Where are they now? Polari as spoken by Kenneth Williams

Written by Paxton Quigley

Thursday, 8 November 2018


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image for Where are they now? Polari as spoken by Kenneth Williams
Ooh! Look at that butch basket. I'm told he's very bold with his cartso.

"Ooh! Isn't he bold?" as Julian and Sandy would say to "Mr. 'Orne" in the heyday of Polari, or the old British gay slang.

Julian and Sandy's use of Polari on the BBC radio comedy "Round the Horne" introduced Polari to a mass audience, identifying them as gay to those in the know. Round the Horne's use of it ultimately led to Polari's near-demise as a means of communication between gay men. I suppose they all use dating apps now.

Commonly used words and acronyms included:

Bold: daring
slang: an attractive male or buttocks
naff: bad, drab (from Not Available For Fucking)
camp: effeminate (origin: KAMP = Known As Male Prostitute)
omi-polone: effeminate man, or homosexual
lallies: legs
butch: masculine; masculine lesbian
carts/cartso: penis
strillers: piano
trade: sex
basket: the bulge of male genitals through clothes
troll: to walk about (esp. looking for trade)

Julian and Sandy were characters in Round the Horne from 1965 to 1968 played by Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams respectively. They were stereotypical camp homosexual characters in mainstream entertainment at a time when homosexual acts between men were illegal. Most sketches involved Kenneth Horne's presumed ignorance being the target of their jokes.

Kenneth Horne would usually mention that he had found these two characters in a risqué magazine, insisting he had bought it for innocent reasons. This would lead him to a business in Chelsea whose name incorporated the word "bona" (Polari for "good"). He would enter by saying, "Hello, anyone there?" and Julian (Paddick) would answer, "Ooh hello! I'm Julian and this is my friend Sandy!".

An example of the use of double entendre from the sketch "Bona Law" (a pun on the name of Bonar Law, a former Prime Minister), featuring Julian and Sandy as lawyers:

HORNE: Will you take my case?
JULIAN: Well, it depends on what it is. We've got a criminal practice that takes up most of our time.
HORNE: Yes, but apart from that, I need legal advice.
SANDY: Ooh, isn't he bold?

The sketches often had Horne drawing out more about Julian and Sandy's personal lives than intended, as the two would misunderstand him. In discussing Julian and Sandy's time out travelling the world aboard ship, Sandy reveals Julian was swept overboard in a storm:

HORNE: But did you manage to drag yourself up on deck?
JULIAN: Ooh, no, we dressed quite casual....

(Writer's note. As a child I had no idea about Julian and Sandy's proclivities but found them amusing in a strange way. It wasn't until I was an adult working in the NHS with colleagues of an alternative life style that on hearing this sketch as a repeat I realised what Julian and Sandy were all about.)

Both Paddick and Williams were accomplished and familiar with Polari in real life. Williams would add lines of his own ("Lau your luppers on the strillers bona" (play the piano) being his most extreme use of obscure Polari).

The humour acquired a real edge with jokes that were both risqué and controversial. Lines such as the following were very bold (Oops!) for their period:

SANDY: Don't mention Málaga to Julian, he got very badly stung.
HORNE: Portuguese man o' war?
JULIAN: Well I never saw him in uniform...

In the last episode of Series 4 (the final show due to Horne's death) Julian and Sandy were revealed, strangely, to be "married" to a pair of "dolly palones" named Julie and Sandra and Julian's full name was revealed to be Julian Mungo Lestrange.

That's enough of that, I need to stretch my lallies so I'm going out for a troll now. Sorry, I mean a stroll.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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