The Jet-Propelled Guided NAAFI
Major Bloodnok (voiced by Peter Sellers) regularly alludes to stealing money from various people.
His character, so Sellers and Spike Milligan have said, was an amalgamation of the cowardly and corrupt senior military leaders they came across, who would nab cash from the officers’ mess and generally rip off their fellow soldiers and try to sleep with their wives.
It seems that such behaviour – the money stealing kind, at least – was behind the creation of the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes, or NAAFI, in 1920.
For years senior figures had been concerned about the standard and security of recreational facilities for soldiers, so the NAAFI was set up just after the First World War to organise and centralise it.
During the Second World War, the organisation grew rapidly to cater for the expansion of the war. According to its website, at its peak the NAAFI employed 110,000 people and had almost 10,000 outlets selling “home comforts” to soldiers, such as cigarettes and chocolate.
How did the soldiers feel about the standards of refreshments and entertainment?
Henry Crun: NAAFI? What is NAAFI? Secombe (Scottish): An organisation working for the downfall of the British Army. Crun: Have they succeeded? Secombe: Several times.
(from ‘Operation Christmas Duff’, broadcast 24 December 1956)
And so it was that, on 24 January 1956 at 8:30pm as per page 22 of the Radio Times, the Goons regaled the world with the story of a new type of weapon: a jet-propelled guided NAAFI to be launched and set up to support frontline troops anywhere in the world within seconds.
Before we get to that, however, there is a small matter of government spending to be dealt with. Spike often poked fun at the wastefulness of public spending – ‘The Reason Why’ and ‘The Starlings’ in particular highlighted how daft politicians were about money.
There are a few newspaper stories from around this time reporting that industrialist Lord Bernard Docker had proposed a cut in government spending of 1% across the board. This was a bit rich (pun very much intended) coming from him, given that Lord and Lady Docker were notorious for flashing their wealth publicly.
It was not these stories that caught the eye of our Spike, however. He noticed an article in the Daily Telegraph from 19 January 1956.
My thanks to MJ Simpson, Tyler Adams and Andrew P for finding this article.
I love this, as it is another example of Spike satirising a real-world ridiculous event – and not having to exaggerate too much! Over to the Goons to continue the story.
Wallace Greenslade: Gentlemen, this is an enquiry into the cost of a government building in Colombo. Crun: Who authorised this? Greenslade: Oh, Mr Eccles here. Eccles: Yeah, I chose all the furniture myself. Crun: Mr Eccles, why did a seven-and-sixpenny window-seat cost £246? Eccles: Umm... I resign! You speak to my secretary, you can't talk to a government minister like that! I won't be out of work long, you see! I'll get that Ministry of Fishery job, you watch. I've kept goldfish!
Neddie Seagoon, strolling prime minister of no fixed address, speaks up to condemn the overspending. He orders the building burned to the ground and “a new one put up at the proper price”.
That issue successfully dealt with, the PM retires to the Windmill Theatre – where Secombe and Bentine cut their teeth as performers, but where punters went to ogle naked ladies. He is quickly summoned back to attend a cabinet meeting.
This meeting appears to be chaired by the British-Canadian TV presenter Hughie Green, the man behind Opportunity Knocks, as voiced by Peter Sellers.
Hughie Green: Mr Prime Minister, first question. What is the liquid that most inspires the British soldier while on active duty? Seagoon: Tea! Green: Tea is correct, a big hand for the lucky winner! [FX: Clapping and cheering] Green: Now, d'you wanna double your salary? Good. Question number two: What is the organisation that supplies tea to the troops? Seagoon: The NAAFI! Green: Right again! [FX: Applause] Green: Now, I'll just pour this bucket of custard over your head to prove that prime ministers are funny!
The crux of the matter is that there are some top-secret plans that PM Seagoon must peruse. After introducing his own plan for a tunnel between the House of Lords and the Folies Bergère, the Parisian variety theatre, he takes the blueprints away to peruse them in bed.
Enter Grytpype-Thynne, avec plot.
Grytpype: Oh, good evening sir. May I help you? Seagoon: Ah, Sir Grytpype, my trusted butler, confidante, best friend, sincerest critic, and author of 10 Years as a Russian Spy at Number 10. Help me unroll this top-secret document, which nobody must unroll.
The plans are the blueprints for aforementioned jet-propelled guided NAAFI. It is described as a “self-contained missile capable of carrying 82 staff, 10 NAAFI pianos, 60,000 gallons of tea and 12 tons of buttered crumpets” that can be fired up to 6,000 miles and made fully operational in 16 seconds.
Seagoon demonstrates its power by launching the missile, which lands in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia (then known as Malaya). To avoid letting all that tea go to waste, the PM orders 10,000 troops to be airlifted to Kuala Lumpur to drink the tea.
Grytpype: That will mean tropical kit, sir. Seagoon: Tropical Kitt, I love that woman!
Presumably, Neddie is referring to Eartha Kitt, the glamourous singer who had her biggest hit with ‘Santa Baby’ a couple of years previously.
Meanwhile, Grytpype has smuggled in his accomplice Moriarty to take a photograph of the secret plans and send them to Moscow. Moriarty’s hiding place tees up the return of a favourite joke first used in episode 11 of the Goon Show’s fourth series.
Moriarty: Pssst! Grytpype: Who's that? Moriarty: Psssst! Grytpype: How do you spell it? Moriarty: [blows raspberry] Grytpype: You illiterate swine. It's Moriarty, where are you? Moriarty: Here. In the piano! Grytpype: What the devil are you doing in there? Moriarty: I'm hidin'. Grytpype: Don't be silly, Haydn's been dead for years.
Upon exiting the piano, Moriarty is shown to be two foot taller than when he went in. “Some swine sent in a piano tuner!”
Later, he turns up hiding in the lining of Grytpype’s underpants. In the best demonstration of Goon Show physics, the pair – who are, naturally, communicating by telephone – crawl through a photograph of a hole in the fuselage of one of the Malaysia-bound aeroplanes, before throwing it away to avoid falling out.
Meanwhile, aboard a plane destined for Malaysia:
Seagoon: I've worked it all out here. Now, the cost of firing the Guided NAAFI to Malaya was a quarter of a million pounds. Manager’s wages £8 10s, making a total of – erm – making a total of err - ah! Chancellor of the Exchequer, just the man. Now, how much is a quarter of a million pounds plus £8 10s? Eccles: I resign!
Upon arrival, Moriarty recruits Bloodnok to deliver exploding sausages to the NAAFI manager in order to destroy it.
Seagoon, meanwhile, meets a certain tea-stained, crumpet-ridden idiot. NAAFI manager Bluebottle takes delivery of the sausages.
Grytpype and Moriarty are attempting to escape to Russia, but instead end up back at the NAAFI due to a faulty compass – “that’s the last time I buy those cheap Christmas crackers!”.
This sets up the brilliantly fast-paced climax, as Grytpype and Moriarty hide in the fridge with the NAAFI plans wrapped around the sausages. Bluebottle cooks the sausages and finds out why they are known as bangers, and Eccles resigns as Minister of Food.
The plans have been destroyed, but Grytpype has a plan.
Grytpype: Go to the launching control, point the whole of this guided NAAFI to Moscow, and off we go. Moriarty: Fire! [FX: Explosion] Greenslade: And that is how, 15 seconds later, under Sir Neddie Seagoon's great economy drive, the lucky natives of Aldershot were delighted to find a fully-operating £3 million NAAFI in their midst. Grytpype: Aldershot? How have we come to Aldershot? Moriarty: That's the last time I buy a box of those cheap Christmas crackers! Grytpype: You steaming nit you!
The modern-day NAAFI still operates mobile and permanent shops and facilities in British military bases all over the world, including Brunei, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Ascension Island and many naval vessels.
Just over five years ago, theatre group Fred Theatre performed this show and ‘The House of Teeth’ at the Birmingham Comedy Festival. It sounds like a right laugh, and you can still read the preview here.
Finally, if you have ever wondered what a jet-propelled guided NAAFI might look like, eminent cartoonist Hunt Emerson has the answer with his superb artwork for the vinyl release of this episode.
The Jet-Propelled Guided NAAFI
Series 6, Episode 19
Broadcast: 24 January 1956
Written by: Spike Milligan
Producer: Peter Eton
NAAFI images sourced from the organisation's website, Joseph Haydn from Wikipedia, and Goon Show LP from Amazon listing.