Round the Horne

Round the Horne: 50th anniversary tour, Lighthouse, Pool

What never ceases to amaze and delight about Round the Horne is that half-a-century ago it not only got past the notoriously over-zealous BBC censors but became required Sunday lunchtime listening for families all over Britain.

Laden with gay innuendo and camp as could be, it was broadcast at a time when homosexual relationships between consenting men were not yet legal and being outed as ‘queer’ could destroy reputations and even lead to lengthy jail sentences. Yet at the height of its popularity (it ran for two years from 1965) an astonishing 15 million listeners tuned in. It managed to entertain middle England and its maiden aunts with barely a hint of controversy.

Of course Round the Horne was also marvellously funny and, though it made a mockery of the callous law against homosexuality that would eventually be repealed in 1967, it certainly wasn't an exclusively gay programme. It worked because it was hosted by the ultimate straight man, Kenneth Horne, written by a brilliant team including Barry Took and Marty Feldman, and packed full of genuinely inventive comedy and marvellous characters.

This 50th anniversary stage production catches the flavour of that original radio show perfectly. Its main players - Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick and Betty Marsden - live once more courtesy of Colin Elmer, Alex Scott Fairley and Eve Winters. 

With Julian Howard McDowell as Kenneth Horne and Alan Booty as continuity presenter Douglas Smith the audience is treated to a re-run of a couple of classic shows as they are recorded at the BBC’s Paris Theatre in Regent’s Street. There’s even a sound-effects man, Miles Russell, to add appropriate noises, music and authenticity. 

It works a treat. All the familiar faces are there. Rambling Syd Rumpo, Daphne Whitethigh, Seamus Android, J. Peasemold Gruntfuttock, Dame Celia Molestrangler and Pinkie Huckaback, and of course Julian and Sandy. Great stuff and, to borrow their own polari phraseology, I have to say it was bona to varda their dolly old eeks again.

*Round the Horne plays Lighthouse at Poole again tonight (Saturday 18th February

Jeremy Miles

© Jeremy Miles 2022