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Commentary

Roger Wilmut
 
Michael Terry

Goonery in the News

Spike Milligan Statue

An Interview

Canadian Charlies

Dirk Maggs

An article that first appeared in Newsletter no: 72

"Now own up - when was the last time you listened to any 'Second Series' Goon Shows? You know, the rare ones taken off-air by primitive means back in 1952, so that you have to bend your ear hard to the speaker to hear all words; the ones with that occasional but unmistakeable "peeowww" noise where the recordist, sitting by his wireless set has shut off his open-reel deck to edit out Max Geldray (and who-oh-why didn't he edit out the Stargazers instead?).

In fact, I'm willing to bet that most fans rarely listen to them, given the multitude of better recorded and - you have to admit - funnier Goon Show's we have available to us from the later Series'.

Yet these early Shows make fascinating listening, precisely because the classic 'Goons Humour' is not yet fully realised.  At this time the Goons' had not evolved into the brilliantly paced, fluid ensemble that they were to become, and here in 1952 you can listen to them still struggling to escape from the conventional BBC radio humour of the 'Forties.

There are two virtually complete Second Series shows in the GSPS vaults: numbers One & Three. They stand alone as our only examples of such early Goonery, separated as they are by more than a complete Series of 'vanished' Goon Shows before we get to the more familiar ground of the 4th Series and beyond.
The reason for this dearth of early Goon Show recordings is that the Transcription Service did not begin systematically preserving radio shows until late 1954, when the Goons' were already into their 5th Series.

Perhaps then, the best way of describing these Shows is to point out the differences between them and the later more familiar ones.

First, each of the early Shows contain three or four disconnected sketches. Each sketch revolved around a central character, and the form of the comedy is for him to exchange rapid one-liners with a multitude of constantly changing 'minor' characters. Fans of old-time radio will recognise this as the format for Tommy Handley's "ITMA" show of the 'Forties.

Second, the actors are introduced as themselves. Goons fans have since become used to the mind-bending but unexplained convention that, for example, it is an anonymous Peter Sellers performing as Grytpype, who is in turn performing another role in any given story line. But the world was apparently not ready for this in
1952, for we are deemed to need an explanation from Andrew Timothy the announcer, that Major Bloodnok, "the Goon military historian", is "the extraordinary creation of Peter Sellers."

Michael Bentine is introduced as, of course, the incomparable Osric Pureheart. Bentine's manic, turbo-charged voice as the mad inventor is easily the most distinctive sound of these early shows (until he left at the end of the Second Series). In the first, he builds the Suez Canal, playing his central character to various minor ones, including a bizarrely Yorkshire accented Ferdinand De Lesseps, courtesy of Peter Sellers. Sellers also gives us his camp Flowerdew voice (check out his well known Michael Parkinson interview for the origin of that one), misquoting Keats in the rather naughty crack "A thing of beauty is a boy forever'. Yes - the Goons were slipping things past the BBC censor even then!

They were also adding well- developed and hilarious sound effects, as per Pureheart's high-speed excavator (or is it really his watch?), which sounds like a lot of tin cans banging together, followed by an alarm bell and a broken spring. In the third show's Pureheart segment, Osric builds the Crystal Palace, though unwisely doesn't insure it against fire. Revolving around him are, Milligan as Eccles, Harry Secombe with a Northern accent, and Peter Sellers as both an insurance salesman and Queen Victoria.

Each of these solo spots was also accorded a musical introduction - one for Handsome Harry, one for Pureheart, and.., one for Major Bloodnok! Yes, folks, the dreaded Bloodnok Theme was not a Goon innovation of Series
5 but one of our rare links with early Goonery. Interestingly, Spike had no "solo" spot in these two shows - mainly because he was concentrating on writing the Shows but also, as he has indicated when talking about the early Goon days, he gained his professional experience on the Goon Show, whereas the others all brought stage experience with them to the start of Crazy People in 1951.

Some of the material in these shows is more plainly satirical than in later Goons. There is a spoof on the long-running radio soap, "Mrs. Dale's Diary", which has been Americanised to the point where the story is nothing but a long string of increasingly absurd commercials - culminating in the one for the gun that shoots Mrs. Dale. Sellers' talent for mimicry is showcased in 'The World's Greatest Film' and a news broadcast from the year 1999, which both take a dig at some contemporary BBC personalities -especially Ted Ray. Some of this is reminiscent of the 5th series'
"1985", but by then this style of plot had become a rare exception to the rule. After the early shows, the Goons rarely spent much time directly lampooning other institutions - the humour was becoming increasingly more abstract, the satire oblique.

There is one other voice in these early shows not to be heard after the 4th series: that of announcer Andrew Timothy. Clearly he is the model for Wallace Greenslade's later intrusions into the show. Master of the dry, disapproving voice one would expect from a BBC announcer 'forced' to work on the Goon Show, he makes acid comments about the cast, then gives himself away with
"Members of the Andrew Timothy fan club will be pleased to know that old Tim is on form tonight."

But it is the cast who gets the last laugh, in the finale of the third show, when Tim protests he cannot appear in "The World's Greatest Film."

TIM:
I'm not an actor, I'm an announcer. The BBC only allows me to say one line.
SELLERS:  Well say that, then! Go on, start again…
NERO: 
What is this drivel? This rubbish, this utter nonsense?
TIM:  This is the BBC Home Service.

Astute Canadian Charlies will recognise this article as hailing from one of their home produced mags, penned by the dreaded Bill Kempton. Except for a single inserted paragraph (Editorial license, you know) this is all his own work
- and a jolly good job he's done of it too.... - ED"