Oh, that maladjusted sense of humour!


Roy Hudd in a silent comedy commissioned by Frank Muir: sounds good, right? Wrong, says Milton Shulman

Syndicated to UK newspapers on 12 March 1966

NOW I have always thought Frank Muir a very witty, amiable and intelligent man. The scripts he wrote with Dennis Norden were among the funniest ever seen on TV in this country.

What, then, has happened to his sense of humour now that he has become Assistant Head of BBC-TV Light Entertainment? I might add you need a sense of humour to go round lumbered with that title.

I ask this question because he is the author of a rave piece of publicity in last week’s Radio Times about a programme called The Maladjusted Busker, starring Roy Hudd.

No doubt the idea of this half-hour sounded tempting enough. Why not a silent film, in the tradition of Chaplin and Keaton, in which the BBC film department could show just how hilariously inventive it could be without the use of words?

John Law’s script had the merit of simplicity, if little else. A piccolo-playing busker would become separated from a band of street musicians and he would spend the rest of the film trying to find them.

Each snatch of music he hears would send him tearing off in that direction, only to discover that the sounds came from a band of the Irish Guards or a record shop.

Now Roy Hudd, who has not been well-served by television since he left Not So Much a Programme, has discovered that he can get easy laughs by flashing an idiotic, toothy grin and leaping about like a gormless llama.

Faced with a script of almost poverty-stricken aridity, Hudd clung to these safe techniques with the desperation of a non-swimmer relying on a leaking life-belt.

Sample visual jokes included water squirting in his face from park fountain, leading some children in a Pied Piper dance (does the presence of a piccolo make such a sequence almost inevitable?), taking off his trousers in a launderette, smirking at black panties in a shop window, and finding someone had dropped a coin in his cap when he had taken it off to scratch his head.

I may be making an extravagant claim, but I doubt if any British postwar film has ever concocted anything as flat and ponderous as The Maladjusted Busker.

Yet there is Mr. Muir, in the Radio Times, claiming that Mr. Hudd “gives a beautifully consistent performance, full of sudden delights.” And since Mr. Muir employs Hudd and I don’t, I am sure that this young comedian will be sustained by his boss’s opinion and not depressed by mine.


THE annual Eurovision Song Contest has for me some sort of gruesome fascination.
The atmosphere of showbiz opulence, the impeccably dressed Continental audience displaying the enthusiasm of a shoal of sleepy goldfish, the ritualistic appearance of the singer and the national conductor (the conductor always being much fatter, older and self-conscious than the performer), the pretty girl singers and often prettier male singers crushing their features into paroxysms of passion as they moan about last loves or exult about found loves in unintelligible tongues from Dutch to Yugoslavian.

What, then, possessed our English juries to send along Kenneth McKellar, dressed to look like an advertisement for a holiday in the Highlands, and to have him sing a song that had for me overtones of something written for a Victor Herbert operetta?

– Milton Shulman

1 thought on “Oh, that maladjusted sense of humour!

  1. Now, Mr Muir may have dropped off there, but his autobiography / memoirs ‘A Kentish Lad’ is one of the loveliest reads I had for years. Evocative and beautifully written.

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