Hugh Paddick and the Polari Ground-breaking Comedy

Susan Payne

Advertising poster for Some of My Best Friends are Husbands, staring Hugh Paddick ((DE/WPT/P6/359)
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies

Hugh Paddick was born into a Hoddesdon farming family in 1915. He originally studied for the law, but after failing his exams, he decided to go into show business.

Predominately a stage actor, Paddick’s first role came in 1937 while studying at the Embassy School of Acting. His first leading role as Percival Browne in the original West End production of The Boy Friend came in 1954. Throughout the following decades, Paddick was in constant demand as a supporting or guest artist, in demand for his comedic skills. He appeared in the original 1959 Drury Lane production of My Fair Lady as Colonel Pickering.

Paddick became a household name from the mid-1960s when he joined the cast of the BBC radio show called Round the Horne. A sketch show, it including a wide range of comic characters with Kenneth Horne at the centre. It was broadcast on Sunday lunchtimes; attracting a family audience of 9 million listeners a week over 4 series. The Julian and Sandy characters (played by Paddick and Kenneth Williams respectively) became the most successful part of the show, appearing in almost every episode. Paddick’s character introduced himself each week with “Hallo, I’m Julian and this is my friend Sandy,” which became a catchphrase still remembered today.

At a time when homosexual acts were still illegal, writers Barry Took and Marty Feldman broke new ground in mainstream entertainment in the creation of Julian and Sandy, a stereotypically camp couple. Rather than being the butt of jokes, most of the sketches mocked the image of gay people as oppressed and ashamed. Innuendo and double entendre were essential elements of the sketches’ humour, leading to criticism. But the BBC, under Director-General Hugh Greene continued its liberal approach and refused calls for it to be toned down.

The writing made use of a slang language called Polari, popularising it for the general public. Both Paddick and Williams were gay and very familiar with Polari in real life conversation.

Polari is a mixture of languages, slang, and street code developed from the 17th century, by groups needing to disguise the meaning of conversations held in public areas. It was used in London fish markets, the theatre, fairgrounds, and circuses. While homosexual activity was illegal, gay men working in the theatre and the merchant navy developed the Polari vocabulary further.

By the time of Round the Horne, the need for a secret language protecting the gay community was starting to fade. However with the popularity of the Julian and Sandy sketches some words became mainstream slang in the following decades, including ‘acdc’, ‘camp’ and ‘mince’. ‘Naff-off’ became a useful alternative for swearwords not acceptable on broadcast television, particularly used in the sitcom Porridge in the 1970s. More recently ‘Zhoosh’ was popularised at the turn of this century from US television series on LGBT+ culture.

The generally accepted core Polari lexicon include:

ajaxnearby
bonagood
codbad, in the sense of tacky or vile
eekface
lallieslegs
lattieroom, house, flat, i.e. room to let
naffbad, in the sense of drab or dull
nantinot, no
omiman
omnipalonihomosexual
palonewoman
riahhair
TBH “to be had”sexually accessible
tradesex
zhoosh or tjuzsmarten up, stylise
vadasee, look

 

A private, unassuming man, Paddick was embarrassed to be identified in the street. Barry Took, the Julian and Sandy writer, described Paddick as “one of the finest comic actors in the profession … Hugh is the sort of man who lightens the lives of those around him, a joy to work with and invaluable to Round The Horne.”1

Paddick lived with Francis, his partner for over 30 years, in west London. He died in 2000 at the age of 85.

 

1 Hugh Paddick: obituary. Guardian, 13/11/2000. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2000/nov/13/guardianobituaries1

This page was added on 26/01/2023.

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