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Problematic synopses

As the Goon Show’s popularity increased, the Radio Times decided to publish episode synopses and character/cast lists along with each listing throughout series five.

However, this idea soon proved problematic. The need for a synopsis to be sent to the RT well in advance of the print deadline meant that, often, scriptwriters had only just started writing the episode in question.

Take It From Here co-writer Frank Muir describes the difficulties of this process in his autobiography.

The problem was that although we got down to it and produced the first script a week before the show, the Radio Times had to have information about it for their publicity three weeks ahead, so we fed them generalisations along the lines of, ‘Jimmy Edwards is as outrageous as ever and Dick Bentley is as cool and calm as ever. Watch out for fun with the Glums,’ and more of such waffle. The awful part came when the Radio Times was published ten days before the show. There was – probably on the cover – a photograph of our stars looking comical and an article inside welcoming the series back, which would include new problems for the Glum family, Jimmy being as outrageous as ever, etc. And not a word of it was yet written.

(from A Kentish Lad by Frank Muir, published by Corgi Books, 1998)

For the Goons, this demand meant that, on many occasions, the episode as described in the listing didn’t bear much resemblance to the script as broadcast. In the case of ‘The Sinking of Westminster Pier’, a last-minute change to the episode meant the Radio Times was wrong, much to Wallace Greenslade’s consternation.

Greenslade: And now, ‘The Six Ingots of Leadenhall Street’ part three, in which Ned Seagoon is attacked by a drink-crazed Peruvian trombonist with rumpled feet and- Seagoon: Greeners, we’re not doing that this week. Greenslade: But page 24 of my Radio Times says... Seagoon: I don’t care what your Radio Times says, Wallace, we’re not doing it! Greenslade: But the editor is a friend of mine – the Radio Times never lies!

(from ‘The Sinking of Westminster Pier’, Series 5 Episode 21, broadcast 15 February 1955)

‘The Six Ingots of Leadenhall Street’ was instead broadcast on 1 March 1955, but in the Radio Times that week’s episode was billed as ‘The Terrible Blasting of Moreton’s Bank’ – an episode that never saw the light of day.

As the fifth series progressed, the synopses became further and further removed from the actual scripts. Despite this, the editors of the Radio Times persisted with them for the first few episodes of series six, before finally abandoning the venture after episode seven (and two more incorrectly billed episodes).

My suspicion is that Sykes and Milligan enjoyed taking the mickey with these synopses at first, but that once Sykes moved on to other work, Spike reached the end of his tether with the demands for this particular deadline. He and Larry Stephens were reprimanded for the late delivery of actual scripts more than once, according to Stephens’ biographer Julie Warren, so getting a paragraph out of them two or three weeks before they had even put pen to paper on some ideas was always going to cause problems.

I do enjoy reading these synopses, though, and spotting the running gags – there is a reference to dustbins or dustmen in almost all of them, for example, and Harry Secombe is always listed as playing Fred Bogg, despite that character rarely (if ever) actually appearing in episodes.

Greenslade: According to page 24 of my Radio Times, you should have been hearing ‘The Six Ingots of Leadenhall Street’, but I fear the Goons have lied to the editor and not carried out the intended story. It’s a disgrace. Goodnight!

(from ‘The Sinking of Westminster Pier’, Series 5 Episode 21, broadcast 15 February 1955)

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