The (Goon) Siege of Sidney Street
You’ll remember, dear reader, that Wallace Greenslade was desperately trying to get the Goons to perform ‘The Six Ingots of Leadenhall Street’ when they instead decided to tell the story of ‘The Sinking of Westminster Pier’.
Well, Wallace will be happy to note that on 1 March 1955 the Goons did indeed head to Leadenhall Street in London. The Bank of England has been robbed and six gold ingots are missing, as are the bank manager and his assistant.
This episode caused further issues with the Radio Times listings. Page 24 of that week’s issue bills this episode as ‘The Terrible Blasting of Moreton’s Bank’, and in several other areas of the BBC’s records it’s also called this. However, no such episode was ever broadcast, and – as far as I know – the script, if there was one, never saw the light of day.
Once again the vaults of an East-end Bank are broken open by the dreaded gelignite gang. This time a newly bored tunnel, running from the Bank's strong room to a mysterious string refinery on Wanstead Flats, leads Detective Inspector Seagoon into a maze of tangled clues. How can Fabian of the Yard be in two places at once? Why is Count Moriarty watching TV at midnight in his chicken-run? And what is Admiral Grytpype-thynne doing disguised as an Ilford dustman?
(from the Radio Times, issue 1633, page 24, published 25 February 1955)
Dustbins and dustmen are a running gag throughout the Radio Times synopses for this series, but rarely merit more than a passing mention in the occasional script.
Incidentally, a few pages before this erroneous listing is one for a Sunday afternoon show featuring a certain Ray Ellington and his quartet. Accompanied by regular collaborator Marion Ryan, a singer, Ellington & Co feature in Mr Ros and Mr Ray, a music show co-hosted by Ray and Edmundo Ros. The script was provided by Johnny Speight, who worked with Milligan and Sykes at Associated London Scripts.
Ros was a popular bandleader in the UK from the 1940s to 1960s. Born in Trinidad to a Venezuelan mother, his South American and Caribbean roots led him to put together a highly successful Latin American jazz orchestra. His last public performance was in 1994 – also on the bill was Stanley Black.
To the actual action – Mr Sellers will set the scene.
Sellers: Last night during the hours of March the 10th and Friday, one of the cleverest robberies in the history of crime was carried out in the Bank of England. Among the missing articles were six gold bars, the manager and his assistant.
Moriarty is enjoying thoughts of food, especially the crispy kind of bacon they had before the war, but he’s soon brought back to reality by Grytpype’s demand to see the six ingots they stole from the bank.
Grytpype: According to this paper it credits us with having taken six bars of gold. You told me you'd only managed to get five. Moriarty: I must have miscounted, yes. 1, 2, 3, 4 and une is funf. You see I was right, five bars of gold. Grytpype: This little revolver of mine says six! Moriarty: What? Sapristi yukkabakakas! Are you going to take the word of a little revolver against mine? Grytpype: Six bars of gold! Moriarty: Five! [FX: Pistol shot] Moriarty: Ah! Sapristi perpendicular! You realise, man, I would have been killed if that bullet hadn't struck that gold bar in my vest pocket?
In an attempt to smuggle the gold out of the country, the pair plot to have the ingots made into musical instruments that they will then take with them on a world tour. They are interrupted in their plotting by the arrival of Detective Inspector Ned Seagoon.
Moriarty: Inspector, last night at the time of the Bank of England robbery, I was at a reunion dinner in Manchester. Grytpype: While I was in South America. Moriarty: I can prove that, I was with him. I tell you we know nothing at all about the five bars of gold. Grytpype: Six! Moriarty: That's right, three each.
Fortunately for Grytpype and Moriarty, Seagoon is more interested in his job MCing at the police ball – until, that is, the pair persuade him to give up being a policeman and become a bandleader for a two-piece ‘brass’ band.
Henry Crun and Minnie Bannister are in charge of forming the gold bars into instruments, and get into a fight about whether there were five or four gold bars handed to them. (Echoes of the Marie Celeste reward gag here.)
Meanwhile, at Scotland Yard:
Bloodnok: Ohhh, Seagoon, now listen very, very carefully. I have personally promised the Home Secretary I shall have an arrest within the week. Will you help me? Seagoon: Scouts honour! Bloodnok: Splendid, splendid, yes. Now, just put on this prisoner’s uniform.
To avoid arrest (“I’m innocent, I tell you, I’m innocent!”) Seagoon flees to Grytpype’s hideout, just in time to take delivery of the instruments.
Grytpype: Is this all there is? Eccles: Yeah. Would you like me to play it? Seagoon: Oh yes please. Eccles: Okay. Listen. [FX: A single very small triangle ting]
There’s something funny going on here, folks… But then, delivery boy Eccles learns that the triangle is made of gold, and so offers to demonstrate to the others what it sounds like when played from another room. It seems to sound a lot like someone leaving the building entirely.
Under cover of Ray Ellington, Fabian Bluebottle of the Yard (a reference to the TV series Fabian of the Yard, the BBC’s first police procedural, which ran from 1954-56) appears on his cardboard bicycle to track down Seagoon on Sidney Street in London’s East End.
Bluebottle: Here are my special terms which you have to agree to. I must not be nutted, I must not be blowed up, and I must be at the front if there's any sausinges. Signed Bluebottle.
Grytpype and Seagoon are hiding in the latter’s overcoat and refuse to come out – “and so started the siege of Sidney Street”.
The Siege of Sidney Street was an actual event that took place in January 1911 – almost exactly 111 years ago, in fact. Two Latvian men, linked to an attempted robbery in Houndsditch in December 1910 that had resulted in the deaths of three policeman, were tracked down to 100 Sidney Street.
Police evacuated neighbours and tried to rouse the suspects, but were fired upon. The gunmen’s weapons were better than those of the police so after a while the army was called in – specifically, Scots Guards from the Tower of London. The pair of suspects eventually died when the house caught fire.
Winston Churchill – then the Home Secretary – attended the siege to watch the action and can be seen in photos wearing a rather fetching top hat. There were stories that a bullet passed through said hat, but these are widely held to be, shall we say, a load of old bollards.
The siege was one of the first news events to be captures on film camera, and the footage is still held by Pathé News – see it here.
While 44 years had passed between the siege and this episode of the Goon Show, Milligan and Sykes may well have been inspired by a story that appeared in the Manchester Evening News on 5 February 1955. A George Mumford wrote his own eye-witness account of the siege, viewed from the roof of the Rising Sun pub.
Seagoon: It's no good Grytpype! We've got to get out of here tonight. Grytpype: Why? Seagoon: The rent's due tomorrow.
Bluebottle has other ideas, and throws a bomb up to the window – and misses. For once, though, he doesn’t end up deaded, but instead wipes out the rest of the cast.
Greenslade: You little fool, you've gone and deaded the cast and now we can't do the end. Bluebottle: Oh, how does it end, Mr Greenslade? Greenslade: Oh, I don't care at all. Actually we had a beautiful dramatic ending where the Long Man of Wilmington came forward of his Arab-coloured chart and Mr Grytpype-Thynne redeemed himself in the eyes of the singing dervish.
And so the pair of them waltz off into the sunset.
The Six Ingots of Leadenhall Street
Series 5, Episode 23
Broadcast: 1 March 1955
Written by: Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes
Producer: Peter Eton