Brian Cooke: Horne A’Plenty is my tribute to radio & TV great Kenneth Horne

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Radio classic Round the Horne returns to the London stage with a brand-new show Horne A’Plenty have a limited try-out season at the White Bear Theatre running from 29 August to 9 September 2017 (See Today’s News for full details). Writer Brian Cooke explains his connection to Kenneth Horne, which began exactly fifty years ago, and how the new show has come about.

I first met Kenneth Horne on Tuesday 29 August 1967. Johnnie Mortimer and I were writing an episode of Men From the Ministry where our Whitehall warriors went down to an RAF Base called Much Binding in The Marsh. By some ministerial cock-up, it hadn’t been disbanded after the war.

Much Binding… was an earlier radio series that starred Horne, Dickie Murdoch and Sam Costa, and they reprised their roles in our episode. I said to Kenneth: “I used to listen to Much Binding… at the top of our stairs in Liverpool. Best place for reception…”. “Ah!” he said. “So that was YOU, was it?!”

Men from the Ministry used to precede Round the Horne at the Paris Theatre in Regent Street, and Johnnie and I would often lurk about after our show to watch Barry Took and Marty Feldman‘s classic comedy. So when Marty left to peruse other projects and Barry and his producer, John Simmonds, asked us to write half of Series Four, we were delighted. Marty sent us a telegram from Los Angeles on our first recording. It read “Who needs luck when you’ve got talent!?” Then the sting in the tail: “Good Luck!”

“I hope you enjoy this new show as much as Johnnie Mortimer and I enjoyed writing it all those years ago. I had tears in my eyes as I adapted it…they weren’t all tears of laughter…but most of them were.”

We were even more delighted when we were commissioned to write half of the sixteen episodes that would have comprised the Fifth Season of Round the Horne. Indeed, we spent many months writing film parodies, sketches, single gags, and monologues for Kenneth himself. And we introduced two new characters Sir Inigo Parchmutter, Thespiana Boot and the Brum Brothers.

Two weeks before we were due to start, Kenneth Horne sadly passed away. It was the 14th February 1969.

Later, we adapted some of our material for a short-lived radio show called Stop Messing About, a Kenneth Williams catch phrase. Barry approved of the show but couldn’t bear to write in Kenneth Horne’s absence. The new show worked well enough but couldn’t match the success of Round the Horne and only lasted thirteen episodes.

Horne A’Plenty reunites Round the Horne… Revisited’s team

Now fast-forward forty-eight years… I took our original ‘pieces’ out of the drawer they’d been consigned to and read them all again. It was a revelation! Johnnie and I were at the peak of our radio writing career and it showed. This to me, was comedy gold!

The show you will be seeing at the White Bear Theatre consists of many of those ‘pieces’, along with brand-new material. It includes no less than four film parodies!

Horne A’Plenty is written as a tribute to one of the great radio and TV performers, Kenneth Horne. Adapted for the stage, it’s almost the same team that brought you Round The Horne…Revisited, some twelve years ago. Same Director, four of the five performers, and a talented new one, same Musical Director … and me.

I hope you enjoy this new show as much as Johnnie and I enjoyed writing it all those years ago. I had tears in my eyes as I adapted it…they weren’t all tears of laughter…but most of them were.

Horne A’Plenty runs from 29 August to 9 September 2017 only at London’s White Bear Theatre.

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MyTheatreMates welcomes submissions from guest bloggers and other occasional contributors, including theatremakers commenting on aspects of their shows. Please email your suggestions to Mates co-founder Terri Paddock or submit them via our Contact Us page.

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