The House of Teeth
With ‘The Mighty Wurlitzer’ (Series 6 Episode 16), the Goons had demonstrated just how far they could push the BBC’s sound effects department. Weird and wonderful noises were now just part and parcel of the Goons’ weekly half hour of mayhem.
The central conceit of episode 20 of the sixth series – ‘The House of Teeth’ – was another fine example of Milligan et al embracing the classic “show, don’t tell” concept. A villain, played by Valentine Dyall, hits various people on the back of their heads with a mallet, dislodging their false teeth, which he then catches in a bucket. Wallop – pop – clunk.
Mr Dyall appears for the third time after ‘The Canal’ (Series 5 Episode 6) and ‘The Tragedy of Oxley Towers’ (Series 3 Episode 14). He plays Dr Longdongle. Come on, Spike, you’re not even trying to hide your penis jokes now.
The doc is wooing the beautiful Senorita Gladys la Tigernutta (perhaps a relative of Jim Tigernuts, who couldn’t get the wood, you know). To do so, he is collecting a set of 50 castanets with which to create music for her to dance to.
Henry Crun: Every night he goes to the Café Filthmuck to watch her dance. Dr Longdongle: Yes, Crun. Three years ago she said, ‘Dr. Londongle, the day you can give me 50 pairs of castanets, I’ll marry you’. Well, I’ve got 48 pairs! Minnie Bannister: Whooooaaaa, you naughty man. Well Doctor Longdongle, you only want two more pairs, eh buddy? Dr Longdongle: Yes, buddy, just two. I nearly got them tonight - but just failed. Crun? Take my skull-clouting mallet and teeth-catching bucket.
(The false teeth are being made into castanets. Pay attention at the back.)
Meanwhile, Lord Neddie Seagoon is lost in the Dolomites, an Italian mountain range that forms part of the Alps. He stumbles upon Dr Longdongle’s castle while in search of shelter.
O’Brien (Ray Ellington): Man, I don’t like this place. I’m frightened, begorrah. Seagoon: Silly fellow, there’s nothing to be frightened of. [FX: Distant terrified scream] O’Brien: What you say? Seagoon (miles off): I said there’s nothing to be frightened of! O’Brien: Then what are you doing up that tree? Seagoon: It makes me look taller.
Seagoon keeps asking O’Brien, his valet, to lay out more and more specific suits for different actions and eventualities, implying an enormous suitcase.
Seagoon: O’Brien, lay out my knocking-on-door suit. Now lift me up and I’ll knock. Lift! O’Brien: Me vote labour next time, begorrah.
Having found shelter in the castle, Seagoon, O’Brien and Willium (Peter Sellers) settle down for the night – finding Eccles under the bed.
Dr Longdongle: Ah, there you are, naughty little Eccles! Eccles: Hello Doctor Lingledongler. Dr Longdongle: Naughty lad, getting out of bed after I’d tucked you in and battered you unconscious for the night. Gentlemen, I am the caretaker, my apologies. You won’t be disturbed further. Ah, what lovely teeth you have. False? Seagoon: No, perfectly true. They are lovely teeth. Why? Dr Longdongle: Nothing... Goodnight.
But during the night Dr Longdongle returns to steal Willium’s teeth. With the aid of his looking-for-teeth suit Seagoon searches for them, but subsequently has a realisation – the doctor is the only one in the castle with his own teeth. Donning his having-a-word-with-him suit, he sets off to confront his host.
First he finds Bluebottle, who is on a camping trip but has come inside to keep out of the cold. Little Jim is mentioned for the first time, but isn’t ready to offer his catchphrase just yet as he is in Africa.
Bluebottle: Here - got any pictures of Sabrina? Seagoon: You dirty little devil - I'll tell your Scout Master. Bluebottle: He's the one who told us to collect them.
The pair head off to find the doctor, despite Bluebottle’s insistence that he has a junior coward’s badge – and Seagoon’s assertion that he’s just qualified for it himself as a wailing voice echoes around the castle.
Bluebottle: It's David Whitfield. Seagoon: Gad, he's improved.
David Whitfield (right) was a successful singer who had 11 UK top-10 hits in the 1950s. His 1954 hit ‘Cara Mia’, which reached number one in the UK and number two in Australia, was used to torture Neddie Seagoon in ‘The Secret Escritoire’ (Series 6 Episode 2) and to demonstrate exploding boots in ‘Scradje’ (Series 6 Episode 26).
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Back in Dr Longdongle’s castle, Seagoon follows the wailing to find the doctor’s victims held prisoner under the floorboards. Grytpype-Thynne, Moriarty and 46 others have had their teeth kidnapped (toothnapped?) to make castanets.
Replete in his leader-of-toothless-men suit, Seagoon leads this orthodontically impaired group in search of Dr Longdongle and their teeth.
Ray Ellington decides to perform before his teeth are stolen and sings ‘Who’s Got The Money’ – usually a duet, but this time he’s having an argument with himself, which is all the more amusing. There’s a bit more information about that song in this blog.
[FX: Door opens] Bloodnok: Oh, good evening. Any possibility of contacting the police from here? Dr Longdongle: I’m afraid not. Bloodnok: Thank heaven, safe at last.
The major - on the run with the regimental funds, naturally - becomes the 50th victim of Dr Longdongle’s tooth-mallet, and so he has his 50 castanets with which to serenade the senorita. Until, that is, Lord Seagoon confronts him!
Seagoon: Where are you hiding these men’s teeth? Cast: Teeth! We want teeth! Dr Longdongle: Silence – don’t move, any of you, or I’ll shoot! Seagoon: Fool, put down that tin of potted shrimps. Dr Longdongle: And starve to death? Never!
The doctor refuses to back down when he is so near his goal (“Offside! He’s too near his own goal!”) and so escapes in the direction of the Café Filthmuck. The rest of the cast marches off in pursuit, singing the main theme from the 1936 film Rose Marie. Because, well, why not?
The trail of missing teeth leads the group to the village of – actually, how do I describe Wallace Greenslade yodelling like Tarzan? Because that’s the name of the village. Anyhow, at the Café Filthmuck we hear the final confrontation.
Seagoon: Now, we don’t want to look suspicious so put your coats over your heads and crawl nonchalantly across the floor on your backs. And keep your Union Jacks down. Follow me. Hnnhh – this is fooling them. Hnnhh. Flowerdew (Sellers): Hey, you lot on the floor, hurry up, we’re waiting to dance.
Dr Longdongle announces the performance of his beloved Senorita la Tigernutta, and the toothless crowd watches as the black paint comes off to reveal what the audience knew all along.
Seagoon: And that, folks, is how we found Dr Londongle's missing teeth horde. He disappeared from human ken, and I often wonder if he ever continued his teeth activities. Greenslade (toothless): You've been listening to The Goon Show.
False teeth have become something of a comedy trope over the years. I’ve been wondering whether the Goon links to the Beatles inspired this gag in Help!:
Martin Scorsese cited this scene when writing about the film for its DVD release, calling it a “proto-Monty Python interpolation” – but we all know it was Goon-inspired. (Thanks to Jem Roberts’ Fab Fools for that tidbit.)
The House of Teeth
Series 6, Episode 20
Broadcast: 31 January 1956
Written by: Spike Milligan
Producer: Peter Eton
Teeth photo sourced from Istockphoto. David Whitfield image from Wikipedia.