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Ink-apable, and other jokes

The Goons recounted the story of ‘The Great Ink Drought of 1902’ in episode 22 of the fourth series. Broadcast on 22 February 1954 at 8:30pm on the Home Service (Radio Times listing here), it was reworked as part of the Vintage Goons series and retitled ‘The Ink Shortage’, but not broadcast in the UK.

Once again, the original recording has not survived – but the Vintage Goons version has.

The story follows finance expert Sir Bernard Seagoon who is persuaded by Moriarty to invest in ink. Seagoon is unaware of the ink shortage at first, until he finds out from the morning papers – they’ve been written in pencil.

Seagoon: Alright Phules, get this: buy 12,000 vaulted clooth, 8,000 in multi-electrics, 200 chaps textiles and er – just a minute, I've got the list here – oh yes, and a small brown loaf. [FX: Phone into cradle] Seagoon: Haha. That'll set the market by the ears, nose and throat. They don't call me 'Midas' Seagoon for nothing. Jim Spriggs: You have to pay them folks.

(Note to my father: February 1954 - this proves how old that gag is.)

Getting to the nib of the problem

The warnings of shortages seem very timely – as I write this, the UK is grappling with a petrol shortage. Or, technically, a shortage of people to deliver the petrol. Or, if you prefer, a historic shortage of brain cells in the Houses of Parliament.

Greenslade: This is the BBC. The Minister of Supply has announced that the ink shortage is very grave. The public are requested to keep calm and not to fill their fountain pens unless absolutely necessary. Until closedown, here is a record of a pencil with musical accompaniment. [FX: Scratchy pencil on parchment with piano]

Fortunately, Grytpype-Thynne has a solution. Using typical Goon Show logic, he has taken a photograph of some ink powder, enlarged it, dissolved it in water and created 60 gallons of ink.

Grytpype: Give me 99% of the shares and the ink's yours, laddie. Seagoon: Done! Grytpype: You certainly have been.

(Further proof of the Goon Show as the source of a high percentage of my dad’s jokes.)

Henry Crun’s blotting paper company is in ruins, and thousands are bankrupted by a stock market crash. Apart from Eccles, who sells the ticker tape reels for stock market news.

Crun decides to send an expedition to Asia in search of naturally occurring ink wells. In an effort to preserve the value of his ink shares, Seagoon attempts to thwart the mission. Someone should report him to the Financial Conduct Authority.

Two plots emerge – that’s as many as two more than emerge in some Goon Show episodes. Crun plots to offload his worthless ink blotting shares to Eccles, while Seagoon and Moriarty plot to blow up the exploratory ink drilling site. Who else to task with this job than the mighty Bluebottle?

Seagoon: Bluebottle, we want you to do a job. Bluebottle: Any job, my captain. Any job I will do. My strength is as the strength of ten! Moves left, raises ear-trumpet to catch this line. Seagoon: It's dangerous. Bluebottle: Dangerous? [Gulps] Goes white, grips wall for support. Knees turn to jelly, cold sweat breaks out on brow. Legs buckle, sinks to floor, but springs up at mention of money.

Sixpence is enough to earn Bluebottle's trust. Long-term listeners will know how this ends, though.

[FX: Series of explosions] Bluebottle: You rotten swine you. It went off even before I got it there. Ooohoohoo, the agony! … Cruel fate. Feels body to see if sixpence is still safe. I'm dying! I'm dying! Falls heavily to floor, onto cushion already placed there. Writhes in death agony. Head slumps to floor, looks up to see if people are still watching. Yes. Dies. Gets up. Goes home.

At this point, enter Eccles avec blotting paper company shares. Seagoon challenges him to a game of draughts – winner takes the shares of both the ink company and the blotting paper company.

Grytpype: And so the poor untutored oaf played the cunning, scheming-minded power-mad tycoon, and lost. Seagoon: Yes. I'll never know how he beat me.

And thus, Eccles became a wealthy businessman and went on to invent Amstrad.


Title: The Great Ink Drought of 1902

Series 4, Episode 22

Written by: Spike Milligan

Producer: Peter Eton

Vintage Goons version

Title: The Ink Shortage

Producer: Roy Speer


Image sourced from Pexels.

Bluebottle: Can I go home now? Seagoon: Yes. Your dinner's in the oven.
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