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The Man Who Tried To Destroy London's Monuments

Updated: Oct 12, 2021

‘The Man Who Tried To Destroy London’s Monuments’ was broadcast on 9 October 1953. You’ll spot it on page 42 of the Radio Times.

The opening sketch involves Moriarty (who this time sounds like he is being played by Peter Sellers, rather than Spike Milligan as he was later) persuading Harry Secombe to travel to Brighton to become a lifesaver, in a bid to attract the attention of millionairess “Miss Gingold”.

This may be a reference to actress Hermione Gingold, a British actress probably most famous for winning a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress in Gigi in 1958. She was the daughter of a wealthy stockbroker, although was in her mid-fifties by the time of this broadcast, so I may be barking up the wrong tree entirely.

If I’m not, though, I will throw in a tenuous Goon link: Gingold’s first husband was Michael Joseph, a publisher whose company was later to publish Milligan’s war memoirs.

In any case, Secombe proceeds to Brighton on the train.

Mate: This way sir. Can I see your ticket sir? Secombe: Well it's in my back pocket. Mate: I shall 'ave to clip it sir. Secombe: Aiiiiooowwwoooh! I say! Couldn't you have waited till I got it out?

Upon arrival, he auditions (do you audition to be a lifeguard?) with one Peter Sellers.

Sellers: Now then, a few particulars. When did you first take an interest in swimming? Secombe: The day I was christened. Sellers: Why? Secombe: The vicar dropped me in the font. Hence my name 'Harry Splash Oh You Wet My Cassock Secombe'.

He passes the audition, but upon arriving at the beach and entering the sea, he discovers one crucial detail he had forgotten.

Secombe: Moriarty - I've just remembered something! Moriarty: What is it? Secombe: If I die, please don't bury me at sea. Moriarty: Why not? Secombe: I can't swim! Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelp!
The Albert Memorial

After Max Geldray’s musical interlude, we get to the main story: ‘The Man Who Tried To Destroy London’s Monuments’. The story is introduced by William J McGoonigal – the first recording we have of Sellers or Milligan (I can’t tell which in this instance) impersonating the infamously terrible Scottish poet William McGonagall.

'Poet, tragedian, and twit'

Fun facts from McGonagall’s Wikipedia page – and these are cited, so stand up to scrutiny. Terry Pratchett introduced the concept of a “battle poet” in his Discworld novel The Wee Free Men. Called a Gonnagle, the battle poet repels the enemy by the sheer force of his terrible verse.

Elsewhere, fans of the Asterix graphic novels by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo will remember the village bard Cacophonix. In the Scots Gaelic translations, he is called Magonaglix.

Back in Goonland, the prime minister is informed that someone has threatened to blow up “Nelson’s Column, the Albert Memorial, and Anna Neagle”. Dame Anna Neagle is another successful British actress who was voted the country’s most popular star in 1949 by readers of the Motion Picture Herald.

The threat on these great monuments is serious:

Andrew Timothy: And here now is an urgent warning from Whitehall. It is imperative that the instructions we give are executed with all possible speed. This is a matter of life and death. Time is vital. But first here are the football results. Chinese Wanderers two hundred, Arsenal nil.

Neddie Seagoon is called in to search for the would-be bomber, and soon assembles a team.

Seagoon: Here are photographs of the bomb maniac, so take one each… Now, I want you to study the photograph carefully, so that you will recognise this man. Milligan: But sir, my photograph shows a picture of a pair of old army socks. Bloodnok: And mine shows a lamp post. Milligan (different voice): Mine shows a coal miner's shovel. Seagoon: Gentlemen, this man is a master of disguise!

The team launches its search having evacuated most of London. There is an extended dialogue between Minnie Bannister and Henry Crun as Seagoon knocks on a door, with Minnie shouting at Henry to answer the door. He can’t hear her, so opens the door to ask Seagoon to stop knocking while he speaks to Minnie.

Once the knocking restarts, the discussion repeats in a fashion that was to become a trademark of the Crun and Bannister duo. It was also revived in the script for The Case of the Mukkinese Battle-Horn in 1956.

Crun, Seagoon and Eccles eventually track the bomb down to the Houses of Parliament where it is ticking away under the speaker’s chair.

Seagoon: That means it's about to explode. Gulp. Eccles: Ooop. Crun: Naaa.... explode? Seagoon: Yes. Crun: Did you hear that Eccles? Eccles: [Far away, shouting] Yes! I heard it!

Crun reassures everyone that he can disarm it. I’ll let you decide whether he succeeds.

Doctor: Lieutenant Seagoon, you’re a brave man. But would you mind lying down? Seagoon: What for? Doctor: You're dead!

Title: The Man Who Tried to Destroy London’s Monuments

Series 4, Episode 2

Written by: Spike Milligan & Larry Stephens

Producer: Peter Eton

Download: RadioEchoes

Albert Memorial image sourced from Wikipedia. Credit: ChrisO

McGonagall image sourced from Wikipedia.

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