Count Jim ‘Thighs’ Moriarty
Updated: Oct 12, 2021
Moriarty is one of the longest running recurring characters in the Goon Show, and changed perhaps more than any other during the run of the show.
In the early series, he appeared only as a voice at the end of a telephone to give Harry Secombe instructions to do something questionable or daft. He was alternately played by Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers, and had very little other function.
As the show evolved and characters developed, he began appearing ‘in the flesh’ voiced by Milligan. He took on a variety of roles, sometimes as an adversary to, and sometimes as a co-conspirator with, Neddie Seagoon.
He then began teaming up with Grytpype-Thynne, the smooth-talking suave character played by Sellers, and the pair began their long-running campaign to trick Neddie and escape with all the money - a trope that lasted most of the later three or four series.
Moriarty became more and more reliant on Grytpype, and more and more put upon.
Moriarty: Can I have my teeth back for Christmas? Grytpype: Here is the pawn ticket. Moriarty: What?! You pawned my teeth? You swine of a swine! I challenge you to a duel, name your weapon! Grytpype: Teeth. Moriarty: I’ve lost!
(from 'Queen Anne's Rain', Series 9 Episode 8, broadcast 22 December 1958)
However, Milligan was not willing to let the character development stop there. Throughout the later series, Grytpype and Moriarty are found to be increasingly down on their luck.
Grytpype: ... That's £45 reward, Moriarty. Moriarty: With that money I can afford to stand up! £45... [starts babbling incoherently] Grytpype: Keep still Moriarty, do you want us both out of this suit?
(from 'The Childe Harolde Rewarde', Series 9 Episode 6, broadcast 8 December 1958)
I always enjoy how Grytpype introduces Moriarty. He is always referred to as a count, implying a regal background and a fall from grace.
Grytpype: Pardon the steam king [Moriarty], Neddie, he’s never been the same since the fall of France. Seagoon: Why not? Moriarty: It fell on me, that’s why!
(from 'The £1,000,000 Penny', Series 9 Episode 3, broadcast 17 November 1958)
His nickname each week would change, and its announcement would be followed by a groan, an “oowww”, or other sound effect.
Grytpype: ... I've called in that great military MO [medical officer], Doctor Jim "Drop 'em" - [FX: Swanee whistle high to low] Grytpype: - Moriarty, temporarily confined to his body.
(from 'Tiddleywinks', Series 8 Episode 24, broadcast 10 March 1958)
Or my favourite:
Grytpype: The empty stomach in this rag waistcoat belongs to none other than Count ‘Rumbles’ - [FX: Bubbles] Grytpype: - Moriarty, champion barbed wire hurdler until his tragic accident.
(from 'The Seagoon Memoirs', Series 9 Episode 7, broadcast 19 December 1958)
There is a story I’ve heard from several Goon Show fans that on occasion Peter Sellers would pronounce the character’s name “Mor-EYE-arty” rather than “Mor-ee-AR-ty”. This was supposedly meant as a signal to Spike Milligan that he was overacting and needed to calm down.
However, I’ve listened to quite a few instances of this alternative pronunciation and I can’t hear the link. I can’t find any first hand accounts of Sellers or Milligan confirming the story either. In addition, there is the example of Seagoon using the same pronunciation in a prerecorded bit at the end of ‘World War One’ (Series 8 Episode 22).
The name Moriarty is most well known as the arch-nemesis of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Introduced in the short story The Final Problem, in Conan Doyle’s world he is a former mathematics professor turned criminal mastermind with a netw of henchmen to do his bidding.
In the BBC TV series starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock, Moriarty was played superbly by Andrew Scott - my personal highlight of the whole series. He was a long, long way from the Moriarty of latter-day Goon Shows, though.
Photo by Daniel Abbatt from Pexels