When 1960s radio comedy show Round The Horne
in a stage show in 2004,
I enjoyed the material whilst being mystified about the appeal of the
staging. The venue was done up like the BBC’s Paris studio, complete
with illuminated “Applause” sign, and the cast stood in a row, scripts
in hand, delivering their lines into period microphones. But the power
of nostalgia proved strong, and the show ran for more than a year. The
team responsible – principally director/producer Michael Kingsbury and
surviving scriptwriter Brian Cooke – have now taken the same approach
with its successor programme, after Kenneth Horne’s sudden death
resulted in material being retooled for a series starring his most
illustrious support player Kenneth Williams.
However, Stop Messing About
ran for only two series on radio (in 1969–70), and one can see why.
Williams’ strength in Round The Horne
was being able to subvert straight-man Horne with marvellously
inventive filth; as the lead player himself, he had no pricks to kick
against, as it were. Announcer Douglas Smith, whilst filling a
Horne-like role, was clearly a subordinate. Consequently, the smutty doubles entendres
lose much of
their savour; they were so much more delicious when apparently stolen
than when given freely. Put it this way: the warmest response of the
evening (twice) is for Williams’ classic line “Infamy! Infamy! They’ve
all got it in for me!”, which is nothing to do with the series but
hails from the film Carry On Cleo
I doubt Kingsbury and Cooke would have undertaken this second project
if they had not found in Robin Sebastian a perfect Williams. Michael
Sheen in the TV biodrama Fantabulosa!
may have shown the less sparkling side of the man, but Sebastian
captures the way Williams luxuriated in his performances. Each one of
his nasal sniggers is relished like a delicacy. Nigel Harrison’s
reprise of his role as Hugh Paddick is less effective, falling prey to
the flaw behind the presentation overall; Emma Atkins is an
enthusiastic performer, but in that bottle-blonde bouffant she strikes
me as resembling less Joan Sims (whom she is playing) than Liz Fraser.
I fear that, to use a notorious nudge-nudge line, there may not be as
many warm hands on Williams’ entrance this time around.
Written for the Financial