Friday, 20 June 2008


Where else but in BRIGHTON would you find a shop called...

So, that's where Julian and Sandy finally ended up!

For those of you too young to understand this cryptic comment...

'Julian and Sandy', played by Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams (left), were regular characters in the BBC radio comedy show Round the Horne.

Said to have been named after Julian Slade and Sandy Wilson (respectively authors of the '50s shows, Salad Days and The Boyfriend), this outrageous duo were originally conceived as a pair of "luvvie" actors doing housework for the show's star, Kenneth Horne until their next theatrical engagement came along.

When it was decided that these characters were too sadly pathetic to be really funny, script writers Barry Took and Marty Feldman turned them into swishily camp 'chorus boy types' who began most of their appearances with the line:

"Hello, I'm Julian and this is my friend, Sandy..."

Jules and Sandy conversed in 'Polari', that was the secret language of gay subculture in Britain at a time when homosexuality was illegal.

The origin of Polari is complex: a combination of Romany, corrupted words from Italian, backslang ('riah' for 'hair'), rhyming slang, sailor slang, and thieves' cant with the addition of a few words of Yiddish.

One of the primary sources for Polari was 'Palare', a secret language of carnival folk (from the Italian word for 'to talk') that is still used in the circus and on the fairground - though without the gay over(or under)tones. Its adoption by gays may have started amongst theatrical homosexuals and date back to a time when the world of theatre was closer to that of the circus.

Its use by gays was twofold, as one internet source advises...
On one hand, it would be used as a means of cover, to allow gay subjects to be discussed aloud without being understood; on the other hand, it was also used by some, particularly the most visibly camp and effeminate, as a further way of asserting their identity.
And, according to h2g2 the BBC's 'unconventional guide to life, the universe and everything':
Even within the relatively small Polari-speaking gay community in London there were different 'dialects'.

The 'West End Queens' spoke a version of the language which contained a lot of theatre-speak and they regarded both themselves and their slang as much more upmarket than the East End version which was heavily influenced by canal language and criminal slang. Whichever version you spoke, however, you could be sure that you wouldn't be understood by the uninitiated.
Polari formed part of Julian and Sandy's weekly banter as a couple of omi-palones (gay men) as in the use of phrases like: "How bona to vada your dolly old eek!"

'Bona' was 'good' (a corruption of the Italian 'buona'), 'vada' meant 'see' (from the Italian 'vedere'), 'dolly' was pleasant, and 'eek' was 'face' (an abbreviation of the backslang word 'ecaf').

Other common words used in the show were 'lallies' (for 'legs'), 'luppers' ('fingers') and 'zhoosh' meaning to fluff up your 'riah' or, generally, to tart yourself up!

Although Polari has now largely fallen into disuse, doubtless as a result of the decriminalisation of homosexuality, accompanied by a relaxation of public attitudes and an understandable gay repudiation of an essentially ghettoising language.

Nevertheless, many words of Polari are now in every day use such as naff, bevvy, camp, drag, queen, scarper, dishy, mincing, butch and bitch. And, in 1990, Morrissey released an album called Bona Drag ('drag' was palare for clothes) featuring the hit 'Picadilly Palare' which included the lyric:

So bona to vada, with your lovely eek and your lovely riah.

As for Julian and Sandy, they had various employments during the run of Round the Horne, working, at one time, for a firm of solicitors called Bona Law (a joke on the post-WWI Prime Minister, Andrew Bonar Law) which provided them with a predictable double entendre...

: 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?

Now it seems they've opened a food shop in Brighton - a bone fide one, at that! - which, to my mind is completely dolly and zhooshy!


LisaH said...

Fascinating. I wonder if anyone has written a book on the subject...

Boll Weavil said...

Sometimes its easy to forget just how groundbreaking these two were - perhaps because Round the Horne was so successful and so funny and saw the whole team at its creative peak.If you listen to Frankie Howerd during the same period, his show still featured a wife (played by June Whitfield) which was quite bizarre considering his act was based totally on camp innuendo ! I suppose the ultimate laugh for J&S came in the very last episode when, as a final twist, they invited Mr Horne to meet their wives ! RTH was routinely laced with gay and straight sexual innuendo and remains, perhaps more than anything else of that radio period, supremely and uproaringly funny, however old the jokes are now !

Elliot Cowan said...

I shall be inventing my own language this very weekend.
It'll be called Flard and shall be spoken only by me and my dog.

Brian Sibley said...

LISAH - Several!! :-)

BOLL - And their wives were (naturally) a pair of "dolly palones" named - Julia and Sandra!

ELLIOT - Won't everyone just think you're barking mad?? ;-)

Qenny said...

J&S - marvellous. And delightful when Julian Clary and Sandy Toksvig, compering shows for Stonewall or Europride, introduce themselves in the same way: Hello, I'm Julian and this is my friend, Sandy.

I've always suspected, though, that in transcribing the language to the written form, a lot of words were misrepresented because of the way they get pronounced. I once read an argument that suggested parlare was the "proper" way to spell it, and "varda" rather than "vada", even though when spoken it sounded like the latter.

Brian Sibley said...

QENNY - How dolly of Mr Clary and Ms Toksvig to pay tribute to the original J&S! :-)

Re. spellings: There are various spellings for Polari including Parlare, Palare, Parlary, Palarie, Palari and Parlyaree.

Similarly 'vada' and 'varder' are both acceptable variations - but then, of course, most of these words are corruptions of other words and formed a spoken rather than written 'language'.

Anonymous said...

There also used to be a hairdressers off Ship street in Brighton called Bona Riah. You could often find Morrissey fans having their photos taken outside it.

Brian Sibley said...

Must pop in next time I'm down there and have me ends done!