Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Thomas, Gerald (1920-1993)

Director, Producer, Editor

Main image of Thomas, Gerald (1920-1993)

In partnership with producer Peter Rogers, Gerald Thomas made one of the most successful series of comedy films in the history of British cinema, from Carry On Sergeant (1958) to Carry On Columbus (1992). The series made stars of cast regulars Sid James, Barbara Windsor, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey and Hattie Jacques, and totally eclipsed Thomas's other work in film.

Thomas was born in Hull on 10 December 1920, and was educated in Bristol and London. He initially trained to become a doctor, but his studies were interrupted by the Second World War, and after four years in the army he decided it was too late to return to medicine. He joined Denham Studios, working up to become assistant editor on Olivier's Hamlet (1948). From 1951 Thomas edited a number of films directed by his older brother Ralph, including Appointment with Venus (1951) and Doctor in the House (1954) and acted as second unit director on Mad about Men (1954) and Above us the Waves (1955).

Thomas directed his first film, for the Children's Film Foundation, in 1956. Circus Friends featured thirteen-year-old Carol White, subsequent star of Ken Loach's Cathy Come Home (BBC, tx. 16/11/1966). His first feature film was a thriller, Time Lock (1957), which producer Peter Rogers had adapted from an Arthur Hailey play originally broadcast on Canadian television. Thomas's recent experience of directing child actors stood him in good stead, as the story was one of a six-year-old boy accidentally locked into a bank strongroom, which can only be opened by an internal time lock after sixty-three hours. A rescue team, led by Robert Beatty, breaks into the vault just in time to save the boy's life. Thomas handled the dramatic tension well, and the film marked the start of a successful partnership with Rogers.

Peter Rogers had been a scriptwriter for Rank, but longed to produce films. He was married to Betty Box, who ran the Gainsborough studio at Islington in the late 1940s and formed a fruitful partnership with Gerald's brother Ralph. Rogers and Thomas made a number of films together, including The Duke Wore Jeans (1958), a vehicle for pop singer Tommy Steele, before having an unexpected hit with a farce about a platoon of incompetent National Servicemen, Carry On Sergeant, loosely based on a play by R.F.Delderfield. Its unabashed vulgarity was greeted disdainfully by most film critics, but audiences loved it and box office success ensured that a sequel would follow. Thomas and Rogers had hit upon a winning formula which satisfied the peculiar British liking for lavatorial humour, men in drag, and innuendo, in the tradition of music hall and the saucy picture postcard.

Twenty-nine more films followed, with the same stars appearing many times. Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims and Charles Hawtrey headed the list with over twenty films apiece. These low-budgeted films were slickly made and Thomas knew his craft as well as his audience. Historical spoof became something of a speciality: two of the best films in the series are Carry On Up The Khyber (1968) and Carry On Cleo (1964) - which had an uncharacteristically lavish setting as Thomas was able to use the sets built for Twentieth Century-Fox's ill-fated Cleopatra (US, d. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1963). In 1977 That's Carry On, a compilation of Carry On clips with a new framing story by Thomas, was released, presaging the enduring popularity of the series.

Thomas did make other comedy films, including the underrated Please Turn Over (1959), starring Carry On stalwart Leslie Phillips, and in 1986 he showed he could handle serious drama by making The Second Victory, set in Austria in the aftermath of war. Thomas summed up his approach to filmmaking on the set of the film: "Shooting for me means having a simpatico unit. A very quiet floor with everybody happy - artists and crew - with laughter off the set but very serious work on the set." The last Carry On film which Thomas and Rogers planned was Carry On Emmannuelle (sic) in 1977. But the sort of sexual explicitness which Emmanuelle (France, d. Just Jaeckin, 1974) epitomised contradicted the ethos which underlay the Carry On films. The series had always relied upon making fun of social taboos; when these started to disappear from the 1970s onwards, the humour looked dated. Thomas spent his time thereafter producing Carry On compilations for television, as well as one hour specials at Christmas time. He also produced a number of stage shows featuring the team.

In 1992, Thomas and Rogers were persuaded to make one more film, Carry On Columbus. By this time many of the familiar stars - Sid James, Hattie Jacques, Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey - were dead. Thomas cast the film with some of the new generation of 'alternative' comedians such as Julian Clary and Rik Mayall, but the film was not a success with audiences. It was an unhappy note for Thomas to go out on. He died at his home in Beaconsfield on 9 November 1993. His nephew is the film producer Jeremy Thomas, a one-time chairman of the British Film Institute. Gerald Thomas donated his production files to the BFI in 1993, shortly before his death.

Bilbow, Marjorie, 'Gerald Thomas carries on in Austria with Second Victory', Screen International, 21 Dec. 1985, pp. 28-29
Medhurst, Andy, Obituary, Sight and Sound, Feb. 1994. p. 41
Summers, Sue, 'The rudest men in the movies', Daily Telegraph, 26 Sept. 1992

Janet Moat, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

More information


From the BFI's filmographic database

Related media

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Carry On At Your Convenience (1971)Carry On At Your Convenience (1971)

Comedy about union unrest at the W.C. Boggs toilet factory

Related collections

Thumbnail image of Carry OnCarry On

Britain's longest-running big-screen comedy series

Thumbnail image of The Carry On LegacyThe Carry On Legacy

An analysis of what kept Carry On carrying on

Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Thomas, Jeremy (1949-)Thomas, Jeremy (1949-)

Producer, Director

Thumbnail image of Thomas, Ralph (1915-2001)Thomas, Ralph (1915-2001)

Director, Writer, Producer