Thursday, April 23, 2009

Stop MessingAbout

My earliest memory of radio is of my ear pressed painfully to the metal grille of my auntie's Rediffusion set, with the sound turned down. My mother caught up with the gossip while I listened to the Sunday programmes: one with record requests called 'Two-way Family Favourites', a sitcom starring a ventriloquist's dummy titled 'Educating Archie', then 'The (awful)Billy Cotton Band Show', and finally 'Life with the Lyons', a US sitcom with a wise-cracking comedian in the lead.

Later, I liked 'Take it From Here' with blustery Jimmy Edwards chaperoning his gormless son 'Ron', and finacee, 'Eth' played by June Whitfield. Catch phrases and double entendres about summed up the appeal. My favourite though, perhaps atypical, was 'Hancock's Half Hour' , with silly-voiced Kenneth Williams. His nasal, wheedling 'Good Evening' was a precursor to the funniest bits, as far as I was concerned. His speciality seemed to be playing disdainful officials or offended librarians suddenly collapsing into the camp-cockney catch-phrase: 'Ere, stop messing about' .

No wonder I like the 'Carry On' films - Williams looking down, literally, on a cast of stereotypes including Charles Hawtrey as a sparrow-chested wimp and Kenneth Connor's snivelling coward. Joan Sims and Barbara Windsor provide the excuse for smutty innuedoes. The double-entendres come just as thick and fast, the jokes with time-honoured targets, but William's voice is a joy, either staccato or sliding through several octaves like some infinitely flexible stringed instrument, equally suited to playing gravelly uppercrusters, or self-important shop-assistants.

His complex real-life character came out in his fascinating diaries, published in 1994.

Robin Sebastian, at the Leicester Square Theatre, caught Wiliams's voice, if not quite his sharp-elbowed persona. Billed as a 'trip down memory lane' the show was staged as BBC studio programme, a row of chairs behind four microphones and the 'sound' man in the corner. There were even 'applause' signs which lit up at appropriate moments.

Rooted in Music Hall, like much early radio show, a series of sketches with titles like: 'A Chat and a Tune with Florence Mc Twiddlemore' or 'The Kingston, Surbiton, Wimbledon and District Line Trio sing 'The Old Alhambra Theatre' complete with gestures' were performed by four actors stepping up to the mikes in relays. Jokes about randly old men and soldiers abounded, reminding me of the male-oriented world of the forties and fifties. The female character, was identified as Joan Sims and superbly played by Emma Atkins in a blonde wig, looking and sounding like a young Barbara Windsor. The suave announcer Hugh Paddick, played by Nigel Harrison was a reminder of how little the BBC has changed.

The tiny front of the Leicester Square theatre is located right next door to the Prince Charles Cinema, and has a good wide auditorium, with bar counters conveniently placed inside the audiorium itself.

As 'an evening of nostagia' it worked for me, and if you like that kind of thing it's very funny. I do like it, and an added extra bonus was the absence of a sore ear.

Kenneth Williams Diaries:


Katy said...

Thanks for the wonderful review Sheila. I love Carry Ons too, so think I'm going to have to treat myself to this show.

Katy said...

Oh, and I should have mentioned - your post here prompted me to buy the Kenneth William diaries. I'm waiting for a second-hand copy to come from as we speak :-)

Sheila Cornelius said...

I think you'll enjoy the diaries and the show, Katy. My husband tells me he saw a good crit in The Times.

There's also a nice little book about the Carry On films that I think I have somewhere - I'll look for it.