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Pay rates at the Carry On films

It’s long been a standard complaint that the Carry On films just paid horrendously low amounts of money to the acting talent.

Hmm, well:

The average male manual worker earns £13 2s 11d (about £13.15) a week.

Note that’s in a time of strong unionisation. And the Carry On rates?

I got very little money, perhaps £50 a week. I thought, ‘I don’t think Michael Elliott would approve if I went on making this trash.’ ” So she asked for an extra £50 a week. Not only was her request denied, she was sacked on the spot.

Four times that average wage is terrible pay, is it?

I also dimly recall a Kenneth Williams lament about that low pay. He was getting £7,000 for a film I think. That’s 10x that average annual wage for the couple of months it took to film a Carry On.

Sure, Carry On might have been dismal pay given the rate for the job – film acting – but compared to the society around it not too bad.

And, well, you know, we’ve all sorts of people lamenting high pay these days, recalling as they do that things were much better when the CEO to worker multiple was only 20:1. We’ve even the OberstSpudder at one time insisting that higher multiples than that should not be tax allowable.

So why is it that Carry On is derided as being low paying, rather than wondrously equitable? Or is it just that luvvies are different?

19 thoughts on “Pay rates at the Carry On films”

  1. Maybe the tax rates of the time should be taken into account? What would Williams have paid in tax on his £7k? Ten times average annual salary today would be what, somewhere around £250k? Tax on that would be 96k, or just under 40%. What tax rates applied in the 60s? Famously quite high ones I recall, as the Beatles discovered. So if the tax man was taking the lions share they might well have felt underpaid.

  2. Er, how many weeks a year of work was involved in making a carry on film? Three? Six?

    And the proper comparison is to what they could get elsewhere, innit? That’s one of your regular lessons. Compensation is determined by what else you can do, not what other people doing your job can get. If Mr Aguero went to play for Macclesfield Town, he’d be foregoing what he can earn at City, not jubilant at earning several times the local unskilled wage.

  3. I have long held that acting suffers leptokurtosis of earnings – compared to other professions you have a disproportionate of participants earning tiny amounts and a smaller but still disporportionately large number of people earning big salaries; actors who earn a steady middle class kind of income are much rarer than in other jobs.

    That said, although I think the Carry On stars were paid well above average, Gerald Thomas was famous for keeping most of the money himself.

  4. Always that “well, if you can do better, why don’t you fuck off there?”

    Some of the Carry On actors probably grasped this, and if you were one of the big half dozen actors, you could keep getting work. Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Bernard Bresslaw and Jim Dale played the same archetype character in every film. Not much different to Desmond Llewelyn getting a call to play Q. He wasn’t in competition with anyone else for the part. It was his for the taking.

  5. BiG, in its current state Mr Aguero could probably buy Macclesfield Town with just 1 week’s wages. If he were to ply his trade elsewhere if far rather he sign for Altrincham.

  6. BonM4, same goes for Lois Maxwell, she was earning £5,000 for a James Bond film, but that was right at the end of her reign.

    Sid James, Joan Sims and Bernard Bresslaw had a lot of TV work, Williams was never off the wireless. Jim Dale went to the US in the 1970s and hit it really big on Broadway. Charles Hawtrey had been a major youth star and was a regular foil for Will Hay, he spent his spare time setting fire to his flat so that he could be rescued by butch firemen.

  7. To be pendantic, Macclesfield Town no longer exist. Financial issues re. unpaid tax, points deductions re. unpaid wages, relegation from League Two to the National League, winding-up by the High Court, then finally expulsion from the National League and then oblivion. A sad story: as BiG says, any premier league star could probably have saved them with a week or so of his wages. A great shame for the fans, less so for the owners who caused the mess.

    Apparently Macclesfield F.C. have been launched in their stead, and aim to play in the North West Counties Football League in season 2021/22. That’s basically at a Division Nine level.

  8. ISTR Kenneth Williams saying that later on in the “Carry On” series he could make as much money from a voice-over for a TV commercial than he did from a complete “Carry On” film…

  9. Might need to consider the irregular and uncertain employment. Do you also have a day job, something to fall back on? Do you live within the means afforded by the day job and consider the filming a bonus? How much time do you have to devote to looking for work and auditioning compared to paid work obtained. Lifetime average— with heavy tax bills in the good years?

  10. Baron Jackfield said:
    “ISTR Kenneth Williams saying that later on in the “Carry On” series he could make as much money from a voice-over for a TV commercial than he did from a complete “Carry On” film…”

    Aye, but how much of the advertising work would he have got without the massive recognition he had from Carry On?

  11. My father bought a very nice house with a massive front and back garden looking out onto fields for £3,500 in 1960. So Williams got the equivalent of two nice houses per film.

  12. Given how the Carry On films were produced from 1958 to 1978 it would be interesting to see how pay rates changed over that timespan, esp. given the inflation of that era.

    Also, I remember seeing somewhere once an explanation linking pay with why actors tend to be lefties- the ones that hit the big time remember their contemporaries that didn’t, so this makes them feel redistribution of wealth is fine as they were just lucky, and not particularly more worthwhile of success.

  13. the ones that hit the big time remember their contemporaries that didn’t, so this makes them feel redistribution of wealth is fine as they were just lucky, and not particularly more worthwhile of success.

    Insisting that everyone else should have their wealth redistributed, rather than dipping into their own pockets and giving away that which they feel they didn’t earn, just makes them cunts.

  14. They all illustrate the old joke about how you make a small fortune. Start with a large fortune and buy a football club. Which is why sane premier league stars don’t do it (that and there are probably a lot of arcane conflict of interest rules).

    The only ones I really miss are Bury and Stockport County (the latter still financially in existence but not really in a footballing sense).

  15. Surely the only relevant points are how much was a film actor getting paid in other films that were topping the box office in the UK at the time? Plus you have to factor in the “star attraction” value – people would go to see a film because x was in it. Union scale doesn’t come into it (well, only as a legal minimum) so it is really down to your agent to get as much as they can for you.

    Obviously there is also the convention of top billing and “further down the bill”, which in films equates to Starring, Also Starring, With, Featuring, Special Guest Star etc. Bottom line is that your agent is there to negotiate the highest amount of money for you based on all of the above factors.

    What other people in completely different industries earn is ridiculously irrelevant!

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