Posts Tagged ‘Kenneth Williams’

Sketch of Businessman and Comic Actor and Host Kenneth Horne

December 5, 2022

Here’s another sketch of one of my favourite comedy figures from the past, Kenneth Horne. Horne’s Wikipedia entry is rather long, but the potted biography with which it begins runs

Charles Kenneth Horne, generally known as Kenneth Horne, (27 February 1907 – 14 February 1969) was an English comedian and businessman. He is perhaps best remembered for his work on three BBC Radio series: Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh (1944–54), Beyond Our Ken (1958–64) and Round the Horne (1965–68).

The son of a clergyman who was also a politician, Horne had a burgeoning business career with Triplex Safety Glass, which was interrupted by service with the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. While serving in a barrage balloon unit, he was asked to broadcast as a quizmaster on the BBC radio show Ack-Ack, Beer-Beer. The experience brought him into contact with the more established entertainer Richard Murdoch, and the two wrote and starred in the comedy series Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh. After demobilisation Horne returned to his business career and kept his broadcasting as a sideline. His career in industry flourished, and he later became the chairman and managing director of toy manufacturers Chad Valley.

In 1958 Horne suffered a stroke and gave up his business dealings to focus on his entertainment work. He was the anchor figure in Beyond Our Ken, which also featured Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden and Bill Pertwee. When the programme came to an end in 1964, the same cast recorded four series of the comedy Round the Horne.

Before the planned fifth series of Round the Horne began recording, Horne died of a heart attack while hosting the annual Guild of Television Producers’ and Directors’ Awards; Round the Horne could not continue without him and was withdrawn. The series has been regularly re-broadcast since his death. A 2002 BBC radio survey to find listeners’ favourite British comedian placed Horne third, behind Tony Hancock and Spike Milligan.’

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Horne

I came across Beyond Our Ken and Round the Horne when the Beeb repeated them on the Sunday midday slot, Smash of the Day, in the early 1980s, and it’s been one of my favourite radio shows since. It had a bizarre cast of characters, such as the folk singer Ramblin’ Sid Rumpo and his ganderbag, J. Peasemold Gruntfuttock, a breathy bloke who was supposedly always writing into the programme. Gruntfuttock had strange delusions, at one point declaring himself ‘Dictator Gruntfuttock of Peasemoldia’, which was his house. Other characters included a deranged, demi-literate American film director, Daryl F. Claphanger, who had missed out on making blockbusters by producing films like Nanook of the South. The show also spoofed contemporary radio, television and films. There was the ‘Kenneth Horne Theatre of Mystery and Suspense’ while the Fu Manchu films were sent up in the tales of the crazy plots of Dr Chu-En Ginsberg, M.A., (failed). But most memorable of all was the ‘Trends’ feature with Julian and Sandy, who ran ‘Bona – ‘ whatever the subject was that day. The two were extremely camp and spoke in Polari, a language used by the gay community. Each edition, Horne would go to their new shop or business venture to inquire about their business. They’d greet him in raptures with cries of ‘Oh, Mr Horne! How bona it is to barda your dolly old eke again! Bona! Bona!’ Which, translated means, ‘How good it is to see your old face again.’ Polari wasn’t just used by gay men. It was also the language of actors and carnival showmen, according to Partridge’s Dictionary of Historical Slang. It’s used as such by an alien showman, who attempts to speak to Jon Pertwee’s Doctor in it, in the Dr Who serial ‘Carnival of Monsters’. You could, therefore, see them as just two resting actors being very ‘theatrical’. In fact, it was very clear they were gay, and at times the programme almost told you, if you understand Polari. Ramblin’ Sid in the preface to one of his songs said that its hero was ‘an omee palone’. Omee means man, palone, woman. Omee palone, ‘man woman’, meant gay man. This must have been quite edgy humour for the time, as when the shows were broadcast homosexuality was still illegal. On one TV show looking back at the comedy shows of the past, one of the talking heads said that the older generation were always suspicious of it, and especially of what was being said in Polari. And no doubt with good reason. Previously the BBC had forbidden jokes about the religion, the monarchy, disability, the colour question and effeminacy in men. Times were changing in the 1960s and so all these prohibitions were eventually discarded.

Julian and Sandy, played by Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick, were immensely popular. If you go on YouTube, you’ll find a number of videos of them, and they made two records, Round the Horne: The Complete Julian and Sandy, and The Bona World of Julian and Sandy. Long after the series had been originally broadcast, the two characters, played by Williams and Paddick, appeared on Terry Wogan in the 1980s. I did wonder if the two were now hated by the gay community as malign stereotypes, in the same way that John Inman’s Mr Humphries in Are You Being Served? was bitterly resented by American gays when that show was broadcast in San Francisco in the 1970s. But it seems it isn’t. A year or so ago London Transport or the London Underground celebrated gay pride by putting up posters of the Polari greeting around the city.

Horne himself was a genial host, who was himself the butt of the programme’s jokes. One such ran, ‘And now the question of the week is: what was I doing naked in Trafalgar fountain at such and such a time last weekend? Answers to my lawyers please.’ Williams had aspirations to perform in better or my highbrow material than the parts he got, but always respected Horne even if he was withering in his views of the programme itself.

The series also came from a time when it was still possible to write solely for the radio, or to start off on radio and move to television. Such writers have lamented that due to the rise of television and other media, this is no longer possible. Round the Horne and Beyond Our Ken are, as far as I know, all on CD, and there are a number of episodes on YouTube. In 2003 there was a play about the show, Round the Horne, Revisited, which is also on YouTube.

Sketches of Another Three British Comedy Heroes

November 22, 2022

Here are three more pictures of British comedy legends of a certain era for your enjoyment: Ken Dodd, Tony Hancock and Michael Bentine.

Ken Dodd is also remembered for the Diddymen from Knotty Ash, which I think was the suburb of Liverpool where he came from. I can remember him being on television with them when I was very young. They were originally puppets, but I can remember a later programme in which they were played by children in a musical number. Dodd was a real trouper, carrying on performing right to the end of his life. He was also notorious for running well over time. I heard at one performance in Weston-Super-Mare, a seaside town just south of Bristol, he carried on performing so long after he was supposed to have ended that the janitor threw the keys onto the stage. As well as the Diddymen his act also involved his notorious Tickling Stick. It was years before I realised it was an ordinary duster and you could get them in Woolworths.

He ran afoul of the taxman in the late 80s/ 90s, and I’ve heard two versions of that story. One is that he really was dodging taxes and had all the money he owed the Inland Revenue hidden in boxes in his attic. This was supposed to be because he had a very poor childhood and that had made him reluctant to part with money. The other version I heard was that he sent it all to the taxman, as demanded, but didn’t say which department and so it just got lost. His problems with the taxman was at just about the same time the jockey Lester Pigott also got caught not paying it. This resulted in a postcard I found in Forever People in Bristol showing Ken Dodd and Pigott on stage in pantomime. Pigott was riding a pantomime horse, while down from the sky was a giant hand pointng at them, saying ‘Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell undeclared income!’

Although he’s been off the TV for years now, there are still DVDs of his performances, particularly the Audience he did on ITV. And way back in the 90s I also found a tape of him telling jokes. Since his heyday in the ’70s, comedy has become far more observational, but his jokes were still funny. One I remember went, ‘What a day, what a day, missus, for going to Trafalgar Square and throwing white paint over the pigeons shouting, ‘Hah! See how you like it!’

Tony Hancock – what can you say? He truly is a British comedy legend. He’s been called a genius, though one critic said that his genius really consisted in performing the scripts written by Galton and Simpson. Even so, they were absolute classics of British comedy and a couple of them, The Radio Ham and The Blood Donor, really are comedy classics. On the radio he was supported by a cast of brilliant actors – Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Bill Kerr and Hattie Jacques. This was cut down to Sid James when the series was transferred to TV, and then even further until Hancock became the sole regular character. His series were on record – I used to listen to them when I was at school and are also on DVD. He also made a series, not written by Galton and Simpson, when he was in Australia. That’s also available, I think, though I deliberately avoided watching it. It may just be prejudice, but I didn’t think it could ever be a patch on Galton and Simpson’s scripts.

Paul Merton, who seems to have given up performing comedy for appearing on panel shows, is a massive Hancock fan. A few years ago, he performed as Hancock in a series of remakes of classic Hancock episodes. I deliberately didn’t watch them, because with remakes I find that it doesn’t matter how good the actors are, you’re always comparing them with the original stars, and they just can’t compete. One of the cable/ satellite channels a few years back tried to remake Yes, Minister with a different cast. This flopped. I think it may have been that the audience it was aimed simply far preferred to see repeats of the original series with Paul Eddington and co. As well as TV, he also appeared in a number of films, such as Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, and starred in two: The Rebel and The Punch and Judy Man. The Punch and Judy Man, in which he plays that character in a seaside resort, is supposed to be the better film, but I prefer The Rebel. In this movie he plays an office clerk, who gives it up to become a painter in Paris. He’s a failure but becomes a celebrity artist after passing off a friend’s paintings as his own. It all comes crashing down when he’s invited aboard a millionaire’s yacht and the man’s wife wants to run off with him, just as he’s run out of the other fellow’s paintings to sell. Again, he has an excellent supporting cast, including John Le Mesurier as his exasperated boss and Irene Handl as his landlady, outraged at the nudity of his sculpture ‘Aphrodite at the Waterhole’. It’s also on DVD, and I think it’s brilliant.

Michael Bentine – another great actor and writer. He was, as I’m sure many people reading this well know, a member of the Goons, whom he left quite early on. He also had a number of his own series, including Square World and the one I remember, Michael Bentine’s Potty Time. This featured small ‘Potty’ puppets acting out various historical events, like the Battle of Waterloo. He had a similar puppet series, the Bumblies, which got MI5 interested in him. The Bumblies were puppets, but they were supposed to be operated by remote control. This would have been quite an advance at the time, as radio control was impossible because it interfered with the cameras and other equipment. According to Bentine, he left his house and got on the bus to go to work as usual one morning when he was met by someone from the security services, who asked him to follow him upstairs for a little chat. He wanted to know how the Bumblies worked. Bentine explained that they were puppets and not radio controlled at all. ‘Oh thank God!’ said the Man from the Ministry, ‘we thought you were going to defect!’ That gave Bentine the vision of Bumby Six hurtling towards Russia on a missile.

He was also very much into the paranormal, following his father, an engineer who was keenly interested in psychical research. Like the other Goons, he also fought in the Second World War, though he was a member of a bomber crew in the RAF. He was deeply anti-Fascist, and strongly believed that the Nazis had come to power through real black magic. In the 90s he toured the country with his one-man show, From the Sublime to the Paranormal. I and a few friends went to see him when it came to Bristol. He was a hilarious raconteur, especially when describing how the army chased him round Britain to get him to join up when he was touring in repertory theatre. Wherever they were playing, his name was naturally on the cast list. When he asked the army, why they had ignored the posters for the theatre company when they finally caught up with him, they replied that they thought it was a ruse! During the performance he also demonstrated the power of the Nazis use of light and sound to mesmerise their audience. He described the Nuremberg rallies and the way it would start with the great searchlights blazing up into the sky as a ‘temple of light’. Then the drumbeats would start up, performed by the Hitler Youth, the twisted version of the boy scouts, and the soldiers and Nazis would start chanting ‘Ein Volk! Ein Reich! Ein Fuhrer!’ He repeated this, getting louder each time, and the lighting in the theatre dropped. The atmosphere immediately changed, became far more sinister. Then he snapped out of it, and said, ‘Sorry to scare the sh*t out of you.’ A friend of mine told me later that wasn’t the reason he cut that bit short. He reckoned it was because some people were responding to it in the way the Nazis intended. He asked me if I hadn’t noticed the pair in one of the boxes who were nearly out of their seats giving the salute. He was very critical of the power of television and the way it could be used for propaganda and mass brainwashing and urged people to complain if they saw anything they found offensive.

I think he was also very scientifically interested and literate. He appeared a long time ago on the Beeb’s popular science programme, Tomorrow’s World, presenting his own scheme for turning the Amazon jungle into productive farmland. And then there was the flea circus. This was entirely mechanical but was supposed to be worked by fleas performing high dives and so on. He was interviewed by Wogan when the dulcet-toned Irishman took over from Parkinson back in the 1980s. He told the broadcasting legend that he’d been stopped by customs when he tried to take it into America. The customs officer thought that he was bringing real fleas into the country. And so Bentine had to show him the entire act in order to convince him that it was, indeed, mechanical.

From the Sublime to the Paranormal was broadcast on the radio back in the ’90s. I don’t know whether it’s available on CD or on YouTube. He also wrote his autobiography and two books on spiritualism and the paranormal, The Door Marked Summer and Doors of the Mind. He was truly another great titan of British comedy.

The Changing Tory Prime Ministers as ‘Carry On’ Film Farce

October 28, 2022

I was talking to a friend a few days ago, who joked that the change of Tory Prime Ministers was so farcical and stupid it was like a ‘Carry On’ film. And this inspired me to create the satirical drawing below, ‘Carry On, Prime Minister’. I thought the film would star Kenneth Williams as Rishi Sunak, Sid James as Boris Johnson, ’cause James always played bawdy schemers, while Liz Truss would be played by Barbara Windsor. I’ve therefore drawn Sunak and co. as those leading members of the ‘Carry On’ team, giving them the Williams’, James’ and Windsor’s faces with their hairstyles. Kenneth Williams actually doesn’t look much different as Sunak. This suggests the horrifying prospect that one day Sunak will arise in parliament and say, ‘Oooooh, no! Matron! ‘Ere, stop messin’ about’, and greet foreign dignitaries by telling them how ‘bona it is to barda their dolly old eke again’. I’ve also showed the characters from the BBC comedy series, Yes, Minister, and Yes, Prime Minister, looking on, highly perplexed. Because compared to these machinations and shenanigans, the Jim Hacker, Minister for Administrative Affairs, and his civil service team of Sir Humphrey Appleby and Bernard look like political titans.

The writing at the bottom reads ‘Humphrey, are they all morons?’ ‘Yes, Prime Minister’.

EDIJester Explains the Difference Between Drag and Drag Queen Story Hour

October 22, 2022

This is another excursion into the issue of the trans ideology and specifically that of Drag Queen Story Hour. There have been many protests against it both here and in America. This has largely been done by right-wingers deeply concerned that the drag queens reading the stories are paedophiles seeking to groom children. Unfortunately, in some cases that seems to be very plausible, as when young children have been taken to drag performances in bars and encouraged to dance with the performers or in drag themselves, with the gay clientele throwing money at them. There is, however, an ideological angle to Drag Queen Story Hour that is significant, but rarely discussed. According to mathematician and staunch critic of postmodernism, James Lindsey, at least some of the drag queens involved in this are supporters of Queer Theory, a postmodern doctrine that seeks to exploit and promote people’s unhappiness with their gender identity or sexuality to create a mentally unstable cadre ready for Marxist revolution. It has absolutely nothing to do with, and indeed is deeply hostile to, the idea of creating a more tolerant society towards gay people, and gay youngsters comfortable with their sexuality/sexual identity and respected, functional members of society. This would be supporting a bourgeois order that the people who promote Queer Theory are pledged to destroy.

EDIJester is another gay critic of the trans ideology. He runs a warrior teachers programme training people from all walks of life in how recognise and combat the trans ideology. I’m not in agreement with all his pronouncements, as he has told people to vote Conservative in a recent video. This is presumably due to Keir Starmer and Labour defending the trans movement, refusing to give the LGB Alliance, a group of gay men and women to seek to promote gay rights without the inclusion of trans people, a place at the Labour party conference and the party’s stated intention of banning all conversion therapies. It is feared that this will mean that only treatments for trans people that affirm their condition will be legal, even if this is inappropriate and harmful. I profoundly disagree with Labour’s policy on the trans issue but feel that at the moment Labour is the best option for defending working people and the NHS from privatisation, welfare cuts, poverty and starvation. More Conservative government will be utterly disastrous for these issues.

I’m putting this video, ‘Let’s Talk about Drag and Queer Performativity – Drag Part One’ up here because it tackles Drag Queen Story Hour from a fresh perspective. This differentiates sharply between traditional drag and Drag Queen Story Hour. He begins by drawing a sharp distinction between British and American drag, as in RuPaul’s Drag Race. British drag was mainstream and not completely gay – straight men often did it, like the Bernard Breslaw in one of the Carry On films and the late, great Les Dawson. There was also the camp humour from gay men, who were forced into show business because of society’s intolerance. This created Kenneth Williams and the Polari language in Round the Horne, Larry Grayson and John Inman, for example. He states that there were no ideological motives behind traditional drag – all they wanted to do was to separate you from as much of your money as possible by the time you staggered out drunk. They also raise money for charity. He knows a number of drag performers himself, having carried one of them back to the performer’s own house at the end of an evening of alcoholic and chemical refreshment. He mentions approvingly a traditional drag act oop north somewhere, Funny Girls. He states that American drag has a heterosexual bias, in that in Mrs Doubtfire the hero cross-dresses so he can see his wife and children.

Drag Queen Story Hour is different. And it isn’t about paedophiles preying on young children either. It’s about promoting Queer Theory, often mixed with Critical Race Theory by reading children’s books written from these standpoints. Like retellings of the Three Little Pigs where the pigs are black, brown and pink for gay, and the wolf is white. It’s this highly ideological, genuinely subversive literature he warns people about, not drag or drag queens themselves.

It’s an excellent perspective which draws a needed distinction between drag as a traditional form of entertainment, which boasted great and much-loved performers as Danny La Rue, the Two Ronnies, Lily Savage, and Les Dawson, and its contemporary abuse as a form of ideological propaganda.

Satirical Sketches of Truss, Kwarteng, Coffey and & Kenneth Williams

October 14, 2022

Brian’s suggestion that now ex-chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng should be nicknamed ‘Khazi’, after the Khazi of Kalabar, played by Kenneth Williams in Carry on the Kyber gave me a few ideas for more sketches. I sketched Williams as the Khazi, and then drew him as Julius Caesar in Carry On, Cleo, because that’s the movie I mostly remembered the flared nostrils and arched delivery from. I’m afraid neither of the sketches are exactly like Williams, though the sketch of the Khazi is the better of the two. Now that Truss has stabbed Kwarteng in the back, it seems particularly serendipitous that I did the sketch of Caesar, with the bug-eyes staring down at the protruding dagger. So, I’ve done a small sketch of Kwarteng as Caesar. Below that sketch is Coffey as the Butterball cenobite from Hellraiser. And after seeing the photo of Truss with the mad staring eyes and open mouth as if she’d just gone utterly bonkers on the cover of Private Eye, I couldn’t resist sketching her being dragged off to the psychiatric ward. I’d like to work some of these up into proper sketches later. I hope you like them.

Cartoon: Carry on Apprentice

March 14, 2020

Hi, and welcome to another of my cartoons. This is one is a little bit different. I’ve decided to lighten the mood a little bit, and so it’s a bit of a break from satirising the Tory party and its monstrous denizens. This time it’s a mock movie poster for a ‘Carry On’ film of the Beeb’s The Apprentice. It’s because I noticed a certain physical similarity between Alan Sugar and Nick Hewer with Sid James and Kenneth Williams. And I have to say I’d rather watch Joan Sims than Tory shill Karen Brady.

So here it is. The slogan reads ‘There’s no decorum in the boardroom of Alan Nookie PLC’. I’ve also written a number of fake quotes for it like those that appear on movie posters. They are

‘Good rollicking fun’ – The Sun

‘Sheer sexist filth’ – Everyone born after 1980

‘Waugh! Waugh!’ – the late Side James.

I don’t think you could revive the ‘Carry On’ films today, as society has moved on so much from their heyday in the ’60s and ’70s’. The last film, Carry On Columbus, released in 1992 during 50th celebrations of Columbus’ discovery of America, was a flop despite having a cast that included Maureen Lipman, Julian Clary and Alexei Sayle. However, some of that style of humour would still be acceptable. Some of the visual gags in the Austin Powers movies, for example, owe something to the Carry On films and I can’t see some of the other gags causing offence, either. Like the cry of Kenneth Williams’ Julius Caesar in Carry On Cleo as he’s assassinated ‘Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!’ And then there’s that sequence in Carry On Screaming when Harry H. Corbet’s detective and his sidekick, played by Peter Butterworth, try working out on blackboard what the clues mean.

‘Right – is it fair play, or foul?’ asks Corbet.

‘Oh, foul, Inspector’. Corbet writes ‘foul’ on the blackboard.

‘Right, what makes us think it was foul?’

‘The footprints.’

‘Feet, right’. He writes ‘Feet’ on the board. ‘Anything else?’

‘The smell, Inspector’.

‘The smell!’ He write ‘smell on the blackboard.

‘What else?’

‘They saw something, something horrible’.

‘Something horrible’, he writes this on the board.

Corbet stands back. He asks, ‘And so, looking at the board, what have we got?’

Butterworth reads out ‘Foul feet smell something horrible’.

Okay, it’s schoolboy humour, but I still find it funny. And unlike the attitudes in the movies to sex and women, which are very ’70s, that kind of humour and punning could still be included in movies today without causing offence. Possibly also the double entendres. Julian Clary and others have said that they enjoyed the camp humour of radio shows like Round the Horne, which are similar to those of the Carry On films in that regard. This would require far more care, though.

Anyway, I hope this gives you a laugh. And don’t let the Tories give you nightmares.