He started a lifelong love affair with the show when Tim Astley’s grandfather gave him a cassette tape of the 1960s radio comedy series Round The Horne, which led to a hugely popular live production that can be seen next week in Edinburgh. Astley’s production for the Apollo Theatre Company recreates the original live radio format using the original scripts by Barry Took and Marty Feldman to revive an influential broadcast that helped create a template for sketch comedy that endures to this day.
“I was 12 when I got the cassette of Round The Horne as a gift,” Astley says. “My grandfather said he thought it might be something I would enjoy, and it opened up this whole new world for me that has stuck with me ever since. Of course, at that age, I didn’t get all the jokes. It wasn’t until much later that I realized how clever they are when it comes to what they can get away with.”
Kenneth Horne led the Round The Horne programme, which lasted for four seasons between 1965 and 1968, and featured Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden and Bill Pertwee, as well as Douglas Smith, the announcer. Together, the team brought a series of recurring characters to life, who each week appeared on the show in various scenarios. “These included Rambling Syd Rumpo, the dodgy-sounding folk singer, played by Williams, the “rolling slum” J. Peasmold Gruntfuttock (Williams again), and TV chef and fashion reporter Daphne Whitethigh, Marsden-played Fanny Craddock’s knock-off.
Julian and Sandy, the flamboyant pair of unemployed actors played by Williams and Paddick, were probably the most memorable, whose allusive conversations were peppered with polari, a slang used since the nineteenth century to shield the gay subculture. It was used to justify the gay subculture in the nineteenth century. Although Polari goes back as far as Shakespeare described in Part Two of Henry IV, the introduction of Polari into an estimated fifteen million households a week was an act of silent subversion, as homosexuality was still illegal in the years that originally aired Round The Horne.
This was not the only thing that upset the establishment, from Round The Horne. Queen Victoria’s inclusion in a sketch based around the centennial of Crumpet so offended Conservative MP Cyril Black that he protested to the BBC.
“You listen to what they get away with and sometimes wonder how they got it past the censors,” Astley says, “although not everyone will have understood Polari, and with Rambling Syd Rumpo, none of the expressions he used were actually anything naughty, but it sounded absolutely filthy.”
The Horne’s round didn’t come from nowhere. In 1957, Horne hosted the radio show Variety Playhouse, whose script Took had written with Eric Merriman, his writing partner at the time. Merriman and Took prepared a pilot for a new show after that show ended, Beyond Our Ken, which starred Horne as well as Williams, Paddick and Marsden, and Ron Moody.
Beyond Our Ken ran for seven episodes after a break in shooting after Horne suffered a stroke, with Took dropping out after the first two episodes and Pertwee replacing Moody. With Horne preferring to hold the team together, Took returned to create the quieter and more satire-led Round The Horne series with Feldman. Before the writing was taken over by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke, they remained for three episodes.
In 2015, Apollo’s Round The Horne was introduced as a nod to the fiftieth anniversary of the show. The production of Astley ran in London for eight weeks and gave rise to follow-up shows based on The Goons and Hancock’s Half Hour, staged in a similar way. For what is now its fourth U.K., returning to Round The Horne Astley and Co. have tapped into the same appeal for the show, which in a Radio Times poll made it the third-best radio show of any genre and the best radio comedy series ever.
“I think Round The Horne had a huge impact on future generations of comedy writers and performers,”I believe Round The Horne has had a huge impact on future generations of comedy writers and performers. The most noticeable is the influence it had on gay people’s depiction. His two most famous characters, Julian and Sandy, were two openly gay characters played by British viewers’ favorite gay actors at a period when homosexuality was still a felony. Undeniably, Julian and Sandy helped soften attitudes and paved the way for other gays and camp kids.