FILM fans were treated to a compelling evening when the son of a Carry On star presented his father's untold story.

You might not know his name, but you'll probably recognise his face and Carry On aficionados will tell you that Peter Butterworth was one of the lynchpins of the series.

He appeared in 16 of them, making him one of the most prolific members of the popular film franchise team.

But there was much more to his life than the Carry Ons, as those people who attended Darlington Film Club on Monday evening were to discover.

Presented in association with regular partners the Misty Moon Film Society, The Forum Music Centre in Darlington hosted a very special event.

Following a screening of Carry On Camping - in which Butterworth plays curmudgeonly camp manager Josh Fiddler - the actor's son, Tyler Butterworth presented an enthralling talk on his father's life, which contained many previously untold details.

The Northern Echo:


Born in 1915, we learned about Butterworth's early life, joining the Merchant Navy as a young man, and then fulfiling his ambition to become a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm just as the Second World War was about to break out.

Tyler told how his father's plane was shot down on the Dutch coast in 1940, which cost the life of one of his crewmates.

He was subsequently captured and spent the rest of the conflict as a Prisoner of War, much of it in the famous Stalag Luft III.

What followed was a series of thrilling tales about daring escape attempts, lifelong friendships with camp comrades and an unwritten gentlemanly code of conduct between prisoners and their captors.

The Northern Echo:

Butterworth in Stalag Luft III. Picture: TYLER BUTTERWORTH

But Butterworth also experienced terrible tragedy and extreme hardships. Fifty of his comrades were executed after a breakout attempt which formed the basis for the film The Great Escape.

And he was forced to take part in a punishing long march in freezing conditions, which claimed more lives, after the Germans fled the camp as the Russian Army advanced.

Tyler also told us of Butterworth's pivotal role in establishing the camp theatre, something which would shape the rest of his life.

Together with Talbot 'Tolly' Rothwell - who would go on to write many of the Carry On film scripts - Butterworth helped build the theatre using materials supplied by camp bosses on the strict understanding they would not be used for escape purposes.

Despite never having acted before, Butterworth put on revues and sketches, many of which were used as diversions for more breakout activity.

At the end of the war, Butterworth became an actor and soon developed the bumbling persona which would become so familiar to the Carry On audiences.

The Northern Echo:


Tyler took us through his father's early career, in shows such as Doctor Who and on children's television, to his Carry On fame and touched on what his home life was like.

Butterworth died in 1979, just as the Carry On franchise ran out of steam and his career seemed about to take an interesting new turn.

But Tyler's talk did not end there because it was about this time that his mother, actress and impressionist Janet Brown, experienced phenomenal success.

She became a household name with her own TV show, fuelled in no small part by her impressions of Margaret Thatcher, who had just become Prime Minister.

The Northern Echo:

Janet Brown with Peter Butterworth. Picture: TYLER BUTTERWORTH

Tyler also spoke of his own career, which started as a child actor in films alongside the likes of Morecambe and Wise, and developed with anecdotes from his leading man role in the film Consuming Passions alongside Vanessa Redgrave and Jonathan Pryce.

Tyler knew very little of his father's background as he spoke little of it during his lifetime. What information he has was pulled together in more recent years from archive material, speaking to camp suvivors and details taking from Rothwell's meticulously kept wartime diary.

His talk was intespersed with pictures and film clips from throughout his parents' lives and some impressive props - including the hat Butterworth wore in Carry on Camping, the big red book presented for his appearance on This Is Your Life and, most poignantly, the wooden handle from a wheelbarrow he and Rothwell would use to move each each other when too weak during their long wartime march.

The Northern Echo:

Expertly delivered with pride and passion, Tyler held the audience's attention to the end.

It was a powerful story full of laughter, tragedy and emotion - a rollercoaster ride.

Tyler describes his family life as "ordinary" - growing up he didn't know any different - but to the audience, his was a touching account of an extrordinary family and their extraordinary lives.