Updated: Feb 14, 2022
(Or, From Balham to Buenos Aires on a Waterproof Bicycle)
The seventh episode of the Goon Show’s sixth series was broadcast on 1 November 1955, as per page 24 of the Radio Times.
Two poverty-stricken foreign devils, Senor Grytpype-thynne and Count Moriarty, skint to the wide, are one day watching TV in their chicken-run in a King's Cross back alley when Neddie Seagoon arrives to empty the gas meter. Staggering under the weight of a sack bursting with coppers he foolishly accepts an offer to join them in a quarter-bottle of Maurice Ponk's doped apple-jack. While still reeling from the effects of this vicious carousal he is introduced to Gladys Knees, a diaphanous spy and part-time dustwoman, who induces him to sink further into the abyss of vice by partaking of a portion of heavily loaded smoked haddock. Before he lapses into unconsciousness he overhears the mysterious Count Jim booking reservations for South America, and he realises that once again he has become enmeshed in the plot to kidnap President Fred and relieve him of his historic portion of the International Christmas Pudding.
(from the Radio Times, issue 1668, page 24, published 28 October 1955)
This was the last time there was to be an episode synopsis published in the Radio Times during the Goon Show’s original run. There were likely multiple reasons for the decision to stop them, and it was probably an arrangement that suited the editors and Spike Milligan.
Sending a synopsis two or three weeks in advance of the broadcast of a script that was most likely barely written (if at all) must have been a pain for Spike, while the multiple instances of the text bearing little or no relation at all to the broadcast episode probably undermined what the editors were trying to achieve.
Not to forget, it probably calmed Wallace Greenslade down, too.
Greenslade: And now, the Six Ingots of Leadenhall Street part three, in which Ned Seagoon is attacked by a drink-crazed Peruvian trombonist with rumpled feet and- Seagoon: Greeners, we're not doing that this week. Greenslade: But page 24 of my Radio Times says- Seagoon: I don't care what your Radio Times says, Wallace, we're not doing it! Greenslade: But the editor is a friend of mine – the Radio Times never lies!
(from ‘The Sinking of Westminster Pier’, Series 5 Episode 21, broadcast 15 February 1955)
For ‘Foiled by President Fred’, Neddie Seagoon is a gas meter inspector – but that’s as much as you’ll get from the synopsis. Working for the South Balham Gas Board, Seagoon is tasked with travelling to Argentina to collect an unpaid debt of £4 19s 6d (about £120 in today’s money), owed by a President Fred.
Henry Crun: Seagoon, go to this address and serve them a seven-day final notice. Seagoon: Yes sir. What's this? President Fred, Casa Rosa, Avenida Varest? That's South America! Henry Crun: Then you'd better borrow the Gas Board's bicycle. Seagoon: But sir, it's overseas. Henry Crun: What is our bicycle doing overseas?! Seagoon: No, no. I mean Argentina is overseas. How can I get there on a bicycle? Henry Crun: Well, you must have it waterproofed, that's all.
We are told that a certain British major had established links between the “South Balham Gas colossus” and Argentina by shipping a single cylinder of gas there in 1939. Seagoon contacts Major Bloodnok – for it is he – upon arrival in South America, who in turn directs him to Eccles to navigate the mini war zone between Bloodnok’s building and President Fred’s residence.
Seagoon: Now, how do I get through the firing line to President Fred's headquarters? Eccles: How do you get there? You go straight up that road there. Seagoon: But they're shooting down it. Eccles: Oh, don't go that way. You take this road here. They're not shooting up that one. Seagoon: That road doesn't lead to it. Eccles: No, don't take that one.
Eventually they decide to take the sewer route, where they meet Bluebottle playing the ‘Harry Lime Theme’ from The Third Man on a flannel zither.
Seagoon: Well done, little thrice-adolescent hybrid. Lead me to President Fred's headquarters and this quarter of liquorice allsorts is yours. Bluebottle: Oooh! Liquorice! Oh I like this, it's good. Thinks: I must be careful how many of those I eat. Right, capitain, quick, jump onto this cardboard bootbox. Hurriedly wraps up capitain in brown paper parcel labelled ‘Explosives’ and stuffs same through headquarters letter box. Jumps on to passing dustcart and exits left to buy bowler before the price goes up. Thinks: there wasn't a very big part for Bluebottle this week was there?
Seagoon is successfully smuggled into the president’s HQ where he meets Grytpype and Moriarty, who are evidently in cahoots with Fred. Poor Ned is then sent up and down to and from the gas meter to re-read it as first Grytpype and Moriarty are chased out by revolutionaries – led by General Aston Villa – and then the pair launch a devastating counterattack to retake the HQ.
Greenslade: Here for idiots is a resumé. The revolution so far. [FX: Shooting] Greenslade: Thank you.
Seagoon is once again redirected towards Major Bloodnok, who finally settles the bill with a photograph of a £4 note (the debt has bounced a bit in the meantime).
Subplot time! The last third of the show features double-cross after double-cross, as various characters try to make off with President Fred’s money while Seagoon tries to get his bill payment – Bloodnok’s photograph was of a forgery.
This section is a wonderful piece of comedic writing and is brilliantly performed by the trio. Bloodnok thinks he’s made off with the 50 million pesos in a red sack, only for Moriarty and Grytpype to reveal that it was a sack of forged notes and the real money is in their blue sack.
Eccles: I see you got that old red sack full of them forged notes ready for old Bloodnok, then? Say, that was a good idea of yours having me pack the two sacks, eh? That was fine, fine. Here, where's the blue sack with the real stuff? Grytpype: This is the blue one. Eccles: Ooooh! That fella was right then. Grytpype: What fellow? Eccles: That oculist fellow who said I was colour-blind.
Cue panic as the sacks are chased around and passed between people disputing whether they contain real or forged notes, who has which sack, and whether or not Eccles is really colourblind. All the while, Seagoon is still trying to track down his £4.
Bluebottle: Eccles, which sack has the real money? Eccles: The blue one. Bluebottle: Then we will split it 50-50. You take that nice red one and I'll have this rotten stinking old blue one. And you're quite sure you're not colour-blind, ain't you? Eccles: Oh no, I'm not colour blind. Bluebottle: Well, goodbye Eccles. [FX: Door shuts] Eccles: Goodbye, Redbottle.
After all that, Neddie Seagoon returns empty-handed to South Balham – only to find his job has been given to Major Bloodnok.
At the start of the episode, Henry Crun reads of the financial results of the South Balham Gas Board. It denotes expenses, primarily all the non-gas ways in which the office is powered, plus saxophone lessons for the chairman’s wife. He’s interrupted at one point by Harry Secombe’s Uncle Oscar voice asking, “What about our lads in Mafeking?”.
This has puzzled me for a while. It refers to a town in South Africa – now known as Mafikeng or Mahikeng – that was the location of a major battle of the Second Boer War. The Siege of Mafeking received a great deal of press attention at the time because the son of the then-prime minister was stuck in the town during the siege. It was also the battle that made Robert Baden-Powell – later founder of the Boy Scouts – famous in the UK.
Why it was suddenly relevant again in autumn 1955 is a mystery. I have found many mentions of the Relief of Mafeking in newspapers from that year, as it was still a key event remembered by many older Brits as something the whole country celebrated and so used as an analogy or reference point that most people would have understood.
I have found this cartoon from the Dundee Courier, published 21 September 1955. There is no context, and I’ve not been able to find any references to Mafeking in government documents or Hansard, so quite what this refers to I’ve no idea. Perhaps a sly dig at a rival newspaper covering old stories?
Foiled By President Fred
Series 6 Episode 7
Broadcast: 1 November 1955
Written by: Spike Milligan
Producer: Peter Eton