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Spoof ads in The Stage

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

If you’ll kindly turn to page 26 of this week’s Radio Times, you’ll see the eighth episode of series two, on at 9:45pm on 18 March 1952.

I’ve stumbled upon a couple of amusing spoof adverts from The Stage that are obviously the product of the Goons. There was one published just before the first episode, and Harry Secombe also used the format to avenge his flop at Bolton.

However, I’ve recently learned who actually wrote some of them – it was most likely Larry Stephens.

It’s Larry’s birthday on 16 July, and by then I will have finished Julie Warren’s wonderful biography of him, It’s All In The Mind. It’s a bittersweet tribute to a man whose immense contribution to the Goons and other 1950s comedy is often overlooked.

According to Warren, Larry Stephens was an advertising copywriter when he first moved to London after the war. Having met the Goons (and been fully indoctrinated) at the Grafton Arms pub, he was perfectly placed to help Secombe and Sellers (who seemed to be most fond of the spoof ad) make their ideas reality.

Here’s one that is definitely a Larry Stephens creation – it features one of his sketches, and ‘Fern Muleboot’ is a character name he used in other projects.

This appeared on page 3 of The Stage issue for 1 January 1953. A half-page advert like that doesn’t come cheap!

Other adverts placed by the Goons include this festive message from Fred Plunge, from 31 December 1953. Note the classic Goon trait of getting rude slang in without anyone noticing:

(For the uninitiated, 'berk' is short for 'Berkshire Hunt', which is Cockney rhyming slang for - never you mind.)

And then there are these two examples of marketing for the first series. This one appeared in The Stage on 19 July 1951, just before episode nine was broadcast:

Readers were invited to Arnold Fringe’s funeral on 2 August 1951:

And there’s more where that came from! Specifically, the British Newspaper Archive.

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