Julian and Sandy was a sketch segment in the BBC radio comedy programme Round the Horne from 1965 to 1968, the characters proved to be one of the most successful parts of the show.

Head shot of Gary Yershon.
Local musician, Gary Yershon. Photo: Marie Lautiers.

As well as being a successful comedy routine, Julian and Sandy were notable for being two stereotypical camp homosexual characters in mainstream entertainment at a time when homosexual acts between men were illegal in the United Kingdom.

The writers and cast thought the characters worked very well as they were not simply there to be the target of a joke: in fact most of the sketches revolved around Kenneth Horne’s presumed ignorance being the target of their jokes.

These sketches, while mocking an oppressed gay identity, present gay people as cheerful, rather than the unhappy, ashamed identities shown in mainstream films such as Victim (1961). Their use of Polari (a coded gay slang language ) in sketches introduced the gay cant to a mass audience, and identified them as gay to those in the know.

The humour acquired a real edge as the jokes were both risqué and controversial. Innuendo and double entendre were predominant form of British humour at the time, with the Carry On films being an iconic example of such and ad-libs were a prominent part of the sketches.

The characters, they were named after were the theatrical writers/composers Sandy Wilson and Julian Slade.

The composers overlapped in time and both had one huge West End Success in the 1950s. Julian Slade wrote Salad Days and Sandy Wilson The Boyfriend.

Slade and Wilson were very different characters. Julian was a romantic writer in the Ivor Novello Noel Coward tradition, Sandy wrote in the style of intimate revue.

It’s a historical accident that in 1954 they both had hit shows but their work and personalities were chalk and cheese. Julian Slade was an affable kindly man, Sandy Wilson was more defensive. Sandy was not keen on them being bracketed together, but Julian didn’t mind. Both were gay composers working at a time when legislation was very different.

Local musician Gary Yershon has a long and distinguished career as a composer working in theatre, film, dance, radio and television. He is a long term collaborator with filmmaker Mike Leigh and has been Oscar nominated for his film score Mr Turner. I spoke with him recently about the genesis of his latest venture Julian v Sandy.

“I play and sing at the Crazy Coqs, one of London’s foremost cabaret venues, which is slowly bringing back live events — socially distanced, of course, and half capacity. In discussing ideas for a new show, the names Julian Slade and Sandy Wilson came up. Today their names are inevitably tied to the characters from Round the Horne, so we didn’t have to look far for a title for the evening,” he says

“Working together with composer and orchestrator Jason Carr and Elena Ferrari, we thought it would be interesting to look at their work in today’s society where it is possible to be gay and married versus the illegal status of when the musical theatre was written and first performed. We revisit and re-examine their legacy with the idea to review their compositions in today’s context.

“I have been involved in several theatrical productions in the recent past that have recontextualised for contemporary sensibilities and suddenly new meanings became evident. For example, a Present Laughter (Noel Coward play) production changed the gender of the characters and an all-female Julius Caesar production revealed fascinating and complicated relationships with both men and women which have been stripped away and bring ‘remarkable’ new insights .”

Julian v Sandy celebrates the entertaining catalogue of two British songwriters, Julian Slade and Sandy Wilson who were bracketed together by a 1960s radio comedy programme but in reality had little in common. Featuring Gary Yershon, Jason Carr and Elenia Ferrari the show will be performed at Crazy Coqs cabaret (part of Brasserie Zedel) 7:00pm September 5 and 15. The performance on 15 will be live-streamed. 20 Sherwood Street, London W1F 7ED. Phone 020 7734 4888. Email booking for both shows and live stream 15 September. https://www.brasseriezedel.com/events/julian-v-sandy/