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The Highly Esteemed Goon Show

Updated: Mar 21, 2022

Hello, and welcome to a rather ridiculous and ambitious project.

My name’s Nick, and I’m a Goonaholic. During lockdown I rediscovered (not that it had gone away particularly) my love of The Goon Show, a 1950s radio comedy that changed the face of British humour and continues to influence it to this day.

I relistened to shows, tracked down out-of-print books, and trawled through old copies of the Radio Times. I sniggered at old jokes, cackled at new ones I hadn’t heard before, and enjoyed discovering the delights of this wonderous comedy half-hour.

Seagoon: Moriarty? Moriarty: Yes? Seagoon: I’ve just made myself a peer. Moriarty: Good, I’ll get down the end of it and start a concert party. Seagoon: Come back here... It’s not that kind of peer! Moriarty: [from a distance] What? Seagoon: P-E-E-R, not P-I-E-R! [FX: Splash] Moriarty: [from a distance] You swine!

(from ‘Tales of Old Dartmoor’, Series 6, Episode 21, first broadcast 7 February 1956)

Over the next 12 months, I aim to publish a blog a day mapping the show’s history, with stories of how it came to exist, who the main players were, and some of the other people on the fringes and behind the scenes that made it all happen.

I’ll also delve into episodes to explore links with contemporary and historical events, and attempt to connect you with surviving recordings on YouTube and Spotify.

It won’t be a long post every day (I have a day job too) – in fact for much of the time you’ll get bitesized bits and pieces.

My main sources for information – apart from just general Googling – are, in no particular order:

  • The Goon Show Companion: A History and Goonography, by Roger Wilmut and Jimmy Grafton. Widely seen as the Goon fans’ bible, it contains the memoir of Jimmy Grafton, who brought the Goons together at his pub in the late 1940s, and a definitive record of all recordings and broadcasts. Honestly, if you think I’m nerdy for researching this, I can’t imagine the time and effort it took for Wilmut to trawl through the BBC archives and get all this information.(Available from World of Books)

  • The Story of the Goons. Published soon after ‘The Last Goon Show of All’ was broadcast in 1972, this was written by Alfred Draper, a former tabloid journalist. The book is now out of print but I managed to track down a copy for not very much money at all. It’s an entertaining read with lots of great anecdotes, but has a tendency to slip into editorialising. Draper also claimed the Dreaded Batter Pudding Hurler committed his heinous crimes in Brighton, whereas we all know he terrorised wartime Bexhill-on-Sea. (I’m nothing if not a pedant.) (This is also available from World of Books)

  • The Goon Show Preservation Society – I’m quite amazed by the dedication of the Goon enthusiasts who have listened to and transcribed every existing recording of every episode, with transcripts available sorted alphabetically and by series. I’ll be linking to these whenever possible.

  • The British Newspaper Archive.

  • The BBC's Genome Project, which has digitised pre-1960 issues of the Radio Times.

I’ve also been reading – and continue to read – other books by the cast and others to pick up bits and pieces of interesting info. With 233 episodes and specials (by my count) broadcast between May 1951 and January 1960, there’s plenty of fun to be had.

Please get in touch with me with any queries or potential contributions. I’m still building the blog out, so feel free to send me your suggestions!

L-R: Harry Secombe, Michael Bentine, Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers

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