Magazine article The Spectator

Carry on Camping

Magazine article The Spectator

Carry on Camping

Article excerpt

Every time I listen to an archival programme about radio comedy of the past it makes me realise how feeble and derivative so much of contemporary comedy has become. In fact, I rarely get through it, often switching off or retuning to another network. This feeling came through strongly on Sunday evening when I was listening to the comic inventiveness of Barry Took and two of the brilliant actors he wrote for in the 1960s radio series Round the Home.

Maureen Lipman, a remarkably skillful comic actress herself, presented The Bona History of Julian and Sandy on Radio Four, a repeat of a programme I missed when it was first broadcast. It was a documentary about the creation of these two homosexual characters played by Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick, and Took covered some of the ground of his amusing book last year, Round the Home, The Complete and Utter History (Boxtree). Sandy and Julian were two of the most loved characters of what Lipman described as probably the most popular comedy series of all.

She wondered why two outrageously homosexual characters appealed so much to the 8 million listeners to Round the Home at a time (1965) when real homosexuals were being imprisoned. The public, she thought, `didn't have a problem with two screaming queens'. Took believed the audience didn't care about the sexuality of others. The secret of Julian and Sandy was that they were incompetent, cheerful and outgoing and didn't pose a threat. The British also love innuendo. Julian and Sandy spoke in a camp code only fully understood either by homosexuals or those in the theatre, using words such as cottage (as in cottaging) or seafood (homosexual sailors).

Listeners, unaware of what these words meant, simply saw them as a double entendre, suspecting an underlying sauciness but not knowing quite what; Williams and Paddick had only to speak them to have everyone laughing.

Took explained, as he does in his book, the origins of the argot known as palare. He thought it came out of the the touring comedy troupes of Europe, probably Italian, and came to be used by actors in Britain, who were not exclusively homosexual. A clip of Julian and Sandy was played, with Julian describing a film, 'An' 'oo comes trolling in but this palone Delilah. She vades 'is sleepin' eek and she pulls out this pair of scissors and lops off 'is riah . . . "Oo's 'ad me riah off? …

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