January 2, 2017


Ian Carmichael (1920-2010) b. Hull, Yorkshire, England.

Ian Carmichael

A light comedian from stage revue, Carmichael took the British cinema by storm in the 1950s, and established himself, albeit for a few short years, as a major star. Carmichael was born in Hull to an optician. He went to preparatory school at Scarborough and Bromsgrove School, Worcestershire. He always wanted to act, studied at RADA and was on stage at 19. He had already played his first revue before volunteering for army service in 1941 with the 30th Armoured Brigade. He returned to the theatre in 1947 and began getting some very small roles in films.

The Boulting Brothers spotted his potential straight away; they made him the guileless recruit Stanley Windrush in their Private’s Progress (1956), which was a funnier and more perceptive comedy about army life than the British cinema had previously seen. Its huge success prompted the producers to transfer practically half the cast to a legal comedy called Brothers in Law (1957), which was actually much funnier, and featured Carmichael as a barrister wet behind the ears and completely lacking in confidence. Carmichael, who looked years younger than his real age, skilfully displayed dithering determination and induced laughter and audience sympathy at the same time. His reward was Perhaps his best-remembered role: Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim (1957), a working-class university lecturer who gets up everybody’s nose, not least that of Terry-Thomas who, in almost all of Carmichael’s best films, plays the cheat and bounder who initially outwits him but is finally confounded.

Carmichael and the Boultings had another hit with Happy is the Bride! (1957), a cameo-filled account of the disastrous run-up to a marriage, it was a remake of the 1940 success Quiet Wedding. At this point Rank, doubtless to Carmichael’s embarrassment, decided to resurrect The Big Money (1956), which cast him, in a red wig, as an inept thief in a family of successful ones. It did a little business on the strength of his name, and probably slightly damaged his career. For the moment, though, all was well. Launder and Gilliat, another solid British film team, took him on for a funny political satire, Left, Right and Centre (1959), and then he was back in the Stanley Windrush role in I�m All Right, Jack (1959), the Boulting Brothers cutting thrust at trade unions, which won a British Oscar for its screenplay. Terry-Thomas was with him again as the chief bounder at the School for Scoundrels (1960), in which Carmichael had everyone rooting for him as he delightfully turned the tables. At this point, Carmichael had taken over from Alec Guinness as Britain’s hottest comedy bet. But there were bad times just around the corner. With the Boultings losing their touch, Carmichael went to British Lion for his next four films, none of which did much. The Boultings called him back, but only for a cameo in their Heavens Above! (1963).

Films after that were few, but Carmichael was still well-liked and appeared in two television sagas, one playing P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster, and as Lord Peter Wimsey in in several BBC adaptations of Dorothy L. Sayers’ mystery novels. He went into semi-retirement in the 1980s back to his native Yorkshire, and was honoured as an OBE in the 2003.

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