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Exploding saxophones

Updated: Feb 22, 2022

I happen to agree wholeheartedly with Spike Milligan that the word “saxophone” is inherently funny.

Uncle Oscar (Secombe): Have you seen my teeth? Henry Crun: You left them on your saxophone.

(from ‘Foiled by President Fred’, Series 6 Episode 7, broadcast 1 November 1955)

So the idea of a disgruntled saxophonist charging around exploding every other rival saxophone appeals to me. This is, indeed, the plot of ‘The Terrible Revenge of Fred Fu Manchu’, broadcast to a gripped audience on 6 December 1955, as per page 24 of that week’s Radio Times.

The character of Dr Fu Manchu was created by author Sax (coincidence?) Rohmer in the early 1900s for a series of novels. The doctor is an evil mastermind, and plays into the rather awful racial stereotype known as ‘Yellow Peril’ – the idea that (a) all East Asian people had yellow skin (they don’t) and (b) they were all out to get us (they aren’t).

Rohmer’s series was a huge success and Fu Manchu grew as a character far beyond it. He was portrayed several times in film and TV, including by Peter Sellers in 1980’s The Fiendish Plot of Dr Fu Manchu.

In that film, there is a reference to the doctor being called ‘Fred’ at school – a call-back to this episode of the Goon Show.

The Goon action begins in 1895 at the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace. In reality, the Great Exhibition – a huge event demonstrating technical advances being made during the Victorian era – was held in 1851. There was an African Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1895, though, according to no less a source than Wikipedia.

The highlight of the Goons’ event is the final round of the International Heavyweight Saxophone Contest, contested by Fu Manchu and Major Bloodnok, who is “representing the [British] Empire and wearing the kilt, a shamrock, four leeks and a thistle, with a turban made out of our glorious Union Jack”.

Fu Manchu’s entrance is greeted with a smattering of clapping, while Bloodnok is met with huge cheers and mad applause. Fu Manchu proceeds to perform a slightly wobbly version of ‘Valse Verite’ – I believe this was performed in the studio by the orchestra’s lead saxophonist Poggy Pogson. Major Bloodnok parps one note and is declared the winner.

(I’m reminded of how the crowds at the London 2012 Olympics went mad for anyone British – even the judges in some sports.)

Fred is, understandably, outraged and vows revenge.

Greenslade: The Fearful Revenge of Fred Fu Manchu, the Disappointed Bamboo Saxophonist. Chapter one: A blow is struck. [FX: Thud] Greenslade: Oooh! Sellers: Chapter two. Funeral of an announcer. [FX: Funeral march, played very fast]

Fu Manchu creates a liquid that will give anyone who drinks it the ability to explode anything they point at. He puts it in a whisky bottle, leaves it in Hyde Park, and it is only a matter of time before Bloodnok drinks it. Now he is at Fred’s mercy.

Fu Manchu (Milligan): You will point at everything I tell you and poof! Bloodnok: I won't do it. I won't do it, you hear me! You'll have to force me. Fu Manchu: What with? Bloodnok: Money.

Meanwhile, at Scotland Yard, Seagoon is listening to the news. We hear of terrible events: Bloodnok’s exploding finger, and Birmingham City beating Arsenal 4-0. (This was the genuine final score from the game played three days prior to this broadcast – for more Goonish Arsenal shenanigans see this post.)

To get to the bottom of the mystery, Seagoon employs Grytpype-Thynne and Moriarty, who are moonlighting as Eiffel Tower specialists. Their towers are only disguises, though, and they are wearing anti-saxophone exploding kits.

Grytpype: Now then, Neddie, whom do you suspect? Seagoon: The referee. He was obviously on Birmingham's side, I mean Arsenal should have been three up by half time... Grytpype: I know that, I know that, I know that. I meant the saxophone exploder. Seagoon: Oh, yes, Fred Fu-Manchu. He's trying to finish Britain as a saxophone-playing nation.

Disguised as an Eiffel Tower and Nelson’s Column all underneath a cardboard replica of Charing Cross Station, the three men pursue Fu Manchu and Bloodnok through London and to Dewsbury, the home of the last metal saxophone player in the country.

Minnie Bannister (for it is she) and Henry Crun are attempting to immunise her saxophone against explosions, and Seagoon arrives to help defend her. Who will help him?

Bluebottle: I will, my capitain, I will. Enter Bluebottle, son of the regiment, with cardboard water pistol and own water in empty lemonade bottle.

Eccles is also drafted in and ordered to form groups of four (“Let’s see them do that on television!”). The pair are left by Seagoon to throw a stick of dynamite at Fu Manchu’s car as it approaches.

For a moment, it seems Bluebottle is getting wise to this rotten deading game. He hides up a tree as Eccles lights the fuse and begins to count how long it takes to explode. However, Eccles’ difficulty with numbers brings him back down out of the tree to help get past the number seven.

[FX: Explosion] Eccles: Bluebottle? Bluebottle! Oooooh. What's this custard on the wall? Bluebottle: Don't you touch me, you rotten swine, you. Scrape me off and take me home.

Seagoon knocks on the door of Minnie Bannister’s house, whereupon we’re treated to a typically Goonish skit as he, Minnie, and Henry are continually locked out of the house, let in, and confused with each other.

Bloodnok and Fu Manchu arrive, and Bloodnok demands to be given Minnie’s saxophone to destroy – only to realise who it belongs to.

Bloodnok: Why! It's Minnie Bannister, the darling of Roper's Light Horse! Also the darling of his heavy one. Minnie: Oh, Dennis. Darling Dennis! Bloodnok: Oh, darling, dance with me. [FX: 'Blue Danube', played very fast] Seagoon: Stop this, you crazy Sabrina and Michael Wilding!

Sabrina we have encountered before, as the 1950s model who the Goons (and several other comedy writers of the era) were obsessed with. Michael Wilding, meanwhile, was one of the most popular actors in Britain in the late 1940s and early 1950s, working with Alfred Hitchcock on several projects.

Bloodnok: Now then, where's that saxophone eh? I intend to destroy it with my explodable finger. Eccles: Over my dead body. [FX: Explosion] Bloodnok: That's that settled!

Seagoon skilfully stops Bloodnok from destroying the saxophone by giving him more money not to explode it. But, alas, Fu Manchu has his own exploding finger and blows up the cast one by one, until they are all deaded.

Greenslade: Tickets are now on sale in the foyer for tonight's recital by Fred Fu-Manchu, the world's only bamboo saxophonist. I thank you. [Orchestra: 'Valse Vanite' on saxophone, fades out] Greenslade: All complaints about the Goon Show should be addressed to Life with the Lyons, Alexandra Palace, West Croydon. Good night. [FX: Explosion] Fu Manchu: Oh boy! I got him, too!

Fans of the Telegoons will be pleased to see this episode on YouTube:

Warning: it’s not aged well.

Finally, here's an image of the script's front page, sourced from Neil Pearson Rare Books. It's been sold now, but the listing is still available at the time of writing.


The Terrible Revenge of Fred Fu Manchu

Series 6 Episode 12

Broadcast: 6 December 1955

Written by: Spike Milligan

Producer: Peter Eton

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