A French Greenslade and a disappearing library
Updated: Oct 11, 2021
Inspector Albert Secombe investigated ‘The Case of the Vanishing Room’ for the 21st episode of the fourth series of the Goon Show.
The investigation was broadcast to a gripped nation on 15 February 1954 – broadcast days having switched from Fridays to Mondays – as per page 18 of the Radio Times.
Before I got to that page, though, I was distracted by a short interview with one Wallace Greenslade, which can be found on page 7. It covers the first few months of his “apprenticeship in the realms of lunacy”, in particular his role in ‘The Flying Saucer Mystery’. It continues:
Greenslade spent thirteen years at sea, mostly as a purser. He says that his experiences as a seagoing ‘welfare man’ convinced him that ‘seventy-five per cent of the people who travel on ships cease to be their normal selves as soon as they set foot on a deck. They become ill-mannered, bad-tempered, and overbearing. Why? I haven’t a clue!’
(from ‘Both Sides of the Microphone’, Radio Times issue 1579, 12 February 1954)
Back to the episode. For me, this has one of my favourite introductory sections, packed full of Goonish silliness.
Sellers: In the county of Sissex lies the hamlet of Brodley-on-Cleat, known locally as Brodley-on-Cleat, from the village of the same name. Milligan: Population in 1889: 4,862. Secombe: Population in 1954: 87. Sellers: Principle exports: population.
The jokes keep coming.
Greenslade: Brodley-on-Cleat bore one famous son, the poet Sprunt. He wrote but one sonnet. Sprunt (Sellers, West country accent): An art and glood, the clood and garly by. Arnd du full fargen dypen crackley glarn. Be near the clated Brodley bicent down. Ahahahar, ahahahar. Brodley-on-Cleat, by ripple slip-ed gyzee den. Ohohar. Greenslade: On hearing this, the villagers erected a tombstone and immediately placed the poet under it.
‘The Case of the Vanishing Room’ is investigated by Inspector Albert Secombe, voiced by Harry Secombe with an oddly distracting Yorkshire accent. Evidently, Neddie Seagoon was still being fleshed out and experimented with as a character. (Sounds painful.)
He travels to Brodley-on-Cleat and arrives at the police station, where his knocking on the door wakes up Henry Crun and Minnie Bannister. They point him in the direction of the home of Lord Cretinby, who it turns out has been the victim of a crime-type murder.
Milligan (whispering): Yes, who is it? Secombe (whispering): Is this the place where there's been a murder? Milligan (whispering): Yes, which murder are you inquiring about? Secombe (whispering): Which murder? How many have there been? Milligan (whispering): One. Secombe (whispering): That's the one. Now I'm Inspector Seagoon and I- Sellers (off, shouting): Close the door, will you? The snow's drifting over the body and you know what a weak chest he’s got! Secombe (whispering): Here, why isn't he whispering? Milligan (whispering): Well, he hasn't got laryngitis.
The inspector interviews Gravely Headstone, the footman. He found the body when he entered to serve poisoned coffee but didn’t see Lord Cretinby’s death as he was wiping a blood-stained knife. However, Headstone assures Secombe that no one else came in as he “never left the table except to dissolve the pistol in an acid bath”.
Eccles is brought in to take pictures of the body, and between them they seal the library – with Eccles on the inside. Upon reopening it, Secombe discovers that the library and its occupants have vanished entirely.
Ray Ellington’s music drives us to France where Major Bloodnok is checking in to the Hotel Fred.
Hotel secretary (Secombe, French): Voici le chambre. Bloodnok: Right, well here's a franc for your trouble Hotel secretary: It was no trouble. Bloodnok: Oh, well in that case I'll have it back.
Upon opening the bathroom door, he discovers the library, Eccles, and the body of Lord Cretinby, baffling them both – “What’s Paris doing in Brodley-on-Cleat?”.
Learning of this, Secombe sets off for the French capital, while the hotel manager discovers he has acquired a new room and two non-paying guests, one living and one dead.
Eccles: I’m the live one, folks.
Thank you. Now, folks, we have the first recorded appearance of Wallace Greenslade’s superb French accent.
Hotel manager (Greenslade, French): Now Monsieur, ze bill. If you do not pay it, we will throw you out. Bloodnok: One more threat like that and I'll leave! Hotel manager: Monsieur must pay for the extra room. Bloodnok: But I didn't bring it here. Hotel manager: Maybe not, but your friend is lying down in it. Bloodnok: Yes, he's dead. Hotel manager: Oh pardon, then we'll make a reduction, we always make a reduction for dead person.
Despite this, Bloodnok is still landed with a 5,000-franc bill for the room staying at the hotel. Fortunately, Inspector Secombe arrives with his assistant, Bluebottle. With Eccles, they reconstruct the crime.
Eccles: Ahahahaha ha! So Lord Cretinby, your time has come, take that! [FX: Three gunshots] Eccles: Oooh. Bluebottle: You swine, aaiieee! You rotten swine, you have shotted me, aaiieee! I’m shot and I’m deaded! Farewell I say, oohh. Slumps to floor in death agony, strikes Alan Ladd pose as depicted in motion picture Shane. Does quick twitch, oww, dies, exits left, thank you.
Secombe attempts to arrest Eccles for the murder of Bluebottle, but the gun is now out of control and the chaos can only be stopped by the closing theme tune.
An updated version, titled ‘The Vanishing Room’, was part of the Vintage Goons series and was broadcast on 13 October 1958, as per page 34 of that week’s Radio Times. It’s this version - hear it in the YouTube video above - I am familiar with, which is probably why Secombe’s Yorkshire accent grates with me as I’m used to the classic Neddie Seagoon voice in the central role.
The original recording did not emerge until it was included in The Goon Show Compendium 14, released in November 2018.
Title: The Case of the Vanishing Room
Series 4, Episode 21
Written by: Spike Milligan
Producer: Peter Eton
Available on The Goon Show Compendium 14.
Vintage Goons version
Title: The Vanishing Room
Producer: Roy Speer