On 27 December 1955, the Goons took to the railways to tell of a fiendish plot to rob a train for the 15th episode of the sixth series.
The script for this episode was pretty much exactly the same one as was used for episode 10, ‘The Pevensey Bay Disaster’, orginally scheduled for 24 November 1955. The recording wasn’t broadcast due to a fatal train crash, with ‘China Story’ being re-broadcast in its place.
Here is the front page of said script, courtesy of Neil Pearson Rare Books.
It’s curious to think that the Goons opted to re-record this script, under the title ‘The Hastings Flyer’, rather than just get the BBC to use the earlier recording. My guess is that the studio time was already scheduled, and by reusing the as-yet-unbroadcast script Milligan could give himself some time off in the run up to Christmas (this version was recorded on 18 December 1955).
The original recording, incidentally, was eventually aired at the end of this series, on 3 April 1956.
McGoonigal: Oooooooh! ‘Twas in the month of December, in the year of 1882. The railways lines near Pevensey Bay were buried under the snoo. All through the night the blizzard fiend, did like a lion roar. The snow rose up from inches three, to inches three foot four. And oooooh the snoooow...
Engine driver extraordinaire Ned Seagoon is called to drive a snow plough to clear the railway line between Hastings and Pevensey Bay, which runs along the south coast of England in the county of Sussex. It’s an area with which Spike Milligan was familiar, as he was stationed at Bexhill – almost exactly halfway between Pevensey and Hastings – during the war before his regiment was shipped off to North Africa.
My limited research into what a railway snow plough liked like in the 1950s has suggested that this is probably what Seagoon was driving.
Seagoon proceeds to Euston Station where he is approached by two familiar scoundrels.
Grytpype: Don't look so worried, my friend and I here are only MPs. Seagoon: If you're politicians, why are you begging in the gutter? Grytpype: Liberals.
It's interesting to hear this joke through the prism of 2022, when the Liberal Democrats in the UK have fallen from grace so much since teaming up with the Conservative Party in 2010. In the 1955 election, the Liberal Party won six seats, the same as they had four years earlier and with a similar share of the national vote (2.7%). The most recent election, 2019, saw the Lib Dems take 11 seats, one fewer than in 2017, with 11.6% of the vote.
Anyway. As the orchestra’s star saxophonist ‘Poggy’ Pogson turns his hand to a mournful violin solo, Moriarty begs Seagoon to let them travel on his snowplough.
Moriarty: Neddie, have a heart, lad! We must get to Pevensey Bay tonight. You see, Neddie, at midnight the Hastings Flyer is coming through. All we want to do is hold it up, blow open the mail van and take the gold bullion inside. That's all Neddie, I swear.
And so a plot is set up. Mr McGoonigal, take us to the next scene.
McGoonigal: Oooooooh! Through the night the blizzard raged, it covered Pevensey Bay station. But inside the ticket office there, the staff were in charge of the situation. And oooooh...
The staff are, of course, Henry Crun and Minnie Bannister. They lament the lack of tourists but are forced to admit that “only an idiot would come out on a night like this” – enter Eccles, briefly.
McGoonigal: Ooooooooh! And through the night, the snow-plough train was racing down the line. A lonely spectator who saw it pass looked up and said: Eccles: Fine, fine.
Meanwhile, on the snowplough, Seagoon, Grytpype and Moriarty are steaming towards Pevensey at an astonishing eight miles an hour. Taking Seagoon by surprise, the pair tie his hands and “hide them where he can’t find them” in order to hijack the vehicle.
Seagoon: What a fiendish move, you naughty men! I'll write to The Times about this! [FX: Pen scratching on paper] Seagoon: Dear sir. I wish to complain about an outbreak of hand-tying on snowploughs whilst taking hip baths. Grytpype: Give me that letter! You'll not send that, lad. Now. [FX: More pen on paper] Grytpype: Dear sir. Today I heard the first cuckoo. There, sign that! [FX: Yet more pen on paper] Seagoon: No! You fiendish swine! Grytpype: Good. Moriarty, post it – that'll put them off the track.
Seagoon is thrown unceremoniously from the snowplough and left, whereupon he meets Major Bloodnok marching solo while beating a bass drum while searching for the rest of the band. The major immediately recognises Seagoon, “the singing dwarf and current number one with the Grades” – a reference to Harry Secombe’s star status on stage and screen, supported by theatrical agents Lew and Leslie Grade.
In true blaggard fashion, Bloodnok makes off with Seagoon’s wallet and money belt. Fortunately, help is at hand – unfortunately, it’s from Eccles.
Seagoon: That tricycle against the wall - whose is it? Eccles: Mine - a present from an admirer. Seagoon: Could you drive me to town on it? Eccles: Oh, the tricycle ain't mine - the wall was the present.
The sound effects team must have had fun concocting the bizarre burbling noise that illustrates Eccles’ wall travelling at speed in pursuit of the snowplough. We’ll explore the sound effects team more tomorrow when the Goons use a similarly strange mode of transport.
Arriving at Pevensey Bay ahead of the snowplough, Seagoon is freed from his bonds, and he and Crun lie in wait for Grytpype and Moriarty.
[FX: Door opens, blunderbuss fires] Bluebottle: You rotten swines you! What are you doing to Bluebottle? I was walking along collecting numbers like a happy boy train spotter when - blange - there was a blinding flash! I reeled backwards clutching my forehead, I looked down and my knees had gone and certain other vital things. You swines you!
Bribed by dolly mixtures, Bluebottle is brought in to help thwart the train robbery and is overjoyed at becoming a hero in “the East Finchley Chronic” and attracting the attention of a Muriel Bates.
Meanwhile, Grytpype and Moriarty break into a signal box, wire explosives up to a nearby bridge, and await the Hastings Flyer. Seagoon & co head towards them in an effort to stop the train by any means.
Bluebottle is given the dynamite to put under the signal box (“I reckon I’m for a dreaded deding alright this week”), Eccles is sent to stop the train, and Seagoon goes to change the signals.
Seagoon: Hands up! Moriarty: Sapristi, look: Sabrina. Seagoon: Wrong, it's me with my arms folded!
Naughty Neddie. The Hastings Flyer is approaching – how to stop it from hitting the snowplough? Grytpype urges Seagoon to press the plunger, deading everyone. So who got the bullion from the train?
Exit Bloodnok hastily, banging his bass drum.
‘The Hastings Flyer’ was adapted by Maurice Wiltshire for the Telegoons, and broadcast as episode nine of the first series on 7 December 1963.
While there is little evidence of the actual Hastings Flyer on the internet (I’ve found a couple of old newspaper references, but that’s all), it certainly existed. There is a restored 1950s diesel engine called Thumper that still occasionally runs routes around Hastings and the south of England.
There is a joke at the start referring to Gracie Fields, the singer and entertainer who toured tirelessly during the war entertaining the troops. Milligan’s retort – “I tell you, the isle of Capri is a sinful place” – comes from experience: he visited the Italian island during his post-war touring with the Combined Services Entertainment.
As Spike recalls in his memoirs, he and ballet dancer Toni Fontana went on holiday there. Given how smitten they were with each other, no wonder he remembers it as sinful.
This being the Christmas period, the Radio Times for this week has a more light-hearted tone than usual. A two-page feature by a Michael Barsley takes the form of a mock script for a Christmas programme, name-dropping as many entertainers and BBC regulars as possible. Interestingly, the only Goon involved is Wallace “Greensleeves”. View it here and here.
Title: The Hastings Flyer – Robbed
Series 6, Episode 15
Broadcast: 27 December 1955
Written by: Spike Milligan
Producer: Peter Eton