The Lost Year
Dear reader. You may remember the three blogs I wrote about the episode ‘Nineteen-Eighty-Five’. I do – I blathered on for ages.
Aside from the superb spoof of George Orwell’s 1984, the episode was also a wonderful satire on the emergence of the Independent Television Authority (ITA). Regional TV channels were franchised out to new companies and experienced BBC staff were being poached left, right and centre to front new programmes.
Hence, a fun new joke to mock poor old Wallace Greenslade with.
Greenslade: 'The Dreadful Revenge of...' er... um... That fellow – you know, that chap with the explodable finger... What's his name? Er... I'll get it in a minute. Don't go away... [hums and haws] Sellers: I'd like to tell listeners now that Mr Greenslade is the only BBC announcer not so far approached by commercial television.
(from ‘The Terrible Revenge of Fred Fu Manchu’, Series 6 Episode 12, broadcast 6 December 1955)
‘The Lost Year’ – episode 13 of the sixth series – was broadcast on 13 December 1955 as per page 24 of the Radio Times, straight after an hour-long documentary about capital punishment. It started with another jibe at Greenslade’s expense.
Greenslade: This is the highly esteemed Goon Show. Giddup there, giddup! [FX: Coconut shells – horse galloping away] Secombe: There he goes, riding the Minister of Transport’s horse. Crazy Wallace Greenslade, the only BBC announcer the ITA won’t take. After all those presents he sent them! Haha! Still, mine apparently did the trick. Haha, ahem.
In 1955, Harry Secombe signed up to ITV to star in his own sketch comedy show, The Harry Secombe Show. According to IMDB, Norman Vaughan featured in one episode as Fred Nurke.
Don’t worry, folks, Greenslade’s moment of glory is coming soon.
Back to the episode in question.
Sellers (American accent): ‘The Lost Year’, made at a cost of $33 billion and filmed on the very spot in Spain, Madrid, Africa, Jersey, Guernsey, and socks. A cast of thousands, 10 years in the making. See handsome midget Harry Secombe with the singing voice of Mario Lanza and the body of Owen Bowels. See the voluptuous Minnie Bannister dance the sensuous, sinful ‘Knees Up Mother Brown’. See the famous Eccles in his greatest role to date. His only role to date. See it all on the new insanitary stethoscope four-sided screen, made in glorious three-dimensional hysterical gorilla colour, with the new explodable multi-gringe sound process. You saw them in ‘Dustbins at Dawn’; you saw ‘The Son of Lassie’s Owner’. You saw ‘They Died With Their Boots Reversed’. Then see them in ‘The Lost Year’ and prove you're still an idiot when it comes to pictures.
Quite the introduction.
Neddie Seagoon is an MP and enters Henry Crun’s stationery shop (“Do you keep stationery?” “Only when I’m tired.”) to buy a calendar for the year 1956, which was just three weeks away at the time of broadcast.
But, to his horror, there are no calendars for 1956 anywhere. And Eccles is of no help at all.
Seagoon: Good morning. Eccles: You can't fool me with them big words.
Seagoon sends him off in search of the North Pole, and carries on with his investigation as to what could possibly have happened to the year 1956.
Parliament is called into action – although the first piece of business is to ask an unnamed Winston Churchill to stop celebrating his birthday. From contemporary newspaper reports there was quite a fuss made about the former PM’s 81st birthday on 30 November.
To the business at hand, and Seagoon leads the discussion on how to track down the lost year. It is quite a superb piece of deduction.
Seagoon: Let me see, it's 1956 AD. First MP (Sellers): So? Seagoon: 'A' and 'D' are the first and fourth letters of the alphabet. First MP:Yes. Seagoon: One, four... Second MP (Milligan): Er, one for the road. Seagoon: There are many roads. First MP: Cecil Rhodes. Second MP: He lives in Africa. Seagoon: That's where I'll look for it - Africa! I'll leave at once.
Cecil Rhodes was a leading 19th century politician responsible for overseeing much of Britain’s southern African colonies, including present-day South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The country of Rhodesia was named after him, initially informally by white settlers, before later being adopted officially by the British South Africa Company, which was basically in charge of much of this part of the British Empire. Northern Rhodesia became Zambia in 1964, while Southern Rhodesia has been Zimbabwe since 1980.
Meanwhile, in a four-shilling-a-week bedsit, Grytpype and Moriarty learn of a £10,000 reward that Seagoon has promised for the safe return of 1956, and immediately jump into the sea in pursuit of Seagoon’s ship.
As mentioned in ‘The Sale of Manhattan’ blog, Harry Secombe had recently released his first solo single, ‘On With The Motley’. (Fans of Queen should give it a listen – there is a musical phrase at the start of the band’s 1984 hit ‘It’s a Hard Life’ lifted straight from Pagliacci’s melody.)
The song (I think with English lyrics) made the Top 20 in December 1955, and so, unsurprisingly, was a key running gag through this episode.
Captain (Greenslade): Can you see them? Seagoon: Yes! Yes, there they are, clinging for dear life to that gramophone record of Harry Secombe singing ‘On With The Motley’. Moriarty: Help, throw us a gramophone, or it'll be too late. Seagoon: Here! Catch this rope you brave patrons of a great singer.
The trio decide to team up to track down the missing year, and proceed to Africa – once Grytpype and Moriarty have been promised money, of course.
Eccles briefly appears on the ship, complete with his own private blizzard, still in search of the North Pole.
There’s just one thing to be cleared up. What does a year actually look like?
Seagoon: Tell me Grytpype, man to mon, what do you think the missing year is shaped like? Grytpype: They do say the years roll by – it's in the shape of a roller. Seagoon: By Zeus, Jupiter and needle-nardle-noo! I must say it sounds a most plausible deduction. Grytpype: You mean, you – you really believe me? Seagoon: Of course. Grytpype: [...] Moriarty? Moriarty: Yes. Grytpype: This is a real Charlie.
Pointed in the right direction by Zulu chief Ray Ellington, dressed in a Savile Row loin cloth, the trio march on into an African jungle – and spy the trail of a roller! 1956 must be near!
Seagoon: Pitch my tent [...] by that record of Harry Secombe singing ‘On With The Motley’. Ellinga: Oh, cor-blimey again? Seagoon: Silence Ellinga, or I'll report you to Addit. Ellinga: Who's Addit? Seagoon: You have if you don't belt up.
Alas, it is Seagoon that’s ‘ad it. Moriarty is away taking his payment from the Bank of England, while Grytpype nabs Ned’s loose change and leaves him with no water in the baking sun.
Have no fear – enter, Tarzan Bluebottle, complete with cardboard record of his capitain singing ‘On With The Motley’.
Bluebottle: Do you know that for three weeks I have worn nothing but this fig leaf? Seagoon: Why? Bluebottle: Some rotten swine stole my trousers!
Bluebottle is briefly distracted by the second appearance of Eccles and his private blizzard, still searching in vain for the North Pole.
With the aid of Eccles’ sled they continue on in pursuit of 1956, and soon find Major Bloodnok.
Bloodnok: By the great measurements of Sabrina, who the devil are you? You're not Mount Everest? Seagoon: No. Bloodnok: Thank heavens, I can't stand heights.
With the promise of £10,000, Bloodnok is persuaded to join the pursuit, despite initially claiming Seagoon is mad. It’s amazing what money will make a scoundrel like Bloodnok do.
After all their efforts, finally two men are spotted in the distance pushing a roller. Success! It is indeed 1956, disguised as 1897 to get it through customs.
Just as dynamite is mentioned – and Bluebottle rushes off to do his homework – we get to the payoff.
Seagoon: Quick! Into the bush. We wait here behind this record of Harry Secombe, quickly lads. Greenslade: So they waited in the bush for a year. And by then of course the year had gone. Good night.
Neil Pearson's Rare Books website has the script for this available for a tidy £400 at the time of writing.
The Lost Year
Series 6 Episode 13
Broadcast: 13 December 1955
Written by: Spike Milligan
Producer: Peter Eton
Calendar photo by Olya Kobruseva via Pexels