On 1 February 1955 the 19th episode of the fifth series of the Goon Show was broadcast, as per page 24 of the Radio Times. Unusually for this series, there is no synopsis.
Billed as ‘The Missing Scroll’, Wallace Greenslade announces the episode throughout as “The Lost Music of Purdom”. Wal’s title makes much more sense for the pay-off.
Greenslade: The Home Service provides us with the best programmes! Milligan: Always. Yes. Greenslade: Therefore, it is with heavy heart I announce one of the worst. Seagoon: He was going to refer to the highly esteemed Goon Show. [Cast: Mixture of boos and cheers] Seagoon: Thank you Archie Andrews fans.Mister Greenslade, stop reading that Radio Times, pull up your bloomers, and tell England. Greenslade: Alright. England, I'm pulling up my bloomers.
Archie Andrews was, as fans of 1950s radio will know, a ventriloquist’s dummy and star of Educating Archie, a radio series from the pen of Eric Sykes, Milligan’s co-writer for most of this series.
The action of the episode begins with Neddie Seagoon working in a museum in Norwich. In true Goon Show fashion, he receives a phone call from Moriarty, despite Moriarty not having a phone and being on the upper deck of a bus. Ignoring this minor issue, Seagoon gives him a match for his cigarette. In return, Moriarty offers Seagoon a job working for antiques dealer Grytpype-Thynne for a salary of “X pounds”.
Seagoon: I accept! That's more than I ever got here. Where shall I meet you? Moriarty: Wherever you like. Seagoon: Right. See you there. Moriarty: Good. Now, umm, what time? Seagoon: I'll leave that to you. Moriarty: Splendid. Don't be late. Goodbye.
So he decides to hand in his notice to his supervisor, Mr Fudgeknuckle.
Sellers (Scottish): Dear laddie. Just because you resign don't think Norwich Museum's going to fall doon. Seagoon: Very well. I resign! [silence] Right, now hands up all those who thought the museum was going to fall down. Eh? Come along, come along, let's see you. Right. Now, take a hundred lines. 'I must not try and guess the end of Goon Show gags.' Alright. Carry on. [FX: Crash of building collapsing, masonry falling, etc.] Seagoon: Wrong again. That was the Tower of Pisa.
Seagoon proceeds to meet up with Grytpype-Thynne, who grills him on his experience of translating ancient scripts (“Three years with Ray’s A Laugh”).
Grytpype: So, Neddie, you've been on the radio, have you? Seagoon: Yes, though I fear it's a dying medium. Grytpype: I knew a dying medium once. He got better. Seagoon: How terribly jolly for the spirit.
For the benefit of the listeners, Grytpype explains the plot: 4,000 years ago, a Lebanese slave called Purdom (remember that name) “recorded the only known music of ancient Babylon”. The manuscript of this music has recently emerged at an antiques shop somewhere in the Middle East.
The BBC Home Service has, we are told, offered a £50 reward or a lifetime subscription to the Radio Times for the successful recovery of this manuscript to give it something to broadcast after the Goon Show.
With the plot explained, Seagoon proceeds to Mesopotamia (now known as Iraq and Kuwait). He is met by a local cockney who leads him astray.
Willum: I was bribed to lead you into this desert and leave you here to die. Seagoon: Leave me here to die? Willum: Well, to die or tomorrow.
This was the fiendish plot of those occasional ne’er-do-wells, Dr Eidelburger and Dr Yakamoto, who are also seeking the lost music, although they don’t actually appear in the episode apart from this mention.
Fortunately for Seagoon, Eccles arrives to rescue him, having heard of his plight on the radio.
Seagoon: I eyed the stranger closely. He was living proof that the Piltdown Skull was not a hoax. He was dressed in an egg-stained nightshirt, army surplus boots, and a racoon-skinned trilby with the brim pulled well down over the knees.
The Piltdown Skull refers to an archaeological fraud that was debunked in an article in Time magazine in 1953, more than 40 years after its discovery in a field near Sheffield. Its discoverer Charles Dawson claimed that it was proof of the missing evolutionary link between humans and apes, and was so successful that it set back evolutionary science for several decades as other (real) discoveries were dismissed.
More than a century after Dawson's "discovery", in 2016, researchers proved that it was Dawson himself who had faked the fossil.
Eccles: I'm the famous Eccles. Seagoon: Famous for what? Eccles: Well... You've seen the Eiffel Tower? Seagoon: Yes. Eccles: Well... Let that be a lesson to you.
(It turns out he fell off it.)
The pair travel through the desert in search of the antiques dealer. Meanwhile, Greenslade informs us of a “certain conversation” taking place on a bus going from Oldham to Cleethorpes. Sellers and Secombe adopt generic Northern accents for a discussion about a parrot.
Sellers: I say, what's the colour of its plumage? Secombe: Oh, you can't see it. It's covered with feathers.
Cue hilarity in the audience – the filthy swines. This pointless aside is soon abandoned (“We thought listeners might like to hear what a couple of real idiots sounded like”) and we return to the plot, in which Seagoon and Eccles have discovered the antiques shop, run by Henry Crun and Minnie Bannister.
Crun: Stop that modern Eastern style rhythm singing. Please remember, we're British. Bannister: Mmm. I've got to keep my voice in practice, Henry. My day is coming, buddy. Crun: What? What do you mean? Bannister: Well. Anne Ziegler can't live forever. Crun: What do you mean she can't? She has.
This is a little unfair on Ms Ziegler, as she was only 44 at the time of this broadcast. It’s not the first time Minnie Bannister has been likened to her – see the reference from ‘The Mystery of the Marie Celeste – Solved’.
Crun and Bannister have indeed seen the scroll and thrown it in a dustbin. Seagoon and Eccles head to where the dustbins are emptied.
As they search, Wallace Greenslade introduces another aside, as Peter Sellers interviews a prison governor, Norris Lurker (he’s obviously had to change career after driving the second-to-last tram).
Sellers: Mr Lurker, this is, is it not, a prison without bars? Lurker (Secombe): Yes. I believe that when a man gives us his word not to escape, that's good enough for us. We have no restrictions on the prisoners whatsoever. Anytime they like they can walk out of here.
Of course, when Sellers asks to interview a prisoner, they’ve all escaped. As Mr Lurker panics, a cacophony of sound effects drowns him out, including Milligan singing ‘I’m Only A Strolling Vagabond’ again – and the first ever appearance of the sound effect that was to become known as Fred the Oyster.
Back to the search for the scroll. Going through dustbins, Eccles and Seagoon eventually discover Bluebottle and – what’s this manuscript?
Eccles: Quick! Look! What's this I found? Seagoon: Let's see. This is it!The lost music of Purdom. Eccles, let the world hear it! Eccles: Oooh! The lost music of Purdom. [Sings] Pur-dom, per-dom, purdom purdom purdom purdom...
The Missing Scroll
Series 5, Episode 19
Broadcast: 1 February 1955
Written by: Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes
Producer: Peter Eton