The Last Goon Show of All
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|Home station||BBC Radio 4|
|TV adaptations||Simulcast on BBC 2|
|Created by||Spike Milligan|
|Written by||Spike Milligan|
|Produced by||John Browell|
|Narrated by||Andrew Timothy|
|Recording studio||Camden Theatre, London|
|Original release||October 5, 1972– present|
|No. of episodes||Special edition|
|Opening theme||Old Comrades March|
|Ending theme||Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead|
The Last Goon Show of All, broadcast on 5 October 1972, was a special edition of the famous BBC Radio show The Goon Show, commissioned as part of the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the BBC. It was simulcast on radio and television, and later released as an audio recording on long-playing record. This in turn has been re-issued in other formats such as compact disc. A video of the television broadcast was also released on VHS and later on DVD, although with some omissions. In early October 2007, 35 years after the original broadcast, a full unedited version was broadcast on BBC 7, the digital radio channel dedicated to re-runs of classic shows.
Different versions of the show could be heard in different contexts. The television broadcast began with pre-show announcements by the producer, John Browell, and introduction of the participants, followed by warm-up routines by the cast. The broadcast proper begins with Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe each trying and failing to lead the other two in saying "It's great to be back." This was the start of the show from the radio audience's point of view. Announcer Andrew Timothy then intervenes with "They haven't quite got the hang of it yet, but after another smoke they should be switched on."
From there the show re-capitulates the cast introductions with typically skewed humour. There is a spoof "warm-up" where Sellers, using a "dramatic voice" announces that the best way to warm up an audience is to have the gentlemen squeeze the thigh of the lady sitting next to them.
Timothy then announces that, since Her Majesty the Queen is not available, Mr. Secombe has donned a "floral cretonne frock" and stepped in for her at the last minute. Secombe then attempts to "start the show" which sounds a lot like starting, or rather failing to start, a car. This play on words was used by Milligan in his other scripts, particularly the contemporaneous "Milligna Show". The tone of the whole show, in fact, was much more like Milligan's then-current writing than any of the original shows. Although all the stock characters put in an appearance, the humour consists mostly of one-liners.
Secombe eventually starts the show with the help of "a Constabule (sic) of Olde England played by an aging Peter Sellers" who points out that the show has no jokes in the "fuel tonk". Again, humorous typographical errors were a staple of Milligan's writing at the time. For this interlude, Sellers used his impression of Michael Caine's voice, complete with the catchphrase "There's not many people know that!" This is a reference to Caine's supposed fondness for telling people obscure facts. Secombe shouts in some old jokes and "starts" the show.
Andrew Timothy takes us to the Westminster City Council Rubbish Dump, situated in Hyde Park, where Hercules Grytpype-Thynne and Count Jim Moriarty, more ragged than ever, are starving. The Council has just dumped a huge amount of lagging, because "it was in feet and inches, and we have gone metric". Secombe, now in character as Neddie Seagoon, arrives "driving an unlicensed Goon Show with CD plates on". Gritpype's comment is "Yes, it does look a bit seedy, doesn't it." The two villains then attempt their usual swindle of Neddie, in this case convincing him that his legs must be lagged to keep them warm for the coming winter, the payment being his "war gratuity" of one hundred pounds.
However when Seagoon lifts his trouser leg, it is revealed that Bluebottle has been hiding inside, and is threatening to release pictures of Neddie's bloomers unless he is given money he will use to impress his schoolyard paramour, Mollie Quotts. Bereft of all cash, Seagoon decides to head for Blackpool to earn some money doing his old stage act, the "shaving routine", which was Secombe's own stock-in-trade.
Seagoon fades away, Andrew Timothy dismissing him with "Mr. Secombe's departure is a timely one. Any departure of his is timely." Timothy then introduces Max Geldray as follows: "Just before this show started, Mr. Max Geldray died. His wife described his condition as: satisfactory." Geldray then plays "The Carioca" with the orchestra.
After the interlude Andrew Timothy announces that "Seagoon is hauling his huge bloated Welsh body up the M1 to Blackpool, and all lanes are blocked." The show moves to the home of Henry Crun and Minnie Bannister for a typical exchange between the two old fossils, with no consequence to the plot other than to link to the entrance of Major Bloodnok, pursued by the Red Bladder, played as always by Ray Ellington. After an exchange of empty threats with the Bladder, Bloodnok is told by his aide, Singhiz Thing, that it is time for his "perversion". There follows an interlude of bizarre and suggestive sound effects overlaid with ecstatic yelps from Bloodnok, although this could be more of a satire on the kind of lascivious roles Peter Sellers played in several of his films up to that point. Bloodnok then sends Seagoon to the cellar to rest, this serving to re-introduce Eccles to the audience.
Eccles has been in the cellar since he delivered coal and forgot to let go of the sack. He has been eating coke to survive and letting his nephew, Little Jim, live in his boot. Possibly the highlight of the show, the encounter of Seagoon and Eccles produces what may be the quintessential Eccles quote:
- Seagoon: What are you doing down here?
- Eccles: Everybody's got to be somewhere!
The philosophical appeal of this was not lost on the audience, who responded with slow-building but long-lasting laughter.
Neddie eventually falls asleep, setting the stage for Bluebottle to re-emerge from his bloomers and thus begin a conversation with Eccles, usually another high-point in a Goon Show. This section ends with Bluebottle persuading Eccles to help him push Seagoon down a well, which naturally leads to Little Jim's catchphrase "He's fallen in the water!" During the subsequent audience applause, Milligan shouts "Had to get it in, folks! Had to get it in!"
Bloodnok reappears, pursued by the Red Bladder, but mysteriously transforms into Grytpype-Thynne, who announces to Neddie that "we have found Goon Show number 1-6-3, in which you play the lead all the way through as an underfloor heating detective". Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, this line falls victim to one of Sellers' "fluffs", for which he was notorious, followed by an attack of giggling, another one of his trademarks. After some asides by his castmates, he delivers the line, which plays into a risqué reference to former Goon Michael Bentine. Neddie is then nailed under floorboards for his role, and left there for some months.
In fact he is under the floor of a dressing-room at the Palace Theatre, Blackpool, and this room is given to Bluebottle to prepare for his appearance with "Capt. Goatcabin's Balancing Stallions". He hears Neddie's cries for help, then sees his belly through a knot-hole. The show ends with him poking Neddie in the stomach, as a cacophony of pre-recorded lines from previous parts of the show rise up, followed by a recording of an explosion, a common end to a Goon Show plot.
Andrew Timothy finishes the show with "The next Goon Show will be on July 7th, 1982. And from Goon Show number 167, farewell. P.S.: Forever". The orchestra plays the signature tune, as Andrew Timothy announces the credits, then moves into "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead", the regular play-out for the show.
In the full recording broadcast on BBC 7, the cast are then heard saying their thank-you's to the audience, with Milligan coming close to abusing them, again something for which he was known in the years after The Goon Show. There follow some minutes of silence after this, then a dirty limerick can be heard, recited by Sellers and accompanied by laughter from Secombe and Milligan.
- Announcer Andrew Timothy.
- Writer Spike Milligan.
- Producer John Browell.
Cuts and edits
- Spike Milligan's contribution to the pre-show warm-up was cut to a minimum in the TV broadcast and on the vinyl release. Only in the BBC 7 broadcast is his parody of "I Left My Heart In San Francisco" heard.
- The script referred to then-Prime Minister Edward Heath, as "Grocer" Heath, a sobriquet invented by the satirical magazine Private Eye. This was heard during the TV broadcast but the word "Grocer" was cut for the vinyl release. It was left intact in the BBC 7 broadcast.
- Sellers' line ending with "underfloor heating detective" leads to the following scripted exchange:
- Seagoon: I've always wanted big parts!
- Grytpype: You've always had them Neddie, you and Bentine!
- This was cut from the original television and radio broadcast, but left untouched in other versions.
- Andrew Timothy's winding up of the show is heard as ending with "...farewell, P.S. forever" in the BBC 7 broadcast. "P.S. forever" was cut from all other versions.
- The VHS, and subsequent DVD release (which is verbatim the VHS release) lasts 40 minutes. However, the live telecast, and subsequent LP release were longer. The CD release is faithful to the LP release, with a total running time of about 52 minutes. In editing the VHS release down to 40 minutes, the lead-up to a delayed punch-line is lost. The punch line comprises Bluebottle asking Moriarty: "...what is that lump on your nut?", to which Moriarty replies: "That is the difference between margarine". The primer for this punch-line was edited out between announcer Andrew Timothy's follow-on at the end of Ray Ellington's song, and the part where Neddy drives up on an unlicensed Goon Show. Amongst the banter, Grytpype-Thynne tells Moriarty to place his head on an anvil, followed by a clang, and screams of pain from Moriarty. Grytpype then says: "now, taste this margarine". Moriarty complies. Grytpype says: "There. Can you tell the difference?". Moriarty: "No". Grytpype (triumphantly): "You see! You can't tell the difference between a lump on the head and margarine. The leadership of the Conservative Party is yours for the asking!"
30 second sample from "The Last Goon Show of All".
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In his Technical Notes for The Goon Show Compendium Volume Twelve (2016), remastering engineer Ted Kendall describes how he and Dirk Maggs decided to produce a 25th Anniversary "restored" version of the programme in 1997 by selecting material from all of the available sources. These included the BBC Transcription Services multitrack tapes which also contained rehearsal material. For the Compendium, Kendall remastered the 1997 version and, in his words, removed some rough edges.
As with the original series, references to contemporary events are heard in the show, and with the passage of time the significance of the references has faded. For instance, at one point Neddie declares that he must get Bluebottle's photographs back "before Bryan Forbes turns them into a novelty!" This was a reference to the recently published first novel (The Distant Laughter) by the film director Forbes. The novel had been received with derision in certain quarters, particularly in Private Eye.
There are other references to Private Eye and its humour to be heard. At the time the magazine was celebrating its tenth anniversary. During the warm up, Secombe jokes that he is broadcasting "live via satellite from Neasden", a reference to the all-purpose urban location used in Private Eye's parodies and fake news articles.
The British press celebrated the event more for its historic significance than the actual content of the show. There was extensive reporting of the pre- and post- show publicity including interviews with the participants. Since Sellers was by then an internationally known film star, and Secombe had become a regular performer in other contexts, such as his appearance as Mr. Bumble in the film of Oliver!, the Lionel Bart musical, there was much public interest even among those unfamiliar with the original show. The sleeve notes for the LP release quote newspaper articles, including one from The Guardian headlined "Goons Reithed in Glory".
Fifty years of nation speaking peace unto nation. Fifty years of Reith, Normanbrook, Hill and Alvar Lidell and how does the British Broadcasting Corporation celebrate the occasion? Answer: with a maniac cackle. It showed a fitting sense of history. The Goons, after all, were the fathers of the great national in-joke and a private language.
- Browell, John (Producer). (1974). The Last Goon Show of All. (Long Playing record). BBC Records. Stereo 2964 035
- Browell, John (Radio Producer). (1994). The Last Goon Show of All (disc 1). Running time 52 mins. Released as 2 disc set, with disc 2 containing Michael Parkinson Meets the Goons. BBC Radio Collection, with PolyGram. BBCCD1630
- Hespe, Douglas (Television Presenter) (2005). The Last Goon Show of All. (BBC DVD release, from edited 1973 VHS video of original 1972 telecast). BBC Worldwide Ltd. B00918-9. Running time 40 minutes
- The performance was attended by some of the Royal Family, including Prince Philip and Princess Anne. Prince Charles, an avid fan, famously sent a telegram from the Navy ship on which he was serving.
- Cars registered to diplomats bear a special plate with the letters "CD" standing for Corps Diplomatique". Such cars are ubiquitous in London, and are notorious for ignoring traffic laws, to the irritation of residents.
- In the 1960s and 70s "satisfactory" was one of the terms used in medical bulletins issued to the press when a public figure had medical treatment.
- The "number" of this edition of the Goon Show was, along with Neddie dressing as the Queen, one of the few running gags in the show. Secombe begins by announcing the start of "Goon Show number 1-6-1". Later Bloodnok answers the telephone and announces that the BBC has switched to "number 1-6-2". Grytpype announces "number 1-6-3" and at the end, Bluebottle declares that the show is now "number 1-6-4" in which he charges people to poke at Neddie's belly through the hole in the floor. Based on the publication "More Goon Show Scripts" and the chronology therein, the final Goon Show proper was number 264.