Carry On . . . Up the Khyber (1968)

*. One of the skits in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983) is set during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 and it makes fun of British officers remaining imperturbable in the face of calamity. Of course the military were an endless source of fun for the Python gang, but this particular angle had already been played up in the Carry On films, perhaps most notably in Carry On . . . Up the Khyber.
*. In this, the sixteenth Carry On effort, the usual gang (with Roy Castle subbing in for Jim Dale as the romantic lead) once more represent the Empire under siege, this time by angry natives in the Indian province of Kalabar, which is near the Khyber Pass (rhymes with “ass”). The entire final act of the film plays out like a forerunner of that Python skit, with the officers enjoying a black-tie meal inside the Governor’s Residency, indifferent to the battle raging outside. Which is actually a bit odd, since Carry On movies don’t usually play out one joke at such length.
*. The plot here hinges on the discovery by the locals that the local Scottish regiment, the 3rd Foot and Mouth, actually do have underwear on beneath their kilts. This makes the “devils in skirts” seem less invincible, which leads to the rebellion. Even by Carry On standards I think that’s a stretch, and I can’t say it’s terribly funny either.
*. Many fans and critics consider this to be the very best of the Carry On efforts. I think this is for its generally high production values. It looks good, from the Pinewood sets to the Khyber Pass locations (which were actually shot in Snowdonia). At least I can’t think of any other reason to choose it over many of the other films in the series. It’s mainly more of the same, though there’s a minimum of gay jokes, if that’s a plus or minus for you.
*. The jokes are the usual off-colour puns and bawdy innuendos, but I don’t find them to be any funnier than usual. There’s a labored running gag that has Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond (Sid James) enjoying rounds of “tiffin” (sex) with various harem gals. Once again the men have to get all dressed up in drag at one point. There are a bunch of in-jokes or bits of timely humour that I doubt many people will get today. The banging of a gong is derided as “rank stupidity” (a nod to the Rank Organizations’ symbol). The Burpa leader Bungdit Din wants to teach the Brits a lesson for banning turbans on buses, which refers to a recent strike by Sikh bus drivers in England. A final shot of the Union Jack with the words “I’m Backing Britain” flew over my head.
*. Snowdon still looks beautiful, not having dated nearly as badly as these jokes. I visited Wales once as a kid and it was places like this that I have the fondest memories of. Some day I may even get back to hike around them again. I’d forgotten this movie, however, almost completely since I’d first seen it. Still, it has a few smiles, and if not the best in the series it’s far from the worst.

26 thoughts on “Carry On . . . Up the Khyber (1968)

  1. fragglerocking

    I was never a fan of the Carry On’s so never got as far as 16. I can’t see me ever watching one now, not even for Snowdon, which I also have fond memories of having traipsed up it in the fog and rain with a bunch of army cadets. It is a beautiful area though.

      1. fragglerocking

        No I was one of the instructors, I wasn’t in the Army but got trained to be an instructor, greeat fun. Got to do all sorts of mad stuff, rock climbing Derbyshire, (fell off) ‘doing’ Snowdon,(fell down) training excercises at Aldershot (had to be pushed over the obstacles) learned fieldcraft, shooting, map reading and had an all round great time. Must do a blog post about it one day!

      2. Alex Good Post author

        A blog post? This sounds like you need to write your memoirs! How did all this lead up to Tyne and Wear? Or is that where you started out?

      3. fragglerocking

        Ah no, I started out in Yorkshire, then Mum married an RAFguy when I was 11 and we lived on RAF bases until I left home to do Nurse training in Bedfordshire. Ended up getting a job in Herfordshire, met Mr.Husband1 who’s brother in law was a Cap’n in the Army Cadets so we were inveigled to join. Cut a long story short- had baby, divorced, met Mr.Rabbit who worked in the same hospital as me but lived up north in T&W- he went back there but 10 yrs later got in touch again, met up, moved up, and that’s where I am now!

  2. tensecondsfromnow

    Reputation of the film rests entirely with the final scene, which nails the British attitude, taking tea as the chandeliers crash down around their ears. Devils in skirts as well.


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