Selling your entire life on eBay is becoming quite the thing these days, but Kenneth Williams wasn't around when a great chunk of his went up for sale. The writer and broadcaster Wes Butters was surfing the internet one night when he washed up on the auction website – where, to his astonishment, a man called Robert Chidell was flogging a Williams treasure trove.
It was the stash of scripts, notes and photographs the famously tortured soul had accumulated throughout his life and left to Chidell, his godson, when he died. Chidell's wife was expecting a baby, apparently, so it was time to cash in. Among the scripts was Twice Ken Is Plenty, which Butters realised had never been performed.
Williams treasured the script, intended as a two-hander for himself and Kenneth Horne, something of a father figure for him. It had been written in 1966 by Horne and Mollie Millest (a member of the Salvation Army who occasionally ghostwrote for Horne). It was rejected by the Controller of Light Entertainment as "not original enough" – which may have been his polite way of saying it stank.
I wouldn't quite go that far, though my sides remain mostly unsplit after its recreation by Robert Sebastian and Jonathan Rigby, Willams and Horne respectively. It was an exercise worth undertaking, and I don't think the esteemed Controller is right about its unoriginality: it was pure Pirandello, if you want to be poncy about it, mostly involving Horne and Williams trying to get a show together. While looking for an office at the Beeb to work in, they interrupt various programmes, which are then spoofed in a blizzard of puns and reveals – what they think is Steptoe and Son turns out to be Today in Parliament; a wink-wink conversation about sharing beds turns out to be on Gardeners' Question Time.
The wordplay was sometimes feeble (a ballet dress is "tutu wonderful"), sometimes completely outrageous. In a Swan Lake spoof, the swan wants to sing but can't.
"Why don't you try humming through your beak?" Prince Siegfried suggests.
"Good idea. What should I hum?"
"How about 'Moonlight beak-hums you'?"
The best lines were just weird. A squire discovers his daughter with her arms round the neck of her young lover. "I was just measuring him up for an antimacassar," she says. Why's that funny? I don't know. It just is.
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