Tuesday, 29 January 2008

60 - Julian and Sandy, 1965-1968

Written by Marty Feldman and Barry Took.
Performed by Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick

(l-r: Hugh Paddick, Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Horne, Betty Marsden and Douglas Smith)

In my last post about Marty Feldman, I wrote that was the only time he’d played gay. What I totally overlooked, is that Feldman was responsible for writing two of the most famous British gay characters ever. With his writing partner Barry Took, Feldman was responsible for all the scripts on the radio comedy series “Round the Horne”. The series consisted of broad puns, unusual innuendoes and double-entendres, and weirdly comic scenarios, with the actors’ extravagant characterisations and catchphrases all orbiting around the imperturbably stolid host, Kenneth Horne. The show ran for four seasons, on Sunday afternoons, from 1965 to 1968, and won audiences of up to 15 million people. Aside from parodies and running comedy serials within the show, there were a wide range of regular characters. The two most famous are Julian (performed by Hugh Paddick) and Sandy (performed by Kenneth Williams) who appeared in almost every episode. Besides being two camp gay men on radio for a mass audience, the sketches introduced an unwitting British public to the gay slang Polari.

The daring in the appearance of these sketches was that previously there had been an outright ban on gay characters on comedy radio shows. In 1949 the “Green Book” set BBC policy for variety writers and producers. One of its commandments was that there was “an absolute ban upon jokes about effeminacy in men”. This is a mild code, since no gay man could be really masculine, but it meant that not even the horrid word homosexual had to be used in banning them. And so any obvious representations of gay men in comedy were forbidden. Any humorous jokes about gay men had to be sufficiently ingenious that it would escape the notice of some BBC official or other.

Aside from the actors' vigorous performances, the sketches stood out for their use of strange words with apparently hidden meanings. The audiences were not to know that these words were in fact Polari. Bona, butch, eke, lallies, dolly, omi-polone, were thrown about with abandon. But as the sketches were a regular feature, repetition of Polari words and phrases meant the audience gradually grew to decipher them, even if they remained ignorant of their gay origin. The writers and performers however were not. Feldman had worked in travelling sideshows and in the theatre, so was aware of the various slangs. Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams were gay, and therefore were already fluent in Polari. Indeed, Williams would often drop into the tones of Sandy to liven up a quiz show appearance or an interview.

The sketches usually involved Horne visiting some new commercial venture - Bona Books, Bona Pets, Bona Drag, Bona Law, etc. As Horne entered, Julian (Hugh Paddick) would say "Ooh hello! I'm Julian and this is my friend Sandy!" Sandy (Williams) then often following with “Why Mr Horne, how bona to vada your dolly old eke”. The pair were bright and chirpy, offering a torrent of polari and barely concealed innuendo to the bemused Horne’s questions. The importance of the urbane Horne cannot be overlooked, since he effectively represented the public and therefore made the outrageous pair palatable for popular radio.

The characters were originally conceived as two ageing old out of work actors, but the producer thought the characters were too sad and suggested making them younger "chorus boy" types. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore would also explore the comedy inherent in out-of-work gay actors having to get by as domestics for hire in their show “Behind the Fridge”.

Instead of being posh, nancy-boys, the two were gossipy queens, slightly bitchy, speaking in a camp East End demotic laced with Polari. At this late date they are old stereotypes but at the time they were fresh and new, the first of thir kind to be seen by the British public. How many at the time knew the characters were gay, and how many though they were just odd funny men, is a question that may now be unanswerable. The audience of the time would appear to have loved the two characters. They were not held up to ridicule or made the butt of cheap homophobic jokes. The exuberance of the performances was funny itself without the audience necessarily being in on secret gay codes.

In a 1975 radio show, Kenneth Williams said he had started to use homosexual humour on the Kenneth Horne shows, his aim had been to disarm prejudiced heterosexuals who were scared of homosexuals. By bringing humour to the matter he hoped people would begin to show more tolerance. But he attacked those who with limp wrists and a few crude double entendres made cheap laughs and ridiculed homosexuals in the process. (Reported in “Gay News”)

While gay men had been big fans of Julian and Sandy in the 60s and early 70s, the change in gay self- identity meant that the two characters were strongly repudiated in the mid 70s, lumped in with the likes of Larry Grayson and Mr Humphries perpetuating unflattering stereotypes. Gay Lib and its struggle for positive images of gay men meant that reissues of old Julian and Sandy sketches on LPs received hostile reviews in “Gay News”. The Round the Horne Society was refused affiliation with the C.H.E (Campaign for Homosexual Equality) because its celebration of comic poofs was embarrassing to the cause.

This website has transcripts of some of the "Julian and Sandy" sketches

Here is a good place to find out more about Polari

No comments: