Fireballs and crispy bacon
Updated: Jul 15, 2022
Wallace Greenslade is delighted to announce that, unlike the last episode of series five that we covered, this one is as billed in the Radio Times. Well, almost – more of that later.
On 22 February 1955, Henry Crun reported apocalyptic news: the sun was on fire!
‘The Fireball of Milton Street’ told the story of this terrible discovery and Ned Seagoon’s efforts to avert disaster. It also raised a very pertinent question about rationing.
Milligan (theatrical): Oooh! ‘The Fireball of Milton Street’, or: ‘What’s become of that crispy bacon we had before the war, eh?’ What's become of it? So brown! So crisp! With that lovely firm layer of white fat. Ooooh! What’s become of it, eh? Answer me! What’s become of that crisp bacon we had before the war? Don’t laugh, answer me! What’s become- [FX: Pistol shot, followed by funeral march music] Secombe: We regret to announce the sudden death of the well-known athletic thespian and actor, Sir Jim Nasium.
Despite his demise, Sir Jim returned several times to pose the same question, each time being shot for his trouble.
In truth, bacon was one of the last items to be taken off the wartime rationing system in 1954, more than 14 years after it was first limited in January 1940. Many foodstuffs – such as meats, cheese, butter and sugar – were rationed during the Second World War and for several years afterwards as supply chains were affected by the fighting. Petrol, clothes, and soap were also subject to rationing.
Milton Street is introduced by Peter Sellers as a Kentish village in “the rolling hills of Sussex, in the county of Somerset”, and “the pride of Essex”.
He also mentions it being one of the “sonk ports”, a play on south-east England’s Cinque Ports, of which there are apparently six. In the 1100s, these towns were granted special local powers in return for providing the king with ships. (Milton Street wasn’t actually one of them.)
We’re then treated to a classic Minnie Bannister and Henry Crun dialogue, including a 40-second sound effect of Minnie coming down the stairs, despite the fact they live in a bungalow.
Andy Secombe - son of Sir Harry - interviewed one of the Goon Show's sound engineers for his 2010 book Growing Up With The Goons. Bobby Jay revealed in his conversation that it was his footsteps that can be heard in this excerpt, as he was occasionally drafted in as the "spot effects" person, responsible for providing sounds live in the studio.
Spike was marvellous, we got on very well, because he used to think up crazy things, thinking that we would never be able to provide them. But we always did, and it was always a bit better than even he thought of, and he loved that. Once I had to run up and down a flight of stairs for what seemed like five minutes, in order that Spike could come in and say, "That's funny, I live in a bungalow!".
(Bobby Jay, quoted in Growing Up With The Goons, by Andy Secombe, published 2010 by JR Books)
Safely on the ground floor, Crun reveals the terrible news.
Crun: Terrible news, Min, terrible! The world is coming to an end! Bannister: Oh! I’d better go and get the washing in. Crun: Min, this morning I photographed the sun and I discovered it’s on fire. Bannister: People are careless, Henry.
With the aid of Ned Seagoon, Crun raises the alarm in the village. Investigating the sun’s corona calls for careful application of science, and fortunately a certain BBC announcer is on hand to flawlessly deliver a stream of utter nonsense.
Greenslade: Mr Crun, the sun is on fire, you say? Crun: Er, yes, yes. Greenslade: If that is so, the process must have been a ceaseless and conceivable rapid motion of electrons captured by nuclei, released at a million times per sec per sec, the effect being the radiated thermo-electrons captured and harnessed as units of liberated satellite electrons, the quantum of which, with the space quotum of 3.79 plus 10 to the power of 33 ergs per second, with a diathermic of 9-2-7-3-5 to the power of X, is the parellum three billion thrice upon 25 billion centigrade. Henry: It's not as simple as that!
Indeed it is not. Major Bloodnok suggests that Seagoon travels to London to tell the Queen of the impending disaster, and so he sets off on foot. This gives Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes a chance to revisit the ‘guess the punchline’ joke from ‘The Missing Scroll’.
[FX: Running footsteps] Seagoon: I reached the river, I jumped - [FX: Footsteps pause for a while, start again] Seagoon: I reached the other side. I arrived at a second river, I jumped - [FX: Footsteps pause for a while, start again] Seagoon: And I reached the other side. But then, then I came to a very wide raging torrent. I ran as fast as I could, I jumped! - [FX: Footsteps stop, silence] Seagoon: Right! Hands up all those who thought I was going to fall in the river. Come along, you with the big head there, Bill Matthews? Come on, hands up! Right! Take a hundred lines: ‘I must not try and guess the end of Goon Show gags.’ Now, here is what really happened. [FX: Running footsteps over speech] Seagoon: I ran, I jumped - [FX: Footsteps stop, giant splash] Seagoon: Right, hands up all the charlies who wrote the hundred lines. Take another hundred: ‘I must not write a hundred lines until I’m dead sure’.
Anyone know who Bill Matthews is? Answers on a piece of batter pudding.
Arriving in London, Seagoon meets with the minister of the crown, Grytpype-Thynne, who happily encourages him to build a rocket to the sun using junk - sorry - "special materials" bought by the village from the Ministry of Works. The ministry will buy back the rocket at twice the price once the mission is complete. (The devilish cunning of it all!)
Meanwhile, back in Milton Street, one resident is having none of it.
Bluebottle: People! Peoples of Milton Street! Listen to me! Enter Bluebottle, strikes orator’s pose, cops dirty big brick in back of nut. Puts lump in pocket for later. Listen, I’m telling you the sun is not on fire! Shut up you, shut up! I’m telling you, it’s not on fire. I have seen it through my cardboard cut-out telescope - post free with every six box-tops of Filth Muck the Wonder Soap.
He decides to prove it by climbing a ladder and holding out a piece of bread on a toasting fork. Eccles holds the ladder.
The other side of Max Geldray, we find Bluebottle atop the ladder, where he promptly drops his toasting fork. Have no fear! Eccles brings it up to him.
Bluebottle: Eccles? Eccles: Yuh? Bluebottle: Who’s holding the bottom of the ladder? Eccles: Well, don’t worry, I’m holding the - oooooh! Bluebottle (falling in to distance): You rotten swine, you! [FX: Thud] Bluebottle (far off): Eeigh!
Seagoon and the villagers have pressed ahead with building a wooden rocket on top of a Martello tower in Pevensey Bay.
According to Castles.nl, there are three such Martello towers in this area, all of which are now private houses. It was built – along with many others along the south-east coast of England – between 1805 and 1808 to ward off a potential French invasion.
The name ‘Martello’ comes from Martella Point in Corsica, which was home of a 16th-century round fort that inspired the Martello design.
Urged on by Moriarty and Grytpype, the rocket is launched – resulting in a huge explosion.
Moriarty: A wooden rocket, a wooden rocket! I ask you! Trying to put out the fire on the sun! Grytpype: Yes. Moriarty: They deserved to die, didn’t they? Grytpype: Yes they did, Moriarty. Moriarty: Oh, 25, 26 million, 28... Grytpype: Moriarty, hasn’t it gone dark? They, er, they couldn’t have. [pause] Help! They’ve put out the sun!
Local Sussex newspaper the Eastbourne Herald got excited about being featured in a Goon Show episode. However, the writer seems to have based the brief article on the Radio Times synopsis rather than the actual show, as the Long Man of Wilmington doesn’t actually feature in the episode.
Many local radio listeners this week found the popular “Goon Show” more amusing than usual – at least, those who like that type of humour – as the stage was set in the Sussex hamlet of Milton Street, twixt Alfriston and Polegate.
Henry Crun, the gouty old village alchemist, had seen a strange phenomenon through his telescope – the sun was on fire. Fear came upon the villagers and this increased when the Long Man of Wilmington disappeared. Harry Secombe same to the rescue and a rocket was built on top of one of the Martello towers on Pevensey marshes.
An expedition to the sun was organised and the fire put out with the aid of a barrel of water. To their amazement everything suddenly went dark – which left the “Goons” with another problem to solve.
(from the Eastbourne Herald, published 26 February 1955)
For completeness, here’s the Radio Times synopsis.
In the little Sussex hamlet of Milton Street 'twixt Alfriston and Polegate, word spread among the villagers that the end of the world was at hand. Henry Crun, the gouty old village alchemist, had seen a strange phenomenon through his telescope. Then, on. the night of Tuesday, January 11, 1801, the Long Man of Wilmington disappeared. It was a night that never ended – darkness completely enveloped Milton Street for more than fifty hours. The villagers said the sky had fallen, but Mistress Bannister, an old trot from Pevensey Marshes, knew better. She had foreseen it all in her readings of the pitchblende.
(from the Radio Times, issue 1632, page 24, published 18 February 1955)
The moral of the tale is, never believe anything you read in the Radio Times. At least not about the Goon Show.
The Fireball of Milton Street
Series 5, Episode 22
Broadcast: 22 February 1955
Written by: Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes
Producer: Peter Eton
Image of the sun from Pixabay; Martello tower photo from Castles.nl; Long Man of Wilmington image by Chris Cook via Wikipedia.