On 30 November 1954, the Goons investigated the mystery of ‘The Booted Gorilla’. Broadcast at 8:30pm on the Home Service, its footprints can be found on page 24 of the Radio Times.
The plot, such that it is, follows Neddie Seagoon’s attempts to track down a gorilla that appears to have acquired boots, judging by footprints his safari team has found. Eccles, meanwhile, is barefooted. “Could it be that these clues will bare feet?” asks Wallace Greenslade, to groans from the audience.
On an expedition to Chinese West Africa, Bwana Bloodnok and Bwana Seagoon are hot on the trail of the gorilla when the footprints disappear behind a pepper bush, and, in their place, impressions of hobnail boots emerge. Could it be the heat? Bwana Seagoon contacts Bwana Grytpypethynne of the London Gorilla Society, who recommends the only way to trap the booted gorilla is to erect a portable boot repairer's shop in the jungle. Then suddenly, in the sleepy little Somerset village of Low Ham and East Coker, the local cobbler's shop is put up for sale. Why are the owners, Mr. Crun and Miss Bannister, anxious to emigrate to Chinese West Africa? Could it be the heat? And how is it that cobbler Crun is an adept at making boots for gorillas?
(from the Radio Times, page 24, issue 1620, published 26 November 1954)
While Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes were writing together by this point, some scripts – such as this one – bore a distinctly more Milligan feel, with the plot rooted in surrealism and his flights of fancy and fantasy spinning off from it, resulting in a chaotic (if amusing) ending.
It does, however, contain one of my all-time favourite Goon Show jokes.
Seagoon: Is this the Gorilla Collectors Society? Grytpype: Yes. Your cage is waiting. Seagoon: I'm not a gorilla, I'm Bwana Seagoon! Grytpype: This takes a bit of swallowing. Perhaps he's mad. Seagoon: Little does he know, I'm as sane as the next fellow. Eccles: Little does he know that I'm the next fellow!
“Bwana” is thrown around a lot in this episode as a title for just about everyone. It’s apparently an East African or Swahili term meaning ‘boss’.
On a whim, I decided to search the British Newspaper Archives to see if there were any gorillas in the news that might have inspired Milligan’s imagination for this episode. As it happens, about a month before this episode aired a new film hit cinemas: Gorilla At Large.
According to the Banbury Advertiser of 27 October 1954, this film “centres around a ferocious gorilla who terrifies audiences at an amusement park”.
The film starred Cameron Mitchell and Anne Bancroft, as well as George Barrows as the gorilla. Barrows seems to have been somewhat typecast – according to his IMDB profile, he appeared as a gorilla in no fewer than 16 different films and TV series, since he debuted in Tarzan And His Mate in 1934. There is no record as to how many of his gorilla characters wore boots.
Back in Goonland, the team tracks down the gorilla with the aid of Henry Crun’s collapsible boot repair shop. Eccles and Bluebottle are hidden in a tree – or at least, Bluebottle thinks it’s Eccles.
Bluebottle: It's very dark, but me and Eccles is still watching. Seagoon: But Eccles is here. Bluebottle: [Gulps, laughs nervously] There? Seagoon: Yes. Bluebottle: Then who's this sitting on the branch next to me? HEEELP!
Seagoon rushes to the rescue and catches Bluebottle falling from the tree. At least, he thinks it’s Bluebottle.
Seagoon: Oh, ah, got ya! Good lad, now, let's brush you down and... Bluebottle: [From a distance] I say, promise you won't drop me? Seagoon: Of course not, just wait till I've brushed Bluebottle... [Gulps] Bluebottle was up the tree with the gorilla. I just caught something that jumped from the tree. Bluebottle is still up the tree, so the person I'm brushing down... Gorilla: Grrrr…
Eventually the gorilla is trapped in the boot repair shop. Eccles is sent in, and in the ensuing chaos, Minnie Bannister manages to overpower the gorilla and tie it up. At least, she thinks it’s the gorilla.
Seagoon: Wait, wait! This isn't the gorilla! This one's got bare feet! [FX: Boots running] Crun: Help, Minnie! Minnie! Seagoon: Look, out there! The booted gorilla chasing Mr Crun! Bloodnok: Then who's this poor idiot lying trussed up on the floor? Eccles: Guess who?
This is not as much of a classic Goon Show episode as the ones that immediately preceded it. There’s a lot of ‘filler’ – Bloodnok’s protracted introduction to Minnie Bannister, Eccles and Bluebottle discussing which of them has or hasn’t got a cat – and not quite as many real gags.
Spike also falls back on previous episodes – particularly ‘Lurgi Strikes Britain’, with several cast members suddenly shouting “EE-YAKABOO” for no reason.
Bloodnok: Remember that last dance we had at the Governor's Ball in Kanpur? Bannister: Oh, yes! That was the night that they played our song. Bloodnok: Our song! Let us sing it again, together! [Romantic harp] [Bloodnok and Bannister sing ‘Any Old Iron’ very fast] [FX: Cash register] Seagoon: Last drinks, please. Cast: Ee-yakaboo! [and assorted other noises] Milligan: You know, I don't know how we get away with it.
Title: The Booted Gorilla – Found?
Series 5, Episode 10
Broadcast: 30 November 1954
Written by: Spike Milligan
Producer: Peter Eton