Round the Horne half a century on. Left to right Nick Wymer, Julian Howard McDowell, Eve Winter, Jonathan Hansier and Colin Elmer
Round the Horne: The 50th anniversary tour - Lighthouse, Pool. Thursday 15th October 2015
Back in the sixties Round the Horne was required family listening. At the height of its popularity an extraordinary 15 million people tuned in every Sunday lunchtime to catch this groundbreaking slice of classic radio comedy. Listeners loved its dazzling combination of wit and wordplay and, astonishingly, many remained oblivious to the true meanings behind its racy references and risqué double entendre.
To a modern audience this is extraordinary because the scripts are so laden with innuendo that its gay subtext is blindingly obvious. Not so in 1965 when this show first hit the airwaves and times were more innocent. The BBC probably believed it was playing host to the kind of sauce and ribaldry that you might reasonably find on the average seaside postcard.
Scriptwriters Barry Took and Marty Feldman were fast-tracking Auntie Beeb into the modern world at such speed that her petticoats barely touched the ground. Homosexuality would remain illegal for another two years but change was on the way. Round the Horne with its knowing campness and frequent use of Polari – a slang previously only used by matelots, theatricals, gypsies and gays - was at the vanguard of liberation. It worked simply because it was so good. It was celebrated by a huge cross section of the population both gay and straight.
Round the Horne: The 50th Anniversary Tour does a splendid job of recreating this extraordinary show which, along with its predecessor Beyond Our Ken, did so much to push back the barriers of intolerance so prevalent in post war Britain. Using just five actors and a musician/sound effects man, it recreated the classic recordings of the show from London’s Paris Theatre. Each week urbane straight man Kenneth Horne would adopt a world-weary air as he introduced a cast of crazy characters played variously by Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick and Betty Marsden and announced by Douglas Smith playing a wayward BBC stuffed-shirt.
They mercilessly lampooned the establishment with characters like filthy folk singer Rambling Syd Rumpo, fading matinee idols Dame Celia Molestrangler and Binkie Huckerback, self-styled King of Peasemoldia, J. Peasemold Gruntfuttock and outrageous gay entrepreneurs Julian and Sandy. With Julian Howard McDowell as Horne, Colin Elmer as Williams, Jonathan Hansier as Paddick, Eve Winters as Marsden and Nick Wymer as Smith, the show delivers a selection of vintage sketches hand-picked by director Tim Astley.
There are sterling performances from all concerned but, even 50 years on, the real star of the show is the script. Took and Feldman’s marvellous sketches can never be quite as meaningful as they must have been in the 1960s but somehow they remain fresh, funny and, even now, feel like they’re striking a blow for some kind of freedom. As for that inspired cast of characters? It really was bona (good) to varda (see) their eeks (faces) again.
Round the Horne: The 50th Anniversary Tour is at Lighthouse, Poole, until Saturday 17th October. www.lighthousepoole.co.uk