The Last Tram
Goonland’s last tram rolled back to the depot on 23 November 1954, as broadcast at 8:30pm on the Home Service and detailed on page 20 of that week’s Radio Times.
‘The Last Tram (from Clapham)’ was a take on the huge fuss made two years earlier about the actual ending of London’s tram service, to make way for buses. This Associated Press film (shared via British Movietone on YouTube) tells the story.
There is also footage of the ceremony around the last tram to be decommissioned. The sound only comes out of the left speaker on my computer - just telling you so you don’t suddenly think your audio’s packed in, as I did.
It was this ceremony that, I believe, Eric Sykes and Spike Milligan were mocking in this episode.
When driver Fred Krint and clippy Hilary Boot drove the last tram from Clapham to Highgate for the ceremonial closing of the Kingsway subway, Ned Seagoon of the Redundant Tramways Department thought that all his troubles were over, but a mysterious phone call put him on the track of a tramcar still at large.
(from the Radio Times, page 20, issue 1619, published 19 November 1954)
The action opens with a short mockumentary, complete with Peter Sellers’ Richard Dimbleby impression (Dimbleby was the go-to commentator for all such events in the 1950s). It’s a classic Goon gag, a five-second line from Sellers followed by an overly long list of credits. Spot the KOGVOS.
Sellers (Richard Dimbleby): And as I stand here on the great pavement there goes the last tram. [Orchestra: Ta-da chord] Seagoon: That was the last tram. Those taking part were the Mayor of Westminster and the councillors, and Anna Neagle led the Chelsea pensioners. Also taking part were the last tram driver Norris Lurker and the conductress Madge Thund, leader Paul Beard. Produced by Melly Strained Bullshine, script by William Shakespeare, edited by Jimmy Grafton, additional dialogue by Geraldo, the hotel bill was by Gilbert Harding. [Applause and cheers]
Anna Neagle crops up in several Goon Shows, and this reference seems to be poking fun (rather meanly) at her age. She had just turned 50, but was voted the most popular star in Britain five years previously, according to the annals of Wikipedia.
Gilbert Harding’s hotel bill gets a big cheer from one person, seemingly in the cast or at least near it, judging by the volume. Harding was a prolific broadcaster and a regular on shows such as What’s My Line? and Twenty Questions. He was famed for his irascible outbursts on these shows.
This is also an example of the Goons going a little ‘meta’, playing with the radio format and BBC continuity. Wallace Greenslade appears – after a strange piece of metallic harp music that The Goon Show Site assures me was used if the BBC ever went off-air – to apologise for the tram documentary having run a little short.
But! This tram we have just briefly heard the end of was not the last tram at all. The last tram was yet to come…
A number 33 tram is still running. Seagoon soon tracks (ahem) down this missing tram to the Kingsway subway, a tunnel in London that runs north to south from Holborn Underground station to Aldgate. Driver Henry Crun and his assistant Minnie Bannister are aboard.
Seagoon: Now look here, Crun, this tram should have been on the scrap heap two and a half years ago. Crun: My 33 on the scrap heap!? Never, never! Piddle-poo! Never, not until you afford us our just dues, and this is the last tram ceremony I'm talking about and the marble clock presentation that I never had - Seagoon: It's impossible, driver Crun. Now look here, the last tram ceremony's over and done with and, and Norris Lurker has been presented with a marble clock. Now, come on let's sneak old 33 quietly back to the sheds, eh? Crun: No, no! Bannister: Henryyyyy! Who's that down there? Crun: A civil servant, Minnie. Bannister: Hit him! Hit him!
My mum still says that about civil servants.
Crun refuses to abandon his tram mid-route on account of his passenger. Who would be idiot enough to stay on a tram for two years waiting to get to his destination? Who do you think?
Eccles: Do you know who you're talking to? Seagoon: Who? Eccles: You've heard of the Duke of Norfolk? Seagoon: Yes. Eccles: Well I'm - Eccles! Seagoon: Are you related to the Duke of Norfolk? Eccles: Nope, but I had you worried for a moment.
It gets worse for Seagoon. Not only will Crun not move the tram, but town planners want to build flats over the subway. It’s all very much above board, I assure you.
Grytpype: Of the 10,000 tenders I have given the contract to F. Bogg & Company. Milligan: Isn't that, er, isn't that your wife's brother? Grytpype: Ahem. [FX: Pistol shot] Milligan: Aargh! Grytpype: Any more questions?
The only solution is to bring in Major Bloodnok to perform a knock-off Last Tram Ceremony by pretending to be the mayor. After a later meeting with Seagoon, he absconds with £20,000 in departmental wages that were supposed to be delivered to Neddie. (Remember that bit.)
Back in the subway, this week’s Crun and Bannister duet is likened to acting couple Michael Dennison and Dulcie Gray as they argue over whose bed is whose.
The electricity has to be reconnected. What to do? Well, when you need someone to perform a task that could result in deading, there’s only one person you can call.
Bluebottle arrives on the council dust cart, which you can tell by the fishbones still stuck to his trousers. He is reassured by Seagoon that he will not throw the switch and electrocute him, and so proceeds along the tunnel with a “dignified walk as done by Alan Ladd in The Black Knight, but effect is ruined by fish bones still hanging on trousers”.
Unfortunately, nobody has accounted for the workmen on the site, one of whom does flip the switch.
Bluebottle: You rotten workmen swine you! You have deaded me with the dreaded electric voltages! Look, my beautiful nut is all singed! Points to badly blackened bonce doot-doot-doot-doot-doot! Thud! Sound of ear 'ole falling off.
He threatens to tell his teach "Miss Cringing-Draws", and to zap the workman with his cardboard atomic ray-gun. The workman, however, has a shovel, which he uses on Bluebottle's head.
The workman attempts to resume his job, but is interrupted by Greenslade, who has appeared to cover the new Last Tram Ceremony for the BBC – despite Seagoon wanting it on the quiet. The workman gives him the shovel-on-the-nut treatment too.
Greenslade: You rotten devil, you! You hit-ted poor little Wallace Greenslade with a shovel! Nearly deading me! Points to lump on crust toot-toot-toot. Bluebottle: Greenslade you swine you! You're pinching my lovely little act! I'll get you at playtime with Terry! Greenslade: I'll tell me dad!
Crun, Bannister and Eccles are aboard Number 33 and start to head off – only to be told that there is no reception committee, no mayor, and no Last Tram Ceremony. Crun is outraged, and Seagoon is dismayed – even more so when he’s told that he’s wanted over the theft of the departmental wages (remember them?). And so the show ends in the usual chaos.
Jay Foreman’s YouTube series Unfinished London has a short and very funny documentary about the story of the tram, including what really happened to the Kingsway subway. He also explores the arguably corruption-ridden reasons for trams being scrapped in favour of buses. Clue: a politician was involved with a family-run tarmac business. Maybe it was F. Bogg & Company after all.
Title: The Last Tram (from Clapham)
Series 5, Episode 9
Broadcast: 23 November 1954
Written by: Eric Sykes and Spike Milligan (or just Eric Sykes, according to the Radio Times listing)
Producer: Peter Eton