Seagoon: Help me. Help me. I'll make a clean breast of it. I'm an addict. I take three cups of senna-pod tea a day. Grytpype: Senna-pods eh? Seagoon: Yes, and I'm on the run. Grytpype: I'm not surprised.
Series five of the Goon Show came to a close on 22 March 1955, with the broadcast of an episode billed simply as ‘The End’.
As was by now tradition, the Radio Times listing bore zero resemblance to the eventual broadcast. My guess is that Milligan and Sykes just threw this at the RT editors before they’d even thought about what they were going to write.
Senor Gonzales Mess, string attaché to the South American Consulate in Salisbury, finds a loaded banana in a secret carboy of creosote consigned to the consul, Senor Scatheplunger. Inspector Neddie Seagoon is faced with the job of finding the consul's would-be assassin. What is an unopened box of lurgi-ridden Rumanian tennis balls doing in Major Bloodnok's overcoat pocket, and why is the mysterious Doctor Rheingold Fnutt furtively selling bagpipes mixture in Salisbury market?
(from the Radio Times, issue 1636, page 24, published 18 March 1955)
Callbacks to ‘The Affair of the Lone Banana’ and ‘Lurgi Strikes Britain’ aside, much of this is irrelevant. The episode in fact centres on Neddie Seagoon’s addiction senna-pod tea, hence the (eventual) subtitle, ‘Confessions of a Secret Senna Pod Drinker’.
Senna pods come from a plant, Senna alexandrina, and have a powerful laxative effect. The reliable medical websites I’ve seen advise strongly to limit usage to no more than a week.
Once again, the Goons find an ingenious way to smuggle potty humour into plots without attracting the attention of censors.
Seagoon: I had a tough life. Never had a father. Mother got me on the national health. She had an obliging doctor you know. Hum hum hum. As a child I was very delicate. One blow from a steamroller would upset me for days. In the year skrimpson skrampson and two I fell a victim to drinking senna-pod tea. In a basement of a club at East Acton I obtained my supplies of the dreaded pods.
Seagoon attempts to buy the pods from his regular supplier, Moriarty, but there is a police raid and he has to escape. I say raid, the police actually just came in to get beans on toast.
Instead he heads to Harley Street (a road in London traditionally home to lots of doctors’ surgeries) to consult Dr Grytpype-Thynne and get a supply of pods on the NHS.
Grytpype: Swallow that. Seagoon: [Swallowing] What was it? Grytpype: Cigarette ash. Can't drop it on the carpet you know. Now I must cut a square 12 by 12 out of your shirt so. Seagoon: Why? Grytpype: I'm short of handkerchiefs.
Rather than agree to the supply, however, the doctor recommends he give up the pods and sends him to a rest home.
On his way there, Seagoon ducks into a telephone box to brew up a pot of senna pod tea to satisfy his craving. After a bit of confusion with wrong numbers (Alice had her operation, it was triplets – bit of a shock, as she thought it was water on the knee), and a close shave with a police officer, Seagoon arrives at the rest home and knocks.
All this series, Minnie Bannister has been worried about us all being murdered in our beds and finally we understand why: she’s still worried about Jack the Ripper.
Seagoon: He hasn't been heard of for sixty-seven years. Bannister: Ahhhhh! Yukkabakoo. He's just waiting for the hue and cry to die down and then... Seagoon: And then what? Bannister: We'll all be murdered in our beds!
Our hero is prescribed total silence and rest, and so is fitted out for an appropriately sized period of silence and shut in a tin trunk – whereupon Eccles arrives, and the Ray Ellington Quartet plays ‘I Can’t Tell A Waltz From A Tango’ as a prelude to the cinema’s feature film.
(This all makes perfect sense in the Goon Show’s universe, where TARDIS-level ‘bigger on the inside’ physics is a daily occurrence not worthy of comment.)
Seagoon’s time inside the trunk quickly descends into mild chaos as he is kidnapped by a tribe led by Bluebottle, complete with cardboard witch doctor’s hat and feather-lined loin cloth (“It tickles!”).
Seagoon: Bluebottle, how did you become their chief? Bluebottle: It was agony. They was going to dead me you know. Suddenly I took my teeth out and I showed them round. Seagoon: But you haven't got false teeth. Bluebottle: I know. It was agony.
Seagoon gets shot with an umbrella, and Bloodnok attempts to have him eaten by vultures on horseback.
Bluebottle: Thinks: Can see Marilyn in flimsy negligee. I'll think of that again. Thinks again. She's going into the shower bath! Tee hee hee! Thinks: My school days are over. Oh! She's closed the door. Knocks. [FX: Knocking] Bluebottle: Marilyn, may I come in? Eccles: (Off) No you can't. Oh ho! It's good to be alive in here.
Bluebottle exits to the theme tune from the film The Third Man, also known as ‘The Harry Lime Theme’. This was a 1949 hit film starring Orson Welles as Harry Lime with music composed by Anton Karas. This particular melody crops up in several Goon Shows.
Bloodnok robs Seagoon’s wallet, assuring him that he’s only imagining the whole thing in a senna pod withdrawal delirium.
Willium: Hello mate. Have you done a murder yet? [FX: Pistol shot] Seagoon: Yes. Very recently.
Just in time, Henry Crun opens the trunk to serve Seagoon some senna pod tea – which he spits out in disgust. Cured! “Right, everyone out of the trunk for the finale.”
And the curtain falls on the fifth series of the Goon Show with the cast serenading the audience with ‘Crest of a Wave’, the song that always closed Ralph Reader’s Gang Shows. Here’s the song as performed in The Gang Show, a 1937 film written by and starring Reader.
During the Second World War, Ralph Reader joined the RAF and was in charge of the entertainment for the troops. His RAF Gang Shows were legendary, and Aircraftsman Peter Sellers’ natural talents led to him joining the touring groups very quickly after he was called up.
After 26 episodes, the Goons had completed another successful series. It contained some of the group’s best work, silliest jokes, and most successful parodies. While the writing was a definite partnership between Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes, the latter’s influence should never be understated.
Although Sykes himself has played down his influence, insisting in at least one interview I’ve seen that he joined Spike merely to “copy” his style, the fifth series saw the main Goon Show characters settle into their now-famous characterisations. Bluebottle’s deadings became a much-loved recurring gag – much to the boy scout’s consternation, I’m sure – and the plots on the whole became much more structured.
Later shows often did away with such things as solid plots in favour of anarchic silliness, but in my view the fifth series – and Sykes’ contribution – laid a vital foundation for the Goon Show’s continued success throughout the rest of the 1950s and beyond. In just 23 episodes the Milligan-Sykes partnership firmly established the Goons as the new voices in comedy. It was up to the rest of us to keep up.
The End, or Confessions of a Secret Senna Pod Drinker
Series 5, Episode 26
Broadcast: 22 March 1955
Written by: Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes
Producer: Peter Eton