Series six, and saxophones in Hyde Park
The sixth series of the Goon Show began on 20 September 1955, to considerable press fanfare.
After the success of series five, the Goons were seen as comedy gold, and more than one article from that summer I’ve found refers to them as among the top two comedy shows in the country, along with Tony Hancock’s Hancock’s Half Hour.
As such, the newspapers were full of excitement ahead of the new series. The Radio Times ran a preview of the new series in its 16 September issue – see previous blog post ‘Danger! Goons at Play’.
More Goonery The best sound radio news I have heard for months is that the highly-esteemed ‘Goon Show’ is returning to the air from Sept. 20. Throughout the autumn and winter Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan, Max Geldray and the Ray Ellington Quartet will be bringing you laughs from Goonland. A special statement I have received from the Goons announces: “Most of the characters are human whenever possible. To get the right atmosphere, Spike Milligan is writing the show 800ft underground and for inspiration he runs through Hyde Park stark naked playing a saxophone.”
(text and image from the Coventry Evening Telegraph, 1 September 1955)
Meanwhile, a similar statement reported by the Liverpool Echo added:
… Spike Milligan gives his advice on how to hear the show. “Most of the cast are human where possible. The same characters will be appearing, using the same language (English seems to be the most preferable). “All broadcasts will be done with a microphone and the only way to pick them up is with a radio. If listeners want to hear the broadcasts clearly, it is best to have the radio switched on. If the show comes through too loud, listeners should stand further away.”
(from the Liverpool Echo, 3 September 1955)
Our Craziest Comedians Start a New Series The ‘Goons’ return to the air to-night in an episode, the title of which conveys nothing to the ordinary listener, but promises worlds – and more – to the ‘Goon’ addict – ‘The Man Who Won The War’, adapted from the best-seller, ‘I Was Hitler’s Undervest’ (Home, 8.30). The craziest and funniest comedians in Britain begin a new series of hair-raising, side-splitting ancedotes [sic], headed by Harry Secombe, who has won such acclaim from viewers with his ‘Secombe Here’ programmes. Only four years old, the ‘Goon Show’ has captured a very large audience and is completely different from anything else on the air.
(from the Portsmouth Evening News, 20 September 1955)
Meanwhile, an important landmark was achieved behind the scenes. Earlier in the summer of 1955, Pat Hillyard, then the BBC’s head of light entertainment, had travelled to North America in an attempt to sell broadcast rights to British radio programmes to overseas networks.
By September, his trip was confirmed as a success. Several articles report that specially edited repeats of the Goon Show will be broadcast by NBC in the United States and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation north of the border.
In the Lancashire Evening Post on 17 August 1955, Harry Secombe is quoted as saying: “Fancy that. I thought our type of humour was strictly Anglo-Saxon.”
‘Goons’ For Canada The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation will shortly carry the Goon Show over its coast-to-coast network. This decision follows the recent visit to Canada and the USA. of Pat Hillyard, head of BBC Sound Variety, to study light entertainment there. He had with him recordings of two Goon Shows as an example of the type of humour which the BBC is developing in sound radio and he arranged a special playback for the chief executives of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. They were greatly impressed and agreed with Hillyard on the importance at the present time of listeners on both Sides of the Atlantic being able to find common ground in a sense of humour. These Goon Show programmes were recorded from the original broadcasts by the BBC Transcription Service.
(from the Bognor Regis Observer, 26 August 1955)
The Goons were particularly popular with American soldiers, according to a report in the Belfast Telegraph on 28 September.
A total of 13 episodes from the fifth series were sent to the former colonies as a result of this deal, and many more followed. South Africa, Australia and New Zealand also joined in the fun. The rest is history – there are branches of the Goon Show Preservation Society in all of these countries to this day.