Friday 4 September 2009, 18:00
It was thirty-nine pages of green paper, a carbon-copy, in amongst hundreds of scripts and notes I'd bought from a young man in Devon. In late 2005 he'd listed on eBay a framed photograph that his description claimed had once belonged to Kenneth Williams. The starting bid was 99p, there were no bidders. It turned out he was Williams's godson, left £30,000 and fifty-percent of the comedy-actor's belongings when he had died in mysterious circumstances in 1988. To raise money for a snow-boarding holiday, the godson planned to put each item on the site, piece by piece. I asked how much he'd take for all of it and to my delight we did a deal; it felt right that this collection should stay together.
While other teenagers in the nineties were mad for Oasis, I lay in my bedroom listening to cassette tapes of The Goons and Hancock's Half Hour loaned from Manchester's Central Library. For some peculiar reason this love had never extended to Beyond Our Ken and Round the Horne. Yet, as I lay in bed over a decade later, assessing my newly acquired hoard for a new biography of Williams, I began to read the green script. The voices, the sound effects, the jokes, came alive. Headed "Twice Ken is Plenty", the pages only featured Kenneths Horne and Williams. I'd just assumed it was the latter's copy of a Round the Horne episode. Unlike the majority of the other papers it didn't have any of his own annotations, nor did it include the other members of the team (Betty Marsden, Hugh Paddick and the like). Eventually I wanted to hear it for myself, but a call to the BBC archive put me in the picture: "No, it's not one we have listed." I vividly remember thinking this'd make a great radio show in the same style as Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel, another Radio 4 favourite of mine wherein actors re-created old Marx Brothers' scripts.
So, here we are in 2009 with the two best Kenneth Williams and Kenneth Horne impersonators, an audience of hundreds, in the historic Radio Theatre in Broadcasting House, and before my eyes (and ears) it is happening. I imagine in my mind that it's the Sixties, pretending it's for real, which, if you close your eyes, it certainly is. I've since had emails saying as much. Within a few hours one of Williams's friends wrote, "About a third of the way into listening I forgot it wasn't Williams or Horne... it sounded to me like a bona fide 60s episode! Utterly authentic."
And I'm thrilled it hit a right note with his fans, whose appetite for anything Kenneth is insatiable. Why is that? Why does he intrigue us so much? Why, after dozens of documentaries, best of compilations, and his diaries, letters and my own book utilizing all this unseen material, do we still need more? For me, it's the paradox of the broken-hearted clown, the man who was loved by millions but who found it impossible to love himself. Add to that his exceptional talent, his amusing vocal dexterity and his ability to appeal to all ages, all generations, and you have a unique man who is exceptionally hard to forget.
Wes Butters is the presenter and co-producer of Twice Ken is Plenty
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