Discuss

ROUND THE HORNE - REVISITED

  • TrevorCooper on Tuesday, 22nd June 2010

    I hope what I am about to say on't be taken as heresy by R7 listeners, and I'd start by saying that I am a firm fan of RTH in general and Kenneth Horne in particular.

    In the summer of 1969, just months after KHs death, Radio 4 repeated the final 1968 series of RTH on Saturday evenings as a tribute to him. I distinctly remember feeling at the time that the final series was not quite so funny, but put it down to the fact that it was so soon after KHs death (it may sound absurd but KHs death affected me quite deeply - in many ways, KH reminded me of my own grandfather who died around the same time).

    However, 40 plus years on, going through that last series again, I STILL feel it isn't quite on a level with the first three series, and having been prefaced by the two series of RTHs replacement "Stop Messing About" (but what or who could have "replaced" KH?), I seem to feel that RTH series 4 would have morphed into SMA especily as Betty wouldn't have been part of it).

    I have tried to analyse this (a dangerous thing to do with comedy - as Tony hancock's constant self-analysis proved), and the only thing I can think of is that, thanks to the 1968 budget cuts we lost part of the RTH "family" - Bill Pertwee AND the Frazer Hayes Four.

    I know many boardees have said in the past that the inclusion of TFHF in RTH was an anocronism, being a fairly fifties type vocal group, but at least they sung sunny cheerful things like "My Resistance Is Low (Hoagy Carmichael) Serenata (Leroy Anderson) Nice Work If You Get It (Cole Porter), that cheered up the ambience of Sunday afternoon, but with their departure, the "musical break" almost verges on the concert-party of the thirties (for example poor old Douglas Smith with "Nobody Loves A Fairy When She's Forty", Noel Cowards "There Are Bad Times Just Around the Corner", last weeks (June 18th) selection, and I know we have coming Betty doing "Sell No More Drink To My Father" an Edwardian ditty. If TFHF sounded dated in `1965/6/7 these musical gems in 1968 sounded even worse.

    I think the juxatopsoition of the first half with that, then the modern stuff with Jules and Sand etc leads to quite awkward listening, and quite frankly, I wish they would edit out these 1968 musical items, as they do the show no favours (keep Max Harris's playout music on the end of the tape instead)

    Does anyone else agree with me?. Of course, there were are ARE some good things in '68 - the sex-mad Australian Shiela for example, but Bill's departure meant no more Sheamus Android (Simon Dee wasn't a great replacement!), so it's swings and roundabouts, but if I were ever Comedy Cntrller for the morning, there certainly WOULD be a RTH but it would be one from the first three seasons (probably to pick one of my favourites the 1965 "She" with 300 year old Betty Marsden ("see this pool beneath the throne?", and the two Ken's going up the Limpopo)

  • Message 2. Posted by TrevorCooper on Tuesday, 22nd June 2010 permalink

    P.S. I should also have said that the final series wasn't written by Took and Feldman, but Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke were quite "modern" writers, who had TV succeses liek "Father Dear Father", so I think it is the budget cuts and cast loses rather than the writing which make RTH series 4 less successful to me)

  • Message 3. Posted by Splanky on Tuesday, 22nd June 2010 permalink

    Er, so why can't it be the writers? The ability to write a succcessful mainstream sitcom doesn't necessarily translate into what RTH needs.

    In the best of the Took and Feldman scripts, as I've probably before on one thread or another, you frequently had the sense that the pair were getting bored with a scenario just before you could be and would suddenly veer off in another direction or bring matters to an end in some audacious way. I don't know whether or not this was the same with Johnny Mortimer and Brian Cooke - I haven't consciously compared scripts - but certainly that sense of Took and Feldman scampering along, going where the mood took them, was a big part of the enjoyment of their scripts: not simply the gags but the sense that you were privy to their thought processes, their changing moods as they wrote.

    Has anyone compared scripts by the two teams in detail and can Mortimer and Cooke be said to do something similar?

  • Message 4. Posted by Jrgboy on Tuesday, 22nd June 2010 permalink

    I think you are right about the final series - I may have said this before but whereas Barry & Marty wrote together in this series Barry wrote the Kenny Williams stuff - Gruntfuttock, Ranbling Sid & Julian & Sandy alone & Brian & Johnnie , who were recommended by Edward Taylor, added the other stuff like Judy Coolibar etc, so I don't think it flowed so well as before, If there had been one more series maybe the idea of just the 'two Kens' would have been the direction the show would have gone ?

  • Message 5. Posted by Guy Barry on Tuesday, 22nd June 2010 permalink

    I agree that having a "straight" musical number performed by the cast was a mistake - they're obviously not professional musicians, so why should anyone want to listen to them? I don't think the rest of the programmes are that bad, though I must admit to being a bit baffled by the significance of "Radio Balls Pond Road".

    One small query: why was the signature tune changed for the fourth series?

  • Message 6. Posted by TrevorCooper on Tuesday, 22nd June 2010 permalink

    Guy. The budget cuts meant that the show could no longer afford the full orchestra, whose MD was Edward Brabin. A smaller (septet) was employed, and at the time Max Harris did a lot of music for radio and TV (I think he wrote the Porddidge theme - he tended to do all the BBC shows the late Ronnie Hazelhurstcouldn't handle). Many of the musicians MH used were great at "doubling" so it sounds a much bigger band.

    That's why TFHF went too - cost cutting. It was either the musicians or the sequins for Shirley Bassey's TV spectaculars that had to go and Shirl won! smiley - smiley

  • Message 7. Posted by Guy Barry on Tuesday, 22nd June 2010 permalink

    The budget cuts meant that the show could no longer afford the full orchestra, whose MD was Edward Brabin.


    (Edwin Braden, I think.)

    Surely the Max Harris group was capable of playing the original signature tune, though? It wasn't just the arrangement that was changed, it was the actual tune. Was there some sort of copyright issue?

  • Message 8. Posted by TrevorCooper on Tuesday, 22nd June 2010 permalink

    Sorry Guy. I have a rotten keyboard - and I am a rotten typist - but I am not telling you anything you don't already know smiley - smiley

    I don't know if EB was invited to remain being MD, but I think he only conducted whereas Max Harris played piano (and vibes on occassion) so there was no need to employ a pianist, and he was a consummate arranger who could get a "big sound" from meagre resources.

    Perhaps they also felt it was a good opportunity to "update" the show (though the musical items in 1968 made that idea, if that is what it was, stillborn).

    There was a lot of brass in the original orchestrations (and I don't mean Lady Counterblast) in 68 you were down to two trumpets, doubling flugelhorns (one of whom was usually the late Les Conden, a jazz trumpet player), no trombones, a couple of saxes doubling clarient/flute etc.

    But let's not forget somebody who took part each week in all 4 series and never got a credit - Rambling Syd Rumpo's guitar was played by Terry Walsh, who managed to survive the 1968 budget cuts

  • Message 9. Posted by ruardean on Tuesday, 22nd June 2010 permalink

    Thanks for your highly informative post Trevor. I agree, the first 3 series of RTH are funnier than the 4th, in the same way that I find Beyond Our Ken not as funny as RTH.
    I can only conclude that it must be the writing.
    Took & Feldman ran with the baton that Eric Merriman passed them quite brilliantly
    As you say, analysis is a waste of time. You just know when something works.

  • Message 10. Posted by TrevorCooper on Tuesday, 22nd June 2010 permalink

    Some of the BBCs "economy drives" have been as self-defeating as they were inexplcable. For exampl, round about the time they felt they could no longer afford Bill Pertwee and TFHF on RTH, they had another brilliant idea. The weekly series "Jazz Club" was broadcast live on Wednesday evenings 2015-2200 from the Playhouse Theatre. It was decided this was too big a strain on their resources and the Playhouse shouldn't be tied up for an hour and three quarters each week, so they made the decision to shorten the programme to sixty minutes (OK so they only had to pay two bands intead of three), but it was considered more "economic" to deport us to the old Camden Theatre -(next to Mornington Crescent Station, by the way for Clue fans)- where we were pre-recorded on Monday and Tuesday evenings. What they "saved" in paying a trio or quartet got used on recording tape!.

    I dread the BBC when it is in economy drive mode, which makes me think of BBC Radio 4 Xtra and what will happen to Radio 7...........

  • Message 11. Posted by Jrgboy on Tuesday, 22nd June 2010 permalink

    It would be interesting to see what the budget for the show was before & after the 1968 cuts

  • Message 12. Posted by anotherbob on Tuesday, 22nd June 2010 permalink

    I must admit to being a bit baffled by the significance of "Radio Balls Pond Road".

    I think it might be a (derogatory) reference to the newly introduced Radio 1. Though I know of no connection between the Balls Pond Rd. and Radio 1. RTH was regularly rather dismissive of the contemporary 'pop' culture viz. the regular mocking of Simon Dee.

  • Message 13. Posted by TrevorCooper on Tuesday, 22nd June 2010 permalink

    Actually quite a vfew shows of the day were taking the mickey out of the then new "local" radio. Do you remember ISIRTA had "Radio Prune" in 1970(?) and "Listen To This Space" launched their own local station while Charles Hill was still BBC head ("Lord Hill will be wild when he hears our music", to the famous "Hills are alive" from The Sound Of Music).

    I think they had a thing about thge Balls Pond Road, a couple of years earlier Fiona was reminicing about their encounters to Charles"

    "And do you remember that night in Budapest?"
    "Ah, Budapest, How COULD I forget?...."

    "I...er... no I don't remember that night....."

    "And that night in the doorway of the horse meat shop in the Balls Pond Road?"

  • Message 14. Posted by Sunshine Superman on Tuesday, 22nd June 2010 permalink

    Once again, a good meaty discussion on the programmes as opposed to the fork-jabbing at the BBC7 announcers' mistakes (not that they don't need it, on occasion!).

    I love the end theme for Series Four of RTH, not the least because I can recognise that the tune is based around the title, Round The Horne (three notes, two short, one long, as in the title's syllables) and a lot of composers do that when looking for an idea (cf John Williams' theme for the Superman films).

    My favourite moments of Series Four include Gruntfuttock's song of being a street veg-seller, and the Judy Coolibar moments!

  • Message 15. Posted by Guy Barry on Tuesday, 22nd June 2010 permalink

    I love the end theme for Series Four of RTH, not the least because I can recognise that the tune is based around the title, Round The Horne


    So was the theme for the first three series! This is why the change seemed particularly pointless to me.

  • Message 16. Posted by TrevorCooper on Tuesday, 22nd June 2010 permalink

    "My favourite moments of Series Four include Gruntfuttock's song of being a street veg-seller, and the Judy Coolibar moments! "

    I think Miss Coolibar was THE character from 1968. "Keep your hands on the desk Bluie, for all I know you might be making obscene gestures under that table"

    KH: "I wouldn't dream of such a thing!"

    JC: "What are you - some kinda puritan or something?"

  • Message 17. Posted by TrevorCooper on Tuesday, 22nd June 2010 permalink

    "So was the theme for the first three series! This is why the change seemed particularly pointless to me."

    Honestly Guy it was economics. I think the original orchestra was 16 pieces, and Max Harris was contracted to provide a septet. I knew one of the trumpet players in the Max Harris Group (sadly no longer with us) and he said how much he looked forward to Monday mornings (10 a.m. rehearsal, Midday recording, free by 1.30).

    Years earlier after series 3 of Hancock's Half Hour because of cutbacks all the incidental music had to be re-recorded by Wally Stott (Angela Morley) for a smaller goup because of the Musicians Union requirement for being paid repeat fees etc. It might seem like penny-pinching to us......and indeed it was.

  • Message 18. Posted by Sunshine Superman on Tuesday, 22nd June 2010 permalink

    You really would have thought that by series four the Powers That Be would have realised that here was a Series Of Outstanding Historical and Mirthmaking Importance, and they'd best leave it alone lest they'd be judged by posterity as interfering pennypinchers and fusspots. Well, you would, wouldn't you?

    Obviously they didn't. And history judges them....

  • Message 19. Posted by Jrgboy on Wednesday, 23rd June 2010 permalink

    I'm afraid the cuts were an across the board for the whole Light Entertainment area - lots of stuff was wiped as well in order to save money, I think its sheer luck that RTH & BOK survived when shows like Men from the Ministry & The Navy Lark have large gaps in their archive

  • Message 20. Posted by Guy Barry on Wednesday, 23rd June 2010 permalink

    "So was the theme for the first three series! This is why the change seemed particularly pointless to me."

    Honestly Guy it was economics.


    Economics forced them to change the *tune*? What are you saying - that certain notes cost more than others to play?

    I understand that they had to scale down the forces. But they could very easily have played an arrangement of the old signature tune if they wanted to. Instead they wrote a new one.

    It's not an important issue.

  • Message 21. Posted by TrevorCooper on Wednesday, 23rd June 2010 permalink

    Guy: I don't think it would have been feasible to have adaptd the original sig tune, with it's full compliment of brass alone, to a seven piece,( two brass, two woodwind and rythym section).

    Also, it wasn't unusual to update sig tunes in the late sixties, just as they often do now.

    I must admit I prefer the Max Harris sig tune to the original one, and it was in part because it made the show sound more modern it made the 1968 musical items in the middle of the show sound even more antique. But of course, this is just personal preference.

    From memory I think the Take It From Here opening got changed after a couple of years. Though it's not often heard on the R7 repeats, the show play-out was a fairly lengthy version of Cole Porter's Just One Of Those Things, arranged by Harry Rabinowitz, which was used from 1957 onwards, and The Goon Show frequently changed it's music at the end, from the Old Comade's March to Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead. I always remember after the playout you got the late Max Geldray improvising on Crazy Rytyhm, on a couple of occassions quoting from Charlie Parker compositions - I bet Larry Adler couldn't have done that!

  • Message 22. Posted by Rhys Phillips on Thursday, 24th June 2010 permalink

    Thu, 24 Jun 2010 08:13 GMT, in reply to TrevorCooper in message 21

    Guy: I don't think it would have been feasible to have adaptd the original sig tune, with it's full compliment of brass alone, to a seven piece,( two brass, two woodwind and rythym section).


    Oh I'm sure it would Trev, it would sound different of course but most tunes can be adapted for any group of instruments. I forget the name of the group now, but somewhere I have a recording of a jazz trio performing the theme from Thunderbirds which usually requires a whole orchestra. I've also played in a seven piece jazz lineup where we've performed slimmed down versions of full 20 piece big band arrangements.

    Maybe they just wanted to refresh things? That still happens with the more contemporary shows - Jo Caulfield had three series of "It's That Jo Caulfield Again" and each series used a different theme song. Four at the Store seemed to change the theme music each time they changed host as well.

  • Message 23. Posted by TrevorCooper on Thursday, 24th June 2010 permalink

    "
    Maybe they just wanted to refresh things?"

    Yes I am sure you are right. Remember, nobody at the time knew that would be the lst series of RTH, and Max's music for Stop Messing About was for the same size ensemble with identicl instrumentation.

  • Message 24. Posted by Guy Barry on Friday, 2nd July 2010 permalink

    Can I just add that the musical interlude in today's programme (Kenneth Horne signing "Oh Lucky Jim") is the most cringe-makingly awful I've heard yet.

  • Message 25. Posted by Guy Barry on Friday, 2nd July 2010 permalink

    "Signing" should be "singing", of course!

  • Message 26. Posted by IvorThirst on Saturday, 3rd July 2010 permalink

    Sat, 03 Jul 2010 10:13 GMT, in reply to Guy Barry in message 24

    I'm in agreement with you there, Guy. Perhaps he would have been better, if he had 'signed'. I did wonder at the time if they had passed KH's bucket on to Jeremy Hardy, because that is the only way that either could/can carry a tune.

    At least both of them were liberally dusted with the comedy 'magic dust'.

    Ivor smiley - winkeye

  • Message 27. Posted by Jrgboy on Saturday, 3rd July 2010 permalink

    I was at the recording when Kenneth Horne 'sang' - I seemed to remember he wasn't happy doing it, he screwed up the sheet music & tossed it behind him as I recall..

  • Message 28. Posted by TrevorCooper on Monday, 5th July 2010 permalink

    Guy Message 24. I do have to warn you - "you ain't heard nothing yet!". Wait till Betty does "Sell No More Drink To My Father". It seemed odd in 1968 specially for such a "now" show to be doing Edwardian ballads.

    In 1968 I had no financial committments and was quite well paid. Had I known at the time RTH was suffering economy cuts I would have put my hand in my own pocket to give the Frazer Hayes Four their weekly gig back smiley - smiley

  • Message 29. Posted by Sunshine Superman on Monday, 5th July 2010 permalink

    What happened to the Fraser Hayes Four (three voices in perfect harmony, as KH once said when introducing them)..... downward spiral, drugs abuse, infrequently frenzied attempts at a comeback such as getting four adjacent seats on Dee Time and standing up to sing every time they felt the camera was on them, and finally settling down to a career as anonymous session singers with Mike Sammes or Bert Kaempfert recording for the Woolworths' Pickwick or Hallmark labels....

    Even copies of their Live At The Windmill album rarely come up for sale on ebay now.

  • Message 30. Posted by Guy Barry on Monday, 5th July 2010 permalink

    Guy Message 24. I do have to warn you - "you ain't heard nothing yet!". Wait till Betty does "Sell No More Drink To My Father". It seemed odd in 1968 specially for such a "now" show to be doing Edwardian ballads.


    I suppose the idea was to use songs that were mainly about the words rather than the music. The ensemble performance of Noel Coward's "There are Bad Times Just Around the Corner" a few weeks ago was just about OK, and perhaps they should have stuck to material from that genre if they insisted on doing a musical number at all.

    In 1968 I had no financial committments and was quite well paid. Had I known at the time RTH was suffering economy cuts I would have put my hand in my own pocket to give the Frazer Hayes Four their weekly gig back


    I never liked the Fraser Hayes Four, and was quite happy to see them go - but why couldn't the gap have been filled with more comedy material? I simply don't see the point of getting professional comedians to perform "straight" musical numbers - it's not what they're trained for, so why expect them to do it? I'm not aware of any other comedy programme that did the same.

    Come to think of it, the Goon Show could have got rid of Ray Ellington and got Harry Secombe to perform instead. At least he could sing!

  • Message 31. Posted by TrevorCooper on Monday, 5th July 2010 permalink

    Guy, Ray had a great personality, and had been a jazz drummer. You may know that Peter Sellers was very encouraging towards jazz players, hence the occassional lines for him and George Chisholm who played trombone in the band. He once helped finance an LP for a jazz pianist the late Alan Clare ("Girl Talk" for Decca circa 1968).Spike Milligan also had an interest in jazz and started off playing trumpet himself. He, too, gave Alan Clare employment in his TV series ("Muses With Milligan" (1963/4) and the various "Q" series in the late 60s and early 70s.

    As for TFHF, at least they were bright and cheerful - and remember the sort of music you normally got back on Sunday afternoons - swinging 60s or no. Remember the Cluiff Adams Singers, Semprini and Max Jaffa. Not to mention Alan Keith..... I only remember TFHF ever singing one downbeat number ("Stairway To The Sea") generally they were upbeat, and old fashioned Sundays needed that.

  • Message 32. Posted by Jrgboy on Monday, 5th July 2010 permalink

    I don't think the Goon Show would have been the same without Ray Ellington & Max Geldrey, the recordings that EMI issued with the musical items deleted just don't sound right & trying to concentrate on the 'plot' for 20 mins does take some of the fun out of it. Remember the first issue of shows like Hancock's Half Hour on cassette that were butchered ie: had all the music removed. BOK & RTH both come out of the British 'revue' tradition as did most of the cast & music was always part of that.

  • Message 33. Posted by Splanky on Monday, 5th July 2010 permalink

    I quite like Kenneth Horne's singing voice - the joke is hearing an Establishment-type voice undbending, as it were.

    And he did sing in Hubert Gregg's musical version of Three Men in a Boat - although that got rather mixed reviews when repeated on 7 a couple of years ago.

    I agree that in general music provides an important respite on sketch shows.

  • Message 34. Posted by TrevorCooper on Monday, 5th July 2010 permalink

    Jrgboy You took the words out of my mouth - the non-musical LPs just seemed flt.

    Also, of course, Ray was one of the few black entertainers to get regular spots on BBC shows in the 50s. He was a very nice man as well in real life. He died of caner in 1985 and was performing till near the end - his last performance was for a cancer charity.

  • Message 35. Posted by Guy Barry on Tuesday, 6th July 2010 permalink

    I think you missed my point about the Goon Show - I wasn't criticizing Ray Ellington, who I rather enjoyed, but pointing out that unlike most comedy shows they had a professional singer in the cast, though as far as I know he never sang on the show.

    Incidentally does anyone remember the episode ("The Tuscan Salami Scandal") when there was a musicians' strike? Max Geldray was replaced by Spike Milligan singing "I'm Walking Backwards for Christmas" to a pretty dreadful piano accompaniment by Peter Sellers, and Ray Ellington was replaced by Harry Secombe giving a bizarre "request" programme consisting of a series of odd sound effects and records played at the wrong speed. Spike also played a "wandering musician" who sang the bits where the orchestral links should have been (until they got rid of him early in the show). Quite a curiosity!

  • Message 36. Posted by TrevorCooper on Tuesday, 6th July 2010 permalink

    Guy. Sorry if I am misunderstanding you, but Ray sang nearly every week on the show (he was a drummer as well and very occassionaly there was a non-vocal item usually featuring percussion instead of a song, but this was once in a blue moon).

    Incidentally he made one of the very first Stereo EPs in this country, in 1958 for the Pye label. This was a non-vocal selection called "Ellington Plays Ellington" (Ray playing Duke).

  • Message 37. Posted by TrevorCooper on Tuesday, 6th July 2010 permalink

    Sorry Guy. I misread you (it's early in the day and Matron hasn't been round with the medication yet!) smiley - smiley

    Harry was a professional singer, but so was Ray Ellington, though he started life as a drummer he became famous for his Louis Jordsan-inspired vocal items later.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.