Comedy, especially British comedy, often creates a surreal world which vaguely resembles reality but distorts it for comic effect. Radio comedy is particularly good at this because we form a picture in our minds-eye based only on what we hear – in the post-war years the BBC created radio comedy and as a child of those times I still have those self-created pictures in my memory. From “ITMA” through “Hancock’s Half Hour”, “The Goon Show”, “The Navy Lark” to “I’m Sorry I’ll Read that Again” (and many more) I can recall the characters and the plots and the images I created around them. Round the Horne was certainly not just one of the most surreal but also one of the funniest of the genre.
Round the Horne was above all superbly written – in the first three series (from which this stage show is taken) by Barry Took and Marty Feldman. It is tongue in cheek to the extent that comments on the action and the performances (usually adlibbed by Kenneth Williams) punctuate the action. Listeners know that they have arrived in a world created in a recording studio – the tongues of the performers are firmly in their cheeks throughout. That said the mid-sixties were a time of satire and whilst Round the Horne did not have, and did not seek to have, the cutting edge and satirical ambitions of a “Beyond the Fringe” or a “That Was the Week That Was,” it still pokes fun and gently mocks the Establishment. In this compilation, cleverly put together by Tim Astley, James Bond, Noel Coward, Eamonn Andrews, Folk singing, the Freemasons, the “Twilight Zone”, Oscar Wilde, Fanny Craddock and the BBC itself are among the satirical targets.
We are in the audience at the BBC’s “Paris Studios” in Regent Street for a recording of two episodes of the show. All the classic “Round the Horne” characters are present from Rambling Syd Rumpo to the uber-camp Julian and Sandy. If there is a star of the programme it is Kenneth Williams and in this production he is nicely played by Colin Elmer who not only gets the unique voice right but flares his nostrils to the manor born. Jonathan Hansler’s Hugh Paddick is memorable as well – he has Paddick’s ability to portray a wide variety of improbable characters. Eve Winters’ Betty Marsden is powerful and she acts very physically with all that she has got – which is a lot! Julian Howard McDowell’s sardonic Kenneth Horne is perfect and he manages to keep a straight face (mostly!) as the mayhem unfolds around him. His impression of Horne’s voice is very good. A special mention for Nick Wyner’s Douglas Smith which is a wide-eyed and earnest portrayal of one of the unsung heroes of the show.
Do you have to be an aficionado of the Radio Series to appreciate the stage show? Yes I think that you probably do – which means that the main target audience is my generation. That said the Director Tim Astley is still in his twenties and he is a self-confessed addict of the programme so there is perhaps no reason why today’s generation should not discover and enjoy it.
Review by Paddy Briggs
Round The Horne: 50th Anniversary Tour
Running time: 100 minutes, including interval
“Oh, Mr Horne! How bona to vada your dolly old eek!”
From 1965 to 1968 there wasn’t a bigger radio programme in Britain than the ground-breaking Round the Horne. For half an hour every Sunday afternoon, audiences of up to 15 million people would gather around the wireless to listen to Kenneth Horne and his merry crew get up to all sorts of mischief.
With its infamous movie spoofs and hilarious regular characters such as Rambling Sid Rumpo, Charles and Fiona, J. Peasemold Gruntfuttock, and Julian and Sandy, Round the Horne was one of the biggest and best radio comedy shows of all time, and still endures today, 50 years on.
Original scripts by Barry Took and Marty Feldman
Compiled and directed by Tim Astley