|Genre Sketch comedy|
Country United Kingdom
|Running time 30 minutes|
|Home station BBC Light Programme/BBC Radio 2|
Starring Kenneth Horne Betty Marsden Hugh Paddick Bill Pertwee (series 1–3) Kenneth Williams
Round the Horne is a BBC Radio comedy programme that was transmitted in four series of weekly episodes from 1965 until 1968. The series was created by Barry Took and Marty Feldman, with others contributing to later series after Feldman returned to performing, and starred Kenneth Horne, with Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden and Bill Pertwee. The show's announcer was Douglas Smith and from time to time he took part in the sketches. It had musical interludes by close harmony singing group the Fraser Hayes Four, and accompaniment by the big band of Edwin Braden ("the great, 'airy fool" according to Kenneth Williams), known as Edwin Braden and the Hornblowers. The band was actually the BBC Radio Orchestra but was never billed as such. In the fourth series, all the musical duties were performed by the smaller Max Harris Group. Took and the cast had worked on the predecessor series Beyond Our Ken. The name is a pun on the nautical phrase for sailing around Cape Horn.
Round the Horne featured a parody a week, several catchphrases, and many characters. The show often opened with a deadpan delivery by Horne of "the answers to last week's questions", despite no such questions having been asked in previous episodes, and which were laced with double entendres and sexual innuendo, such as
"First, the 'Where Do You Find It?' question. Well, the answer came in several parts, as follows: wound round a sailor's leg; on top of the wardrobe; floating in the bath; under a prize bull; and in a lay-by on the Watford Bypass. At least, I found one there - couldn't use it - it was covered in verdigris. I gave it to the Scouts, actually, and they exhibit it proudly next to a daguerreotype of Baden-Powell's woggle."
Another type of opening featured announcements about a particular event, e.g. Coat A Sheep in Raspberry Jam Week, Immerse an Orangutan in Porridge Week, or Smear A Traffic Warden in Bloater Paste For Asia Day. This would be the excuse for all sorts of happenings, such as the two-man inter-rabbi bobsleigh championships (to be held on the down escalator at Leicester Square underground station — weather and platform tickets permitting), Formation Goat Nadgering, Paso Doble Jockey Wagging, Floodlit Horse Massage, and Nark Fettering on Ice, and reports of the latest activities of the Over-Eighties Nudist Leapfrog (or Basketball, or Judo) Team.
"Julian and Sandy" featured Paddick and Williams as two flamboyantly camp out-of-work actors, speaking in the gay slang Polari, with Horne as their comic foil. They usually ran fashionable enterprises in Chelsea which started with the word bona, for example Bona Pets, or in one episode a firm of solicitors called Bona Law - a play on the name of Prime Minister Bonar Law - and their claim "We've got a criminal practice that takes up most of our time" at a time when homosexuality was illegal.
"Fiona and Charles" was a regular in the show. Betty Marsden played Dame Celia Molestrangler, and Hugh Paddick was 'ageing juvenile' Binkie Huckaback (named after theatrical impresario Binkie Beaumont). Their characters — Fiona and Charles — were a pair of lovestruck, dated cinema idols engaging in stilted, extraordinarily polite dialogues, in scenes that were parodies of Sir Noël Coward's style, most particularly that of Dame Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter. Typical dialogue (in BBC English) included:
Charles: "I know."
Fiona: "I know you know."
Charles: "I know you know I know."
Fiona: "Yes, I know."
These sketches would also feature long lists of synonyms but finishing with the opposite, such as:
Charles: "I was certain, positive, convinced and doctrinaire, and yet... unsure."
Other characters included J. Peasemold Gruntfuttock (Williams), the world's dirtiest dirty old man (who wanted, above all else, to get his hands on Judith Chalmers). He was also the self-styled king of Peasemoldia from episode 10, then in episode 13 he abdicates and becomes dictator (first series), a small slum area of Hoxton in north London just off the Balls Pond Road, together with his wife Buttercup (Marsden), whose catch phrase was "Hello cheeky-face!" in a rough voice. In the third series, it was reported that Gruntfuttock had died, and an entire programme was a tribute to him. Without explanation, the character was soon resurrected. In the same series, the Gruntfuttocks appeared as King Louis XIII and his queen in a spoof of The Three Musketeers.
Starting series 1, episode 9 (May 1965), Agent Horne's adversary in many James Bond parodies was the Oriental criminal mastermind (and Fu Manchu parody) Dr Chu En Ginsberg MA (failed) (Williams, accompanied by his common-as-muck concubine Lotus Blossom, played by Paddick with a gruff voice). Took, while on holiday in India, had noticed that many lawyers practised without qualification but, to cover themselves, had signs made bearing their name and the legend BA, DL etc. (Failed). There were parodies of popular British TV entertainers such as Eamonn Andrews ("Seamus Android", played by Pertwee), Simon Dee, Wilfred Pickles (both played by Williams), and "Daphne Whitethigh", presumably based on journalist Katharine Whitehorn and played by Marsden, a development of Fanny Haddock, her Fanny Cradock take-off from Beyond Our Ken.
The shows featured the supposed old English folk singer, Rambling Syd Rumpo, played by Williams, who sang such nonsense ditties as "Green Grow My Nadgers Oh!", "Song of the Bogle Clencher" and "Ballad of the Woggler's Moulie". All Rambling Syd's songs were new words set to traditional tunes, such as "The Lincolnshire Poacher", "Oh My Darling, Clementine" and "Widecombe Fair". Another of Rambling Syd's verses ran:-
"In Hackney Wick there lives a lass,
Whose grommets would I woggle,
Her gander-parts none can surpass
And her posset makes me boggle!"
Another regular character, who had also first appeared in Beyond Our Ken, and who appeared in the script as "Dentures", was Stanley Birkenshaw, played by Paddick and characterised as a man with ill-fitting false teeth who was utterly incapable of pronouncing the letter S without spraying saliva all over the set. He would often appear as a character in a sketch; in the second series, when Horne decides he wants to be a seaside end-of-the-pier-show impresario, one of the acts he auditions is Dentures as 'The Great Omipaloni, the world's fastest illusionist - and also the dampest'; in the third series he was Captain Ahab in the first part of The Admirable Loombucket; also in the same series, in The Big Top, Luigi Omipaloni, the trapeze artist at Cuckpowder's Mammoth Circus, and Buffalo Sidney Goosecreature, the fearless desperado and adversary of The Palone Ranger; in the fourth series in Apache Story, he is Rain In The Face - Kenneth Williams, as Billy Two Cheeks, exclaims "He speaks with forked tongue!"; and in Bona Prince Charlie the appropriately named Angus McSpray - Horne remarks: "After he'd finished speaking, there wasn't a dry eye in the place - or a dry anything else for that matter." Dentures would often open the show in the style of a toastmaster: ("My lordsssss, ladiesssss and gentlemen," etc.) and on one occasion in the third series as a wrestling tournament MC; Horne comments after being introduced as 'Your referee for the contest - Kenneth "Man Mountain" Horne': 'That was Hugh Paddick, the wrestling vicar of St Barnabas Without.'
A regular character in the fourth series, and played by Marsden, was Judy Coolibar, an aggressive Australian who managed to find some kind of sexist insult in everything the male characters said. Another of Marsden's personas was Bea Clissold, Lady Counterblast, who starred in a series of sketches in the first series under the title The Clissold Saga, and who invariably managed to introduce her "many, many times" sexual innuendo. Lady Counterblast's butler, Spasm, another raving loony played by Williams, would croak, "We be all doomed; I got a touch of the dooms!"
Kenneth Williams's characterisations of himself as an egotistical, self-important actor were a regular feature; in reality, he was a consummate professional. He frequently interrupted the proceedings with deprecating comments about the quality of the script (often switching out of character into his "snide" voice that he'd perfected during his time on Hancock's Half Hour), he would try to seize roles from other cast members and so on. His seemingly constant strain for glory and limelight was exemplified by his "I need to be serviced" catchphrase. However, none of these rantings were ad-libbed, all were written by Took and Feldman. Williams could be heard every week cackling off-stage at one of Horne's double entendres ("that's yer actual French") - an often effective method of inducing audience laughter.
Also used to effect was announcer Douglas Smith's stuffy BBC vocal style. Smith would be cast as a car, an inflatable life raft, a shark, a lion, a river boat, a gun, a volcano, and in the fourth series, in the Bona Prince Charlie sketch, as England, and even more improbably, in the Round The World sketch, as the world ("... and it'll take Mr Williams more than 80 days to get around me!"). These roles would require such inane phrases as "snap snap", "rumble rumble", "roar roar snarl slaver", or "chug chug futt", preceded by portentous announcements such as "...and I, Douglas Smith, play the volcano". He would also slip in spoof commercials and sponsor's announcements for "Dobbiroids", the wonder horse rejuvenator, or "Dobbimist" horse deodorant (a cure for UFO: under-fetlock odour), or "Dobbitex" horse cummerbunds - he would claim that he'd been "got at": paid money to plug the product, because he claimed to be only paid a pittance as a senior BBC announcer, "I want things, I need things, things the other radio announcers have got!" At times, his announcements lapse into something approaching terminal narcissism - "this is strangely attractive, leggy gamin Douglas Smith, the one whose skin you love to touch..."
The writers were fans of the old variety show scene, and singalongs were not uncommon on Round the Horne, particularly at the end of a series or in a Christmas edition. In the fourth series, in the absence of The Fraser Hayes Four, the cast members were regularly called on to show off their vocal talents. Sometimes the songs represented original material or, on one occasion, Noël Coward's classic There Are Bad Times Just Around The Corner, but just as often they were Cockney music hall chestnuts such as Little Bit of Cucumber. On one memorable occasion in the fourth series, Smith was permitted to sing Nobody Loves a Fairy When She's Forty, much to Kenneth Williams's disgust and Hugh Paddick's anger ("He must have bribed the producer!").
A fifth series had been commissioned, but was abandoned after Horne's untimely death of a heart attack in February 1969 at the Bafta Awards ceremony. Horne was presenting an award to Took and Feldman when he collapsed. Most of the cast of the show attempted to carry on after Horne's death with the 1969-1970 series Stop Messing About (one of Kenneth Williams's longest-lived catchphrases), with limited success. Joan Sims replaced Marsden.
All shows were produced by John Simmonds. The scripts were written by Barry Took and Marty Feldman. The cast was Kenneth Horne, Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden, Bill Pertwee and announcer Douglas Smith, with music by the Fraser Hayes Four and Paul Fenoulhet and the Hornblowers (Edwin Braden replaced Fenoulhet from episode 6 of Series 1).
Series 1 ran for 16 episodes from 7 March 1965, and Series 2 for 13 episodes from 13 March 1966.
A version of the Series 1 episode The Man with the Golden Thunderball was specially re-recorded for the BBC Transcription Services on 22 July 1966. It omitted many topical jokes from the original script.
A 1966 Christmas special, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, was broadcast on 25 December. The script was written by Took and Feldman. The cast was Williams, Paddick, Marsden, Pertwee and Smith, with music by the Fraser Hayes Four and Edwin Braden and the Hornblowers. It was the only episode without Kenneth Horne, who missed the recording session due to illness.
A 1967 Christmas special, Cinderella, was broadcast on 24 December. The script was written by Took, Mortimer and Cooke. The cast was Horne, Williams, Paddick, Marsden and Smith, with music by the Max Harris Group.
Series 3 ran for 20 episodes from 12 February 1967.
Series 4 ran for 16 episodes from 25 February 1968. The scripts were written by Took, Johnnie Mortimer, Brian Cooke and Donald Webster. The cast was Horne, Williams, Paddick, Marsden and Smith, with music by the Max Harris Group.
A 45-minute radio documentary Round And Round The Horne was broadcast on 18 September 1976. It was presented by Frank Bough and included interviews with Kenneth Williams and Barry Took.
A 60-minute radio documentary Horne A' Plenty was broadcast on 14 February 1994. It was presented by Leslie Phillips and included new interviews with Betty Marsden and Barry Took, period interviews with Kenneth Horne, and rare excerpts from surviving wartime episodes of Much Binding in the Marsh.
A three-hour radio special, also entitled Horne A' Plenty, was broadcast on 5 March 2005 for the 40th anniversary. It was presented by Jonathan James-Moore and included interviews with Ron Moody, Bill Pertwee, Eric Merriman's son Andy, Brian Cooke, Barry Took's ex-wife Lyn, and extracts from Kenneth Williams's diary read "in character" by David Benson. The special included the first and final episodes of Beyond Our Ken and Round The Horne in their entirety.
Adaptations and audio releases
The series has been issued as a series of CD box sets (in the same format as the Hancock's Half Hour radio series), restoring cut material previously believed lost. The 40th anniversary special Horne A' Plenty was released as a 3-CD set by BBC Audiobooks as The Complete and Utter History of Round the Horne. In 2008-2009, every episode was broadcast on BBC Radio 7.
Episodes of Round the Horne were included in the package of programmes held in 20 underground radio stations of the BBC's Wartime Broadcasting Service, designed to provide public information and morale-boosting broadcasts for 100 days after a nuclear attack.
A stage version, Round the Horne… Revisited, was first produced in October 2003 prior to opening in the West End in January 2004. Based on the original radio scripts, it was adapted by Brian Cooke, the last surviving writer from the series, and directed by Robert Ashe. The play was also filmed for television, directed by Nick Wood, and was broadcast on BBC Four on 13 June 2004, as part of a Summer in the Sixties season, subsequently airing on BBC Two on 1 January 2005.
Both the stage and TV versions starred Jonathan Rigby (Horne), Robin Sebastian (Williams), Kate Brown (Marsden), Nigel Harrison (Paddick) and Charles Armstrong (Smith). An additional cast member appeared as a non-speaking sound effects man. The stage show had three incarnations. A special Christmas edition took over in December 2004, and the so-called Round the Horne... Revisited 2 rounded off the London run from January to April 2005. All three shows received unanimously good reviews, though David Took (Barry's younger son) gave the following opinion on the modern staging:
"The cast are all truly excellent, and all have genuine moments of brilliance [...] the low spot would be the new material [...] With so much good material to call on it is madness to insert indifferent items. Dad and Marty would not be amused."
In 2008, Barry Took's ex-wife Lyn worked on an alternative stage show, Round the Horne - Unseen and Uncut. Directed by Richard Baron, this featured exclusively Took/Feldman material from series one to three and toured in 2008 and 2009. In 2015, to mark 50 years since the radio series began, Apollo Theatre Company produced a theatrical adaptation entitled Round the Horne: The 50th Anniversary Tour, compiled from the original scripts with the blessing of Lyn Took and directed by Tim Astley.
Like The Goon Show before it, Round the Horne fed off and contributed to the nation's vernacular. Obscure but innocent words like posset (a medieval drink made with curdled milk) became cues for instant giggling, especially among adolescents in school. Thus Rambling Syd Rumpo may say "Green grows the grunge on my Lady's posset", making it difficult to approach the murder scene in Macbeth (Lady Macbeth: "I have drugged their possets") with the seriousness it deserved.
The frequently used word futtock, rarely encountered outside the radio show (apart from Ronnie Barker's comedy film Futtock's End), had a spillover effect on words like fetlock, as well as its obvious phonetic similarity to the words fuck and buttock. (Futtock is in fact a harmless nautical term — a shortening of the phrase 'foot-hook'.) The word nadger was already known from The Goon Show ("The Nadger Plague"), but is now generally understood to refer to the testicles.
Round the Horne played an important role in establishing gay culture within the public consciousness. Julian and Sandy and their use of the gay slang polari gave the country a sympathetic weekly portrayal of non-threatening openly gay characters, many of whose catchphrases passed into everyday usage. A good example of this is the adjective "naff" to denote bad or shoddy, even used by the Princess Royal (as a verb) in a clash with the press some years later. They were able to get away with innuendo that would have been unheard of a mere ten years before — in one episode, Sandy refers to Julian and his skill at the piano as: "a miracle of dexterity at the cottage upright"; innocuous in itself, unless one knows that a 'cottage' was the polari term for a public toilet where men met for anonymous sexual encounters and 'upright' referred to an erection.
Its influence on the Monty Python team can be gauged by the fact that Goosecreature was used more than once by the Pythons for character names (Mrs. Yeti-Goosecreature, Dr. Louis Yeti-Goosecreature).
Comparisons can be drawn between Round the Horne and the American sketch comedy television series Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (1968–1973). Notably, Barry Took was the principal writer in the 1969 season; executive producer George Schlatter, a Canadian, was influenced by Round the Horne on CBC repeats of BBC original programming, and searched out Took for his programme.