Happy birthday, Charlotte Mitchell
Updated: Oct 13, 2021
Today marks the actress and poet Charlotte Mitchell’s 95th birthday. She starred in two Goon Show episodes, throwing herself into the roles of Maid Marion in ‘Ye Bandit of Sherwood Forest’ (Series 5 Episode 14) and Fifi in ‘Tales of Montmartre’ (Series 6 Episode 18).
In both her episodes, Mitchell is a wonderful Goon – fitting in with the humour perfectly and embracing the silliness of it all. She turns up the posh English accent for Maid Marion and adopts a ridiculous French accent for Fifi, and in both episodes steals every scene she’s in. It must have been a nice change for Harry Secombe not to be the centre of attention for once.
Sheriff (Sellers): Get in there you naughty Maid Marion. Maid Marion: Sheriff of Nottingham, take your hands off me! If they are not off in the next three hours I'll write to the police… Oh fie, oh fie! You see, my fiancé, Mr R. Hood, will come and fisticuff you. He'll hit thee! Splat, thun, blat, zowee, zocko, blam, thud, biff. He learnt all his boxing from comic strips.
(from ‘Ye Bandit of Sherwood Forest’, Series 5 Episode 14, broadcast 28 December 1954)
In ‘Tales of Montmartre’ from 1956, Mitchell plays Fifi, the love interest for Harry Secombe’s Neddie Toulouse-Lautrec.
Fifi: Come darliiing, kiss me. Time is so short, and so are you. I am Fifi, I’ve come to help you. I am a model. Toulouse (Secombe): Oh, ahem, well, hi-hum, you can disrobe behind those screens. Fifi: For three weeks I posed for Toulouse. Ohhh, how I posed. Toulouse: That's enough for today Fifi. The light’s failing, and my eyes are hurting. Fifi: But Toulouse, when are you going to start painting me? Toulouse: I say! That’s a golly good idea. Yes, well, I’m hopeless at nudes, haha! Ahem. And so we got married.
(from ‘Tales of Montmartre’, Series 6 Episode 18, broadcast 15 January 1956)
As it turns out, however, pretty much all the Goons are keen to get to know Fifi, and she becomes very friendly indeed with Grytpype, Moriarty, Bloodnok, and finally the real heartthrob Bluebottle.
Aside from the Goon Show, Mitchell was a successful TV and film actress. Her most noted role was as Amy Winthrop, the housekeeper in the TV series The Adventures of Black Beauty. She appeared in all 52 episodes from 1972-74 as the series became a top-20 hit in the UK.
Among Mitchell’s film credits is the 1960 release Village of the Damned, an adaptation of John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos. In this creepy horror film, Mitchell appears in the same cast list as George Sanders, who was reportedly the inspiration for Grytpype-Thynne’s suave voice.
She appeared in a short-lived 1954 BBC TV series called And So To Bentley, written by Frank Muir and Denis Norden and starring Dick Bentley (who the writers had worked with on Take It From Here) and Peter Sellers. It was later rumoured that Mitchell and Sellers were an item, despite them both being married, although the only source for this that I've been able to find is a highly questionable account from a certain Spike Milligan, and seeing as he called her Charlotte Greenwood I'm not taking his word for it at all.
Later in life, Charlotte Mitchell also found success as a poet, earning her own poetry series on Radio 4. For examples of her verse, I turn to blogger The Snail of Happiness, who has republished several poems with the permission of Mitchell’s daughter, Candy Guard.
Mitchell died in 2012. A tribute to her – and more of her poetry – is available on The Shakespeare Code blog.
Photo sourced from The Shakespeare Code.
The 25th and final episode of the second series was broadcast at 9:30pm on the Home Service on 15 July 1952. The Radio Times listing is here.
While the only audio recordings I have come across from series two are from episodes one and three, I have found a script for this episode online. The first chunk of the show involves announcer Andrew Timothy lambasting Harry Secombe for having been terrible throughout the series.
The examples he gives turn the opening section into a form of ‘clip show’, with parts of sketches from earlier episodes – including the Venice sketch from episode three. After Secombe has been seen off with a brick, Timothy introduces ‘The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God’.
This is a reference to a J Milton Hayes poem, that also crops up in much later Goon Show episodes. The opening lines are:
There's a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Khatmandu, There's a little marble cross below the town; There's a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew, And the Yellow God forever gazes down.
And so the Goons decided to tell the story of Mad Carew.
Timothy: But first, let me introduce Mr Yogot Newboot. Newboot (Michael Bentine): How do you do? I am Yogot Newboot. I am the man who left a cigarette burning by my bed, as a result of which the whole of my father's ancestral home, the YMCA, was burnt to ashes. Thank you. Timothy: Mr Newboot has nothing whatsoever to do with our story, we just thought that listeners would like to hear what a real idiot sounded like.
Instead, Major Bloodnok meets Captain Mad Jack Carew.
Bloodnok: Mad Carew? You're not the man who held off 30 natives and won the VC? Carew: You're absolutely right. I'm not.
Together with Bloodnok’s battalion they march for three days through China in search of the temple containing the idol with a ruby eye worth £1 million. Then, finally, they find it:
Carew: Wait! Wait, Bloodnok! Look! The whole inside of the Temple is on fire. Bloodnok: What! The ruby! Oh, we've lost a fortune. Who did this? What idiot started a fire? Who? Newboot: My name is Yogot Newboot. I'm the man that left a cigarette burning…
After Max Geldray, there is a short skit poking fun at the then head of variety entertainment at the BBC, Michael Standing. As if that wasn’t nibbling at the hand that feeds enough, Peter Sellers slips in a gag about illicit goings on at a hotel, which was definitely verboten at the Beeb:
Sellers: By the way, listeners, later in the programme we shall be taking you over to a hotel in Chelsea Bay to let you meet three of the, ah, typical couples who are staying there for the weekend. Mr and Mrs Smith, Mr and Mrs Smith, and Mr and Mrs Smith.
Unfortunately, that’s about as much as there is of this episode, as the transcript says the end of the episode is missing. It robs us of the end of (and punchline to) Michael Bentine’s interview with the Human Cannonball, aka Harry Secombe – and indeed Bentine’s last lines as a member of the Goon Show cast.
(Well, not quite…)