Producer Peter Rogers and director Gerald Thomas made all 31 films, usually on time and to a strict budget, and often employed the same crew. Between 1958 and 1992, the series employed seven writers, most often Norman Hudis (1958–62) and Talbot Rothwell (1963–74). In between the films, Rogers and Thomas produced four Christmas specials in 1969, 1970, 1972, and 1973, a thirteen episode television series in 1975 and various West End stage shows which later toured the regions.
All the films were made at Pinewood Studios near Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire. Budgetary constraints meant that a large proportion of the location filming was undertaken close to the studios in and around south Buckinghamshire, including areas of Berkshire and Middlesex. However, by the late-1960s (at the height of the franchise's success) more ambitious plots occasionally necessitated locations further afield, which included Snowdonia National Park, Wales, (with the foot of Mount Snowdon acting as the Khyber Pass in Carry On Up the Khyber), and the beaches of the Sussex coast doubling as Saharan sand dunes in Follow That Camel.
Carry On Sergeant (1958) was about a group of recruits on National Service and was in keeping with its setting, the command commonly issued by army officers to their sergeants in the course of their routine duties. The film was sufficiently successful to inspire a similar venture, again focusing on an established and respected profession in Carry On Nurse. When that too was successful further forays with Carry On Teacher and Carry On Constable established the series. This initial 'pattern' was broken with the fifth film in 1961, Carry On Regardless, but it still followed a similar plot to that of many of the early films – a small group of misfit newcomers to a job make comic mistakes, but come together to win in the end.
The remainder of the series developed with increased use of the British comic traditions of Music Hall and bawdy seaside postcards. Many titles parodied more serious films, such as their tongue-in-cheek homages to James Bond (Spying) and Hammer Horror (Screaming!). The most impressive of these was Carry On Cleo (1964), after the Burton and Taylor epic Cleopatra (1963), where the budget-conscious Carry On team made full use of some impressive sets which had been intended for that film. Carry On Emmannuelle, inspired by the soft-porn Emmanuelle, brought to an end the original straight 'run'.
The stock-in-trade of Carry On humour was innuendo and the sending-up of British institutions and customs, such as the National Health Service (Nurse, Doctor, Again Doctor, Matron and the proposed Again Nurse), the monarchy (Henry), the Empire (Up the Khyber), the armed forces (Sergeant, England and the proposed Flying and Escaping), the police (Constable) and the trade unions (At Your Convenience) as well as the Hammer horror films (Screaming), camping (Camping), foreign holidays (Abroad), beauty contests (Girls), and caravan holidays (Behind), cruise holidays (Cruising), education system (Teacher) and others. Although the films were very often panned by critics, they proved very popular with audiences.
A film had appeared in 1957 under the title Carry on Admiral; although this was a comedy in similar vein (and even featured Joan Sims in the cast) it has no connection to the "Carry On" series itself. The much-earlier 1937 film Carry On London is also unrelated (though it coincidently starred future Carry On performer Eric Barker).
The cast were poorly paid – around £5,000 per film for a principal performer. In his diaries, Kenneth Williams lamented this and criticised several of the movies despite his declared fondness for the series as a whole. Peter Rogers, the series' producer, acknowledged: "Kenneth was worth taking care of, because while he cost very little [...] he made a very great deal of money for the franchise."
Several other films were planned, scripted (or partly scripted) or entered pre-production before being abandoned:What a Carry On..., 1961
Carry On Smoking, 1961. The story revolved around a fire station, and various attempts to train a bungling group of new recruits.
Carry On Spaceman, 1961 and again in 1962. See section below ↓.
Carry On Flying, 1962. Scripted by Norman Hudis, about a group of RAF recruits. It got as far as pre-production before being abandoned. Jim Dale was to have a starring role.
Carry On Robin, 1965. A planned spoof of Robin Hood starring the "Carry On regulars" was outlined by Rogers and registered with the British Film Producers Association but never pursued.
Carry On Again Nurse, 1967 and two other attempts. See section below ↓.
Carry On Escaping, 1973. Scripted by Talbot Rothwell, a spoof of World War 2 escape films. The complete script was included in the book The Complete A-Z of Everything Carry On.
Carry on Dallas, 1980. A planned spoof of the popular US series Dallas. A script was written and casting offers made to Williams, Connor, Douglas, Sims, Hawtrey and Dale. The production was abandoned when Lorimar Productions demanded a royalty fee of 20 times the total production budget.
Carry On Down Under, 1981. Gerald Thomas did some location scouting while on holiday in Australia and spoke to the Australian Film Commission. The production was abandoned when finance fell through. A complete script was written by Vince Powell and is included in the book Fifty Years of Carry On.
Carry On Spaceman was to be released shortly after Carry On Regardless, in 1961. It was scripted by Norman Hudis, and was to satirise interests in the Space Race from the Western world's point of view, and was to have been shot in black and white.
The cast was to consist of three would-be astronauts who constantly bungled on their training and their mission into outer space – most likely the trio would have been played by the trinity of Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Connor, and Leslie Phillips that had been established in Carry On Constable.
Attempts to revive Carry On Spaceman in 1962 under Denis Gifford, again by Hudis, failed, and the project was subsequently abandoned.
Three scripts were written for an intended sub-sequel to the successful Carry On Nurse, the second installment of the Carry On series. The first film was renamed, and the other two never made.
The first intended Carry On Again Nurse was made in 1967, but released as Carry On Doctor. Carry On Nurse was alluded to twice in Carry On Doctor, firstly with the sub-titles (one reading Nurse Carries On Again and Death of a Daffodil), and again in a later scene with Frankie Howerd commenting on a vase of daffodils in his ward.
A second attempt at Carry On Again Nurse came in 1979, after the franchise left Rank Films and moved to Hemdale. A completed script had been written by George Layton and Jonathan Lynn in 1977. It was cancelled due to the financial loss of Carry On Emmannuelle.
The final attempt to create Carry On Again Nurse came in 1988, with a script written by Norman Hudis. It was to revolve around a hospital set for closure, and set to star original actors Barbara Windsor, Jack Douglas, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Connor and Joan Sims, with Sims filling in the role of matron that was previously held by Hattie Jacques. The end of the film was going to be a tribute to Jacques, with Sims turning around a photograph of the actress and asking "Well, did I do alright?" (the script is included in the book The Lost Carry Ons). Production was scheduled to begin in June 1988, but the deaths of Williams and Hawtrey (in April and October 1988 respectively), combined with a budget of £1.5 million which was deemed too expensive, proved to be the end of the film and it was cancelled.
A new film, Carry On London, was announced in 2003 by producer Peter Rogers and producer James Black but remained in pre-production well into 2008. The script was signed off by the production company in late March 2008, and "centred on a limousine company ferrying celebrities to an awards show." The film had several false starts, with the producers and cast changing extensively over time. Only the rather unknown Welsh actress Jynine James remained a consistent name from 2003 to 2008. Danniella Westbrook, Shaun Williamson and Burt Reynolds were also once attached to the project. In May 2006 it was announced Vinnie Jones and Shane Richie were to star in the film, which was to be directed by Peter Richardson, though Ed Bye later replaced him as the named director. At the 50th anniversary party held at Pinewood Studios in March 2008, Peter Rogers confirmed that he was planning a series of Carry On films after London, subject to the success of the first.
In early 2009, Carry On London or Carry On Bananas was once again 'back on', with Charlie Higson attached as director, and a different more modern cast list involving Paul O'Grady (as the acidic Kenneth Williamsesque character), Jynine James, Lenny Henry, Justin Lee Collins, Jennifer Ellison (as the saucy Barbara Windsor type), Liza Tarbuck (Hattie Jacques), Meera Syal, James Dreyfus, and Frank Skinner (filling in the Sid James role). Despite new media interest and sets being constructed at Pinewood film studios, the film once again was put on hold, and the project was shelved after the death of Peter Rogers in April 2009.
In May 2016, producer Jonathan Sothcott of Hereford Films announced plans for a new series of Carry On films, beginning with Carry On Doctors and Carry On Campus. As of early 2017 no news has surfaced on if the planned reboot is still going ahead. On April 12, 2017 Jonathan Sothcott confimed to thehollywoodnews that he is no longer involved with the film.
The characters and comedy style of the Carry On film series were adapted to a television series titled Carry On Laughing, and several Christmas specials.
In 1971, Music For Pleasure released a long playing record Oh! What a Carry On! (MFP MONO 1416) featuring songs performed by Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale, Kenneth Connor, Frankie Howerd, Bernard Bresslaw, Joan Sims, Barbara Windsor, and Dora Bryan.
A 50-minute television documentary What's a Carry On? was made in 1998 for the 40th anniversary of the first film. It included archive clips, out-takes and interviews with surviving cast members. It was included as an extra on the DVD release of Carry On Emmannuelle.
In November 2003 a T.V. series called Popcorn ran a Carry On Special documentary and interviews on S4c featuring Jynine James. This was in respect of a new Carry On film being produced by Peter Rogers called Carry On London. It featured interviews and clips of the past Carry On films and went into detail about the new film and cast. However, despite the script being signed off and sets constructed at Pinewood film studios, due to the untimely death of Producer Peter Rogers, the project was shelved.
A two-hour radio documentary Carry On Forever!, presented by Leslie Phillips, was broadcast in two parts on BBC Radio 2 in two parts on 19–20 July 2010. A three part television retrospective with the same title, narrated by Martin Clunes, was shown on ITV3 in the UK over Easter 2015.
Falcon De Luxe, a UK company owned by Jumbo Games, released a jigsaw based on the official Carry On movie posters. The jigsaw is a montage of numerous movie posters along with the main movie logo in the center.
The Carry on film series has had numerous individual released on VHS and a number of VHSs have been released in an eighteen VHS box-set 1 September 2003.
The film series was first released as a DVD box-set 1 September 2008 by ITV Studios Home Entertainment. Five years later 7 October 2013 it was re-released with smaller packaging. All the movies contained in the collection are also available to buy individually.
Since 2013 StudioCanal has begun to release a number of the Carry On films on Blu-ray. starting with Carry on Screaming (21 October 2013), Carry On Cleo (5 May 2014), Carry On Cowboy (2 June 2014) and Carry On Jack (7 July 2014).