Updated: Jan 10, 2022
Episode three of the fourth series was broadcast on 16 October 1953, as per page 42 of the Radio Times. It was entitled, rather menacingly, ‘The Ghastly Experiments of Dr Hans Eidelburger’.
That’s unless you consult the rather idiosyncratic episode list at the back of The Goon Show Scripts, a collection published in 1972, in which case it’s apparently called ‘The Everest Project’. Which one is correct depends on whether you pick the title of the first section or the second section of the programme. It's all rather confusing really.
I’ve heard a partial recording of this episode but a more complete one exists somewhere as I have come across a transcript. The episode starts off as the latest instalment of ‘The Adventures of Fearless Harry Secombe’, effectively subtitled ‘The Ghastly Experiments of Doctor Hans Eidelburger and his sinister Oriental assistant, Yakamoto’.
The pair have employed a character called Headstone to do some dirty work, as Fearless Harry soon discovers.
Secombe: You’re an undertaker? Nonsense. Can you prove it? Headstone: Yes! [FX: Fast nailing] Headstone: Well? Secombe: (muffled) I’m convinced. Take the lid off!
Headstone wishes to speak to Secombe about a grave matter (insert audience groan here) and sends him off to Dr Eidelburger for experimentation. The experiment involves being run over by a steamroller, of course. Secombe, however, intends to escape.
Secombe: Little does he know that I am sawing through my ropes on a rusty nail in the wall. Eidelburger: Little does he know that it doesn’t make any difference as I have nailed his boots to the floor. Secombe: Little does he know that I have a spare pair of boots concealed in my ear and at any moment I shall leap up, brandishing my revolver! Eidelburger: Little does he know that I have taken his revolver. Secombe: I wonder how Arsenal got on today.
Yet another Arsenal reference! I've added it to my pointless list. And before you ask, Arsenal played the next day (17 October) and lost 5-2 at home to Burnley.
Fortunately for Secombe, his taxi driver (Ray Ellington) turns up to help him do battle with his attackers. Even BBC announcer Andrew Timothy gets caught up in it. Only Max Geldray can save us.
After he has done so, we hear of the Goons' scepticism about Hillary and Tensing's ascent of Mount Everest - after all, they climbed it a full month before.
RadioEchoes has a partial recording of this episode, in which Seagoon declares that he wishes to make Britain “the tallest country in the world” by bringing Everest to the UK.
Milligan: Is the honorable member seriously suggesting that the whole of Mount Everest be brought to England? Seagoon: I am. Milligan: Does the honorable member know what he's talking about? Seagoon: I'm not supposed to, I'm a politician.
Seagoon, Bloodnok and Eccles travel to the Himalayas to attempt to package up and transport the mountain back to Blighty where it belongs - presumably in a museum.
Eccles: (from a distance) Hello, down there! I’ve reached 40,000 feet! Bloodnok: Well, you’d better come down a bit. Eccles: (from a distance) Why? Bloodnok: It’s only 30,000 feet high!
They succeed in cutting the mountain down, but when trying to transport it a group of Russians intervene to claim part ownership, and that Britain has flouted an agreement.
Seagoon: No, I don’t believe there is any such agreement Russian: Oho, there’s gratitude for you! After we spent all the morning forging it!
Having navigated that obstacle, they then set sail for Britain on HMS Regurgitant under the stewardship of Captain Bluebottle - a rare instance of him holding this role rather than giving it to Neddie Seagoon. It doesn't go to plan, unsurprisingly.
Bluebottle: Ahoy, there! Stand by! We’re sinking in the sea, alas! Eccles? Eccles: Yeah, captain? Bluebottle: Anything that’s not needed, throw over the side! Eccles: OK! Hwup! [FX: splash] Bluebottle: (from a distance) You rotten swine, Eccles! Help! Heeeeellp! I drown, I die, I sink, farewell! Exits home.
All this serves to reveal that Mount Everest is actually in pieces on the ocean floor, and Hillary and Tensing in fact climbed the biggest space in the world.
Eluding the censors (again)
The surname Eidelburger is another example of the Goons slipping naughty words in past the censors. Observe:
Grytpype-Thynne: The Crown Prinz, being of the house of Eidelburger, was the heir. But we reactionaries did not want another Eidelburger on the throne.
(from ‘The Case of the Missing Heir’, Series 5 Episode 16, broadcast 11 January 1955)
For the people at the back: while the Goons pronounced this name to sound like burger, as in hamburger, it was a thinly veiled disguise for the phrase ‘idle bugger’. Listening to the audience, it’s clear that most of them were in on the joke, even if the BBC bigwigs weren’t.
Eidelburger was occasionally a character, voiced by either Milligan or Sellers with an exaggerated German accent.
Moriarty: Hands up in German. Eidelburger: Drop that gun in English. Now listen, I am Justin Eidelburger. Moriarty: The famous German spy? Eidelburger: Thank you for telling the listeners.
(from ‘The Choking Horror’, Series 6 Episode 22, broadcast 14 February 1956)
Listening back to these episodes now I feel rather silly for not hearing this the first few times, but it was probably because I was an innocent child still laughing at Major Bloodnok’s flatulence. Not that I’ve stopped doing that, of course. “No more curried eggs for me!”
I was relieved to find I wasn’t alone in not getting the ‘just an idle bugger’ gag the first time around. In his memoir, former Welsh first minister Rhodri Morgan recalls being similarly baffled upon hearing the above Grytpype-Thynne line.
The studio audience went into paroxysms. It was probably the first time anyone in Britain had ever had the chance to poke fun at a, if not the, Royal Family. You’ve never heard laughter like it. I couldn’t get the joke, to my eternal shame, sophisticated teenager though I thought I was. It went clean over my head. I had to go into the study where my father was reading. I asked him what was so funny? … I went back into the living room thumping my forehead with the flat of my hand. The audience was still laughing. How did they get that past the censors? It was a moment of liberation, although I didn’t get it at first. Even Auntie Beeb could be liberated.
(from Rhodri: A Political Life Wales and Westminster, by Rhodri Morgan, published by University of Wales Press, 2017)