Round The Horne – The Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke
Ah, the halcyon days of steam radio when the grateful nation gathered around the cat’s whiskers to listen to the latest offering from the Light Entertainment department of the BBC. So multifarious are the choices of entertainment these days that the nearest we get to a communal national experience is watching some bird in a veil baking cakes.
One of the surprising shows to lodge itself in the nation’s affections in the mid sixties was the brain child of Barry Took and Marty Feldman, Round the Horne. The national penchant for smutty innuendo, double entendres and outrageous puns was satisfied in spades by a weekly radio show on the Light Programme, the forerunner of Radio Two, which played fast and loose with the Beeb’s then censor department. That it was able to get away with it and become so popular was a wonder of the age.
Of course, its success was in no small part down to the array of talent amongst the cast. Kenneth Williams was able to give full vent to his camp badinage, ably assisted by his side kick, Hugh Paddick. Kenneth Horne was the master of ceremonies holding the show together and Douglas Smith as continuity announcer was allowed to emerge from the shadows to become the butt of many a joke. Betty Marsden added some well needed female input.
The show was responsible for bringing polari, the slang used principally amongst the homosexual community at a time when their predilections and activities were illegal, to the British living room. The use of this slang, perhaps, enabled the script writers to avoid the blue pencil of the censors.
Each week the listener was treated to a wide array of eccentric characters, none more so than J Peasemold Grunfuttock, the self-styled king of Peasemoldia and his lady wife Butturcup with her catch phrase, “Hello cheeky-face”. The camp style gurus, Julian and his friend Sandy, were highly popular as were the tortured screen parodies featuring Dame Celia Molestrangler and ageing juvenile, Binkie Huckaback.
The show was satirical, skewering contemporary TV hosts such as Eamonn Andrews (Seamus Android) and movie genres such as James Bond with Agent Horne take-offs. And no show would be complete without a ditty from Rambling Sid Rumpo, serenading us with folk songs about cordwanglers, moulies, clenching bogles and nadgers.
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of its first recording – the show had four series running from 1965 to 1967 – the Apollo Theatre company are touring selected venues around the country, giving readings from the scripts of a couple of shows. The set recreates the Paris studio and the actors, script in hand, sit at the back of the stage until it is their turn to deliver their piece at the mic. Colin Elmer gave a bravura performance as Kenneth Williams and was run a close second by Jonathan Hansler as a brilliant Hugh Paddick for star of the show. Kenneth Horne in my mind was very tall with a stentorian voice. Julian Howard McDowell who plays the role is short and his voice is insufficiently commanding to pass muster but that is a mild quibble.
It was a low-budget recreation of a golden age of radio comedy but succeeded in paying suitably irreverent homage. But there is nothing like the real thing and there are 71 programmes on radioechoes.com to download and enjoy. That should keep me going through the winter.