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The earliest recording

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

The first episode of the second series is also the first episode for which an audio recording exists. Broadcast on 22 January 1952, it gives a tantalising glimpse of the early days of the show, and of Michael Bentine’s contributions.


Now billed as ‘The Goon Show – with those crazy people…’ in the Radio Times (see page 22 here), the show moved to 9:30pm on Tuesdays, as per the demands of Clifford Davis of the Daily Mirror a year earlier.


On page 9 of the Radio Times, the magazine’s gossip column ‘Both Sides of the Microphone’ previewed the series thus:


The Goons Again

The Goons, radio’s newest and youngest comedy team of actors and scriptwriters, begin another weekly series on Tuesday (Home Service, except Welsh and West*).

Goons Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, and Michael Bentine – recently returned from his television success in New York – will again make up the team. Harry Secombe, possessor of a fine tenor voice, will sing a song each week**.

In between writing Bumblethorpe and the Goon pantomime, scriptwriters Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens, with the connivance of Jimmy Grafton, have been compiling for the new series a Goon Thesis on the History of England***.

(from the Radio Times, 18 January 1952)

* I wonder why this was. Did listeners protest?

** [FX: Screams of terror, audience running away]

*** What a shame more episodes from the second series don’t survive, thus depriving us of the story of how Bluebottle was deaded at the Battle of Hastings.


The publicity shot for the start of the second series, taken from the Radio Times
 

If you’re new to the Goons, I’d recommend maybe skipping this one and heading to series 5, 6 or 7 for your first taste. In all honesty this episode ain’t great, but it does hold a few nuggets of gold – “the promise of more electricity to come”, as Spike told the At Last The Go On Show documentary in the early 1990s.


After a short sketch involving a Chinese villain that would never get aired today, followed by The Stargazers, we hear how Captain Osric Pureheart (played by Michael Bentine) built the Suez Canal.


He explains to parliament, led by prime minister Eccles, that he plans to create a waterway across the narrow strip of land that connects the African and Asian continents. Captain Pureheart reassures the politicians that Africa will not float away as he will “nail it down with carpet tacks”. And so he gets to work.

Pureheart: I am building a canal, and I’m afraid it’s going to run right through your house. Faroukh (Sellers): What? Do me a favour. You think I’m going to run downstairs and open the front door every time a ship wants to go through? Pureheart: Well, of course, you silly old thing, you don't have to do that, now. You can leave the key under the mat.

Unfortunately, it does not end well for Captain Pureheart.

Sellers: Captain, this telegram’s just arrived from Mr. Detroit. Pureheart: What!? Oh, no! Ruination! All my work, ruined! I resign! Sellers: Why, captain? Pureheart: After all that digging, do you know what they want to do with my beautiful canal? Sellers: What? Pureheart: Fill it with water!

This sketch later formed the basis for 'The Africa Ship Canal' (Series 7 Episode 22), broadcast 7 March 1957.


At the other side of Max Geldray we hear the Goons’ vision of broadcasting in 1999. The BBC has been taken over by the US, with the popular radio serial Mrs Dale’s Diary now populated by American advertising executives constantly interrupting to advertise “Lurgi Loaf” and “Crunge, the luminous, paint-resistant butter”.


It sounds terrible, but the truth was even worse: in 1999, Steve Wright returned to Radio 2. Didn’t they learn the first time?


After Ray Ellington’s performance, we have the first recorded appearance of a certain Major Bloodnok, “late of the First Knitted Cummerbunds”. (“We were at Balaclava, you know.”)


He is sent in search of the Abominable Snowman. There follows a typical bit of Milliganesque humour, in which Pureheart is sent down the mountain to ask if they have any supplies. He returns to say they have, and is sent back to ask if they have milk. He returns again to say yes, and is immediately sent back to ask if Bloodnok can have some. When Pureheart returns a third time, the answer is no.


As if that wasn’t enough, there is music illustrating Pureheart’s treks up and down the mountain:

Bloodnok: Pureheart! What is all that noise? Pureheart: [Gasping for breath] It’s not me, sir, it’s that blasted orchestra that keeps following me.

Eventually, the team do indeed catch the Abominable Snowman, nail it in a crate, and transport it back to London.

Bloodnok: And now, gentlemen, comes my proudest moment. I shall open the box and show you the result of three years of research and hardship in the frozen Himalayas. The first of its species ever to be brought back alive. The Abominable Snowman. [FX: Box being opened] Bloodnok: There. And here, ladies and gentlemen, we have the... Ooh... Ooh... Secombe: What is it, major? Bloodnok: [Crying] The Abominable Snowman... Secombe: What’s happened? Bloodnok: He’s melted!

The second series had exploded into life, and the Goons were now firmly established on BBC radio.


And there’s more where that came from!

 

Title: (none)

Series 2, Episode 1

Written by: Spike Milligan & Larry Stephens, edited by Jimmy Grafton

Producer: Dennis Main Wilson

Recording available via RadioEchoes.com

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