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Happy Holiday

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

It wasn’t all about the Goon Show for our intrepid heroes.

Spike Milligan had a role in the Max Bygraves radio series Paradise Street, and all the Goons were treading the boards up and down the country as part of variety acts - often appearing on the same bill.

Sellers performing in 'The Last Goon Show of All'

For Peter Sellers, his chameleonic voice box was in demand in all media – radio, stage, and screen. His film career was only just starting, but it was clear he would be successful.

On radio, he was cast as the mayor of Littleton-on-Sea in a series called Happy Holiday, co-written by Jimmy Grafton and also starring radio debutant Dennis Price (one-time Prince John in a Goon Show panto), Bill Owen, and Jean Brampton.

The producer was Goon Show champion Dennis Main Wilson, although Jacques Brown also worked on the series. Brown had worked with the Goons on an early pilot before 1951’s first series and produced a couple of Goon Show episodes, including ‘The Reason Why’.

Another Goon Show link comes in the form of musical director Stanley Black and his orchestra, who provided musical accompaniment to the first two series of the Goon Show. That said, according to the front page of one script (see below), the Wally Stott Orchestra stepped in too.

Since half the fun of any holiday comes from seeing new places and meeting new people, it is cheerfully appropriate that the Light Programme’s Happy Holiday (it begins on Thursday) should introduce several new or unfamiliar voices. The programme is set in a small seaside town whose Mayor is determined to make it famous. To do so he engages a very glossy entertainments officer – played by that most suave of film actors, Dennis Price, whose first radio series this will be. He has an assistant, a Cockney and formerly his batman – played by Bill Owen, another film and stage star who rarely broadcasts and who is now appearing in the Delderfield comedy Where There’s a Will. The third new voice is that of Jean Brampton, the twenty-three-year-old girl who was enthusiastically greeted by the critics when the musical Pal Joey arrived in London. Jean, who was born in Birmingham, began to take dancing lessons when she was eight but her first job was as a typist. She left it to join a pantomime chorus, went on tour in Variety, and then appeared for nearly four years at the Windmill Theatre. She then again played in Variety, in Call Me Madam, and understudied for Wish You Were Here. In Happy Holiday Jean will play the Mayor’s daughter. The voice of the Mayor will be that of Peter Sellers who will also be heard as one of the town’s landladies. Her daughter will be played by another newcomer to radio, Elizabeth Larner.

(from ‘Both Sides of the Microphone’, page 6, Radio Times issue 1600, 9 July 1954)

The listing for the first episode is available here.

Elizabeth Larner went on to become a successful actress on stage and screen, and appeared in the 1970 film Song of Norway alongside Harry Secombe. I believe Bill Owen is the same Bill Owen who is best known as Compo from Last of the Summer Wine. He was replaced part-way through Happy Holiday’s run by Arthur English.

Here is the front cover of Brown’s script for episode four of Happy Holiday, sourced from Neil Pearson Rare Books, which is selling the script for a tidy £5,000.

You could also see Peter Sellers in the flesh in the summer of 1954 as he was touring alongside Michael Bentine in a variety show. Bentine was still being billed as a Goon despite having left the show nearly two years previously.

Advert from the Portsmouth Evening News

Even before Peter Sellers’ film career had properly started, critics and reviewers were speculating as to who he really was, such was his skill at switching voices and embodying characters.

Watching this superb mimic, impressionist and dialectician at Finsbury Park, we felt as if we were looking at one of those advertising devices placed in shop windows that give an impression of three-dimensional movement as one walks past. The closer one looks the more the image changes and shifts, with no substance but a host of shapes that shimmer under one’s closest observation. And so it is with Peter Sellers as he assumes almost imperceptibly the shape and sound of the character he is discussing. Added to this, an acute sense of the ridiculous makes him one of the foremost comedians of the variety stage. Now crew-cropped in a fashion that was once universal in Her Majesty’s Prisons, Mr Sellers has but to appear to set the house in an uproar of laughter.

The current programme is, in fact, largely concerned with the more amiable forms of lunacy, for on the bill also is Michael Bentine with a weird assortment of devices from which to extract the maximum humour. During the programme he and Mr Sellers join forces and this hilarious combination of like minds leads naturally enough to the rowdy, tuneful fooling with which Dr Crock and his Crackpots complete the evening.

(from ‘Is There a Basic Peter Sellers?’, The Stage, 17 June 1954)

According to the Portsmouth Evening News, the bill also featured Joan Rhodes, “the mighty mannequin, who tears London telephone directories in half, and bends steel bars with ease”, a magician, dancers, and a trapeze artist. Other venues also featured singers, jugglers, and a “rhythmic acrobat” (as per the Bradford Observer).

Peter Sellers presents a selection of those voices so well known on the radio, but the prevailing impression of his act, in which he has the assistance of an anonymous helper, is the complete relaxation and ease he displays.

(from The Stage, 20 May 1954)

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