Updated: Jan 10, 2022
Episode 11 of series two was launched into the world on 8 April 1952. Find it on page 22 of the Radio Times here.
Presenting to you, Captain Hugh Jampton to tell a tale of India.
(from ‘The Red Fort’, Series 8 Episode 7, broadcast 11 November 1957)
For those of you unfamiliar with the origin story of Captain Jampton (usually voiced by Spike Milligan), his name was a play on “huge Hampton”, from the rhyming slang term “Hampton Wick”, meaning, er, a certain part of a gentleman’s anatomy.
Obviously, in the 1950s saying “penis” or any other such vulgarity was strictly verboten by the BBC censors. However, whoever was responsible for reviewing the Goon Show scripts obviously had no knowledge of soldiers’ humour or rhyming slang, given the number of times a character appeared with a name meaning “large penis”.
The producer was Pat Dixon, who was quite naïve in many respects. He had no idea why we would get such a big laugh whenever this name was mentioned. We used to say it was a friend of ours from the army. It wasn’t until about three or four weeks later that one of the engineers told him what it really meant – and he went beserk.
(Harry Secombe, interviewed for ‘Spike Milligan – A Loose Canon’, TV documentary, 1998)
Captain Jampton has a carnivorous plant named after him – a species of pitcher plant, as profiled here.
Another word that regularly made it past the censors was “Charlie” – usually used by Grytpype or Moriarty to refer to Seagoon ahead of attempting to deceive him out of money.
According to the remarkable Wikipedia list of ethnic slurs, ‘Charlie’ was also used by black Americans in the 1960s and 1970s to refer to white people, and by US troops to refer to the Viet Cong (from the phonetic alphabet letters for VC, i.e. Victor Charlie).
In a 1950s context, it was usually understood to mean a foolish person – although the Collins Dictionary cites its origin as another piece of rhyming slang: Charlie Hunt. I’ll let you work that one out.
Grytpype: Is your name Charlie? Seagoon: No, why? Grytpype: Well, you look like one.
(from ‘World War One’, Series 8 Episode 22, broadcast 24 February 1958)
This brings me on to the subject of censorship. In his excellent radio comedy memoir Laughter In The Air, Barry Took reproduces the BBC’s ‘Green Book’ of guidelines and rules for broadcasting in their entirety, giving a fascinating insight into what was and wasn’t allowed on the radio at the time.
Among the huge list of verbotens are several things that the Goons very clearly flouted. Your Honour, I present the evidence.
“Well known vulgar jokes... ‘cleaned up’ are not normally admissible since the humour in such cases is almost invariably evident only if the vulgar version is known.”
Anyone who understands the reference to “it’s my turn in the barrel” will know that Spike and his fellow scriptwriters ignored that particular guideline.
“There is an absolute ban upon… jokes about lavatories…”
Prime Minister: And I'm afraid you're not the King of England, you know? Seagoon: But there must be some mistake, I'm, I'm all dressed for the part! I mean, I'm, I'm on the throne! Prime Minister: Sorry, sorry...
(from ‘The Childe Harolde Rewarde’, Series 9 Episode 6, broadcast 8 December 1958)
“… Ladies’ underwear, e.g. winter draws [sic] on…”
Bluebottle: Look! You torn the legs off my shirt. Seagoon: Legs? Bluebottle: Well, my shirts are made from mum's old drawers. Seagoon: Ssh, fool! On the BBC the word 'drawers' is verboten. Bluebottle: Alright den, my shirts are made from mum's old verboten.
(from ‘I Was Monty’s Treble’, Series 9 Episode 2, broadcast 10 November 1958)
“Extreme care should be taken in dealing with references to or jokes about… Marital infidelity”
I could insert any one of a dozen Major Bloodnok lines in here.
“Reference to and jokes about different religions or religious denominations are banned. The following are also inadmissible… parodies of Christmas carols”
Does Eccles’ rendition of ‘Good King Wenceslas’ from ‘The Great String Robberies’ (Series 8 Episode 16) count as a parody?
There are so many more – and I’ll come back to this subject in a later blog.
Image of Hugh Jampton taken by Cedric Azais.