Stop Messing About, 1969
Stop Messin’ About, a catchphrase coined for Kenneth Williams by Galton and Simpson back in the days of Hancock’s Half Hour. It seemed the perfect title for a radio series starring one Kenneth Williams that would run for two series between 1969 and 1970.
Kenneth Williams had starred in various radio series as various characters since and had been starring in Round The Horne when, in February 1969, it’s star, Kenneth Horne, died suddenly at the end of series four.
This prompted a rewrite of the material intended for series five. ( A similar idea had been used before in the 1950’s in which Galton and Simpson had been asked to take over writing duties on Calling All Forces, which eventually also found one Tony Hancock promoted to star, read that story in full by checking out our interview with Ray Galton and Alan Simpson).
The re-written material then found its way into a new show – Stop Messing About, alongside new sketches and starring Kenneth Williams.
Because of Horne’s sudden death and the existing material many of Round The Horne’s cast were already contracted. Existing writers Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke re-wrote the script for the first series, so there was a smooth transition from Round The Horne to Stop Messing About. For the second series there was a script specifically written for the show By Myles Rudge.
The series got a mixed response, indeed Kenneth Williams, who on the day of the first transmission wrote in his diary that “It was mediocre and played to a half empty house … Joan said ‘Let’s face it dear, our careers are in the ash can…'” Of a later edition, however, he wrote that “It went like a bomb. I was very pleased with the marvellous reception … and it’s a triumph in the face of the terrible adversity of KH’s death.”
Barry Took, co-writer of Round the Horne, pointed out that the show was proof of the fact that Williams, though second to none as a grotesque support actor of undoubted comic genius, didn’t have the requisite weight to anchor a show in the way Horne had done so effortlessly: “It was written by a sort of miscellaneous gang of writers who didn’t really understand what they were doing. It didn’t work. He (Williams) wasn’t a leading man, it has to be said. I mean, he was a wonderful support. He was Montgomery to Kenneth Horne’s Alexander.”
Forty years after the original broadcasts, Stop Messing About was rewritten for the stage, starring Robin Sebastian as Kenneth Williams, making an initial appearance at the Rose Theatre, Kingston in January 2009. The production was restaged in the West End at the Leicester Square Theatre in April, running for six weeks.
Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick and Joan Sims perfom a variety of classic sketches, parodies and saucy songs.
Regualr features included Crack-A-Jackanory, a parody of the children’s programme Jackanory. In this version Joan Sims would read a story, which slowly developed more adult topics.
Channel: BBC Light Program
Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke (series 1)
Myles Rudge (series 2)
Produced By: John Simmonds
Original Transmission Dates: 17th March 1969 – 27th August 1970
Where To Listen
Repeated regularly as part of BBC Radio 4 Extra’s weekday comedy hour.