Brian Cooke

Bona to varda their jolly old eeks again

By Jeremy Miles

CLASSIC 1960s radio show Round the Horne pushed back the boundaries of comedy with a dazzling combination of wit and wordplay. It also featured the kind of innuendo that fast-tracked Auntie Beeb into the modern world with such haste her petticoats didn't touch the ground.

Astonishingly, despite a content that included some splendidly knowing sleaze and the frequent use of polari - a slang previously only used by matelots, theatricals, gypsies and gays - it found a welcoming audience throughout nice, polite, middle-class England.

Indeed, for a few short, glorious years, Round the Horne was required Sunday lunchtime family listening. Based around the urbane straight man Kenneth Horne, it featured Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick and Betty Marsden plus announcer Douglas Smith.

They played characters that mercilessly satirised the establishment and at its peak the show attracted audiences of 15 million. Those characters, like Rambling Sid Rumpo and Julian and Sandy, were created by some of the sharpest writers around - Barry Took, Marty Feldman, Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke.

Now 40 years on, Cooke - the only surviving member of the original team - has revisited the scripts. The result is Round The Horne Revisited. Already a huge hit in the West End, this on-stage recreation of the original radio show is now enjoying a successful tour.

Although all four writers were heterosexual, Cooke says they were proud of the fact that they helped many gay men to take pride in their sexuality - and listeners aware that homosexuality need not be perceived as a threat. "Julian and Sandy were the first homosexuals that many listeners had ever met, albeit on the radio, but because they were obviously funny they weren't in any way threatening," he told me.

Having Williams and Paddick on board helped enormously. Both were camp as a row of tents and spoke polari fluently.

Listeners would regularly tune in to hear the pair as Julian and Sandy discussing perhaps taking a troll (walk) as fast as their lallies (legs) would carry them.Or finding it bona (good) to varda (see) someone's eek (face).

Round the Horne Revisited stars Stephen Critchlow, Stephen Matthews, David Rumelle, Felicity Duncan and Oliver Beamish.

I saw the show in Bournemouth last summer. With its wordplay, innuendo and surreal literary inventiveness, it has aged well and the sketches still sound remarkably contemporary. The stage version not only recaptures the spirit and atmosphere of the original radio recordings but includes a brilliant mix of favourite sketches plus some previously unbroadcast material.

Round the Horne Revisited opens tonight and runs until Saturday April 9. Tickets on 01202 685222

© Jeremy Miles 2017