Friday, May 01, 2009

Carry On Round the Horne with Hancock

Last Christmas we gave Tim an iPod, and due to technical difficulties which, quite frankly, I don't understand, Tim couldn't upload anything to the device through his own computer. As I'd given Christopher an iPod the Christmas before, and he had quite a lot of music and audio files on his own computer, he simply uploaded it all to Tim's, which was fine with everyone. However, not long after the New Year, Tim was scrolling through his iPod library and discovered something called Round the Horne: specifically, dozens of episodes of the BBC radio series from the 1960s, which Christopher had transferred, by the miracle of modern technology, from a number of cassette tapes to his iPod.

We knew Tim had discovered the shows because he was going about the house convulsed with laughter, listening to them over and over and repeating huge chunks of dialogue to us at every opportunity. It's not hard to see what appealed; even forty years on the shows are fresh and funny, full of witty dialogue, wonderful recurring characters, memorable catchphrases, and the sort of skilled playing by veteran actors (in the picture above we have, from left to right, Hugh Paddick, Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Horne, Betty Marsden, and BBC announcer Douglas Smith) that one associates with classic British comedy. Before long Tim could pick out who was who, replicate accents and voices, even sing along with close harmony group the Fraser Hayes Four (who provided a serious musical interlude on each show; if you see Tim at World Fantasy in San Jose, ask him to do 'Alexander's Ragtime Band'). It wasn't long before Christopher pointed out that if Tim liked Round the Horne (which he obviously did), he'd probably also enjoy Hancock's Half Hour, a number of episodes of which were also on his iPod. . . .

And thus it was that Tim discovered Tony Hancock (l), ably supported by both Kenneth Williams and Sid James (r). Round the Horne maintained first place in his affections; but he enjoyed the Hancock episodes as well, and sought out a few of the television shows courtesy of YouTube. Kenneth Williams remained his favourite actor, and various of his Round the Horne creations - Gruntfuttock, Julian, Rambling Syd, Dr. Chou-En Ginsburg, M.A. (failed) - were heard about the house at all hours, and at the drop of a hat.

One night last week, while Christopher was a school board meeting, I thought that Tim would probably enjoy watching the 2000 movie Cor, Blimey!. Although the thrust (ooh, Matron!) of the film is the relationship between Sid James and Barbara Windsor, stars of the cheeky( and much loved) Carry On comedy films, Kenneth Williams (superbly played by Adam Godley) is one of the main supporting characters, and I wondered what Tim would make of seeing Williams (and James, to an extent) played by others in a film. The movie opens at Pinewood Studios in 1964, as a young dresser arrives for her first day on the job. In the studio she stops in front of framed pictures of the real Williams and James, which then change into photographs of the actors playing them in the film. 'The actor playing Sid James looks more like him than the actor playing Kenneth Williams does' said Tim critically; but as soon as the actors playing Williams and James appeared, he was transfixed (James is played in the film by Geoffrey Hutchings). 'He sounds just like Sid James!' said Tim approvingly, of Hutchings, and he said the same of Godley as Kenneth Williams. He hasn't yet seen any of the Carry On films, but I have a feeling it's only a matter of time.

Tonight we watched Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa!, a 2006 TV movie about Williams's life, largely drawn from his diaries (published posthumously). It stars Michael Sheen as Williams, and is by turns hilarious and horrifying, showing as does an immensely gifted but intensely conflicted man whose death (due to an overdose of barbituates) in 1988 was probably suicide (although a merciful coroner returned an open verdict). Perhaps the highlight of the movie, for Tim, was a scene which shows a recording of an episode of Round the Horne; the look on his face was priceless as he realised what it was, and saw Stephen Critchlow (as Kenneth Horne), Guy Henry (as Hugh Paddick), and Sheen launch into a 'Julian and Sandy' skit ('That's really from one of the episodes!' said Tim in a whisper; compare the picture of Sheen and Henry above with the picture of Paddick and Williams at the top of the piece). By the end of the film, though - which ends (apart from a brief coda) with the final words of the final entry of Williams's diary, written on the day he died: 'Oh, what's the bloody point?' - Tim was thoughtful. 'He was a lonely man, wasn't he?' he said after; then, 'If I had a time machine, I'd like to go back and meet Kenneth Williams.' I don't know whether Williams would be pleased or not to know that he has a fan in someone who was born in another country, eleven years after he (Williams) died; I'd like to think he would be. I expect we'll be hearing a lot more Round the Horne in these parts; I console myself with the thought that there are a lot worse things Tim could be listening to. . . .