Updated: Oct 13, 2021
Goon fans will know the main cast as consisting of Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan, and Peter Sellers for the majority of the run of the show. Michael Bentine was the fourth member for the first two series before departing to focus on other projects.
In the early days leading up to the first broadcast, however, the "Goon Club" was much wider than the now-infamous quartet, as an article from March 1950 by Brian Harvey in the Birmingham Daily Gazette shows.
Harvey's article is based on an interview with Jean Carson (left), an actress from Yorkshire who later found success on the stage and on TV in America (as Jeannie Carson). She is described as "Queen Goon" - a title to which Charlotte Mitchell might have a more legitimate claim - and ranks among several post-war comedians, including our four heroes.
Also mentioned are Alfred Marks, who went on to become a successful actor on stage and screen, and American comic Wally Boag, "who blows balloons into fantastic animal shapes". I can see why his act didn't quite make it to radio, although he too was popular on stage and screen.
There is also an intriguing take on the origins of the Goons.
Jean [Carson] played with [Michael] Bentine in 'Starlight Roof' at the London Hippodrome, and the Goon's Club originated partly as a game in his dressing-room during the run of that show and partly as a serious proposition in a little West End café which is a favourite haunt of some of the new post-war comedians. In Michael Bentine's dressing-room, the Goons used to gather to entertain themselves between shows by acting 'goofy' Disney-like characters in cartoon-sketches of their own invention.
(from 'The Goons may be a new Crazy Gang', Birmingham Daily Gazette, 10 March 1950)
Note the reference to "goofy" - no doubt Harvey had been introduced to Eccles.
The article goes on to explain that the group wants to "form themselves into a new kind of Crazy Gang with their own style of semi-lunatic caricature comedy".
The Crazy Gang was a group of six comedians (effectively three double acts) who emerged as a hit in the UK in the late 1930s. Their popularity was such that the early episodes of the Goon Show were billed as 'Crazy People' as the BBC tried to give the potential audience an idea of what to expect. But more of that later.
Somewhat prophetically, Harvey adds:
It might have a limited appeal at first, but could become very fashionable if successful.
While Bentine had apparently already submitted a trial script to the BBC, the Goons Harvey spoke to made it clear they wanted to establish themselves individually first. Bentine, Secombe, and Sellers were already on their way to doing that with regular radio and stage bookings. Milligan was still finding his feet as a writer.
Harvey concludes by saying that it could be "three or four years before we can see a complete Goons' show". In reality, the first broadcast was just over a year away...
Birmingham Daily Gazette article sourced from the British Newspaper Archive.
Jeannie Carson picture sourced from the BBC.
Image of the Crazy Gang sourced from British Pictures.