t done more than skim until someone suggested we read some of her work for a Narratives of Neurodiversity Network Salon. Since I like to support small presses, I bought a copy of Walker’s book.

I’m very glad I did. I’ve spent a decent amount of time reading and cogitating in the contents. I am slightly annoyed to find that the ideas I thought I had that were original have actually been thought before, and articulated more elegantly than I could have done.

Although the stars and constellations metaphor is still mine and mine alone. So far as I know.

Nick Walker has been part of the neurodiversity movement for the last couple of decades, and knows people who were there at the beginning when autistic people started meeting and building culture online. She coined a lot of the words, or knows the people who did, and gives difinative histories and meanings for the words. This book also goes on to explain concepts like neurocosmopolitan and Neuroqueer in ways that people can understand. With examples.

I’m donating a new, un-Rosie-marked copy of this book to the little autistic library I’m building at my work. I think it’ll be helpful in giving people a different way of looking at their diagnosis and understanding of themselves through the neurodiversity paradigm rather than the pathology paradigm.

TBR Pile Review: Walking the Invisible, by Michael Stewart

Hardcover, 288 pages
Published June 24th 2021 by HarperCollins
ISBN: 0008430187 (ISBN13: 9780008430184)

Blurb

Michael Stewart has been captivated by the Brontes since he was a child, and has travelled all over the north of England in search of their lives and landscapes. Now, he’d like to invite you into the world as they would have seen it.

Following in the footsteps of the Brontes across meadow and moor, through village and town, award-winning writer Michael Stewart takes a series of inspirational walks through the lives and landscapes of the Bronte family, investigating the geographical and social features that shaped their work.

This is a literary study of both the social and natural history that has inspired writers and walkers, and the writings of a family that have touched readers for generations. Finally we get to understand the ‘wild, windy moors’ that Kate Bush sang about in ‘Wuthering Heights’, see the imposing halls that may have inspired Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre, and learn about Bramwell’s affair with a real life Mrs Robinson while treading the same landscapes. As well as describing in vivid detail the natural beauty of the moors and their surroundings, Walking the Invisible also encompasses the history of the north and the changing lives of those that have lived there.

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TBR Pile Review: Fat Activism, 2nd Ed., by Charlotte Cooper

Paperback, 312 pages
Published 2021
by Hammeron Press
ISBN13: 9781910849309

Blurb

Charlotte Cooper, a fat activist with more than 30 years experience, lifts the lid on a previously unexplored social movement and offers a fresh perspective on one of the major problems of our times. In her expansive, intelligent grassroots study she: – Reveals details of fat activist methods and approaches – Features extensive accounts of fat activist historical roots going back over four decades – Explores controversies and tensions in the movement – Shows that fat activism is an undeniably feminist and queer phenomenon Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement is a rare instance of fat people speaking about their lives and politics on their own terms. The book is the result of Charlotte’s community-based doctoral research.

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Pen & Sword Review: Not So Virtuous Victorians, by Michelle Rosenberg & Sonia D. Picker

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Paperback, 80 pages
Published July 30th 2018 by Pen & Sword Books
ISBN:1526700913 (ISBN13: 9781526700919)

Blurb

What springs to mind when you think of British Victorian men and women? Manners, manners and more manners. Behaviour that was as rigid and constricted as the corsets women wore. From iron-knicker sexual prudery to men so uptight they furtively released their pent up emotions in opium dens and prostitute hot spots. All, of course, exaggerated clichés worthy of a Victorian melodrama. Each generation loves to think it is better than the last and loves to look aghast at the horrifying trends of their ancestors. But are we really any different?

This glimpse at life for Victorian men and women might make millennials think again. Men and women were expected to live very differently from one another with clearly defined roles regardless of class. However, lift the skirts a little and not only will you see that they didn’t wear knickers but they were far less repressed than the persistent stereotypes would have us believe. The Victorians were as weird and wonderful as we are today. From fatal beauty tips to truly hysterical cures for hysteria to grave robbers playing skittles with human bones, we have cherry picked some of the more entertaining glimpses into the lives led by our Victorian brothers and sisters.

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Review: Cultish – The Language of Fanaticism, by Amanda Montell

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Hardcover, 320 pages
Published June 15th 2021 by Harper Wave
ISBN: 0062993151 (ISBN13: 9780062993151)

Blurb

The author of the widely praised Wordslut analyses the social science of cult influence: how cultish groups from Jonestown and Scientology to SoulCycle and social media gurus use language as the ultimate form of power.

What makes “cults” so intriguing and frightening? What makes them powerful? The reason why so many of us binge Manson documentaries by the dozen and fall down rabbit holes researching suburban moms gone QAnon is because we’re looking for a satisfying explanation for what causes people to join—and more importantly, stay in—extreme groups. We secretly want to know: could it happen to me? Amanda Montell’s argument is that, on some level, it already has . . .

Our culture tends to provide pretty flimsy answers to questions of cult influence, mostly having to do with vague talk of “brainwashing.” But the true answer has nothing to do with freaky mind-control wizardry or Kool-Aid. In Cultish, Montell argues that the key to manufacturing intense ideology, community, and us/them attitudes all comes down to language. In both positive ways and shadowy ones, cultish language is something we hear—and are influenced by—every single day.

Through juicy storytelling and cutting original research, Montell exposes the verbal elements that make a wide spectrum of communities “cultish,” revealing how they affect followers of groups as notorious as Heaven’s Gate, but also how they pervade our modern start-ups, Peloton leaderboards, and Instagram feeds. Incisive and darkly funny, this enrapturing take on the curious social science of power and belief will make you hear the fanatical language of “cultish” everywhere.

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TBR Pile Review: Those They Called Idiots, by Simon Jarrett

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Hardcover, 304 pages
Published December 30th 2020 by Reaktion Books
ISBN:1789143012 (ISBN13: 9781789143010)

Those They Called Idiots traces the little-known lives of people with learning disabilities from the communities of eighteenth-century England to the nineteenth-century asylum and care in today’s society. Using evidence from civil and criminal court-rooms, joke books, slang dictionaries, novels, art and caricature, it explores the explosive intermingling of ideas about intelligence and race, while bringing into sharp focus the lives of people often seen as the most marginalized in society. 

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