Saturday Morning Music #3 – Rambling Syd Rumpo

Once upon a time…there was radio comedy (yes, folks, no visuals, just sound).
In the 1960s in the UK, radio comedy was still the primary comedy medium, although by the end of that decade it would be eclipsed by television.
Radio comedy operated under a lot of guidelines from the BBC, not least of which was the original BBC charter that obliged the BBC to “uphold the morals of the nation”. As far as The Authorities were concerned that meant one thing for sure.
Sex Must Not Be Mentioned.
Ever.
So…the comedy writers, being the inventive people that they were, proceeded to punch through the prohibition by the use of innuendo. Radio comedy in that era was full of innuendo.
The comedy show “Round The Horne” was a prime example. “Round The Horne” was an anarchic melting pot of British radio comedy, with most of the famous names of UK comedy making appearances. The show was fronted by Kenneth Horne, who essentially operated as the straight man, attempting (usually unsuccessfully) to keep the rest of the cast and crew in line.
The show was not so much riddled with innuendo as it was powered by innuendo. It even had two stock characters (Julian and Sandy) who were flagrantly and obviously gay, this in an era where homosexuality was still a felony in the UK.
Like most radio comedy shows, the show had its collection of stock characters, many of them played by Kenneth Williams. The gifted Williams was, personality-wise, a classic tortured comedy genius, privately homosexual, but deeply conflicted about it. He would ultimately commit suicide due to depression. However, at this point in his life he was at the peak of his powers, a gifted mimic, with a fast acerbic wit that thrived in the seat-of-the-pants environment of “Round The Horne”.
One stock character created for the show that Williams played was Rambling Syd Rumpo.
Rambling Syd was a simple country guy from somewhere in the West Country of England, speaking in a caricature Dorset or Devon accent, who would show up almost every week. He would operate as a music educator, ultimately whipping out his guitar (in reality played by another musician) to sing a ditty, mostly some English traditional song with greatly altered lyrics.
Rambling Syd was a creation of writers Barry Took and Marty Feldman (yes, that Mary Feldman). In the process of creating him, Took and Feldman created an entire new lexicon for him to talk and sing. Words, mostly invented by Feldman, such as “grunge”, “nadgers”, “cordwangle”, “ganderbag”, “grussets” and “splod” were the staple currency of Rambling Syd’s verbal repertoire, as he proceeded to, ahem, re-interpret the traditional English song catalog in his own unique style.
Of course, since this was “Round The Horne”, the entire Rambling Syd slot in the show was an innuendo lover’s feast. The words just sounded naughty, and Kenneth Williams’ intro to the first tune on this Best Of tells you exactly where he was headed.
Trivia thought – this might have been the first time that the word “grunge” was popularized, prior to its appropriation by the Seattle indie rock scene in the 1980s.

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