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The Kippered Herring Gang

Back to our regular schedule today. We’ve made it to episode 19 of the fourth series: ‘The Kippered Herring Gang’, broadcast on 5 February 1954 and listed in the Radio Times on page 42.

‘The Kippered Herring Gang’ also featured in the Vintage Goons series but was not broadcast in this country.

Greenslade: Crime is on the increase. Listen to these headlines. Secombe: Gang robs coalminer’s home and escapes with 60 mink coats and £30,000 in jewellery. Sellers: Gang robs lord’s country manor and escapes with second-hand dress suit and three shillings in savings stamps. Greenslade: Gang robs Anna Neagle’s home and escapes with Herbert Wilcox.

Anna Neagle was a famous actress, and Herbert Wilcox was her producer/director husband.

The audience is introduced to the Kippered Herring Gang, a notorious group of desperate criminals “who would think nothing of switching off in the middle of The Archers”, and who leave behind a single kippered herring at the scene of every crime. Or perhaps they were married.

Something fishy is going on here. (Ta-daaaa)

Hercules Seagoon, ace detective, is dispatched to track down the gang and bring them to justice. Forensic scientist Eccles discovers the herrings left behind at each crime scene were dead – making it a murder enquiry.

Inspector Bloodnok: This gang are making us look like a laughing stock. Do you know what happened to me this morning? A scruffy little urchin threw a kippered herring at me. Threw it at me! Seagoon: Well? What did you do about it? Bloodnok: Do? What could I do? After all, the kid was only five, didn’t know any better. Just having a bit of fun, wasn’t doing any harm really. Why, I’ve done the same thing myself. Seagoon: Yes, but what did you do? Bloodnok: I threw him under a steamroller… You wouldn’t care for a rather unique bookmarker would you?

Seagoon discovers that one member of the gang is Fred the Mad Houdini, a known criminal with a record – and a gramophone.

As the police scramble to track down the notorious gang, Seagoon is contacted by a mysterious stranger via telephone.

Operator (Sellers): Go ahead, you’re through. Moriarty (Milligan, on phone): Hello? Is that Inspector Seagoon? Inspector Hercules Seagoon? Seagoon: Yes. Moriarty: Hands up! I’ve got a gun! Seagoon: Don’t shoot! I’m not very well. Moriarty: I’m not taking any excuses, I’m going to kill you! Seagoon: You do and I’ll reverse the charges. Moriarty: You swine! Operator: Hello, operator here. Have you two finished- Moriarty: Woman! Get off the line! Seagoon: Look out, he’s got a- [FX: Gun shots, on phone] Operator: Aaaaahh!! Seagoon: You fool! You shot the operator! Moriarty: Right – now I’ll get you, take- [FX: Phone hanging up] Seagoon: Hurriedly I hung up before he could shoot again.

Inspector Seagoon decides to shut off the gang’s supply of herring, even at the risk of the criminals taking more drastic measures, such as using boiled cod.

But the robberies continue – with herrings still being left at the scenes. An ichthyologist is brought in – Henry Crun – who ascertains that the fish come from a secret supply in the sea. A clue!

The police follow a lead to McDonald’s Nosh Bar in Brighton. Seagoon and Eccles enter and start asking around for clues.

Seagoon: Do you serve kippered herring? Waiter (Sellers): Here it is – Sit down, we serve anybody! Greenslade: Listeners will no doubt recognise that as a very old joke. It’s all part of the Goons’ new attempt to win a radio award.

Apologies, I should have given this article a trigger warning for old jokes. Milligan was always frustrated that the Goon Show did not win as much recognition as he felt it should during its run.

The police are pointed in the direction of Brighton Pier, where they finally accost the herring supplier and demand to know where to find the rest of the gang.

Seagoon persuades Bluebottle to co-operate with the threat of three years’ hard labour in Ray’s A Laugh. He leads them reluctantly to a house but resident Minnie Bannister won’t let them in. Just by chance, she will let in a man who has come to repossess a wardrobe. No prizes for guessing what – or who – was in it. All that is left inside the house is… a single kippered herring.

Radio nerds like me might be interested to read this Radio Times article from the 29th January issue that explains how the BBC covered the Queen and Prince Phillip’s tour of the commonwealth in 1954. The “Royal Tour” visited Australasia, Africa, North America and the Caribbean, which required a significant amount of investment in technology for those still relatively early days of radio.

The head of the BBC’s engineering information department, which sounds rather Orwellian to me, gives a quite technical breakdown of how it all worked, with audio transmitted from a merchant ship to the Post Office, where I assume a carrier pigeon flew the recordings to Broadcasting House. I’ll admit to having skimmed a few bits.


Title: The Kippered Herring Gang

Series 4, Episode 19

Written by: Spike Milligan

Producer: Peter Eton

Vintage Goons version

Title: The Kippered Herring Gang

Producer: Roy Speer

Image sourced from Pixabay.

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