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.

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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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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TBR Pile Review: Fearing the Black Body – The Racial Origins of Fatphobia, by Sabrina Strings

Book Cover
Format: 283 pages, Paperback
Published: May 7, 2019 by New York University Press
ISBN: 9781479886753 (ISBN10: 1479886750)

Blurb

In her first book, sociologist Strings (sociology, Univ. of California, Irvine) explores the historical development of prothin, antifat ideologies deployed in support of Western, patriarchal white supremacy. Beginning in the aesthetic ideals circulated by Renaissance thinkers and artists and bringing her narrative up into the 1990s, Strings charts how white Europeans and Anglo-Americans developed ideals of race and beauty that both explicitly and figuratively juxtaposed slim, desirable white women against corpulent, seemingly monstrous black women.

The work is divided into three sections. The two chapters in the first part consider how Renaissance white women and women of colour were depicted as plump and feminine, separated by class, yet belonging to the same gender. The second part of the work charts the rise of modern racial ideologies that yoked feminine beauty to Protestant, Anglo-Saxon whiteness. Later chapters and the epilogue consider how Americans normalized the “scientific management” of white women’s bodies for the purpose of racial uplift, a project that continued to situate black women as the embodied Other.

My Review

I’ve been reading this book on and off over the last few months as other commitments permitted; I found it fascinating and always picked up some new information every time I went back to it. I finished it last night with a feeling of disappointment that it wasn’t longer, but also interested in reading more by the author and on the topic.

BMI is, as I have said many times, bullshit, made-up and irrational. That it is still used by the medical profession is a travesty. Historical attitudes to fatness have varied with time and place, but scientific evidence does not support the vilification of fat people. In fact, Ancel Keys, who essentially invented the BMI and pushed for it to replace actuarial tables for insurance and medical purposes, admitted he found fat people ugly and assumed they were unhealthy. You cannot tell anything about a person’s health from a ratio of height to weight, or their appearance.

This book covers Europe and the U.S., because the author is USian, and the U.S. wouldn’t exist without European colonisation, so it covers the period from the Renaissance to the last years of the twentieth century. Five hundred years and three continents it a lot of space and time to cover.

When European’s started Othering people to justify slavery, weight was one of the things they chose to stigmatise. It coincided with Protestant disgust with bodies, with anything that might be fun, and later with changing ideas about ‘polite’ behaviour. By accusing African people of being lazy, gluttonous and dishonest, they could link that to intellect and justify colonisation and enslavement. And of course, to keep Europeans on top of the heap, the same rules had to be applied to Europeans, especially middle and upper class women.

Later still, eugenics came into play and whole new fields of scientific racism and sexism opened up for those white men determined to hold their places at the top of society. In the U.S. one of the ways they did this was to racialise Jewish, Irish, Southern (particularly Italian) and Eastern Europeans as the different groups migrated to the Americas across the 18th and 19th centuries and into the 20th century. They used the same lazy propaganda that earlier European ‘scientists’ had used to racialise and other Africans and then the indigenous populations of the Americas and Australia.

Body size and shape was used as a stick to beat people with. A ‘too thin’ rich white woman was a danger to the nation (whichever nation it was), a ‘too fat’ rich white woman, equally so, at different times. A fat black or African woman – signs of laziness and greediness – moral incontinence and hypersexuality. Because reasons.

Racist shitbags don’t actually have logical reasons, they take their beliefs and make up pseudoscience to support it. Fat hate is the same. It doesn’t matter how much evidence you have to show that ‘normal weight’ doesn’t exist, and that weight variation is just a normal part of human diversity (like the levels of melanin in the skin), they’ll still scream that fat kills.

Strings is a professional, and writes like one, unlike me; I’m just blunt and don’t mind swearing if I think it’s appropriate. I’ve seen other reviews that claim the writing is dry; I disagree. I found it clear and precise, although I would have been interested in more analysis and references from African and African American sources, but I doubt they were available given the systemic erasure and silencing of Black people in the last five hundred years.

The structure of the book puts the different strands of evidence into context and builds on Strings’ argument in a structured and organised way. Strings draws on popular and scientific literature, art and cultural movements to explore the topic and build her arguments. This is not ‘popular history but rewards careful reading and consideration.

Review: What Lies Buried, by Kerry Daynes

Kerry Daynes, leading forensic psychologist, takes us into the murky world of psychological investigation to uncover what lies buried. Each of her clients is classed as a ‘mentally disordered criminal offender’ whose psychological problems have contributed to them breaking the law.

Whether she is dealing with a young murderer who says he has heard voices telling him to kill, a teacher who daubs children in red paint and threatens to abduct them, or an aspiring serial killer who faints at the sight of blood, Kerry’s quest is to delve beyond the classic question asked of forensic psychologists: ‘Are they mad or are they bad?’

In her new book, Kerry provides an unflinching, enlightening and provocative insight into the minds of her clients, shedding light
on the root causes of their behaviour.

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Pen & Sword Review: The History of Video Games, by Charlie Fish

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By Charlie Fish
Imprint: White Owl
Pages: 120
Illustrations: 150 colour illustrations
ISBN: 9781526778970
Published: 28th May 2021

This book is a potted history of video games, telling all the rollercoaster stories of this fascinating young industry that’s now twice as big globally than the film and music industries combined. Each chapter explores the history of video games through a different lens, giving a uniquely well-rounded overview.

Packed with pictures and stats, this book is for video gamers nostalgic for the good old days of gaming, and young gamers curious about how it all began. If you’ve ever enjoyed a video game, or you just want to see what all the fuss is about, this book is for you.

There are stories about the experimental games of the 1950s and 1960s; the advent of home gaming in the 1970s; the explosion – and implosion – of arcade gaming in the 1980s; the console wars of the 1990s; the growth of online and mobile games in the 2000s; and we get right up to date with the 2010s, including such cultural phenomena as twitch.tv, the Gamergate scandal, and Fortnite.

But rather than telling the whole story from beginning to end, each chapter covers the history of video games from a different angle: platforms and technology, people and personalities, companies and capitalism, gender and representation, culture, community, and finally the games themselves. 

My Review

This book was sent to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

I hang around with gamers. It would be nice to have some idea of what they’re babbling on about. This book provides a history of computer games from several different angles. I found this a useful way of understanding the developments, especially the chapters about console development and about culture.

There are lots of pictures, some quite nostalgic – my sister had an original game boy with Tetris and Super Mario for instance. The biographies of important people involved in games and console development were interesting. A couple of them are definitely autistic.

There was quite a bit of detail and the references are fairly extensive so as a place to start, this potted history is a good one.

Unfortunately, the two chapters I was really interested in were truncated. Between pages 65 and 81 – most of the chapters on the important personalities of games development and gender and representation in games – had been replaced by a repeat of the previous chapter, on console development. I understand that I got an an ARC so errors happen, but it is disappointing.

Non-Fiction TBR Pile Review: The Dark Fantastic – Race and the imagination from Harry Potter to The Hunger Games

42129087
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published May 21st 2019 by
New York University Press
ISBN:1479800651 (ISBN13: 9781479800650)

Reveals the diversity crisis in children’s and young adult media as not only a lack of representation, but a lack of imagination

Stories provide portals into other worlds, both real and imagined. The promise of escape draws people from all backgrounds to speculative fiction, but when people of color seek passageways into the fantastic, the doors are often barred. This problem lies not only with children’s publishing, but also with the television and film executives tasked with adapting these stories into a visual world. When characters of color do appear, they are often marginalized or subjected to violence, reinforcing for audiences that not all lives matter.

The Dark Fantastic is an engaging and provocative exploration of race in popular youth and young adult speculative fiction. Grounded in her experiences as YA novelist, fanfiction writer, and scholar of education, Thomas considers four black girl protagonists from some of the most popular stories of the early 21st century: Bonnie Bennett from the CW’s The Vampire Diaries, Rue from Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, Gwen from the BBC’s Merlin, and Angelina Johnson from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. Analyzing their narratives and audience reactions to them reveals how these characters mirror the violence against black and brown people in our own world.

In response, Thomas uncovers and builds upon a tradition of fantasy and radical imagination in Black feminism and Afrofuturism to reveal new possibilities. Through fanfiction and other modes of counter-storytelling, young people of color have reinvisioned fantastic worlds that reflect their own experiences, their own lives. As Thomas powerfully asserts, “we dark girls deserve more, because we are more.”

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Pen & Sword Review: A History of The Undead: Mummies, Vampires and Zombies, by Charlotte Booth

A History of the Undead
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 224
Illustrations: 30 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526769060
Published: 9th February 2021

£12.79

Are you a fan of the undead? Watch lots of Mummy, zombie and vampire movies and TV shows? Have you ever wondered if they could be ‘real’?

This book, A History of the Undead, unravels the truth behind these popular reanimated corpses.

Starting with the common representations in Western Media through the decades, we go back in time to find the origins of the myths. Using a combination of folklore, religion and archaeological studies we find out the reality behind the walking dead. You may be surprised at what you find.

My Review

Thanks to Rosie Crofts at Pen & Sword for my review copy. I’m going to read the author’s book about ancient Egypt next.

The Rosie Synopsis

The book is divided into seven chapters, two each on mummies, two on zombies and three on vampires. The author covers the literary and film history of the undead in one chapter and then the folklore in the second chapter. In the vampire section Booth also covers the modern ‘vampires’ – people who think they’re vampires or live a ‘vampire lifestyle’.

The Good

I liked the way the author wrote the chapters as individual essays, because they can be dipped into, and the illustrations. It is a good introduction to the subject, and the author states that it is an introduction not the be-all-end-all on the subject.

The Not-So-Good

Despite my enjoyment of academic texts, I found it was a bit dry at times and there were some errors in reference to some of the televsion series.

It would have been good to have a summation chapter drawing all the thought lines together.

The Verdict

Not a bad introduction to the subject.