The Last Goon Show of All
Updated: Oct 11, 2021
On this day in 1972, the BBC broadcast a one-off special in celebration of the corporation’s 50th anniversary.
‘The Last Goon Show Of All’ was broadcast on BBC Radio Four, as part of several days of celebrations – although the show was actually recorded on 30 April. The Radio Times listing is available here.
This year was a particularly troubling one for the UK. A miners’ strike had hit fuel availability in January and February, and high levels of price inflation were hampering the economy.
Grytpype-Thynne: Ned, according to your monthly obituary, you were discharged in 1945 from His Majesty’s forces as a first-class twit. On that occasion, you were given a gratuity of a hundred pounds. Seagoon: One hundred pounds. Current market value: three pounds!
More seriously, 1972 was the bloodiest year in the Troubles – the gruelling battle for the future of Northern Ireland that lasted until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Dozens of civilians were killed – including many children and teenagers – by the British Army and the different factions of the IRA during the year.
Perhaps a new Goon Show was exactly what the country needed by way of distraction.
In the 12 years between the final episode of the tenth series, ‘The Last Smoking Seagoon’, and this performance, Spike’s humour had changed somewhat. This script has only a semblance of a plot and is slightly more cynical in places.
Overall, though, Spike delivered what the people wanted: all the main characters, catchphrases, and Eccles and Bluebottle.
Bluebottle: Oh, hello, Little Jim. Little Jim: Pah...pilta pa de dee pin pah... Bluebottle: Eccles, I do not understand what he is saying. Eccles: Say it again Little Jim. Little Jim: Okay. Pah pilta pa de dee pin pah. Eccles: He says he doesn't understand what he is saying either. Bluebottle: He's one of Mrs Thatcher's Incomprehensives.
Margaret Thatcher was then the education secretary under prime minister Edward Heath. In 1971 she cut the provision of free milk in primary schools, a policy that became extremely controversial despite the previous Labour government having done the same to secondary schools.
‘The Last Goon Show Of All’ has all the hallmarks of the Goons’ irreverent humour but laced with contemporary references – and a few risqué ones. The Beeb was a little more relaxed about these than it had been in the 1950s.
Grytpype-Thynne: Can your legs stand another recorded winter like that? Seagoon: Well, I don't stand all winter. Sometimes I lie down - depends on who she is! Grytpype-Thynne: Ned, making love with cold legs up can cause knee trembling, and ruin a man's chances in the old wedding stakes there.
To the plot – or what passes for one. Several members of the Royal Family were in attendance, including Prince Phillip, an avid Goon Show fan. Prince Charles, another famous Goon aficionado, was unable to attend and sent a humorous telegram claiming that “last night my hair fell out and my knees dropped off having turned green with envy” as he was missing out.
The Queen couldn’t get there either, but fortunately, help was at hand.
Andrew Timothy: As everybody knows who reads the Isle of Arran Shoemakers' monthly, Her Majesty the Queen was to have opened this Goon Show but owing to a nasty rumour called Grocer Heath, she has declined. However, at short notice and wearing a floral cretonne frock, Mr Secombe has agreed to stand in for his Sovereign.
Grocer Heath was a nickname given to prime minister Edward Heath by Private Eye magazine after he led his election campaign in 1970 on the promise of reducing the price of food.
Seagoon attempts to start the show but is thwarted by a lack of jokes, a problem identified by “a constable of old England played by an ageing Peter Sellers”, and sounding very much like Michael Caine.
Seagoon: I'll just shout a few in. I say! I say! I say! Milligan: What d'you say? What d'you say? Seagoon: How do you start a pudding race? Milligan: I don't know, how do you start a pudding race? Seagoon: Sago. … Seagoon: I say! I say! Can a lady with a wooden leg change a pound note? Milligan: Can a lady with a wooden leg change a pound note? Yes! Seagoon: No, she can't. Milligan: And why not? Seagoon: All together folks - she's only got half a knicker!
(Nicker was slang for a pound, but you could probably work that one out.)
The plot may be wafer thin, but the gags come thick and fast.
Timothy: Two ragged fiends incarnate are discussing a moot point. Grytpype: Don't point that moot at me, Moriarty!
One of my favourite jokes from the whole show is one of the more topical ones. While many of the Goon Show’s contemporary references get lost with the passage of history, this one stands the test of time. Grytpype is contemplating a plan of sorts, and tells off Moriarty for getting distracted – “Here we are, starving to death, and all you can think of is food?!”.
Grytpype: Moriarty, lay your lovely head on this anvil and close your eyes. [FX: Hammer on anvil] Moriarty: Eaaarghh! Grytpype: Now, taste this margarine Moriarty: [Lip-smacking and eating noises] Grytpype: There, can you tell the difference? Moriarty: No. Grytpype: You see? You can’t tell the difference between a lump on the head and margarine. The leadership of the Conservative Party is yours for the asking!
The fiendish pair sell Neddie Seagoon lagging to keep his legs warm. Upon rolling his trousers up for measurement, he reveals Bluebottle, who has been hiding and taking “certain unsavoury snaps of your bloomers”.
Bluebottle: Oooh, it's Morinarty! You've gone bald. What is that lump on your nut? Moriarty: That is the difference between margarine.
At this point what remains of the plot is dispensed with in order to get all the other characters in. Minnie Bannister and Henry Crun appear with Crun inside a piano tuning it with a chicken. Because of course he is.
Crun: Min, are you sure the correct way to tune an upright is with a Chinese chicken? Bannister: My mother swore by it. Crun: Well, it's not working this time. Bannister: Well, try swearing then. Crun: Listen you bloody chicken…
Major Bloodnok is found in a confrontation with the Red Bladder, played by Ray Ellington.
Red Bladder: Bloodnok, Bloodnok you coward! Bloodnok: What? He can't call me a coward and get away with it! Red Bladder: You big coward! Bloodnok: He got away with it!
Suddenly, the BBC calls up to “switch Goon Shows” to number 162, throwing Neddie’s outfit for number 161 into question. On Bloodnok’s advice he descends into the cellar and meets Eccles, who is met with rapturous applause.
Eccles has – in my opinion – the best dialogue in this script, beginning with this absolute gem:
Seagoon: What are you doing down here? Eccles: Everybody's got to be somewhere.
Seagoon employs Eccles to help him, with the promise of being made “a companion of Honor Blackman”.
In keeping with the random nature of the script, Grytpype and Moriarty reappear to announce Goon Show 163, in which Neddie Seagoon plays “an underfloor heating detective” – watch or listen to the show to enjoy Peter Sellers fluffing that line spectacularly and corpsing. A certain Michael Bentine is mentioned in dispatches.
Seagoon: I've always wanted big parts! Grytpype: You always had them Neddie, you and Bentine!
Of course, this is a nefarious plan. Grytpype and Moriarty nail Neddie under a floorboard and abandon him, whereupon he is discovered by Bluebottle.
Seagoon: Help! And I mean that sincerely. Bluebottle: Here, where are you? I say, where are you? Do not frighten me, I have got clean underwear on. Seagoon: Help! I'm in a play under the floorboards. Bluebottle: Oh. You must have got a real bad agent.
From here, the show descends into a cacophony of voices and sound effects, with Andrew Timothy eventually cutting through the din to announce: “The next Goon Show will be in 1982, and from Goon Show 167, farewell. PS, forever.”
The BBC was quick to capitalise on the broadcast: within a month there was a vinyl release of the recording, along with a dozen or so other releases scheduled to coincide with the Beeb’s birthday.
The heavily abridged TV version of ‘The Last Goon Show Of All’ – originally aired on Boxing Day 1972, as per the Radio Times – is available on YouTube. Despite the edits it’s still a delightful watch to see how much fun they are all having, and to witness Sellers physically transforming himself into each character.
The full audio version, complete with producer John Browell’s introduction and Spike’s rendition of ‘San Francisco’, is a bit harder to find. You can buy it on CD via Amazon, but if you don’t want to fund Jeff Bezos’ latest ego trip you can download it for free from RadioEchoes.
I left my heart in San Francisco, I left my knees in Old Peru, I left my little wooden leg somewhere in Winnipeg, I left my wig in Dartland Zoo - with you, I left my teeth on Table Mountain, high on a hill, they smile at me! When I go back again to San Francisco - all together - there won't be much left of me, et cetera.
Title: The Last Goon Show Of All
Written by: Spike Milligan
Producer: John Browell