‘Catch him before he gets to the bus stop!’
Updated: Oct 12, 2021
Episode three of the second series was broadcast on 5 February 1952 at 9:30pm on the BBC Home Service. The listing for the show is on page 22 of the Radio Times.
This is the second show for which a recording exists, and one of only two recordings of Michael Bentine’s contributions. He made no secret of being annoyed by this when discovered they had been erased upon returning from working in the US.
… [A]ccording to certain people, I had had no connection with the Goons whatsoever, and had contributed nothing to the success of the show. Furthermore, my forty-one Goon Shows, counting the earlier Crazy People versions, had all been wiped out of existence. Officially, the Goon Show started immediately after I left. By any standards, that is plain distortion of the facts.
(from The Reluctant Jester, by Michael Bentine, published by Corgi Books, 1993)
While it is a genuine shame that so little of the first three series survives, it was more to do with the technology available than any vendetta against Mr Bentine.
As Roger Wilmut explains in his Goonography, up until the fourth series the shows were recorded on acetate discs, a predecessor to vinyl that was rather fiddly to use, judging by this Wikipedia article. With the beginning of the fourth series, recording switched to magnetic tape, which was more durable and easier to edit, meaning more recordings survived.
Anyhoo. Back to episode three. In the first part of the show, Captain Pureheart is recalling how he built the Crystal Palace.
Andrew Timothy: And so the Crystal Palace project was started. Pureheart spent the first few weeks playing around with a model. Pureheart: Yes. The frontage is very good, but these sides should curve a little more, and this bit here needs attention. There... Model (Sellers): Oooh! You artists are all the same.
Once it is finished, he admires his work…
Welsh Workman (Secombe): Well, captain, that's that. You'd better get home and get some sleep. Pureheart: Yes, but first we'll have to move the whole Palace about four inches to the right. Workman: Whatever for? Pureheart: It's on my blasted foot!
An insurance salesman stops by to check the Crystal Palace has been insured, but Pureheart laughs away his suggestion that the building be insured against fire.
After the Stargazers perform ‘My Liberty Belle’, we hear the latest adventure of Handsome Harry Secombe.
Secombe: I was holiday in Italy in a place called... called... heh, heh, funny, I can’t remember what the name of the town was. Anyway, one morning I stepped out into the street and... [FX: Huge splash] Secombe: Yes, of course, it was Venice.
He is rescued by Pietro Sellerzo, an orchestra conductor who asks him to locate his drummer. The drummer’s name is two strikes on a timpani, to which I can’t do justice in text. The episode is available to download from RadioEchoes.com and is worth it for the daft gags about people’s names being various percussion sounds.
There’s just enough time for Secombe to perform ‘Ridi Pagliaccio’ (to extensive applause at the end) before Max Geldray performs ‘Undecided Now’, a great jazz number – listen to Ella Fitzgerald perform it here.
The next sketch features Major Bloodnok – the voice is much different to that which Sellers adopted for the character in later series, being deeper and less quavery, although his cowardice is emerging:
General: Well, we want you to go on a very dangerous mission. Bloodnok: Dangerous? [FX: Door slams] General: Corporal! Corporal: Sir? General: Try and catch him before he gets to the bus stop.
And his obsession with money makes an appearance too:
Bloodnok: Now, gentlemen, my name is Bloodnok. You've all heard of me, Major Bloodnok? Officers: No. Bloodnok: What's that? Nobody heard of me? Quite sure of that? Officers: Yes. Bloodnok: Oh, well in that case I'll appoint myself mess treasurer.
Bloodnok is tasked with taking on the Senapati, which is a title given to the commander in chief of armies in ancient India – most likely a term Milligan came across during his childhood in India. This fearsome foe frightens Bloodnok so much he hides in the oven, which is not particularly wise and, as announcer Andrew Timothy observes, leaves him “rather browned off”.
The final sketch sees the Goons explore the story of the world’s greatest film. It gives Peter Sellers the chance to impersonate Ted Ray, a popular comedian and star of Ray’s A Laugh, a show that gave Sellers his first radio appearances. Michael Bentine impersonates Billy Cotton, a bandleader who worked with many comedians in the 1950s and 1960s, and was a good friend of future Goon Show writer Eric Sykes.
Eventually they cast a Roman epic and throw in a few more impersonations, before trying to persuade Andrew Timothy to get involved.
Sellers: Well, whose is the next line? Here, c'mon, Timothy, you're supposed to say it. Go on. Timothy: I'm not an actor. I'm an announcer. The BBC only allows me to say one line. Sellers: Well, say that, then. Go on, start again. Nero. Nero: Alright, then. What is this drivel? This rubbish? This utter nonsense? Timothy: This is the BBC Home Service.
It’s far from the funniest show, but there are glimpses of the glorious Goon-ness to come.
Series 2, Episode 3
Written by: Spike Milligan & Larry Stephens, edited by Jimmy Grafton
Producer: Dennis Main Wilson