Greenslade: We present the awesome, fearful and, on the admission of the authors, incomprehensible story of... Milligan: Scradje!
The penultimate episode of the sixth series of the Goon Show aired on 13 March 1956, almost exactly 67 years ago, give or take a week and a bit.
The Radio Times is still being printed in Paris due to an ongoing dispute over pay for printers in the UK. Striking for better pay and conditions? What an old-fashioned concept. The brief listing for this episode is here.
‘Scradje’ (as it is spelled in the script – ‘Scradge’ is a common variation) tells a classic Goonish story of Grytpype-Thynne and Moriarty scheming against Neddie Seagoon, much in the same mould as with ‘Lurgi Strikes Britain’ in the fifth series. This time, though, the plague is exploding boots.
Since the very early days of the Goons and sketches poking fun at commercials in American radio, there have been semi-regular references to “Footo, the Wonder Boot Exploder”. Now is its moment to shine.
‘Lee Lawrence of Arabia’
There is a brief (and odd) musical gag at the start of the show referencing Lee Lawrence, a popular singer of the 1950s. We are told a piece of odd music is the “date-encrusted voice of that great Arab singer, Lee Lawrence of Arabia”.
A daft throwaway joke, but it had to be investigated. Lee Lawrence was born Leon Siroto or Julius Leon Siroto in 1920 or 1921, depending on whether you read Wikipedia (which at least cites National Archives documents) or AllMusic.com.
The latter says he was spotted performing for the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) by Roy Speer, who was later one of several producers of the Goon Show’s eighth series. Speer also ‘discovered’ Peter Sellers, although Sellers arguably didn’t give him a choice.
That’s not the end of Lawrence’s Goon links. He regularly collaborated with Stanley Black, the musical director for the early series. There is also this poster from 1951 held by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, which shows Lawrence headlining a variety performance ahead of Peter Sellers (“Speaking for the stars”). There’s a much smaller billing for Morecambe & Wise (“Fools rush in”), who were just starting out. These performances were often broadcast on the BBC Home Service – see the listing at 7:00pm here for proof.
As if all that wasn’t enough, his boots exploded for the purposes of what Harry Secombe describes as “the new low in Goon Show plots”.
Sellers: It was in the autumn of nineteen quinty-quodge, the year Major Bloodnok was discharged from the army. Secombe: Yes, it was the usual. Cowardice in the face of ENSA, found dressed as a woman in the ATS [Auxiliary Territorial Service] barracks. Bloodnok: Lies! All lies do you hear! It was carnival night I tell you!
“Cowardice in the face of ENSA” is a superb line, made all the more amusing with the knowledge that Messrs Milligan and Secombe had performed with the association while waiting for demobilisation at the end of the Second World War.
The ATS, meanwhile, was a women-only service set up in 1938 when war was looming to have women take on vital non-combatant roles and free up male soldiers for front line duty. More information is available on the National Army Museum’s website.
Seagoon and Bloodnok are found in the Athenaeum Club in London where the Major’s boots explode, much to his misery. Minnie Bannister appears to inform him that he’s been doing too much “sinful Charleston-ing and modern rhythm-type dancing”.
Her warning is proven when Neddie starts dancing and his boots explode too.
Seagoon: Are they, are they, dead, doctor? Doctor (Milligan): I'm afraid so. We did all we could but I'm afraid the welt was too far gone.
The doctor’s boots explode too! This is getting serious. Seagoon corrals a group of leading scientists, signified by the whole cast making silly noises, quacking, whooping, et cetera.
Jim Spriggs: Gentlemen, gentlemen please. Cease these impressions of stars of stage, screen and Labour Exchange. And now pray silence for his excellent shortness, Lord Neddie Seagoon, sixth in succession for the Muswell Hill tube station.
(Muswell Hill station was closed to passenger trains in 1954, it says ‘ere, and the last remains of the station were removed in the 1970s. The site is now a school.)
Grytpype-Thynne and Moriarty appear to explain what is causing these mysterious explosions. Moriarty’s explanation is a beautiful Milliganism, a long string of silly mock-French and verbal sound effects that is met with its own round of applause from the audience at the end.
Reverting to English, he explains that the explosions are caused by a shortage of scradje, a substance that prevents boots from exploding. Peter Sellers’ Scotsman with bagpipe music in the background returns, as he has done regularly this series, to declare that “I’ve heard nay such a lot o' rubbish since I left the House of Commons”.
The explosion sound effect record is really getting a workout in this episode. Further explosions are heard, affecting Alma Cogan midway through singing ‘Twenty Tiny Fingers’, David Whitfield singing his number one hit ‘Cara Mia’, and Spike Milligan performing ‘I’m Walking Backwards for Christmas’.
This was too much. Something must be done. Enter, John Snagge.
John Snagge [pre-recorded]: Good evening. I'm speaking to you about these boot-explosions. We, the government are doing all in our power to rectify this grave scradje deficiency which apparently exists. Until then, the British public must take the following precautions. To prevent yourselves exploding, remove your boots, reverse the buttons on your socks and walk backwards, holding a gas-stove above your head. I do hope this is only a temporary measure.
To the North Pole
An expedition is arranged, led by Seagoon and Bloodnok, and is sent off by Grytpype and Moriarty to the North Pole – accompanied by Doctor Eccles.
Seagoon: How are the men? Eccles: Oh fine, fine, fine. Seagoon: Any cases of frozen feet? Eccles: You didn't order any cases of frozen feet!
Enter Bluebottle via a fudge replica of the Eiffel Tower (of course). Doctor Eccles decides to operate, leading to Sellers fluffing his line – but still nailing the gag.
Bluebottle: Here! Stop cutting a hole in my shirt! Eccles: Don't be frightened! I'm only looking round. Bluebottle: You'd better not then. Eccles: Oooh, let me say it. Bluebottle: What? Eccles: I won't touch anything. Bluebottle: Well don't 'cos that's all new stuff in there.
The expedition is just three inches away from the North Pole (“We’ll never make it before nightfall”). This particular North Pole seems to be rather hot and contain more pyramids than most geography teachers will tell you exist in the Arctic.
Seagoon seeks shelter inside.
Seagoon: Knock-knock! Bannister: Who's there? Seagoon: Cohen! Bannister: Cohen who? Seagoon: Cohen you put us up for the night? Ha-ha-ha! I like working these little jokes. Bannister: Well you can work that one for a start.
It turns out that Minnie Bannister and Henry Crun have been employed to mix Footo the Wonder Boot Exploder into boot polish – so scradje was all a hoax.
The group drives the pyramid to Monte Carlo to confront Grytpype and Moriarty, and the script becomes even more Goonish with gags coming so fast the audience miss some. For example, as Seagoon and co strap Grytpype and Moriarty to their own boot explosive, Grytpype offers to help.
Seagoon: What's the idea? Thynne? Why are you turning on Moriarty? Grytpype: I've just found his tap.
Eventually the fiendish pair confess and promise to repay their fee. This involves returning a “blank wall” given to them by Seagoon (“fill in the bricks yourself”), another example of Milligan and co-writer Larry Stephens playing around with the concept of money.
Confession secured, Seagoon orders Bluebottle to put out the fuse on the explosives. Mission accomplished! Or...
Bluebottle: Captain, captain? Seagoon: What? Bluebottle: What was that that you told me to do? Seagoon: Told you to...The fuse! [FX: Large explosion]
John Snagge [pre-recorded]: Good evening. Since I last spoke to you, the dreaded boot explosions have ceased. Thanks to the courageous and untiring efforts of Professor Grytpype-Thynne and Mr Moriarty, both of whom are to be knighted. Therefore, as from now, you can all stop walking backwards, put on your boots, and lower your gas stoves to the ground. [Sounds of Snagge straining] [FX: Clank] Snagge: Oh, phew! Heavy, weren't they? Good night.
This may all seem somewhat far-fetched, but there is a real-world exploding boot phenomenon I've stumbled across.
This account, which is undated, is from a British expat blogger Barry Mahoney living in the Canary Islands. Be warned: you too could own an unexploded boot. Call Ned Seagoon without delay.
Series 6, Episode 26
Broadcast: 13 March 1956
Written by: Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens
Producer: Pat Dixon
BBC Sounds: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b007jnb4