Round the Horne
has always had a strong but welcome grip on the nation's funny bone. After running
on BBC radio for over 4 series and 66 editions from 1964, it ended with the death
of Kenneth Horne on 14 February 1969.
It was broadcast on the BBC Light Programme (now Radio 2) on Sunday lunchtimes, forcing
that other great British tradition, roast beef and yorkshire pudding, into a supporting
role as the family meal was rescheduled to allow the programme to be enjoyed without
Barry Took who was responsible for nearly all of the scripts (along with Marty Feldman)
built the show around the ordinary man, the 'maypole' that was Kenneth Horne, around
which a vast array of eccentric and fantastical characters danced. Most had names
that were in themselves quite outlandish; but had other, more stranger qualities
when spoken aloud.
Who could resist the charms of that 'walking slum', J Peasemould Gruntfuttock; the
heartstoppingly wonderful Dame Celia Molestrangler as Fiona and the gutwrenchingly,
ageing juvenile Binkie Huckaback as Charles; fiendish mastermind Chou En Ginsberg
M.A. (Failed) and his common as muck concubine Lotus Blossom; television's master
of so few words Seamus Android and cookery guru Daphne Whitethigh; that itinerant
folk singer Rambling Sid Rumpo and those two ' resting professionals' Julian and
his friend Sandy.
All the parts were all played by the same small cast of outstanding British character
actors ; Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden and Bill Pertwee always encouraged
by Kenneth Horne, with added dialogue by presenter Douglas Smith.
Rambling Sid Rumpo (Kenneth Williams) compiled his ganderbag of folk ditties from
all parts of the world which he introduced after this fashion: 'This is a taddle
gropers dance, sung by the villagers of Musgrove Parva and it heralds the coming
of the oak apple fairy, or sanitary inspector as he is called.' Get The best of Rambling Sid Rumpo
He then sang the roundelay in a style many thought was lifted straight from the repertoire
of folk acts long since vanished. They were wrong. Although Williams imparted his
own interpretation the language was purely the invention of the scriptwriters - 'It
means nothing, but it sounds like it does.'
On the other hand the vocabulary of Julian and Sandy (Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams)
was a mixture of Romany, homosexual slang and their own natural form of expression.
This fictional duo who conversed in effete accents with obvious sexual innuendo became
national celebrities. They were two out of work actors who found work between engagements
by undertaking various jobs. 'Bona Drag' - boutique owners, Rentachap 'domestic chores
undertaken' and Bona Tax Consultants were just a few of the temporary positions they
People for whom The Bona World of Julian and Sandy
were the first gay men they had encountered, found themselves using
their catchphrases at work and in the pub. Some are on Julian and Sandy’s own page.
'How bona to vada your old eek again' could be roughly translated as 'How nice to
see you again.' Parts of the body were often renamed; 'lallies' were legs for instance;
men were 'omi' and women 'palone' so that one can only guess at what an 'omipalone'
was; and who hasn't at one time or another found themselves so delighted as to shriek
Sexual innuendo was a essential ingredient of the show's humour; but it should not
be forgotten that homosexuality was not legalised until 1967. Julian and Sandy became
so acceptable that it speaks volumes for the writers and the delivery of Paddick
and Williams that so little offence was actually given.
However, some pillars of respectability found much in Round the Horne to add further
credence to the belief in the crumbling of common decency in 1960's Britain. One
such critic accused the show of 'putting emphasis on certain words'. Barry Took replied
by stating that those words were more or less a definition of acting.
Those that were enraged were very much the minority. Most were entertained by the
constant parade of incredible, lovable characters with their own unique brand of
innuendo, double entendres and slightly risque humour.
The books and audio tapes have sold in hundreds of thousands throughout the English
speaking world although a constant source of bewilderment to students of English
in the non-English speaking world. 'The point about working on Round The Horne is
that it was fun.' It was fun Barry Took. Thank you. Read his story Round the Horne - the complete and utter history
© John Barber - originally published in The Stage 14 December 2000