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Happy birthday, John Browell

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

Episode four of the second series of the Goon Show was broadcast on 12 February 1952, as per page 26 of that week’s Radio Times.

Today marks the 104th birthday of John Browell, a man who played a vital backstage role at several stages of the Goon Show’s run. Initially a studio manager on the show in the early series, and then permanently for the third, fourth, and fifth series, Browell returned to the Goons in November 1958 as producer.

The eighth series had struggled for consistency under several different producers, which unsurprisingly frustrated Spike Milligan.

According to Roger Wilmut’s Goonography, Milligan wanted Bobby Jaye – the studio manager who had succeeded Browell in the role after the fifth series – as producer, but Jaye was not trained for such a responsibility. Instead he suggested Browell.

At first this suggestion was rejected on the grounds that Browell was too junior, but in the end he was appointed. He was an excellent choice. His experience with the Goons went right back to the first few editions of ‘Crazy People’, which he had studio managed under Dennis Main Wilson… Browell was able to combine an understanding of Goon humour with the tight control that the show now badly needed. Under his direction the show was considerably speeded up, as were the effects… He edited the recordings more tightly to remove any bewildering ad-libbing, and encouraged the Goons into a much more controlled and effective style.

(from The Goon Show Companion: A History and Goonography, by Roger Wilmut and Jimmy Grafton, published Robson Books, 1976)

According to his obituary in The Independent, Browell was born in London but grew up in Leeds. Musical talent on the violin and saxophone meant that he followed a similar path to many other Goon Show alumni, joining the armed forces entertainment groups during the war. He was a wireless mechanic for the RAF and was based mainly in Sri Lanka.

He joined the BBC upon his demobilisation and quickly became a studio manager and sound engineer for light entertainment broadcasts. While working as a studio manager with the Goons for the third, fourth, and fifth series, he graduated to producer for shows such as Music for Sweethearts.

Browell produced 'The Last Goon Show Of All' in 1972

Browell worked on – and even presented – Sing Something Simple, a music show starring the Cliff Adams Singers. Cliff Adams, you may recall, was one of the Stargazers, the vocal group that featured in the first and part of the second series of the Goon Show. Sing Something Simple continued to be broadcast until 2001, the year Adams died.

As well as his musical involvements, he also worked with Frankie Howerd, Tony Hancock, Morecambe and Wise, Beryl Reid, Benny Hill, and – of course – Spike Milligan.

In all, Browell was studio manager for more than 70 episodes and producer for 23, and later produced ‘The Last Goon Show Of All’ in 1972.

He died on 19 May 1997, shortly before his 80th birthday.

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