Rawlinson End was a series of thirteen 15-20 minute radio broadcasts, created and performed by Vivian Stanshall (formerly of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band) for BBC Radio 1 between 1975 and 1991. The sessions recorded between 1977 and 1978 formed the template for Stanshall's LP record album, Sir Henry at Rawlinson End in 1978.
Vivian Stanshall's first foray into radio as a solo artist began in 1970 with sessions for BBC radio DJ John Peel by his groups biG GRunt and Freaks, after which Peel's producer John Walters recruited Stanshall to substitute for Peel when the latter went on a month's holiday in August 1971. Each of Stanshall's four allotted two-hour slots, which he called "Radio Flashes", consisted of him acting as DJ, playing his own favourite records as well as the usual playlist. He punctuated the records with semi-parodic DJ patter and flights of wistful and/or surreal fancy, and pre-recorded comedy sketches starring himself and actress Chris Bowler. He also devised mock advertisements for absurdist household animal repellents such as "Rilla-Go!", "Repellephant" and "Rhi-No!" for the show, and created a four-part radio serial complete with cliffhanger ending for each episode, depicting the bizarre exploits of Dick Barton-style gentleman adventurer Colonel Knutt and 'his cheeky cockney sidekick' Lemmy. Starring himself as Colonel Knutt, The Who's drummer Keith Moon as Lemmy, and Traffic's drummer Jim Capaldi, it was this last feature of "Radio Flashes" that helped to sow the seeds for the original radio serial broadcasts of "Sir Henry At Rawlinson End" later in the decade.
During the same period he devised "Radio Flashes" Stanshall also created a spoken-word piece, conceived and honed through live performances throughout 1970 and 1971, entitled "Rawlinson End". This original piece was a reading of an isolated, apparently randomly-selected instalment of a nonexistent 'continuing serial' that told the story of a dysfunctional semi-aristocratic British family (the Rawlinsons) fallen on hard times, with added literary allusions and a slightly scatological aftertaste. An embryonic version of the piece was originally broadcast on radio DJ John Peel's Top Gear in early 1971 as part of a session by Stanshall's touring band Freaks.
Rawlinson End itself was originally inspired by the continuing weekly serials in vintage women's interest magazines that Stanshall would only ever read one instalment of at random while killing time in various waiting rooms (hence the 'Story So Far' prologue section ending with 'Now, read on..'). As a consequence of only reading a single isolated episode of such serials Stanshall would never read the other instalments that book-ended them, and this meant that he could never get a real sense of their complete narrative. Fortunately he was in fact far more fascinated by this absence of beginning or end to a narrative than by the narrative itself, and so he decided to explore the idea further. Therefore the 'continuing serial' that the original Rawlinson End was an alleged instalment of did not actually exist beyond this single episode at the time, and Stanshall seemingly had no plans to expand upon it at that point. A further-developed and more polished version of the original piece, recorded later in 1971, does however appear on the Bonzo Dog Band's post-breakup contractual obligation album, Let's Make Up and Be Friendly. This track marks the first official appearance of the Rawlinson family saga. (Although the name Rawlinson had already been attributed to various minor characters Stanshall had created in lyrics during his Bonzo Dog Band days, the Rawlinson family were now about to take centre stage in Stanshall's recording career, and would remain there until his untimely death in 1995)
At this point however the concept was not yet defined as a parody of radio serials. This was despite seeming ideally-suited to an audio medium with Stanshall, with his lugubrious tones and easy mastery of regional accents and vocal stylings, serving as both the omniscient narrator and performer of all the characters.
It was John Walters who realised the piece's real potential as a radio broadcast and later suggested to Stanshall that the Rawlinson End saga could be expanded into a loosely serialised form for the John Peel show, a suggestion with which Stanshall readily agreed. Beginning in earnest with 'Christmas At Rawlinson End' in 1975, thirteen short episodes were produced over the next sixteen years. Each episode or 'part' was roughly 15-20 minutes long, and featured a variety of guest musicians alongside Stanshall's own vividly-drawn characterisations.
This version of Rawlinson End was a more openly absurd dadaist parody of classic English radio drama serials, with a smattering of P.G. Wodehouse's Blandings Castle thrown in, as it now focused on the character of Sir Henry Rawlinson and his branch of the family, who only briefly appeared or were mentioned only in passing in the original, embryonic versions of the saga.
Each episode of Rawlinson End (even including the very first versions) opened with a musical prelude and The Narrator's announcement: "The Story So Far...", which is a common introductory device used in episodic serials of all kinds; however in the case of Rawlinson End, the details of this introduction were often unrelated to any previous events that had occurred in the narrative and indeed the episode itself may not have even continued in a logical order from the preceding one. Accordingly, episodes or 'parts', when numbered, were also not always numbered in a strictly linear sequence.
By late 1978 the Rawlinson End radio broadcasts had spawned the LP record Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, which was a re-recorded distillation of material from the 1977-78 BBC sessions. This was followed in 1980 by the movie Sir Henry at Rawlinson End which by its very nature is a different beast to either radio broadcast or LP record, and expanded the concept further but arguably lost some of the original's imaginative charm and singularity of vision.
A somewhat lacklustre sequel LP, Sir Henry at N'didi’s Kraal, followed in 1984, while the still rather superior radio broadcasts continued, sporadically, until 1991. At the time of Stanshall's Death in 1995, he was said to be preparing and recording material for a new LP detailing Sir Henry's wartime exploits, provisionally entitled Plastered In Paris. The sessions for this project apparently yielded no finished vocal tracks, however, and so it remains unreleased.
At present the original radio series remains officially unreleased, but all the episodes exist as off air recordings made by listeners at home. The quality ranges from good to excellent.
|#1||Aunt Florrie Remembers, from Rawlinson End, Part 21||16 October 1975||27 October 1975||Aunt Florrie's Waltz, Socks||Even the rats are hunchbacked, distrusting dentists||"The story so far: Sandra still smells, and Hubert has been sick."||Pete Moss (bass, piano, accordion, violin, cello), Mox (harmonica) and Bubs White (guitar, banjo, ukulele)||9:11|
|#2||Christmas at Rawlinson End, Parts 1 & 2||2 December 1975||22 & 23 December 1975||Torture My Tortie, Convivial Vivisectionists||Roxanne, awful squid marks, the sundial business||"Cannibalism at the Cine-Go-Go, or, you CAN have your kike and heat it. The story so far."||Julian Smedley (violin, mandolin), Andy Roberts (dulcimer)||17:31|
|#3||Christmas at Rawlinson End, Parts 3 & 4||2 December 1975||24 & 25 December 1975||Tonight We'll All Get Tight, All That Would Wash, The Party's Over||Uncle Otto, roar of the end, a half for Chuck||"Ralf heaves to. The story at once."||Julian Smedley (violin, mandolin), Andy Roberts (dulcimer)||20:18|
|#4||Part 34: An Absence of Whelks||21 March 1977||6 April 1977||Nice & Tidy||Hubert recalls, the history of broadcasting, Saint Epilonia, Ralf's musings, The wind in the willows, back at the Great House, the impossible shot||"The story so far: Loathsome Gerald has been caught observing the sun through a telescope and his squint is now permanent."||unlisted||14:19|
|#5||Part 35: Spades Balls and Sausage Trees||11 May 1977||23 May 1977||Interlewd, Sitting in a Sunken Garden||Sir Henry wakes, tongue sandwiches, Henry's rhinoceros tyranny, instant karma, the gibber poem, Mrs Radcliffe emerges||"English as tuppence, changing yet changeless as canal water, nestling in green nowhere, armoured and effete. Bold flag-bearer, opsimath, eremite, feudal, reactionary Rawlinson End. The story so far."||Zoot Money (guitar, piano, vocals), Barry Dransfield (violin, cello)||11:56|
|#6||The Road to Unreason (aka An Entrance of Trousers)||24 August & 14 December 1977||19 December 1977||Convivial Vivisectionists, Mrs Radcliffe (The Beast Inside)||Aunt Florrie recalls, shell shock, troops in the city||"The story so far: Hubert is growing mustard and cress in his left ear and performs even the most intimate of office with his head inclined to one side. Sir Henry's neck has healed nicely and Mrs Radcliffe has been banished from the house. Now read on dot dot dot."||Zoot Money (guitar, piano, vocals), Mox (harmonica, flute)||15:59|
|#7||A Fall of Felt Hats (aka Cantor's Home - Ten Lengths Clear of the Field)||29 March 1978||5 April 1978||Florrie's Waltz, Fool & Bladder, Interlewd, Smeeton||face jumping competition||"The story so far: The hapless and unusual Hubert, having unhappily chanced upon Sir Henry reliving the bombing of Dresden, has received a terrific thrashing and a crippling kick in the fork. He is now in disgrace, condemned to his room."||Julian Smedley (violin, mandolin), Jim Cuomo (clarinet, recorder, celeste, leg)||16:14|
|#8||Part 37: Cabbage Looking in Mufti||18 July 1978||25 July 1978||Zulu Song, Anonymous Barbers, Stripe Me a Pinky, Fresh Faced Boy, Ginger Geezer||Hubert shunned, Henry makes up, Hubert's stilts, P.C. Gibbon surveils, Art History, The Sewerage Works, phantom trousers||"The story so far: After the worm chewing outrage and Philippa Portley's continued and hysterical nausea, Hubert has been declared definitely off his chump by the Rawlinson family."||Julian Smedley (violin, mandolin), Pete Moss (bass, piano, accordion, violin, cello)||18:36|
|#9||Gooseflesh Steps, Part 1: The Hatchling||11 December 1979||24 December 1979||Cracks Are Showing||Rawlinson Shall Violently Punish, Sir Henry's blemish, the preparations for the eating, may God make you fart, Ben Quakebuttock comes to dinner, first courses||"Dr Headstuffing held the winking scalpel aloft with the delicacy and firmness of a man who knows his job. The shaking had stopped and from the liver bared before the blade to his noble mind pulsed a ligament of concentration."||Pete Moss (piano, doublebass, violin, mandolin, backing vocals), John Kirkpatrick (accordion, concertina, jews harp, backing vocals)||11:37|
|#10||The Crackpot at the End of the Rainbow||23 February 1988||18 April 1988||It's Murder Living Next Door, In The Garden, The Iguanadon||Here we are again, the dark bulb, under the sea||"For the last nine years Rawlinson End endured. But like the maze that grew before the great house, its inhabitants were pickled, corkscrewed, maddened and without light."||Pete Moss (bass, piano, accordion, violin, cello), Kenny Baldock (bass), Dave Swarbrick (violin, mandolin)||18:27|
|#11||The Eating at Rawlinson End||9 August 1988||23 November 1988||You'll Have A Nervous Breakdown Sure as Eggs is Eggs, Appearances Are So Misleading, Hubert's Buzzing Song, Sperling Is Right, Scrotum's Song||The Fool and Bladder, six privies, what's wrong with most people||"In the blue wardrobe of Heaven are many unused clothes, too tight fitting yet too beautiful to throw away. And in that wardrobe we hang our likenesses - yellow diaries, yellowed with yesterday, thumb-smeared with tomorrow. But the now - the present - like the hollow screech of ancient flamingos in search of shrimps, is still vibrantly, shocking pink."||Pete Moss (bass, piano, accordion, violin, cello), Dave Swarbrick (violin, mandolin), Tony Roberts, Danny Thompson (bass)||20:35|
|#12||Cackling Gas Capers||6 April 1991||29 May 1991||Octavio, Tour De Farce, Achmedillo, Peristaltic Waves||The consecration of Rawlinson End, the sauropod, Henry awoke on the billiard table, seems to me you're in need of treatment||"The exhausted egg yolk sun yawned and hoisted itself through the smug green smog wafting from Concreton estate, and split dawned, smearing the sky like the yellowy stain round a bath plug."||Dave Swarbrick (violin, mandolin), Tony Roberts, Danny Thompson (bass), Rodney Slater (saxophone), Roger Ruskin Spear (saxophones, clarinet, piano, guitars, percussion), Henry Lowther (trumpet), John Megginson (bass, keyboards), Les Cirkel||22:39|
|#13||The Thing at Rawlinson End||1991||21 September 1991||The Thing, The Queen's Hat||A guide in the way of success, trapped in the fridge, I hate prejudice||"The story so far: Bugger it. It's complete rubbish anyway."||15:53|
In 1996 various parts of the series were edited down to five 14-minute programmes running Christmas week for Book at Bedtime on BBC Radio 4, in tribute to Stanshall who had died in 1995. These excerpts reportedly made even less sense than the originals.
- Monday 23 December 1996: Sir Henry Entertains (edits of programmes 5 and 7)
- Tuesday 24 December 1996: Cabbage Looking in Mufti (edit of programme 8)
- Wednesday 25 December 1996: A Christmas Eating at Rawlinson End (edit of programme 9)
- Thursday 26 December 1996: The Hatching (edit of programme 10)
- Friday 27 December 1996: Diplodocus vs Concreton (edit of programme 11)
- "Crackling Radio Capers". Ginger Geezer. Retrieved 2017-06-14.
- "The Rawlinson End Audio Archive". Therawlinsonendudioarchive.blogspot.com. Retrieved 2017-06-14.
- "Vivian Stanshall's Radio Flashes". Iankitching.me.uk. Retrieved 2017-06-14.
- "BBC Radio 4 Extra - Sir Henry at Rawlinson End - Episode guide". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2017-06-14.