Updated: Oct 12, 2021
The 12th episode of the first series of the Goon Show was broadcast on 16 August 1951 at 8pm on the Home Service. The listing is here.
Among several shows cited as forerunners to The Goon Show is the rather mysterious entity known as Bumblethorpe.
It was written by Spike Milligan, Larry Stephens, and Peter Ling – who went on to create the TV soap Crossroads – and ran for a series of eight shows. The cast included several future Goon Show guests: Valentine Dyall (as ‘Pike’) and Kenneth Connor (as ‘Niblo’), while Graham Stark and Jack Train also made appearances. The producer was Peter Eton, who was later to have a significant impact on the success of the Goons.
Peter Sellers appeared in the second episode, broadcast on 19 November 1951, replacing Valentine Dyall at short notice – more on this tomorrow.
No recordings of Bumblethorpe exist and very little remains to explain what it was, but according to the few articles I’ve found about it, the series – which starred Robert Moreton – had a storyline running through all eight episodes. Each one featured a different guest as that week’s “Bumblethorpe”.
A New Series
Valentine Dyall will be making a venture into variety when he joins forces with Robert Moreton, Avril Angers and Kenneth Connor in a new series entitled ‘Bumblethorpe’, which takes over from ‘The Trinder Box’ at 7.45 on Monday evenings in [sic] the Home Service and commences next week.
Mr Moreton promises that this will be a different type of comedy show, with a consistent story running through the whole series. The significance of the title remains a mystery for the present, but the first guest artist, Leon Cortez, is described as being ‘this week’s Bumblethorpe’. The show will include Robin Richmond at the organ, Stanley Black and the Dance Orchestra, and the script has been written by Spike Milligan, Larry Stephens, and Peter Ling.
(from The Stage, 8 November 1951)
There is a short piece from the Radio Times from November 1951 here attempting to shed a little light on the series, including Peter Eton’s method of recruiting actors.
In an article in the Daily Mirror in October 1951, Moreton described the show as “a comedy thriller with Bumblethorpe as a vague type who has lost a diary”.
The fact it was not renewed past eight episodes implies quite strongly that this venture was not as successful as the Goons were to become. As an unnamed critic put it in the 30 November 1951 edition of the Kensington Post: “Bumblethorpe… seems particularly uncomic to me. There is a good deal of rushing about and manful efforts to build up a series of the kind of portraits of which ‘Itma’ [sic] gave us the definite gallery.”
The ITMA reference is notable if only because of the strong links some have drawn between it and The Goon Show – although Milligan claims in his memoirs not to be a fan.
The broadcasts were as follows – click the date to see the Radio Times listing:
12 November 1951 – guest star Leon Cortez
19 November 1951 – guest star Alfred Marks
26 November 1951 – guest star Jack Train
3 December 1951 – guest star Bernard Miles
10 December 1951 – guest star Bonar Colleano
17 December 1951 – guest star Eric Barker
31 December 1951 – guest star Tony Hancock
The eighth episode also starred Leon Cortez, according to Milligan biographer Humphrey Carpenter citing the BBC’s Written Archives, but I’ve been unable to find a listing for it.
Interestingly, Carpenter also states that this series featured Milligan voicing a character known as Minnie Bannister. More of her later.
Image of Robert Moreton sourced from Wikipedia.