Cashing in on a winning formula is a ploy as old as invention itself. Round the Horne…Revisited was deservedly a success. So why doesn’t Stop Messing About, also directed by Michael Kingsbury, work just as well?
It may be because radio was no longer the dominant home entertainment medium as the buoyant 1960s slid into the despondent 70s as it had been for earlier long-running comedy shows. Also because the undoubted talents of Kenneth Williams perhaps shone brighter when set in a context where he was not the main focus. Or because the setting of a BBC sound studio lovingly recreated with us in a double guise as the audience then and now has become familiar.
That is not to say that the cast is not good; it is. Robin Sebastian reprises his characterisation of Williams to fine effect – this isn’t a mere impersonation but a rounded portrait of a hermit crab using wit as a carapace. India Fisher is a credible Joan Sims, all-but content to act as everyone else’s foil and Charles Armstrong has great fun with the dinner-jacketed Douglas Smith, the announcer constantly frustrated by union rules of demarcation and his colleagues’ ability to slide off-script at a second’s notice.
Nigel Harrison is the tweedy Hugh Paddick, equally comfortable as the doddering old judge Sir Inigo, a frustrated shop customer and an American Civil War general with an odd Northern accent. As the audience takes its seat Liz Cooke’s set is inhabited by Timothy Dodd as the floor manager, virtuously sweeping away non-existent dust, positioning water glasses and then providing sound effects more or less on cue for the main show itself.