From 1965 to 1969 there wasn’t a bigger radio show than Round the Horne, with up to 15 million people tuning in every Sunday to listen to Kenneth Horne and his merry Crew. We spoke to Tim Astley, director of a new stage adaptation created from original Round the Horne radio scripts…
What prompted you to revisit Round the Horne all these years later? I grew up listening to cassettes of Round the Horne, it was a huge part of my childhood. When I realised that the 50th anniversary of the show’s first broadcast was fast approaching, I decided to create a theatre show to celebrate the programme that had given me so much joy. It’s the closest fans will get to sitting in the audience when the hilarious and ground-breaking programme was originally recorded in the 60s.
There were some very distinguished and beloved actors in Round the Horne including Kenneth Williams – it must have been a challenge for the actors portraying those roles?
It was important to us that the cast do justice to the real people they are portraying. Whereas the majority of acting is open to interpretation, with an actor’s take on a role very much up to him or her, with this production there is very much a right and wrong way to do it. The cast have spent a lot of time listening to the original Round the Horne broadcasts, particularly the sketches we are recreating and they’ve watched a lot of TV and radio that their characters appeared in.
The show was laced with gay innuendoes at a time when homosexuality was illegal; do you think RTH’s appeal helped the Gay rights movement?
Round the Horne was hugely ahead of its time. The use of the hitherto little-known gay slang, polari, was a fantastic device for the show; it enabled the characters of Julian and Sandy to say outrageous things while not being too explicit about it. The BBC censors didn’t always know what was being said either, meaning that a lot of material that probably would have been cut made it to air. I think the popularity of these characters and the love the British public had of them certainly played a role in homosexuality becoming decriminalised in 1967, the year of Round the Horne’s third series.
How does the show relate to a modern audience?
Some comedy ages well, some doesn’t. There is no doubt in my mind that Round the Horne has aged well. I think that the silly, over-the-top style of the show is one that British people can relate to. It is fundamentally the same kind of thing that has been making us laugh for centuries, from pantomimes to Carry On films to Little Britain – it’s that British love of silliness which has endured.