RADIO: BEYOND OUR KEN

by MARK McKAY (updated from LAUGH MAGAZINE #9, 1994) 

The date — 1st July 1958, the time — just approaching nine o’clock. Nervous fingers tune in the Bakelite set to the BBC Light Programme, and as the valves warm up a voice becomes more audible, recognizable as urbane young announcer, Douglas Smith: ‘You have either been listening to, or have just missed Beyond Our Ken. The latter alternative would appear to be the more apt, however over the next six years there would be over a hundred and twenty new opportunities to ensure it never happened again.

The Ken of the title was veteran broadcaster Kenneth Horne, he of the fruity voice and shiny head, who always seemed an outsider to the world of show business, despite being the star of a number of successful wireless entertainments. Horne had achieved international fame when he teamed up with his RAF junior, Richard Murdoch in the popular 1940’s radio show, Much-Binding-In-The-Marsh. But as well as being a household name over the airwaves, he was also a top business executive for various companies, and his business skills no doubt helped him to build a team for this new comedy venture. Another Ken was brought into the cast – Kenneth Williams, who had taken part in the pilot show the previous year and was now becoming disenchanted with his contributions to Hancock’s Half Hour, feeling he was unwanted and superfluous. Williams even took a few of his characters with him from Tony Hancock’s show, including his famous irritating man with the nasal voice and perennial catchphrase “Stop Messin’ About!”, referred to in the Hancock scripts as “Ken (snide)”. In BOKs, he turns up in unexpected situations — as Mr. Hyde in the Jekyll & Hyde parody, taking Richard Burton’s part in The Fabulous Cleo and as a Loch Ness monster who doesn’t believe in Kenneth Horne.

Kenneth Williams found Beyond Our Ken an excellent exhibition for his vocal portraits, producing effete young actor laddies, northern town councilors, mellifluous BBC Programme Planners, old buffer Humphrey Boreham-Stiff and figures of authority such as Arthur Figley, who seemed to be running most of the businesses Kenneth Horne required the services of in each episode. He was even given the opportunity, as was Kenneth Horne in an earlier programme, to play himself in a slightly fictitious version of the Kenneth Williams story. But versatility seemed to be the norm amongst this talented cast and excellent characterisations also came from Betty Marsden and Hugh Paddick. Betty seemed to be able to deliver any female voice from an evil old witch to a Celia Johnson stiff-upper-lip type, sometimes adding a nice touch by dropping out of character to deliver a punchline. For the story of Cleopatra, in which Betty plays the title role, she reproduces Elizabeth Taylor’s accent brilliantly for this epic tale of a love comparable to that of Romeo & Juliet, Napoleon & Josephine or David Frost & himself. Kenneth Horne plays Caesar, trading compliments with Cleo: ‘It’s a good thing you look as beautiful as ever’ – ‘It’s a good thing you look as handsome as ever’. A third voice (Hugh Paddick) chips in: ‘And it’s a good thing this is radio!’

For the first series Ron Moody was the other regular; from the second series he was replaced with Bill Pertwee, who came from a famous theatrical family and is best known today as Air Raid Warden Hodges in Dad’s Army. There was a high turnover of chanteuses: Pat Lancaster featured in three series, Janet Waters, Jill Day and Eileen Gourlay all only lasted one series each. The musical group was initially the Malcolm Mitchell Trio, then later The Fraser Hayes Four (inflation?), who seemed to undergo a customised name change to The Hornets for the fourth series. Eric Merriman and Barry Took together wrote the first forty odd half hours and were then asked to take over from Frank Muir and Denis Norden in scripting Take It From Here. During this venture a rift set in their partnership and they found it impossible to write together. Kenneth Horne and producer Jacques Brown realized they had to choose one or the other for the next season of BOK, and opted for senior partner Eric Merriman. He alone was responsible for all the subsequent scripts although occasional jokes and sketches (including The Siege of Troy, The Mystery of Maltravers Grange and Beau Brummell) seemed to be lifted from Muir & Norden penned Take It From Heres.

The show incorporated the standard variety format, with three long sketches or features separated by musical contributions. However, there were innovations—The closing item in all hut the last series was the magazine feature, Hornerama (a spoof on the TV current affairs show, Panorama), in which Ken took to the streets with his roving microphone to find people with opinions on a particular topic. Heard today, some of the chosen subjects seemed to show a measure of foresight: ‘Russia—Is their political outlook in trouble? Or can we take it as red!’ Fantastically, every week Horne the interviewer came across the same willing contributors—first the spluttering Stanley Birkinshaw (Hugh Paddick), whose loose teeth made every conversation a dampening experience, even dousing the Olympic flame in one edition. In January 1963 Stanley even joined the Fraser Hayes Four in their song, putting his sibilance to full use in “I Miss My Swiss Miss”. Another favourite was an old (unnamed) codger of Kenneth Williams’ who was always asked how long he’d been involved in his present activity so he could reply with his catchphrase ‘Thirty-five years!’. Of course surprise is an essential ingredient of comedy, so after the catchphrase had become popular, the audience were tricked with let-down answers like ‘seventeen months!’. But the trickery turned full circle when the audience was delighted to hear the old catchphrase once more. Paddick and Williams teamed up for those ‘decadent dilettantes’, Charles and Rodney, embryonic forms of Julian and Sandy, the camp couple from BOK’s successor, Round The Horne. Their dialogues invariably ended with the pricking of their bubble of pretentiousness, as in the Hornerama on art, when Rodney has been praising Charles’ painting to the hilt: ‘I think it’s the best thing you’ve ever done… and I do sincerely hope it doesn’t rain and get washed off the pavement.’ Other regulars from the early years were Ambrose and Felicity, two old bickering dodderers played by Williams and Betty Marsden and Horne’s own creation, Cecil Snaith (Hugh Paddick) an accident-prone BBC roving reporter who spoke in confidential hushed tones a la Richard Dimbleby, laughed at his own weak jokes, and would inevitably fall victim to a broadcasting cock-up and utter his throw-back line: ‘And with that we return you to the studio!’

Shows began with a quickie film title playlet—a sort of audio charade, and an interesting challenge to the listeners to guess the title before the orchestra struck up and Kenneth Williams at his most supercilious drawled the answer to tile ‘film worth remembering, which is more than can he said for the next half hour’. A couple expressing how much they were looking forward to their brand new fire place was thus “Great Expectations”, a motorway jam with traffic lights stuck was “Forever Amber” and, even more contrived, a son complaining that he’s had spotted dick for dessert every day for the past three months turned out to be an except from “101 Dalmatians”. Funny names have been a comedy tradition continuing to this day in I’m Sorry, I Haven’t A Clue, and so it was in B0K, with Douglas Smith having the honour of announcing the people that would be taking part. Amongst this distinguished group were Mollie Cule, Marion Haste, Miss Roseanne Crown, Crispin Noodle, Maude Upriver, Oliver Sudden and Sir Arthur Mo. Kenneth Horne, who prefers to remain anonymous, was introduced and he launched into an account of his activities during the week, with jokes contributed by a lady in the Salvation Army, Mrs. Mollie Millest.

Kenneth Horne had been a regular on panel shows, then as now a popular (and cheap) entertainment, but in BOK he was cast as the question master, supervising the queries put to a distinguished panel of experts in a comedy version of Any Questions? This began as an occasional feature in 1958, hut from the fifth series it became the regular closing spot. Of the four panel members, Kenneth Williams’ rustic farmer Arthur Fallowfield was the most durable. In his opinion, the answer to every question lay in the soil, and he made no bones of the fact that he was looking for someone to love, although this certainly appeared to exclude Fanny Haddock, Betty Marsden’s gushing take-off of TV chef Fanny Cradock. Many other characters bore strong resemblances to persons living: Eunice Gaysmile (‘luvvie’ actress Eunice Gayson), Dalcolm Ditheridge (broadcaster and journalist Malcolm Muggeridge), Bertrand Bussell (dithering philosopher Bertrand Russell), Ryfe Hobertson (Scottish TV reporter Fyfe Robertson) and Bill Pertwee’s Hankie Flowerd (comedian Frankie Howerd who had just made a successful come-back in the early ‘60’s). Questions supposedly came from the audience and answers could come back ebulliently from Pertwee’s volatile Irish drinker, Seamus O’Toole or languidly from Paddick’s teenage pop idol (alternative spelling also appropriate), Ricky Livid, whose main contribution to the discussion — ‘I like the backing’ — stemmed from his belief that he was on the Juke Box Jury panel.

Before the credits and details of where letters of complaint should be sent, Horne signed off with a closing thought. Originally these were supplied by the writers (‘If a man keeps five hundred pounds under his pillow is it enough to retire on?’), but for later series these were sent in by listeners (and acknowledged on air). One wonders how many fans began a prosperous writing career from supplying BOK with lines like ‘Do ghost trains stop at manifestations?’

Behind the scene troubles brought BOK to a close in February 1964 (in Kenneth Williams’ recently published diaries, he discloses that Eric Merriman ‘incurred the wrath of the BBC’). However the entire cast transferred to an even more successful and durable comedy classic, Round The Horne, before its run was cut short by Kenneth Horne’s sudden death at a television awards presentation a fortnight before his sixty-second birthday. In the world of show business, humility often seems to be a rare commodity but Ken was always aware of his limitations and never saw himself as an actor. He thought he should be called Peg -‘something to hang the show on’. We remember him as a star of British radio, with the numerous surviving episodes of Much Binding, Round The Horne and Beyond Our Ken testimony to his talents.

Episode Guide

123 episodes of Beyond Our Ken were transmitted, comprising seven series and two Christmas specials. Right from the start, BBC Transcription Services recorded many of the shows, making them available for broadcast on overseas radio stations.

Series #1
(Light Programme Tuesdays, later Wednesdays July 1 to November 19 1958 — 21 shows
plus Christmas Special Wednesday December 24 1958)
Starring Kenneth Horne, Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden, Ron Moody, Pat Lancaster, The Malcolm Mitchell Trio.
Thirteen episodes are known to survive:
1/1         July 1 1958
Invitations/Protest Dinner/Atomic Power
1/2         July 8 1958
Wedding Present/Booking a Holiday/Books
1/3         July 15 1958
Surgeon’s Dinner/Panel Game/Sketchbook For 1908
1/4          July 22 1958
Barber’s/Musical Soirée/Art
1/5          July 29 1958
Taxi/Tittle Tattle/The English
1/6          August 5 1958 (missing)
(
song: Today has been a Lovely Day)
1/7          August 12 1958
Whirly Bird/Stork up the Chimney/Sport
1/8          August 19 1958
Morning After Party/What’s on in London/Love & Marriage
1/9          August 26 1958
A Trip to France/Paris/Motoring
1/10        September 2 1958 (missing)
(
song: Come Dance with me)
1/11        September 9 1958 (missing)
(
song: The Trolley Song)
1/12        September 16 1958 (missing)
(
song: It’s a Wonderful Day)
1/13        September 23 1958 (missing)
(song: Too Close for Comfort)
1/14        October 1 1958
Dentist’s/The Bobby Beamish Story/Advertising
1/15        October 8 1958
Hungerford House/Panel Game/Education
1/16        October 15 1958
Figley’s Encyclopedia/War Memoirs/Smoking
1/17        October 22 1958 (missing)
(
song: In Love for the Very First Time)
1/18        October 29 1958
Birds/Oscar Wilde/Food
1/19        November 5 1958 (missing)
(
song: Happy is the Bride)
1/20        November 12 1958
Dippermouth Naval Academy/Captain Horne’s Log/Music
1/21        November 19 1958 (missing)
(
song: A Lovely Night)
SP
December 24 1958  (missing)
(
sketch: The Jolly Bear Inn)

Series #2
(Light Programme Thursdays March 19 1959 to July 30 1959 — 20 shows
plus Christmas Special Monday 21 December 1959)
Starring Kenneth Horne, Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden, Bill Pertwee, Pat Lancaster, The Fraser Hayes Four.
Fourteen episodes are known to survive:
2/1          March 19 1959 (missing)
(The Ringer opening)
2/2          March 26 1959
Raffles/Escape Story/Television
2/3          April 2 1959
The Caine Mutiny/Captain Poodle Fawcett/Timber
2/4          April 9 1959
(missing)
(Sanders of the River
opening)
2/5          April 16 1959
Forever Amber/Life of Dirk Mills/Hospitals
2/6          April 23 1959
Innocents Abroad/The Salad Trap/Housing
2/7          April 30 1959
(missing)
(She Stoops to Conquer
opening)
2/8          May 7 1959
A Farewell to Arms/Rocky, the Wild One/Show Business
2/9          May 14 1959
(missing)
(Frenchmans Creek
opening)
2/10        May 21 1959
Trader Horne/Wolfhound of the Tuskervilles/Cricket
2/11        May 28 1959
Every Boy’s Book of Birds/A Woman in Curlers/Communications
2/12        June 4 1959
The Rains Came/The Nanooks/The Summer
2/13        June 11 1959
Deep are the Roots/Festival of Popular Song/Water
2/14        June 18 1959
(missing)
(How Green was my Valet
opening)
2/15  ?   June 25 1959
The Sea Wolf/Look Out, I’m Livid!/Ships
2/16        July 2 1959
(missing)
(Tom Sawyer
opening)
2/17        July 9 1959
The Cruel Sea/Spanish Holiday/A Second Look at Britain
2/18        July 16 1959
Black Beauty/Animals/Holidays
2/19        July 23 1959
(missing)
(The Speckled Band
opening)
2/20        July 30 1959
Great Expectations/The Wee Folk/The Film Industry

SP           December 21 1959
First Night of ‘Island Treasure’

Series #3
(Light Programme Fridays April 15 1960 to July 15 1960 — 14 shows)
Starring Kenneth Horne, Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden, Bill Pertwee, Pat Lancaster, The Fraser Hayes Four.
All but episodes 6 and 13 are known to survive:
3/1          April 15 1960
Tobacco Road/Ken Loses His Penny/Photography
3/2          April 22 1960
Look Back in Anger/Skiing In Switzerland/Show Business
3/3          April 29 1960
Nude with Violin/Incident in Macau/Hobbies, Games & Pastimes
3/4          May 6 1960
A Touch of the Sun/Paris 1900/Public Transport
3/5          May 13 1960
Hay Fever/Curtain Up/Holidays
3/6          May 20 1960
(missing)
(Ah, Wilderness opening)
3/7          May 27 1960
School for Scandal/Picture-Go-Round/Local Affairs
3/8          June 3 1960
The Ice Man Cometh/Trouble on the Khyber Pass/Food
3/9          June 10 1960
The Reluctant Debutant/Poetry Society/The City
3/10        June 17 1960
This Happy Breed/Fitzroy Primm & Oscar Wilde/Entertainment
3/11        June 24 1960
Dear Octopus/The Fantastic Heat/Sport
3/12        July 1 1960
Love from a Stranger/The Archers/Russia
3/13        July 8 1960
(missing)
(Charley’s Aunt opening)
3/14        July 15 1960
The Most Happy Fella/The Kenneth Horne Story/France

Series #4
(Light Programme Thursdays October 20 1960 to March 2 1961 — 20 shows)
Starring Kenneth Horne, Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden, Bill Pertwee, Janet Waters, The Hornets.
All except episode 12 are known to survive:
4/1          October 20 1960
Suddenly Last Summer/Buying A New House/The Olympic Games
4/2          October 27 1960
Spring In Park Lane/The BBC/Gramophone Records
4/3          November 3 1960
Gentleman’s Agreement/The Time Machine/London
4/4          November 10 1960
3 Coins in the Fountain/Mystery Of Maltravers Grange/The Sea
4/5          November 17 1960
The Man With The Golden Arm/Kitty From Kensington/Sport
4/6          November 24 1960
The House Of Wax/Swiss Family Robinson/Newspapers
4/7          December 11960
Desire Under The Elms/Nero & Ancient Rome/Crime
4/8          December 8 1960
Brief Encounter/Picture-Go-Round/Public Services
4/9          December 15 1960
The 39 Steps/Inspector Polly Potter Of Scotland Yard/Show Business
4/10        December 22 1960
A Christmas Carol/The Festive Season
4/11        December 29 1960
Room At The Top/Raffles/Holidays
4/12        January 5 1960
(missing)
(Thames Suicide Attempt opening)
4/13        January 12 1961
The Horse Soldiers/The Hans Liszt Story/Old British Customs
4/14        January 19 1961
All Quiet On The Western Front/Giggleswade Festival/Love & Marriage
4/15        January 26 1961
The Charge Of The Light Brigade/Kenneth Williams Story/Housing
4/16        February 2 1961
A Hatful Of Rain/La Dolce Even More Vita/Magic & Mystery
4/17        February 9 1961
Twelve O’clock High/The Abominable Snowman/Leisure
4/18        February 16 1961
Tea And Sympathy/Love In A Georgian Manor/The Film Industry
4/19        February 231961
Some Came Running/Locked Out/The New Towns
4/20        March 2 1961
Tunes Of Glory/A Taste of Bittersweet/History

Series #5
(Light Programme Thursdays October 12 1961 to February 22 1962 — 20 shows)
Starring Kenneth Horne, Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden, Bill Pertwee, Jill Day, The Fraser Hayes Four.
All episodes survive:
5/1          October 12 1961
Around The World In 80 Days! Loch Ness Monster/Entertainment
5/2          October 19 1961
The Magnificent Seven/The Siege Of Troy/Careers
5/3          October 26 1961
The Young Lions/The Willow Pattern Plate/Education
5/4          November 2 1961
Oscar Wilde/The Petticoat Lane Story/The Arts
5/5          November 9 1961
101 Dalmations/Beau Jests/Our Affluent Society
5/6          November 16 1961
No Trees in the Street/The Restoration Piece/Homes & Gardens
5/7          November 23 1961
The Bells are Ringing/Johann, The Night & The Music/Clubs
5/8          November 30 1961
The Defiant Ones/Lollipop Place/Business & Commerce
5/9          December 7 1961
Ferry to Hong Kong/Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde/Sport
5/10        December 14 1961
A Yank at Oxford/Room at the Big Top/Travel
5/11        December 21 1961
Love in the Afternoon/Home in Wonderland
5/12        December 28 1961
Anastasia/Picture-Go-Round/Parties & Indoor Games
5/13        January 4 1962
The Great Train Robbery/As Crime Goes By/The Country
5/14        January11 1962
Too Late Blues/Fred Black’s Scandals/Winter
5/15        January 18 1962
Terror of the Tongs/One Step Beyond Our Ken/The Cinema
5/16        January 25 1962
Ice Cold in Alex/El Fred/Holidays
5/17        February 11962
The Devil at 4.00/The Voyage of Odysseus/Show Business
5/18        February 8 1962
For Whom the Bell Tolls/Giggleswade Festival 2/Art
5/19        February 15 1962
Under Two Flags/The Power of Svengali/The Press
5/20        February 22 1962
The Three Musketeers/The Last of the Moccasins/Radio

Series #6
(Light Programme Thursdays December 27 1962 to March 21 1963 — 13 shows)
Starring Kenneth Horne, Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden, Bill Pertwee, Eileen Gourlay, The Fraser Hayes Four.
All episodes survive:
6/1          December 27 1962
Doctor No/Fred Solomon’s Mines/Sports & Hobbies
6/2          January 3 1963
Sorry, Wrong Number/Taking the Mikado/Show Business
6/3          January 10 1963   (100th edition)
The Corn Is Green/Tunbridge Wells Fargo/Kitty from Kensington
6/4          January 17 1963
The Loves of Carmen/Viva Cascara/Films
6/5          January 24 1963
Two Weeks in Another Town/The Scientific Spy/Music
6/6          January 31 1963
Only Two Can Play/Corn in Egypt/Health
6/7          February 7 1963
In Search of the Castaways/Rumpelstiltskin/Fashions
6/8          February 14 1963
Period of Adjustment/The Twinkle Dolls/Holidays
6/9          February 211963
Tender is the Night/Take Your Pickwick/Transport
6/10        February 28 1963
The Miracle Worker/A Brief Encounter/Jobs
6/11        March 7 1963
The L Shaped Room/The Three Musketeers/Television
6/12        March 14 1963
The Pot Carriers/Doctor Yes/Books
6/13        March 21 1963
Lolita/Goodbye Mr. Chips with Everything/Beyond Our Ken

Series #7
(Light Programme Sundays November 24 1963 to February 16 1964 — 13 shows)
Starring Kenneth Horne, Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden, Bill Pertwee, The Fraser Hayes Four.
All episodes survive:
7/1          November 24 1963
Fifty-five Days at Peking/The Fabulous Cleo
7/2          December 1 1963
Gigi/From Frinton with Love
7/3          December 8 1963
The Longest Day/The House Trap
7/4          December 15 1963
The List of Adrian Messenger/Carmen to the Garden
7/5          December 22 1963
The Man With The Golden Arm/Giggleswade Festival 3
7/6          December 29 1963
The Seven Year Itch/Drake’s Progress
7/7          January 5 1964
High Noon/The Horrible Thing on the Isle of Wight
7/8          January 12 1964
The Great Escape/Beau Brummell
7/9          January 19 1964
Nudes of the World/Deferred Man
7/10        January 26 1964
Ten Tall Men/The Love Game
7/11        February 2 1964
How Green was My Valet/Liszt’s Variations on Rigoletto
7/12        February 9 1964
Forever Amber/Ascent in the Himalayas
7/13        February 16 1964
Things to Come/Zulu

 

Discography

Beyond Our Ken
(Parlophone LP PMC 1238, EMI/Note LP 195)
Features excerpts from the original radio shows:
Introduction and Twinkle Doll’s Concert Party (from February 14 1963)
Hornerama (February 14 1963)
Tunbridge Wells Fargo (January 10 1963)
Picture-Go-Round (December 28 1961)
Dr. Yes (March 14 1963)

Tomorrow/Nuts and Bolts
(Parlophone single R 5136)
Studio recordings by Ricky Livid (Hugh Paddick) and the Tone Deafs

Beyond Our Ken
(BBC double cassette ZBBC 1148)
Contains four complete broadcasts:
May 13 1960
June 10 1960
July 15 1960
January 12 1961

Beyond Our Ken 2
(BBC double cassette ZBBC 1407)
Contains four complete broadcasts:
February 9 1964
December 7 1961
December 29 1963
December 1 1963

Beyond Our Ken – Series 1
(BBC 7CD boxed set 0563 525258)
Contains the 13 surviving shows, plus scripts for the others

Beyond Our Ken – Series 2
(BBC 7CD boxed set 0563 527196)
Contains the 14 surviving shows, plus scripts for the others

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