Monday, November 28

Round The Horne – Kings’ Theatre, Edinburgh

Shut your eyes and you could’ve been at home next to the wireless any time between 1965 and 1968. Along with the 14.5 million other listeners of the day. Which makes it difficult to write about this show; it was so faithful to the original that instead of judging the set or evaluating the performance(s), one spent most of the time simply wondering – nay marvelling – at the unabashed nature of Round The Horne, its refusal to dodge a risk (spelled r-i-s-q-u-é) and, ultimately, the BBC’s willingness to defend it from its many (historically, theatrically ignorant) detractors. It’s sobering to remind oneself that some of the boundaries of taste and sexuality over which it gaily skipped were, at the time, enshrined in law.

Listening to a couple of the shows either side of this production (your reviewer still owns a double cassette package, complete with cassette player!) illustrated that the Producer/Director Tim Astley and his cast had done their homework, and this is the fourth outing for the show. The word ‘seamless’ covers it. As do the 57 yards of foil recommended necessary when roasting a Rhinoceros. It takes 18 months but, Daphne Whitethigh assures us, it will produce an excellent crackling…

With material like this from writers Barry Took and Marty Feldman it must have been fun back then and at the King’s tonight it was. Indeed, Mondays were recording days back in the ‘60’s and we learn from Lyn Took (wife of the late Barry Took) that; ‘When most people were having that Monday morning feeling… we looked forward to it.’ Astley and his crew capture the glee which must have been in the air at Soho’s Paris Cinema on these occasions. Little surprise either to learn from the programme that Colin Elmer (Kenneth Williams) toured a one-man show off the back of its success.

It was a shame the audience appeared 90% composed of denizens with enough years to remember the original shows for this was more than nostalgia; those below 40 would benefit from catching it, if only to appreciate the progression and origins of comic entertainment, parody and satire (not to mention society). What shone through and underlined the relevance of this (and other retrospective productions, Eric & Ernie to name one other example) is the realisation of the magnitude and endurance of its influence. One cannot imagine The Fast Show or Little Britain on our TV’s, nor radio’s I’m Sorry I Havn’t a Clue, The News Quiz, Just A Minute et al without the foundations laid by Round The Horne (not forgetting its predecessor Beyond Our Ken and The Goons). The list continues, including Bleak Expectations and, wait for it… The Horne Section.

It’s hard to suppress a smile pondering how much sharper the humour must have felt in an era that saw the Mary Whitehouse brigade spluttering into their teacups on a weekly basis with indignity and outrage. It’s likely a fair amount of the humour would’ve sailed over their heads anyway due to the use of that rich vein of the English language, Polari, a fascinating mixture of Italian, Romani, Yiddish and East End slang. Used as code by those denied the rights assigned to most members of society Polari deliciously infected each aspect of the show, the double-entendres starting life in the Julian & Sandy sketches flying thick and fast through the Charles & Fiona skits, Rambling Syd Rumpo’s songs and Douglas Smith’s announcements. If this show returns be sure to attend and meet it with the greeting; ‘How bona to vada your dolly old eek.’

Reviewer: Roger Jacobs

Reviewed: 29th January 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★