Valentine Dyall’s distinctive baritone voice had already made him quite famous by the mid-1950s.
He had become known as The Man In Black, after his role as the narrator of a BBC radio horror-drama series, Appointment With Fear. His deep, measured voice made him a perfect teller of terrifying tales.
Here he is reading The Pit And The Pendulum.
Good luck sleeping after that. You can find out more about Appointment With Fear in this article on the GreyDogTales literature blog, and there are nine episodes available to download from RadioEchoes.
The Goons played on Dyall’s reputation, with the best example being ‘The Spectre of Tintagel’ (Series 7 Episode 5) in which Dyall roamed a haunted house with spooky violin music playing in the background.
Dyall made his Goon Show debut in ‘The Tragedy of Oxley Towers’ (Series 3 Episode 14), but as no recording of this episode exists his first recorded appearance is in ‘The Canal’, first broadcast on the BBC Home Service at 8:30pm on 2 November 1954.
As the Radio Times reveals on page 24:
After forty-three years at school young Ned Seagoon returns to Seagoon’s Folly, the ancestral home, to find it empty save for a sinister oriental valet, a refugee heroin importer, and Gravely Headstone, the butler. Where is Seagoon’s father, his four mothers, the first cook, the under-footman and the over-footman? All Ned’s queries are met with silence. Then one night three mysterious strangers are seen digging a grave nearly fifty-foot long in the rose-garden. Hollow knockings and weird moans are heard in the buttery and Strangler Aagonschmidt, a notorious schizophrenic, is discovered in the act of setting fire to the library. Why is there a secret passage from the grave to Seagoon’s bedroom? What is the secret of ‘The Canal’?
(from the Radio Times listing, page 24, issue 1616, published 29 October 1954)
Anyone who has listened to the episode will know that this is at best tangential to the plot – and it’s not the last time the Radio Times’ listing will differ significantly from what is broadcast.
Dyall: What are you doing back from school? Seagoon: My schooling is completed. Dyall: Oh nonsense, you've only been there 43 years. Seagoon: Nevertheless, I came out top boy in the entire kindergarten. Dyall: Really? Then it's politics for you.
In fact, this was the first of many episodes with a theme of insurance, and specifically insurance fraud. ‘The Pam’s Paper Insurance Policy’ (Series 9 Episode 4), ‘Insurance: The White Man’s Burden’ (Series 7 Episode 21), and ‘The Policy’ (Series 8 Episode 9) all feature it – should we tell someone?
In this episode, “Lord” Valentine Dyall is in a wonderfully dastardly mood, attempting to claim life insurance on Neddie multiple times by throwing him in the canal in increasingly imaginative ways, with the aid of Neddie’s brother, played by Eccles.
Each time Neddie is thrown in the canal, he manages to escape, earning a telling off from Father and prompting Eccles to vacate Neddie’s room again, taking his herd of cattle with him.
Dyall: Hello? Lloyd’s? I want to add that last policy on my son Neddie. Yes, yes, I want one that covers him in the event of his ever putting concrete blocks on his feet and throwing himself in the canal. Yes, I know it’s not likely to happen, ha, ha, but just in case.
Lloyd’s of London sends its junior representative, Bluebottle, to confirm the claim and pay up. But Neddie returns, still with concrete blocks on his feet. No insurance money yet…
Dyall: Hello, Lloyd’s? Yes, a new life policy, please - I want to insure Neddie in the event of his ever putting concrete blocks on his feet, blowing himself up with dynamite and landing in the canal. Yes, I know it’s not likely to happen, but just in case.
Fortunately, Bluebottle hasn’t gotten very far and can be brought back to pay out the £40,000. There’s only one problem: Neddie is seemingly indestructible.
Lord Dyall takes matters into his own hands and locks both Neddie and Bluebottle in the dungeon. A terrified Bluebottle declares that he’s not ready to be deaded yet, as he hasn’t had his half day off yet.
The pair persuade Eccles that Dyall wants to do him in too, and so they hatch a plot to escape.
Bluebottle: I shall charge the door and smash it down. Seagoon: Good man. Bluebottle: Stand back, here I go. To matchwood I will splinter the door - charge! [FX: Approaching footsteps, speeding up, getting louder, nearer, then fade into the distance] [Pause] Bluebottle (miles off): You rotten swine - who opened the door?
Neddie, Bluebottle and Eccles track down Dyall and attempt to throw him into the canal – but he is wise to them and throws them all in first. But wait – what’s this? Someone else has thrown Dyall in too!
Henry Crun: Hello, Lloyd’s - about the life insurance I took out on the four gentlemen...
Title: The Canal
Series 5, Episode 6
Broadcast: 2 November 1954
Written by: Spike Milligan
Producer: Peter Eton
Canal photo by Brian van den Heuvel via Pexels.