Mustard and cress sandwiches
Episode 24 of series four, broadcast on 8 March 1954, told the tragic story of ‘The Collapse of the British Railway Sandwich System’. It’s listed on page 18 of this week’s Radio Times.
Elsewhere in this issue of the RT is a short piece on writing duo Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, who later teamed up with Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes to create Associated London Scripts. At the time of this particular article they were writing for Star Bill, presented by Tony Hancock, and which this week featured our friend Graham Stark, former Goon Show music maestro Stanley Black and his Concert Orchestra, and lyrics from Jimmy ‘KOGVOS’ Grafton.
To the Goon Show. Mr Greenslade, care to cue us in?
Wallace Greenslade: Good evening, listeners. Workers’ Playtime tonight comes to you from a Head and Foot Mangling factory at Bill Gates. Among the artists are those three sons of fun, fresh from their triumphant Palladium failure, Sellers, Secombe and Milligan in... Secombe: The Goon Show!
This is a reference to a long-running variety show, Workers’ Playtime, which genuinely was produced by a Bill Gates – just not that one. It was first broadcast in 1941 and ran until 1964, and among its many featured artists through the years were the likes of Hancock, Frankie Howerd, Ken Dodd, and one Peter Sellers.
Sellers: (agonised) Our story opens in hell, the hell that drives many a normal person sane. The hell that we Londoners know as... Clapham Junction Tea Buffet. Ah ha ha... (fades)
A brave commuter ventures forward in search of sustenance, but – horror of horrors! – there is no mustard and cress available! It’s been stolen!
There is only one course of action to take in such a crisis, and that is to call in by “your favourite midget, Captain Gladys Seagoon”. He begins investigating railway station tea buffets.
Seagoon: Ellington, this waitress, I'm suspicious of her. Ellington: Man, you're right. Her moustache has fallen off. Seagoon: Yes. It was false… You madam, you’re an imposter.
Indeed, Captain Seagoon is right – it is none other than Bluebottle, “arch criminal and master of the Teddy Tale Junior Disguise Outfit”. He evades justice by shooting himself with a Flash Gordon cardboard ray gun.
Seagoon consults farmer Henry Crun and saxophonist Minnie Bannister for their assistance growing 6,000 acres of mustard and cress in the Amazon.
[Lone saxophone melody plays] Seagoon: What was that? Henry Crun: That's Miss Bannister. Seagoon: Oh. It sounded just like a saxophone. Crun: Minnie! Minnie Bannister: (off) Yes. Crun: Don't play any more, please. Bannister: (off) I must practise, Henry. After all, Ivy Benson can't live for ever. Seagoon: What do you mean she can't, she has.
Ivy Benson was one of the UK’s first female bandleaders, taking charge of her own all-female swing band in the late 1930s and became the BBC’s resident dance band during the Second World War. Her band were in high demand – Field Marshal Montgomery requested that they open the victory celebrations in Berlin in 1945, and they later toured Europe and the Middle East with the Entertainments National Service Association entertaining the troops waiting to be demobbed.
The action switches to Brazil where the British ambassador is making an important phone call.
Bloodnok: Eccles. Eccles: Just a minute, Major Bloodnok. I'm on the phone to Marilyn Monroe. Carry on, darlin'. Now then, what were you sayin', darlin'? Bloodnok: Thud me grit club! We haven't got a phone. Eccles: I know we haven't. Bloodnok: Then what are you doing? Eccles: I'm havin' a good time.
Seagoon and Ellington arrive and set up camp.
Seagoon: We'll camp here for the night. But as a safety precaution we must light large bonfires all around the camp. Ellington: What for? Seagoon: Lions. Ellington: Man, if the lions want fires, let 'em light 'em themselves. Seagoon: Silly lad. The fires are to prevent the lions entering the perimeter. Ellington: Okay, bonfire it is. Seagoon: That night we slept safely in the trees as the lions warmed themselves by our fires.
There follows a bizarre but archetypal Goon sequence in which Seagoon, Eccles, Ellington, and Bloodnok are hiking into the jungle while all appearing to carry each other. Listeners are invited to guess what happens next after this is pointed out, whereupon a cacophony of sound effects are played – crashes, bagpipes, horses, waltzes, trains, clocks – “yes, you guessed it, they all fell down”.
Onwards through the jungle, until they are confronted by a group of natives.
Eccles: Ellington's gone after them natives with his gun. Seagoon: Splendid. Ellington's a dead shot. Eccles: He is now, somebody shot 'im.
[FX: Machine-gun fire] Bloodnok: Gad, that native was clever. Seagoon: Why? Bloodnok: He only had a spear.
They take shelter in a rapidly built wooden hut and await a river steamboat to rescue them. They reject the help of Alan Ladd, a popular actor of the time who had just been voted the biggest British box office star of 1954, who calls to offer assistance. Despite his popularity, his star was on the wane as the war-themed films that made him popular were becoming less sought after.
A low note is sounded like a boat horn, but alas! It's not a steamboat or Alan Ladd, it is only Minnie Bannister playing her saxophone. Roll end credits.
Greenslade: Listeners will ask what happened to the great mustard and cress shortage. Tealady (Sellers): Nothing. It still exists. Secombe: If you doubt it, next time you go into a railway buffet, prise open a mustard and cress sandwich, and there you will find... nothing.
This is another Vintage Goons episode, as it was reworked into ‘The Mustard and Cress Shortage’ in 1958, although it was not broadcast in the UK initially.
Title: The Collapse of the British Railway Sandwich System
Series 4, Episode 24
Written by: Spike Milligan
Producer: Peter Eton
Vintage Goons version
Title: The Mustard and Cress Shortage
Producer: Tom Ronald
Photo by Oyenuga Adedamola from Pexels.