Updated: Dec 8, 2021
In yesterday's blog post I began exploring the myriad BBC and cultural references littered throughout the script for 'Nineteen-Eighty-Five', first broadcast on the Home Service on 4 January 1955.
When we left off, Winston was just about to meet his love interest.
‘Love is only for the higher income group’
When she appears – Miss Fnutt, voiced by Peter Sellers – he initially rebuffs her, telling her that “love is only for the higher income group”, going on to list John Snagge along with Audrey Cameron and Paul Fenoulhet.
Cameron was another BBC producer, while Fenoulhet was a conductor and band-leader.
In the novel, Winston’s love interest is Julia, who supports the Anti-Sex League and works on a Pornographic Machine. Staying close to the novel, Miss Fnut works on the Pornograph Machine in the Forbidden Records Department.
Winston: Wait, that belt you are wearing... Fnutt: That’s the Anti-Sex League belt. Winston: Ahem. Well I don’t think I’ll come. Fnutt: But you too are wearing the Anti-Sex League belt. Winston: I was forced to. Fnutt: Why? Winston: My trousers kept falling down.
I just wanted to include that as it’s my favourite gag of the episode.
Winston: That night in my room I sat out of range of the TV screen. I loved Fnutt, and I hate Big Brother. I wrote it in my diary: “I hate BB, I hate BB, I hate BB, I hate BB.” [FX: Phone ringing, receiver lifted] Winston: Hello? Groucho Marx: Don't tell anybody, but I hate BB too. Winston: Who are you, Ben Lyon? Groucho Marx: No. I was, but this script was altered.
This needs a little unpacking. The BB-Ben Lyon gag is a reference to Bebe Daniels, wife of the actor Ben Lyon. The pair starred in a highly popular sitcom, Life with the Lyons.
The reference to the script being altered implies that someone thought saying Ben hated Bebe was a step too far.
“Groucho Marx” is the name given to this voice by the transcriber for The Goon Show Site, where I get all my transcripts from. Personally, I’m not convinced this is supposed to be Groucho – I think it’s a generic Sellers American accent. But I’m willing to be proven wrong.
Mrs Dale’s Real Diary
Bluebottle: Listen to this: “In the darkness she felt his hot breath on her bed rails. Then a warm hand fell on her marble washstand.” Winston: Stop! Stop, stop that at once. Give me that book! Bluebottle: Why? Winston: I want to read it. What's it called? Bluebottle: It's called 'Mrs Dale's Real Diary'.
Mrs Dale’s Diary was a hugely popular BBC radio serial, starring Ellis Powell in the title role (as Mrs Dale, not the diary). She had a cameo in a third-series Goon Show episode in 1952, and almost exactly two years after that appearance her show was still being lampooned by Milligan et al.
Bluebottle: Eheehee! Look at this page! Eheehee! It's a 3D picture of Mrs Dale in her night-shirt being chased by Richard Dimbleby… Eheehee! Eheehee… Pauses to wipe drool off chin.
Richard Dimbleby was, as many may already know, a leading news reporter and presenter on BBC radio in the 1950s, During the war he had broadcast from El Alamein and Normandy as the corporation’s first war correspondent, and brought audiences the first horrific account of the scenes at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Of course, his children include TV and radio presenters David Dimbleby and Jonathan Dimbleby.
1954, from 1984
Charrington (Sellers): That, beautiful isn't it? It's called a cricket bat. Winston: Oh yes... yes... did they have test matches way back? Charrington: Yes, that... that's right. As a matter of fact this bat was used in the very last test by Len Hutton, you can see it's quite unmarked.
In Orwell’s 1984, Charrington is an antiques dealer that double crosses Winston. In the Goons’ version, he is merely a not-quite-Henry Crun voice that allows for a few more topical gags to be thrown in.
This reference to the cricketer Len Hutton (left) is a particularly niche one. I’m grateful to the transcriber from The Goon Show Site for the explanation:
“Len Hutton (excellent batsman) was opening bat and captain of the British team touring Australia at the time. He was out in the first over of the first innings of the first test after only one scoring shot. He only averaged 21.5 in these tests, less than half his career average of 54. Not a performance that the English fans expected.”
Hutton’s obituary in the cricket almanac Wisden dismissed this as “a grievous setback” that was immediately rectified by the team’s successful defeat of Australia. Jolly good show.
Winston: Old man, tell me, what was it like back in 1954? Charrington: Well we had sports and games, coloured movies, Charlie Chester, Monkhouse, Gilbert Harding, oh, it was terrible.
Charlie Chester (right): A comedian and radio presenter whose broadcasting career lasted more than 50 years. The Charlie Chester Show was broadcast just 90 minutes before this very episode, as per page 22 of the Radio Times.
Bob Monkhouse: A comedy scriptwriter and performer often ridiculed by the Goons for being corny.
Gilbert Harding: Irascible radio presenter and another regular butt of Goon jokes.
Into Room 101
So we come to the climax of the episode and Winston’s torture in Room 101 – also known as The Listening Room.
In the original, Winston’s head is shut in a box full of rats. Winston Seagoon’s fate is even worse: he’s made to listen to Mrs Dale’s Diary.
Vision Master: Of course, you can save yourself. Winston: How? Vision Master: Just sign this three-year BBC contract. Winston: What if I refuse? Vision Master: You have no option. Winston: A BBC contract with no option? Impossible.
I believe this is a reference to the Beeb’s tendency to commission short series with an option to extend if it is a success. This was certainly how it approached the first series of the Goon Show (when it was known as Crazy People).
Vision Master: I warn you Winston, here we can change people into somebody else. You know Eccles? Winston: Yes? Vision Master: He used to be Issy Bonn. Winston: You're lying! Vision Master: You think so? Greenslade, call Barbara Kelly. Greenslade: Miss Kelly! Ray Ellington: Yes, you calling me Ronnie?
Issy Bonn, born Benjamin Levin, was a comedian, singer and actor who was popular on radio and in variety shows in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. By the time the 1950s arrived his style was falling out of favour and he became a theatrical agent. He’s one of the people portrayed on the cover of The Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Barbara Kelly, meanwhile, was an actress and co-star of several radio and TV shows with her husband Bernard Braden, including Breakfast with Braden and Bedtime with Braden. However, by 1955 she had moved on to become a regular panellist on What’s My Line?.
The final scenes involve Winston being tortured by being forced to listen to Mrs Dale’s Diary, Have A Go!, and Life with the Lyons. And then!
[FX: Harry Secombe opera record played] Winston: No! No! Stop! This is agony, stop that voice, stop that voice! Stop that voice! Stop it! Whose is it? Vision Master: Yours! Winston: [clapping] More! Bravo! More, More! More! Encore! More! More, more. Let's have him back again, short fat fellow with the glasses, more!
Vision Master Waldman exits for a saxophone lesson with Jim Davidson – another popular band-leader of the 1920s and 1930s, rather than the alleged comedian – leaving Winston to be tortured by Bluebottle.
Winston: No, Bluebottle, don't do it. Remember me? Your old pal Neddie Seagoon? […] Bluebottle: Yes, my friend… You’re the one who deads me every week, aren't you?
This time Bluebottle will triumph! He straps Winston to a pile of dynamite, gets a taxi to the airport, flies to America and rides a horse out to the desert, 6,000 miles away. Alas, even then he cannot escape the dreaded deading.
Back in Room 101, Bloodnok and Eccles arrive to free Winston, and an announcement informs them that Horace Minnick has successfully taken control of the BBC “after a telephone conversation lasting three days and bribes worth £10”.
Winston celebrates, until he discovers that the new programming includes Ray’s A Laugh. While this provided Peter Sellers with a platform early on in his career, host Ted Ray typified the kind of ‘safe’ comedy that the Goons wanted to challenge – much like the other shows lampooned in this episode.
‘Nineteen-Eighty-Five’ was so immediately popular that the Goons revisited it just a few weeks later, with a brand new performance and featuring pre-recorded segments by John Snagge himself. More of that very soon.
Series 5, Episode 15
Broadcast: 4 January 1955
Written by: Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes
Producer: Peter Eton