Frank Key's Hooting Yard and the Tradition of Grand English Nonsense

in funny •  10 months ago

If you are a fan of Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, or even Lewis Carroll,

you will no doubt have experienced some of the toe-curling pleasure which the unexpected use of language can engender.

And I would bet a wooden-wheeled wagon-load of Steem that the best living storyteller working today is a man you've never heard of.

And his name is Frank Key.

Mr. Key has been sharing his "Hooting Yard on the Air" podcast via Resonance 104.4FM in London for 14 years now. It really is indescribable.

Key conjures a world that is surreal and anachronistic, populated by out-of-print pamphleteers and bad vicars and many, many birds. He revels in abstruse detail, going off on tangents where he'll read out a list of farm implements, or the 40 thieves in the tale of Ali Baba, or birds again.

In his stories, an aside can quickly become the focus of the narration, leaving the listener (or reader) with the feeling that they're being whipped around a roller-coaster at a rate of five miles an hour. He begins the clip above with some "notes on jellyfish," for instance, and veers off from there.

And that's the magical thing about it. His wandering eye takes the time to focus on the most wondrous minutia, historical, antiquarian, biological, geometrical, and otherwise, and suddenly the listener remembers that there is a lot in this dusty old world to pore over and wonder at. We might not be able to take it all in, but if we give ourselves permission to slow down, we might be able to take just a little in, and a lot of it.

That's why his word-play reminds me of Alice going through the rabbit hole, or Arthur Dent catapaulting into space after a disagreement with his council over zoning changes. You never know where the smallest detail is going to take you. But if anything, Key has taken their sense of play and adventure, and really given it a firm shove along the canal-side tow-path.


Mr. Key's writing is available at the Hooting Yard Website. You can also buy his books there. With titles like Befuddled by Cormorants, The Funny Mountain, and Unspeakable Desolation Pouring Down From The Stars, you know you're in for something strange.

Here's a passage about out-of-print pamphleteer Dobson, who was attempting to produce stories at the time for Modern Snipe Magazine.

It is tempting here to veer off into a digression about Dobson and hats, a topic of endless fascination to some of us. But I fear things would get out of hand, particularly if I began to babble on about Dobson's Homburg, itself a single hat that evokes a world of allusions and references, from James Mason to Procol Harum. Better that we address such matters at another time, and content ourselves now with the image of the pamphleteer trudging home along the towpath of the canal, a gleaming blue helmet atop his cranium, and the brain inside that cranium throbbing with an inchoate tangle of cerebral gibberish, at the dim centre of which lurked the signal fact that Dobson knew nothing whatsoever about snipe.

I think Key really identifies with his creation, Dobson.

Hooting Yard really has to be heard to be appreciated - at least at first [1].

Key sounds like an affable old uncle, blathering on after a few too many drinks at the holidays, yet before you know it all the kids have gathered round to listen to him, and then the parents shut up and sit down too.

The accent is a big part of it. He just seems to love saying words, and somehow that love carries through and makes them sound delicious. I really wish they could capture his voice for my GPS.

I took his podcast on a run with me the other day and had to take frequent breaks for laughter. Lord knows what the passing traffic thought about the man in running shoes chortling to himself at the side of the road. While his older broadcasts have started to appear on Youtube (Four views!? I knew you'd never heard of him!) his most recent work is available for streaming on Mixcloud, and there is an archive available at Resonance FM with lots of episodes available for download.

[1] The reason I said "at least at first" in the heading above is that, once you've listened to several hours of his podcasts (and listeners have been known to binge on his archives for periods lasting weeks, fortnights, and entire seasons) you will discover that the little voice in your head that renders text into audible internal narration has been replaced with Key's voice, and from that point on, everything you read and maybe even everything you think will un-spool through your consciousness as an episode of Hooting Yard.

That'll be a transformative experience, let me tell you.


I have no connection to Frank Key beyond being a huge fan from the other side of the Atlantic.

I do think his work would be a great fit for Steemit. I'd love to give him some up-votes in appreciation (in addition to buying his books). Despite the low view-counts on Youtube, he must be doing something right to maintain the longest running program on Resonance FM.

Maybe I'll see if I can leave some comments on his web-site with promises of digital riches, to see if we can entice him into sharing the occasional story here.


Thanks for reading. I do hope you give Hooting Yard a try, and please let me know if you enjoyed it. Or had you heard of Mr. Key already?

You can find an archive of my own work, sorted by category, over here, if you're the sort that's inclined to go digging in archives.
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Hi there

I have volunteered at Resonance FM for the past 4 years.

Frank Key is an absolute wonder, and I will bring this post to his attention.

Resonance FM are currently in their fundraiser week below is the link to the campaign, they got some cool oddities on auction. Also I've got a steemit fundraiser post for Resonance FM

Keep listening!!!!

https://fundraiser.resonance.fm/fundraiser2018

https://steemit.com/london/@tatta/resonance-fundraiser-2018

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Holy cow - this is so cool! I first heard him on the Escape Pod SF podcast in 2006, and have been listening ever since. The thought that he might actually see this post is making me a bit twitterpated. Does it look okay? Should I primp it up somehow?

I love Resonance FM. You guys do good work; we've nothing like it in the States. Good luck with the fund-raiser!

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You don't need to primp it up Winston, the post is fine. The way you write is beautiful and shows love.

We do thank you for listening and supporting independent broadcasting.

It's why I like steemit. I stuck Resonance FM in the search bar as I was sure that this is the sort of platform that shares it's ethos.

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That's awesome. It really does seem like a good fit and a way to help the station and the artists make some money.

I have to head to bed right now. But will definitely give this a listen when I can give it it's due tomorrow. I love this sort of thing, as the use of language and creative wordage is such a world in it's own. And abstrusity is certainly under-rated in my book. Thanks for sharing a new corner of the creative world with us.

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I'm so glad! The other thing about Key is you can drift in and out and still have a good time, because he usually has several short stories in each half hour episode. It's good for focused OR background listening, and perfect for commutes.

Can't wait to hear what you think!

Hello. I am a bit late – I found this through hootingyard.org where you are mentioned – but I just came to add my voice to the chorus. Frank Key is the absolute most wondrous, and every week my partner and I look forward to a new episode of Hooting Yard on the Air.

I like when he mixes factual asides in to the stories, which are often more unbelievable and absurd than the fiction themselves. Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives is full of these fantastic truths. I especially liked the bit about Muggletonians, who tried to ban hot air balloons in case they should bump into the heavens.

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Whaaaaat!?!? I'm mentioned on the Hooting Yard website?

This is so cool. I think I'm going to hyperventilate. Someone bring me a pippy bag to breathe into, post haste!

It's true, I love the way he mixes the absurd and true into his fictions. One of my favorite moments was when he was talking to Miss Blossom Partridge about knitting, and she suggested storing wooden knitting needles in a bowl of rice. Frank laughed so hard, he thought she was making it up! It was so sweet to hear him having the same reaction we have to his work every week.

I don't know him before but with what you said I guess I have an idea who he is. Thanks for sharing, I learn n know new things every day on Steemit