From 1965 to 1968 there wasn’t a bigger radio programme in Britain than the ground-breaking Round the Horne. For half-an-hour every Sunday afternoon, audiences of up to 15 million people would gather around the wireless to listen to Kenneth Horne and his merry crew get up to all sorts of mischief.
With its infamous movie spoofs and hilarious regular characters such as Rambling Sid Rumpo, Charles and Fiona, J. Peasemold Gruntfuttock, and Julian and Sandy, Round the Horne was one of the biggest and best radio comedy shows of all time, and still endures today, 50 years on.
Based on the original scripts by Barry Took and Marty Feldman, Apollo Theatre Company, first took their recreation of the classic radio comedy show, Round the Horne, on tour in 2015 for the show’s fiftieth anniversary, including visiting Cardiff, Milford Haven and Monmouth.
Apollo Theatre Company founder Tim Astley and the cast discuss the show.
1. Do you think the humour still works with 21st century audiences and if so why?
The humour absolutely works for a 21st century audience because good comedy is timeless. The characters of Round the Horne were so well-rounded and the jokes so clever that the have stood the test of time and are still making people laugh today. Some references may have dated slightly but the types of films, plays and people who the show parodies are still recognisable archetypes to us in 2020. While lots of 1960s comedy would now be viewed as out-dated and offensive, Round the Horne was always clever and clean (up to a point) with the only rude (sounding) moments coming from smart word-play and double entendre.
2. Are you trying to recreate the famous radio characters or is it the players’ own interpretations?
Our ethos is to recreate as closely as possible what it would have been like to sit in the Paris Theatre in the 1960s and watch an episode of Round the Horne being recorded with not only the cast but live band and live sound effects. The actors spend a lot of time listening to the originals and do a marvellous job of being truthful to them.
3. Who do you think his will appeal to and why?
The show will appeal to anyone who has ever enjoyed listening to Round the Horne, those who enjoyed it first time round in the 60s, or who came to it later thanks to the many repeats and CD releases and those who may not have heard it for many years but wish to be reminded of what a hilarious show it was.
That being said, if you have never heard Round the Horne (and plenty of people have come to the show who haven’t), but you just want a good laugh then give it a go. There is a reason Round the Horne was recently named by the Radio Times as the third greatest radio show of all time.
4. How much were you aware of the comedians and radio programme before working on the show – and what have you learned?
Tim Astley, producer and director: I was very aware of the show. I have been a fan since I was twelve years old and this show is very much a passion project of mine. It is my all-time favourite comedy show and compiling the scripts for this stage show from the 30+ hours of original recordings was an absolute joy.
As for the performers, Kenneth Williams stands alone in his cross-over appeal, thanks most of all to the Carry On films but the whole cast were an incredibly funny and talented group of people. It has been fascinating to learn more about them as individuals and their lives and careers. For example, there were many curious similarities between Kenneth Horne and Kenneth Williams, both born in similar parts of London, both called Kenneth Charles, both died before their time at the age of 62. There was a tremendous warmth between these two men and in many ways they filled a surrogate father/son role in each others’ lives.
5. Has anything been changed to make it a stage rather than radio show?
In choosing the material for this show it was important that the sketches we chose have aged well. Round the Horne wasn’t a very topical show but there were frequent references to contemporary celebrities. Some of these still work today, references to the likes of Ken Dodd, Cilla Black, etc. but some of them reference people who have faded into obscurity. Very little has been changed, the scripts are almost word-for-word what was originally broadcast and the set-up very similar to how it would have been in 1965.
Round the Horne visits, New Theatre, Cardiff, February 18, 19; Torch Theatre, Milford Haven, February 20 and Savoy Theatre, Monmouth, February 21.