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Radio / Round the Horne

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Left to right: Hugh Paddick, Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Horne, Betty Marsden, Douglas Smith

Round the Horne was a 1960s British radio comedy starring Kenneth Horne, Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden, Bill Pertwee, and their announcer Douglas Smith. The main writers were Barry Took and Marty Feldman. The show was a Spiritual Successor to Beyond Our Ken, which had featured many of the same cast but a different head writer; when he left it was decided to revamp the series with a new title and characters.

It took the form of a ramshackle local variety show with Kenneth Horne as MC, with sketches, songs, incomprehensible public service announcements, and "the answers to last week's questions" (the questions themselves were never actually announced). Double Entendre and corny old gags were rife, and sketches frequently appeared to break down into out-of-character bickering about the size of the parts and the quality of the scripts.

The show was also populated by a collection of eccentric local characters (actually played by the cast, but treated as separate people within the show and never broke character). These included the folk singer Rambling Syd Rumpo, whose songs were peppered with incomprehensible words that sounded like they'd be extremely rude if one only knew what they meant; J. Peasemold Gruntfuttock, the world's dirtiest Dirty Old Man; and the show's breakout stars, the perpetually out-of-work actors Julian and Sandy, who were originally only supposed to appear in a single sketch but wound up returning in nearly every episode for the rest of the series.

Was scheduled to return in 1969 for a fifth series but Kenneth Horne died of a heart attack aged 61 in February of that year. They tried to run the series under a new name, with Kenneth Williams as the main focus, but it didn't take off.

BBC Four broadcast stage performances of the original scripts in 2004.

Not to be confused with Around The Horn, the ESPN sports pundit show.

The series provides examples of:

  • Accent Relapse:
    • Horne visits the mysterious "Exotica", who initially speaks in a sultry French accent, until she drops it for a regular English accent instead.
    • Kenneth Williams would "break character" as Chou-En Ginsberg and use Williams's own, actual accent on occasion, such as when complaining about Lotus Blossom.
  • Acquired Error at the Printer: Quite a few, both in the narrative and as alleged typos in the script:
    • Gruntfuttock tries to advertise himself as a window washer specializing in bathroom windows. But the newspaper ends up listing him as a widow washer.
    • In the Moby-Dick parody, Captain Ahab accuses his crew of thinking that he's a raving madam.
    • In the Cinderella parody, the title character is visited by her Fairy Odmother.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Julian and Sandy are textbook cases: walking camp stereotypes, not to mention speech peppered with Polari, but it's never actually stated that they're gay, and indeed the subject of sexuality is never discussed, only sniggeringly alluded to. In what turned out to be the final episode, they casually reveal that they both have wives.
  • As Himself:
    • Kenneth Horne always acted as if he was himself, even in the main sketches where he's usually playing a part. (A lot like Neddie Seagoon, except even more of a Straight Man).
    • Douglas Smith really was a BBC continuity announcer, who were VERY strait-laced at this period.
  • Authority in Name Only: His Holiness, J. Peasemold Gruntfuttock the First, of the Kingdom of Peasemoldia, a micro-nation consisting of his house and some of the surrounding neighbourhood, and a citizenship of three citizens, Gruntfuttock himself included.
  • Awful Wedded Life: J. Peasmold Gruntfuttock and his wife Buttercup, who bicker viciously with one another whenever they visit the show.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: Many, many jokes are made at the expense of the Beeb. Especially the then-new BBC 2. Many, many jokes.
  • Black Widow: Mrs. Cunterblast, many times (many, many times). Some of those many, many times were, admittedly, her own work, and which she freely admits to. And some weren't.
  • Book Ends: Every "Horne's Law" sketch begins and ends with him in his office playing with his secretary.
  • Bowdlerization: Played for laughs in one Kenneth Horne, Secret Agent sketch, where the executives censor a word in the script. Whatever word it is, Smith tells Horne it keeps his character busy for several weeks.
    Horne: Four weeks?!
    Smith: I saw the line that was cut. You'll need every moment of it.
  • Brick Joke: So very many.
  • Brutal Honesty: One of the Secret Spy sketches deals with a horrific outbreak of Truth, so newscasters commenting on society weddings comment on how much they hate everyone involved, and judges admit to their own crimes in court. Naturally, it's the work of Chou-En Ginsberg.
  • …But He Sounds Handsome: In the credits for the last episode of series 1, Douglas Smith takes the time to credit himself as a "hot young newcomer" when he very clearly isn't.
  • Catchphrase:
    • All the recurring characters had one; probably the most famous was "Hello, I'm Julian and this is my friend Sandy."
    • "Gruntfuttock. Gruntfuttock. 's not hyphenated."
    • Mrs. Gruntfuttock introducing herself by bellowing "'ALLO, CHEEKYFACE!"
    • "Many times. Many times. Many, many, many times. Many times."
  • Censored for Comedy: One of Dr. Chou-En Ginsberg's fiendish schemes is messing with BBC broadcasts with conveniently timed buzzing, making what's left sound both inexplicable and much filthier.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment:
    • When the rest of the cast threatens to mutiny, Horne demands that they stand down or he'll read from a script of The Clitheroe Kid. After a couple of lines, they capitulate.
    • In the Knights of the Round Table sketch, King Arthur discovers Guinevere in a tryst with Sir Mincealot. He decrees that they must be punished. The set up description of the next scene gives the impression that they'll be burned at the stake. However, it turns out the stakes are actually steaks and the punishment is that a barbecue is being held and Guinevere and Mincealot haven't been invited.
  • Clueless Detective: One sketch has Horne investigating murders, and fails to notice the man who is the killer even when he boasts about how he's done it and plans to do more murders right in Horne's face.
  • Deadly Game: Germany's most popular radio show begins with a contestant being tortured to answer a question, before being offered a mystery box, which could be anything... it turns out to be a bomb.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Charles and Fiona were prone to this.
    Charles: I know.
    Fiona: I know you know.
    Charles: I know you know I know.
    Fiona: Yes, I know.
  • The Dividual: Julian and Sandy always appear and act together.
  • Don't Explain the Joke: In one sketch, where Kenneth Williams acts out two characters, Smith interrupts to explain this to the audience when they start engaging in a bout of …But He Sounds Handsome.
  • Doomy Dooms of Doom: Spasm the butler, in the recurring skit "The Clissold Saga", took every opportunity to declare that doom was upon them.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: In the first few shows, the trends segment comes before the Frazier Hayes Four singing, and there's no sign of Julian and Sandy, who first appear in episode 3.
  • Evil is Petty: Doctor Chou-En Ginsberg starts blocking out BBC Radio because they wouldn't give him a job.
  • Exact Words: In one of the Police Procedural sketches, a person of interest being interrogated is asked to tell them everything he knows. He does exactly that, starting with minutiae about grass species indigenous to New Zealand.
  • Faux Documentary: The 'Backroom Boys of the BBC' sketches were essentially this.
  • Faux Horrific: One "Horne's Law" sketch has him investigating the mysterious disappearance of Edwin Braden, only for a police officer to tell him they've found what's happened; he's alive and well. This is apparently far worse than his being dead or missing.
  • Fictional Holiday: The public service announcements often featured unusual festivals and commemorations, such as Immerse An Orangutan In Porridge Week.
  • Flat Joy: Lotus Blossum sings entirely deadpan, including when singing "The Hoky-Poky".
  • For the Evulz: One of Chou's schemes has him making rockets to launch cold porridge into the atmosphere because... well, what else is he supposed to do with several hundred pounds of cold porridge?
  • Gratuitous French: The writers were quite fond of using your actual French.
  • Hearing Voices: Gruntfuttock claims he is led by "the voices" to his latest odd action. Funnily enough, they usually only start speaking to him after he's left the pub...
  • His Name Is...: Used several times in a parody of film noir, yet usually the afflicted have time to say a few more things before dying.
  • Hostile Show Takeover: The villain of a film noir parody is... Kenneth Williams, determined to kill Horne and take over the show. He's foiled by Douglas Smith shooting him.
  • Hypocritical Humour: Just as Citizen Gruntfuttock's wife is insisting he's a lovely man, he screams at her to shut up.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!: Several sketches have Kenneth Williams "breaking character" to whine about his part in the sketch isn't doing his career any good.
  • Inherently Funny Words:
    • Gruntfuttock.
    • Cephalopod.
    • Lummock.
    • Rambling Syd Rumpo's entire purpose is to say nonsensical words which, in his hands, sound either silly or suspiciously dirty. Or both.
  • Inheritance Murder: Spoofed, when one sketch is Horne investigating murders at a theatre. The culprit is Williams's character, who is several millionth in line to the throne, but is determined to murder his way up there and become queen.
  • Interactive Narrator: Douglas Smith is this. Oh boy, is he this...
  • I Read It for the Articles: One of the running gags is Kenneth Horne mentioning some absurd and often vaguely smutty-sounding publication and claiming to read it for the crossword/spot the ball competition/etc.
    "Recently I was leafing through my copy of Throw off Your Clothes and Live — I buy it for the chess problems..."
    "The other day, as I was glancing through my copy of Forbidden Flesh Weekly - (pause for scandalised laughter from the audience) - it's a vegetarian magazine..."
  • Monumental Theft: Among the capers pulled off by Chou-En Ginsberg are the thefts of the Eiffel Tower (forcing Parisian gift shops to sell miniatures of a hole in the ground) and Big Ben (substituting it with a cuckoo clock).
  • Moral Guardians: The series fell afoul of them. Including at least one MP who was outraged by their making a joke about Queen Victoria, and arch-Moral Guardian Mary Whithouse.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Parodied with recurring villain Doctor Chou-En Ginsberg, M.A. (failed).
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: One sketch ends with Horne assuring listeners that the people depicted were "alive or dead or Kenneth Williams."
  • New Job as the Plot Demands: Julian and Sandy tried a new job every week while waiting for their acting careers to pick up. The standard set-up for their sketches was for Kenneth Horne to enter a shop or some other place of business and discover that, coincidentally, it was the place where Julian and Sandy were working this week.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Answers to Last Week's Questions often ventured into this territory. What the questions were to cause such outlandish answers was never revealed.
      • On one occasion, the question and answer was straightforward...'Complete the following lyric...These boots were made for.". However, Kenneth Horne expressed his disgust at some of the wrong answers he received and we never quite found out what one viewer suggested his boots were made for..only that Kenneth Horne considered it his own fault if the soles rotted.
    • After the 'Julian and Sandy' bits, which always started by Kenneth Horne recounting why he walked into the business of the week, the show would sometimes come back to the present, with him finishing "... and that, Ladies and Gentlemen on the jury, is why I am standing here today" (or similar). Why it was that the Julian and Sandy punchline caused the trial was never explained.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Kenneth Horne plays every part in his own voice, except Asians, a fact often lampshaded in the script.
  • The Nudifier: In the Cinderella parody, the Fairy Godmother's wand doesn't work properly and causes Cinderella's rags to disappear without conjuring anything to replace them.
  • Only the Author Can Save Them Now: One "Kenneth Horne, Secret Spy" sketch has him call on Douglas Smith to save him. Smith obliges, and narrates Kenneth freeing himself.
  • Parody: Everything from Moby-Dick to Brief Encounter. The plays Charles and Fiona star in are caricatures of Noël Coward's style.
  • Parrot Exposition: Faced with a mysterious woman in front of him, Horne wonders if she is the sultry Ramona, whose arms have led many a man to their deaths. She confirms that she is indeed the sultry Ramona, whose arms have led many a man to their death.
  • Playing a Tree: Douglas Smith is oft called upon to do this, such as playing an aging ship. He says "creak" with the same monotone as everything else, but Kenneth Williams still breaks character to complain about his preferential treatment.
  • Potty Emergency: In the Christmas Episode, Horne is offered a non-alcoholic punch recipe for his Christmas party which uses ingredients known for their laxative properties.
  • Previously on…: Spoofed. The "previously on" segments have nothing to do with whatever happened last week, and are divorced from all sanity, inevitably ending with a disparaging introduction for Horne.
  • Pun:
    • Any introduction of Doctor Chou-En Ginsberg begins with him going "Ah, Horne" and being met with the response "ah, Chou".
    • Detective Horne's conversation is basically a lead-up to a play on "pinched my ass".
  • Running Gag: Phew, where do we start?
    • Kenneth Williams breaking character to rant about how he's not being serviced ("I need servicin'").
    • Any mention of Edwin Braden is met with Kenneth Williams calling him a "great 'airy [derogatory remark]".
    • Whenever a question is asked, it's followed by "Answers on a postcard, care of the BBC..."
    • Douglas Smith going off on narcissistic tangents.
    • "Many times. Many, many times."
  • Saying Sound Effects Out Loud: Douglas Smith playing a cat says "meow" in total deadpan.
  • Self Deprecating Humour:
    • Shots are often made at Horne's appearance and age, particularly his lack of hair.
    • In the last episode of the first series, Williams breaks character once more to complain that the writers suck and need to be replaced.
  • Serial Escalation: The "Kenneth Horne, Secret Agent" sketches have Douglas Smith going with ever-increasing time skips whenever Horne encounters the girl of the week (many times. Many, many times), starting with hours, then days, then finally weeks, much to Horne's surprise and alarm.
  • Shout-Out: "A handbaaaag?"
  • Straight Man: Kenneth Horne. (Not like that! Although, admittedly, when he's up against Julian and Sandy...)
  • Strapped to an Operating Table: Occurs in a horror movie parody.
    Female Victim: Why have you strapped me to this operating table?
    Mad Scientist: Call it an old man's whim.
    Female Victim: All right — why have you strapped me to this old man's whim?
  • Take That, Critics!: At one point the show takes a shot at Mary Whitehouse, specifically using one of her complaints against the show, namely Kenneth William's "emphasis on certain words" by having the characters reading stage directions out loud that stress care on their emphasis of certain words.
  • Theme Naming: All of Julian and Sandy's business tended to be called 'Bona' followed by whatever the business dealt with.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: A look into Germany's most popular radio game show gets off to a very suspicious start when the introduction is stock recording of people chanting "sieg heil".
  • Unexplained Accent: One of the many mysteries surrounding the exotic beauty of Lotus Blossom is that in addition to her deep, gravelly voice is that she also talks like a Cockney.
  • Un-Installment: One of the show's spoof dramas jumped from part one to part three, with the explanation that "you wouldn't have liked part two - it was all plot." On another occasion, a Three Musketeers spoof stretched over two shows; in the show after that, it was announced "At this point we were going to do The Three Musketeers part three... But we got fed up with that."
  • Unusual Euphemism: Rambling Syd Rumpo's act was peppered with invented words that sounded in context like they were euphemisms for something.
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: Sketches are often interrupted by a cast member, usually Kenneth Williams, complaining about the quality of the script or that he's been given a part that doesn't allow him to show off the full range of his talents.
    • Kenneth Williams and Barry Took said in the years since the show aired that all of Williams' "ad-libs," especially those complaining about the material, were actually in the script. None of your actual ad-libbing was ever in the show.
  • Yellow Peril: Parodied with the villainous Dr Chou En Ginsberg, MA (failed) and his concubine, the lovely (but suspiciously deep-voiced) Lotus Blossom.