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. (Short biographies of cast can be found here).
There are so many books and audio compilations out there but try The Best of Round the Horne.
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 distraction.
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. Links to other main characters here.
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 Syd 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 .
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 acquired.
People for whom were the first gay men they had encountered, found themselves using their catchphrases at work and in the pub.
Needs to be read to be understood: The Bona Book of Julian and Sandy
‘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 ‘Fantabulosa’.
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.
Essential reading: Round the Horne – the Complete and utter History by Barry Took.
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.
This page and more in a similar vein comes from a collection in my eBook. An echo from the Green Fields .
© John Barber – originally published in The Stage 14 December 2000