Up Pompeii on Plautus TV

Classic blog post from Ancient Rome Refocused

Up Pompeii TV show on Public Television in Chicago  

I noticed that someone dropped in on my blog site after googling the following: Funny skits about the Roman Empire.  One place to go to if you are looking for such entertainment is the 70s TV show: UP POMPEII.  No, you would not find this on commercial American television (at least not today), for it was far too bawdy, but it was right in keeping with the tradition of ancient Roman Theater.  

Believe it or not, it used to be on American Public Television usually running late at night.  I have a theory on that one.  Being on the subject of Ancient Rome, someone in American Public TV thought it “educational” not realizing it was a nothing short of what could be misconstrued as a burlesque show.   At least, that is what my father would have called it.  In actuality it was a nothing more than good old fashioned Roman Comedy, having all the things you would expect from such a genre:  bawdy comedy with an assortment of women barely dressed.    In the 70s, there was a variation on this genre in British Comedies with the doubtful title of Sex Comedies.   None of these movies were pornographic, just filled with innuendo and off course buxom women flouncing around to add appropriate titillations.

Frankie Howerd (correct spelling)  played the part of Lurcio (pronounced LURK-IO).  Now what you got to remember many Roman names had meanings, so a common joke is to give characters names that reflect their character.  “A slave that lurks…thus LURK-IO” get it?  He is owned by a master named Ludicrus Sextus (I suppose having sex with him would be ludicrous?) and a daughter named Erotica (who can’t get enough?).  And you can’t forget the son Nausius (another way to say nauseous?) who is in a continual state of virginity.  I think by now you caught on.  If you wonder what kind of show it was, it was probably right in line with the tradition of Roman Comedy.  There were lots of double entendre and many risqué gags.   For Americans, readings this review, I am sure that there was semi-nudity as well.  If you Google old photos from the show, there are images of half-naked women.  Please note, I am just reporting the facts, and please remember British Television was way different from American television.  How it made its way on to American Public Television?  The naughty-bits were taken out, of course.  What influenced this show were the plays of Plautus for one thing, and during the 70s there was a hit Broadway musical and film: A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM. 

Titus Maccius Plautus (c. 254-184 B.C.) Writer of comedy, wrote bawdy and swift moving plots.  His plays were vulgar in the attempt to appeal to the uneducated classes.  Shakespeare borrowed his plot from the play THE TWIN BROTHERS for his comedy A COMEDY OF ERRORS.     

Up Pompeii was made into a TV series and had a movie spinoff.  Below I have included the opening credits and a few lines that give you the gist of the show.  It is not highbrow stuff, but why would you want your comedy to be highbrow when you can have scantily clad women, and off color jokes.  If you don’t approve of such things, that’s OK!  The action of the TV show all took place in a town that would meet its fate soon enough at the foot of Mount Vesuvius.   Divine justice, right?

Look up the show on YouTube.   Frankie Howerd was perfect casting for Lurkio.  His character was straight out of 1970s British movies that hinted at sex, and gave the audience a wink and a nudge.  This was not porn.  This was burlesque.  If you have seen an episode of Benny Hill, then the middle age bad boy persona may seem familiar.  Such a show would not be tolerated today.   The show premiered in 1969. 

Recently, a revival was proposed with the actress comedian Miranda Hart.  I can see why she was offered the role.  Ms. Harts TV show Miranda was nothing but an audition to take the role of Lurkio.  Miranda is a sitcom about a socially inept woman, owner of a joke shop, seeking a husband.  She loves a chef that works next door, and shares her thoughts by addressing the audience directly.  She is surrounded by wacky characters.  .  If you look really hard it had the same set up of UP POMPEII.  Both actors had a strong connection to the audience, through the use of the theatrical use of what is called the aside (where the actor addresses the audience directly on the action of the play).     

However, Hart turned the role down. 

Maybe, and I could be wrong, Hart saw the firestorm that could have come from starring in a BCE comedy in a #METOO world. 

In my opinion, Hart would have been nothing but brilliant!


Editor’s Note * Just so you get an idea of the banter. 

(Opening shots of a street in Ancient Pompeii.  As titles roll, citizens and slaves walk up and down the tiny street.)




“Up Pompeii!”

Written by

Talbot Rothwell

(Enter Lurkio from the interior of the domus)


OOHHHH.  Hail!  Oh, you are here already.  Does it Tempus Fugit.  It’s that late already.  Shant keep you long.

Greetings.  Noble Plebians, crafty artisans and arty courtesans.  I thinks that the lot.  Good.  The bit I’m going to do now is called the prologue. And you see, not only is this a quick way to get into the fruity part of the plot, but also helps me fill you in with who is who, who does what to who, and to whom they does what to.  IN addition…how…which brings me back to the fruity part.

My name is lurkio

How you do.

I’m a slave in the household of ludricous sextus.  To avoid disappointment. (wait for laugh)  Quiet please for prologue.  This means ludicrous the sixteenth, not ludicrous the sex scene.  He’s a Senator.   And of course politician don’t have time for that thing.  Well, they didn’t in these days.


Lurkio? Where are you, Lurkio?


I’M HERE MASTER.  (Aside)  Silly old fool.  I suspect he’s lost his laurel leaves.

Editor’s Note * I know.  I know.  It’s pure hokum. However, what a wonderful hokum it was.

Mors est A.P. Style dux

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