Updated: Jan 10, 2022
[FX: Splash] Little Jim: He's fallen in the water. Grytpype: Neddie, you devil instrument incarnate. Why did you throw that child into the sea? Little Jim: Yes, why? Seagoon: To give brown Milligan a chance to say his new catchphrase.
(‘Insurance – The White Man’s Burden’, Series 7 Episode 21, 28 February 1957)
We explored the Goons’ catchphrases yesterday, but there is one that deserves more attention.
From part-way through the seventh series a new character emerged, known as Little Jim. He was said to be Eccles’ nephew and live in his uncle’s boot. His main role was to point out whenever someone had fallen in the water.
Voiced by Spike Milligan, it appears that this line was a pretty open and honest way of Spike introducing a new catchphrase – going full circle from the Goons’ initial anti-catchphrase sketch in the first series.
As many Goon fans may already know, the line was inspired by Peter Sellers’ son Michael, born in 1954. As Michael recalls in the book Sellers On Sellers: An Intimate Portrait, his father encouraged him to repeat the phrase after watching Spike jump into a swimming pool.
Here’s Michael Sellers recounting this story to Jane Milligan, Spike’s daughter, in the 2005 documentary ‘I Told You I Was Ill’:
(The whole video is worth a watch – it’s a lovely tribute to Spike.)
Little Jim first spoke the immortal line on the air in ‘The Rent Collectors’ (Series 7 Episode 16), and repeated it several times in that episode.
Seagoon: Well, stop the bus then. Conductress: Not likely, won't catch us stoppin' 'ere. You'll have to jump for it. Seagoon: Right! Hup! [FX: splash] Sellers: Oh dear, children. Look what has happened to poor Uncle Harry. Little Jim: He's fallen in the wa-tah.
The line was repeated again in 'The Moon Show' (Series 7 Episode 18) and for the next few weeks, right up to the end of that series.
The audience was obviously desperate for a new catchphrase – Little Jim’s line was met with applause from episode 19, and every time from then onwards. A few weeks into series 8, he got a taste of his own medicine:
Cyril: You gotta get me off this boat! Seagoon: Right. Hup... [FX: Splash] Little Jim: He's fallen in the water. Seagoon: Next. Hup... [FX: Splash] Bloodnok: Seagoon! Swallow me thuns, I saw you throw little Jim into the water. Seagoon: Yes, I thought the change would do him good. Bloodnok: I warn you Seagoon, if Little Jim is not back for next week’s catchphrase, I shall say it myself.
(‘King Solomon’s Mines’, Series 8 Episode 10, 2 December 1957)
Don’t worry folks – Little Jim was back the very next week.
Of course, he also returned in ‘The Last Goon Show Of All’ in 1972, responding in now-famous fashion after Eccles and Bluebottle push Neddie Seagoon down a well. “Had to get it in, folks,” says Spike as the audience applauds once more.
Image sourced from Pixabay/Pexels