Balham - Gateway to the South

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"Balham, Gateway to the South" is a comedy sketch that parodies cinema travelogues by presenting the South London suburb of Balham as an exotic locale. It was written by Frank Muir and Denis Norden for the short-lived BBC radio series Third Division and featured in the second edition broadcast on the BBC Third Programme on 2 February 1949.[1] The sketch's depication of Balham as a faraway, desirable location contrasted with the real area during postwar austerity.[2][3] One memorable part of the sketch is the pronunciation of Balham as "Bal-Ham" in an American accent, instead of the British pronunciation "Bal-um".

The original sketch was performed by Peter Sellers as narrator, with others such as Benny Hill and Michael Bentine contributing other voices. The script features the narration of exaggerated claims regarding the attractions of the area. The sketch was later performed solo by Peter Sellers, in a parody of the American newsreel-travelogue host James A. Fitzpatrick, on the 1958 Parlophone record The Best of Sellers, produced by George Martin.[2][4][5] The sketch was scored by Ron Goodwin, and that led Alfred Hitchcock to engage him to do the score for Frenzy.[6]

"Balham - Gateway to the South" has entered common usage as a phrase in the United Kingdom.[7] It has been invoked in the House of Lords; by Baroness Garden of Frognal in regards to tourism spending in 2011 and by Baron Greaves in a parliamentary debate regarding HS2 in 2020.[8]

The sketch was expanded in 1979 to form the script of a short (21-minute) color film of the same name directed by Micky Dolenz and starring Danny Schiller and Judy Gridley as American tourists and Robbie Coltrane in several roles, including those originally voiced by Sellers. It was narrated, in an English accent, by David de Keyser and was released for broadcast in 1981.[9][10] In 1990, the Triangle Action Group proposed the erection of a statue of Sellers in the centre of Balham due to the sketch's impact on its tourist trade. Upon hearing of this, the writers Frank Muir and Denis Norden penned a letter published in the Evening Standard, stating "for a trifling sum, we would be prepared to go along to the new shopping centre and stand there personally".[11]


  1. ^ Barfe, Louis (2008). Turned Out Nice Again: The Story of British Light Entertainment. Atlantic Books. ISBN 9781848877573.
  2. ^ a b Muir 1997, p. 157.
  3. ^ Sikov 2002, p. 46.
  4. ^ Vestey, Michael (4 July 1998). "The cure for SAD-ROM". The Spectator. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
  5. ^ "Peter Sellers – The Best Of Sellers". Discogs. Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  6. ^ Gleason, Alexander (11 January 2003). "Ron Goodwin". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  7. ^ Victor, Terry; Dalzell, Tom (2015). The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9781317372523. Retrieved 1 July 2022.
  8. ^ "HS2". Parallel Parliament. Retrieved 2 July 2022.
  9. ^ "Balham: Gateway to the South (1979)". BFI Film Forever. Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  10. ^ "Balham – Gateway to the South". TC Cream. Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  11. ^ Muir 1997, p. 158.


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