The early episodes of the fifth series show the Goons at their best. Strong plots and settled characterisation allow Milligan’s imagination to take flight without losing the audience.
‘The Dreaded Batter Pudding Hurler (of Bexhill-on-Sea)’ is a classic episode. The central conceit is silly, and the action gets more ridiculous from there.
This episode was broadcast at 8:30pm on 12 October 1954, and was trailed in the Radio Times thus:
“How young Ned Seagoon was called on by the terrorised gentlefolk of Bexhill to help track down the dreaded Batter Pudding Hurler. Striking when least expected 'the Hurler' caused such havoc during the blackout of 1941 that troops massed against the German invasion were ordered to join the hunt. A trail of cold batter puddings eventually led Ned Seagoon to North Africa.”
(from the Radio Times listing for Series 5 Episode 3, issue 1613, 8 October 1954)
The action kicks off with a repeat of the ‘Greenslade in chains’ gag from the first episode of this series, before switching to the south coast of England in 1941. This was the ‘blackout’ period of the war, when night lighting was kept to an absolute minimum to make it harder for German bombers to navigate.
[FX: Metal door slides open] Henry Crun: Minnie? Minnie Bannister: What, what, what, whatwhatwhatwhat? Crun: Minnie, did you hear a gas oven door slam just then? Bannister: Don't be silly, Henry! Who'd be walking around these cliffs with a gas oven? Crun: Lady Docker?
Lady Norah Docker was a socialite and one-time director of Hooper, a subsidiary of BSA, the company that made Daimler cars. She began making connections in the upper echelons of society when working at London’s Café de Paris, but history has not recorded whether its speciality dish was indeed batter puddings.
Her husband, Sir Bernard Docker, was a director of BSA. She was famous for her extravagant spending and love of partying – just a few months before she was referenced in the Goon Show, she made headlines by inviting a group of miners for a party on her yacht (see this article from the 11 April 1954 edition of LIFE magazine). By June 1956 the couple’s spending had gotten too much for the board of BSA and they were shown the door, as per The Calgary Herald.
Back to the south coast of England, and the blackout setting sets up a recurring gag based on whether or not German troops across the channel can see a match being struck. Henry Crun and Neddie Seagoon attempt to discover what has struck Minnie Bannister:
Bannister: They can't see a match being struck. Seagoon: Oh, all right. [FX: Striking match - bomb whistle - explosion] Seagoon: Any questions? Crun: Yes, where are my legs? Bannister: Where are mine? Seagoon: Now are you aware of the danger of German long range guns? Crun: I've got it, I've got the answer. Just by chance I happen to have on me a box of German matches. Seagoon: Wonderful! Strike one. Ha, they won't dare fire at their own matches... [FX: Striking match - bomb whistle - explosion] Crun: Curse! The British, the British!
Seagoon begins his investigation properly after Minnie Bannister is bombarded with batter puddings – 38 in total. He sets out under the watchful eye of Grytpype-Thynne, who informs him that the criminal has been making fools of the police. "I disagree, we were fools long before he came along."
A slice of pudding emerges with an army boot inside it, leading Seagoon to investigate the local regiment, the 56th Heavy Underwater Artillery.
Seagoon: I tell you, Major Bloodnok, I must ask you to parade your men. Bloodnok: Why? Seagoon: I'm looking for a criminal. Bloodnok: You find your own, it took me years to get this lot!
Seagoon inspects the troops looking for a soldier with just one boot. Unfortunately, they are all wearing reinforced concrete socks. All, that is, except for Eccles.
Bloodnok: I say Seagoon, surely you don't suspect this man? Why, we were together in the same company during that terrible disaster. Seagoon: What company was that? Bloodnok: Desert Song 1933. Seagoon: Were you both in the D'Oyly Carte? Bloodnok: Right in the D'Oyly Carte.
D’Oyly Carte is a reference to a light opera company founded in the 1870s by Richard D’Oyly Carte. It was most famous for staging Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. I can’t quite make the link between it and the 1926 Broadway production The Desert Song, but the gag works nonetheless.
Eccles becomes a suspect because he is wearing one boot – on his head. (“Why? It fits, that’s why!”) Is this the inspiration for the outfit preferred by that perennial US presidential candidate, Vermin Supreme?
Seagoon continues his investigation but finds no trace of the hurler, even when Moriarty appears pulling a portable gas stove and cooking batter pudding. He even asks Seagoon for a match, which the inspector supplies. But he mustn’t get distracted, his job is to find the Dreaded Batter Pudding Hurler!
Greenslade: Those listeners who think that Seagoon is not cut out to be a detective, please write to him care of Rowton House.
Accompanied by Bluebottle, Seagoon pursues the hurler to Africa – “now we’ve got him cornered!” – employing an ingenious, if complicated, method of disguise.
Greenslade: Seagoon and Bluebottle travelled by sea. To avoid detection by enemy U-boats they spoke German throughout the voyage, heavily disguised as Spaniards. Sellers: As an added precaution they travelled on separate decks and wore separate shoes on different occasions. Seagoon: The ship was disguised as a train, to make the train sea-worthy it was done up to look like a boat and painted to appear like a tram. Milligan: It's all rather confusing, really.
In the crow’s nest, Eccles spots a mine, but don’t worry! It’s one of ours. Boom.
Seagoon and Bloodnok drag themselves into a passing lifeboat, whereupon they spy… a gas stove! It is evidently another TARDIS-like appliance, as first trialled in ‘The Siege of Fort Night’ (Series 4 Episode 30), but this time it is limited to housing the hurler alone, rather than an entire train station.
Moriarty steps out of the gas stove only to be arrested by Inspector Seagoon. But how to bring him in? They are adrift in the open sea, with no means of sustenance except for the batter puddings that are evidence.
Greenslade: And that, we fear, is the end of our story, except of course, for the end. We invite listeners to submit what they think should be the classic ending. Should Seagoon eat the batter pudding and live, or leave it and in the cause of justice, die? Send your suggestions on a piece of batter pudding.
Why Bexhill-on-Sea? Spike Milligan details in ‘Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall’ how his regiment, the 56th Heavy Regiment Royal Artillery, D Battery, were stationed at Bexhill.
It was here that he met Harry Edgington, who was to become one of Spike’s closest friends, and other a couple of other musicians with whom he formed a band.
During the months leading into the winter of 1940 the D Battery were the centre of night life in war-ridden, sinful Bexhill-on-Sea. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was taking the first steps into Show Business.
(from Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall, published by Michael Joseph Ltd, 1971)
This episode has become such a classic among Goon fans that the Goon Show Preservation Society has held batter pudding hurling competitions on the beach at Bexhill. It makes you proud to be British.
Title: The Dreaded Batter Pudding Hurler of Bexhill-on-Sea
Series 5, Episode 3
Broadcast: 12 October 1954
Written by: Spike Milligan
Producer: Peter Eton