Operation Explodable Boot
Updated: Sep 26, 2022
The crimes you are about to hear have all been specially committed for this programme.
The year is 1954, and the English national football team is still reeling from two thumpings delivered by Hungary the previous year, 6-3 and 7-1. A 2003 Times article cites England centre-half Syd Owen describing the latter defeat as “like playing people from outer space”.
It was clear this couldn’t stand. Step forward the only idiot capable of rectifying such a situation.
Seagoon: Captain Hairy Seagoon reporting for duty as instructed, sir. I'm ready to die for the flag, bleed for my country, suffer great sufferings, and all for England. Grytpype: You silly twisted boy, you.
Captain Seagoon has been “specially selected for a specially dangerous mission” to travel to Budapest and sabotage the Hungarian national team ahead of their next match against England.
Grytpype: It's dangerous work. Seagoon: I suppose I'll have to take risks? Grytpype: Oh yes, and a small pot of tea.
In order to operate behind the Iron Curtain, Seagoon is partnered with Eccles and Henry Crun to come up with a “highly mysterious secret whistling tune”, with which to communicate with British operatives and the British ambassador, Major Denis Bloodnok.
Seagoon: [whistles secret tune] Bloodnok: Very interesting, but who the blazes are you? Seagoon: My card! Bloodnok: It's blank. Seagoon: I know, I'm keeping my identity a secret.
As he prepares a plan for sabotaging the Hungarian team, Seagoon plans to stay at the embassy – but is outraged when Bloodnok tries to charge him rent.
Seagoon: You’re charging me, an Englishman, to stay at the British Embassy? Bloodnok: It's the holiday season. They charge twice as much at Blackpool. Seagoon: I'm not here on holiday, I'm here on a dangerous mission. Bloodnok: You mean you might get killed? Seagoon: Yes. Bloodnok: Oh well, that's different. Well, under the circumstances, I must ask for the rent in advance. Seagoon: I've never been so insulted in all my life! Bloodnok: Come now, with a face like that? You must have been!
Eventually Captain Seagoon makes contact with secret agent Bluebottle, and together with Eccles they break into the Hungarian changing room and insert dynamite into the toecaps of their boots. The plan seems to have gone smoothly until they turn on the radio for the start of the game:
Commentator (Sellers): And the teams are just coming on to the field now, Hungary versus England… The match was nearly called off because the British team forgot to bring their football boots, but the Hungarians sportingly gave them theirs.
This episode was also revisited for television in 1966 as part of Harry Secombe’s show ‘Secombe and Friends’. Milligan, Sellers and Secombe reunited six years after 'The Last Smoking Seagoon' (the final episode of series 10) to perform the script. Wallace Greenslade had died two years earlier, so his parts were taken by Ray Ellington (if you'll pardon the expression).
The video is available on YouTube in three parts: Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3
This recording also marked the 100th regular show (excluding specials) since Crazy People first aired in May 1951. It was celebrated in true lavish BBC style.
I don't think this photo actually comes from that party, as Michael Bentine had departed the show some two years previously. That said, who's to say whether he didn't sneak in to raise a glass?
A Greenslade Goof
At the start of this episode, Harry Secombe calls Wallace Greenslade forward to the microphone. This is followed by the sound of rattling chains, and Greenslade responding, “Yes, master?”.
While this is funny in itself, it may refer to poor Wal’s reading – or misreading – of the news on BBC radio a few days before the recording.
A front-page article from the Birmingham Daily Post, dated 23 September 1954, under the headline ‘BBC News Reader Was “Nervous”’, describes an unnamed news announcer having made a few errors while relaying the nine o’clock news.
After the BBC 9 o’clock news last night several telephone calls were received at Broadcasting House criticising its delivery. A BBC spokesman said later that a relief newsreader had made one or two mistakes and corrected them. This was simply due to nervousness. Listeners also range [sic] London newspaper offices to enquire about the way in which the items were read. One listener said that, though the announcer’s articulation was slow and deliberate, he made slips in introducing items, which he corrected. He said ‘opposition’ for ‘opposite’ direction, rectifying the mistake immediately, and later had difficulty in pronouncing the word ‘Association’ in reference to an Association football result.
The Liverpool Echo on the same day named Greenslade as the announcer responsible. He was the duty reserve announcer for the day and was not scheduled to read the news, so this was evidently thrust upon him at short notice.
Greenslade was approached by an unnamed Echo correspondent to ask how he felt after the next day’s work. “I felt slightly harassed, but there were no fluffs at all. Everything went off all right.”
Perhaps he was more harassed by the reporters than by any errors he may have made. It’s a shame he didn’t live to hear James Naughtie’s infamous introduction for Jeremy Hunt.
In any case, fast-forward to 28 September and an article for the Daily Mirror by entertainment writer Clifford Davis recounting the Sunday recording of ‘The Whistling Spy Enigma’. The clanking chains sound effect “suggested, in fun, that the BBC were punishing him for his muddled reading of the news”. Poor old Wal.
(Liverpool Echo, Birmingham Daily Post and Daily Mirror articles sourced from the British Newspaper Archive)
Title: The Whistling Spy Enigma
Series 5, Episode 1
Broadcast: 28 September 1954
Written by: Spike Milligan
Producer: Peter Eton