The Man Who Won The War
Updated: Jan 19, 2022
The Goon Show returned for its sixth series on 20 September 1955, and began in true Goon fashion: with the now-infamous ‘Fred the Oyster’ sound effect.
First heard in ‘The Sinking of Westminster Pier’, the quite ludicrous and flatulent noise became a favourite of the Goons – and almost always gave at least one of them the giggles.
“They were mules. I remember these mules used to do this to cool their lips in India. They’d blow […] raspberries. They used to collapse me – they still do! They still paralyse me. Whenever that happened I was helpless. The thought [that] the mule was doing it, not knowing how funny it was!”
(Spike Milligan recalls the origins of Fred the Oyster for At Last The Go On Show)
‘The Man Who Won The War’ – announced in the episode itself as “Seagoon MCC” – was one of the Goons’ first attempts at a proper Second World War satire, and is quite successful.
Grytpype: What have we got here? Sergeant (Milligan): A volunteer sir. Seagoon: It's all a mistake sir, it’s all a mistake. I can't join. You can't take me. I'm, [puts on Welsh accent] I'm an American, buddy, you see. I'm an American. I, I, I'm from the prairie, aye, aye, I'm from the prairie, I'm er, I'm from New York. Grytpype: New York? Do you know the Bronx? Seagoon (Welsh): I know them well, I married their daughter Gladys Bronk.
Grytpype sees right through this charade, though (“I knew you weren’t American the moment you mentioned your marriage to Gladys Bronk… I’m Gladys Bronk”), prompting Seagoon to lie about his age and disguise himself as a woman, but to no avail.
Seagoon: Never mind dear listeners, no army can hold a Seagoon for long. I had ideas. After all, money talks. Milligan (high-pitched): I’m thrupenny bit! Seagoon: Silence! I'll put the coppers on ya.
From this point on, Seagoon attempts to “work his ticket” – in other words, persuade people that he’s in no fit state to serve.
Attempt #1: Seagoon suggests “filling bags of skin with gas and letting them up on pieces of string to frighten enemy aircraft”. This, of course, genuinely happened.
Instead of getting his ticket home, Seagoon is promoted to Lance Corporal.
Attempt #2: Seagoon approaches Major Bloodnok with an idea to build cardboard tanks on Salisbury Plain to attract the attention of enemy bombers. Bloodnok is in his cowardly element.
Bloodnok: I was a simple soldier, and content to defend London from a quiet country field in a little iron room 500 feet below ground. [FX: Knocking on bunker door] Bloodnok: I surrender! I surrender! [sings] Deutschland, Deutschland über alles! Seagoon: It's Corporal Seagoon. Bloodnok: What? [sings] There'll always be an England…
Bloodnok attempts to take the credit – until the Germans respond by dropping cardboard bombs on the cardboard tanks. He and Seagoon get into an argument, carried out by quoting fictional memoirs at each other. (“See, ‘Bloodnok Tried To Deceive Me’, priced thruppence.” “See also, ‘Why Don’t You Shut Up’, priced tuppence.”)
Greenslade: See also, ‘I was Tito’s Pianist’, by Max Geldray in the plain wrappers.
(Tito was president of Yugoslavia, and had led the country’s resistance against the Nazis.)
Oddly enough, while they didn’t use cardboard, the Allies used dummy tanks in several campaigns in the Second World War. Some were made of steel frames with canvas coverings, while others were inflatable. Yes, really.
Seagoon – now promoted to sergeant – is getting desperate. Attempt #3 involves a long discussion with Grytpype and Moriarty (‘Leader of the Fried French Forces”) during which Seagoon is exploded several times. Eventually, he comes up with the piece de resistance:
Seagoon: I'll give you an idea that will win the war. Provided you give me my discharge from the army. Moriarty: It's a deal. As soon as the war is over, you will be discharged from the army. Seagoon: Right. Now, this is it. Build a full scale cardboard replica of England. Anchor it off the coast of Germany. Then when the Germans have invaded it, we tow it out to sea - and pull the plug out.
Seagoon sets off to find Henry Crun, who can apparently build a lifesize replica of England – we seem to be leaving the Scots, Welsh and Irish to fend for themselves. Here, we are treated to a prototype version of a gag later made famous in Dad’s Army.
Seagoon: Which one of you two is Henry Crun? Bannister: Don't tell him, Henry.
However, much to Seagoon’s dismay, Major Bloodnok has bought the replica of England. Seagoon challenges him, at which point it starts to get silly. (It’s all been perfectly sensible so far, I think you’ll agree.)
Seagoon: What have you done with that full scale cardboard replica of England? Open your coat. Hmmm, it’s not there. Now, you're hiding it somewhere else. Lift up your hat. Bloodnok: Right. Eccles: Hello. Seagoon: Mad Dan Eccles, what are you doing under his hat? Eccles: I'm his barber. Bloodnok: Yes - he's the black sheep of the family. Eccles: Yes, I'm barber black sheep.
In an attempt to wrestle back control of the idea, Seagoon hires Bluebottle and Eccles to help him force Grytpype and Moriarty to accept the cardboard England ideas as his and discharge him from the army. Are you keeping up at the back there?
These two brave commandos get frightened by a spider crawling up Bluebottle’s leg and hide in a dustbin – resulting in Seagoon and Bloodnok also being trapped in a dustbin and then set adrift on a cardboard replica of England.
Bannister: Oooh eeoorh. What's happened? Bloodnok: Minnie, you here as well, ooh. Let me help you up my little flower. Bannister: I can get up myself. Bloodnok: My little self-raising flour!
Will they escape before the Germans start bombing? Spoiler alert: No.
For once, the Radio Times synopsis wasn't that far from the script - and indeed introduced the running gag of various characters citing their memoirs and cost thereof.
Drafted into the Armed Forces at the outbreak of the last War, young Neddie Seagoon, a civilian part-time dustman (see 'Beerstains Round My Trouser Tops', Bidley Bonce 4s. 6d.), found himself unable to face the task of sharing a dustbin with other men. His endeavours to secure his discharge on the grounds of insanity led to a series of fantastic inventions which drastically altered the course of the War (see 'Bagpipes Over Alamein', price 7s. 6d. at all good). This is a War story to end all War stories, price 1s. 6d.
(from the Radio Times, issue 1662, p24, published 16 September 1955)
Books (and films) of the Second World War
The episode is framed at the start as an adaptation of a book – “I Was Hitler’s Undervest”, according to the Radio Times – and the Goons cite several real books that sold well in the years immediately following the Second World War as audiences clamoured to learn more of what it was like on the front line.
Reach For The Sky was a biography of Sir Douglas Bader written by Paul Brickhill. It became a film in 1956 starring Kenneth More as Bader. It’s available in full on YouTube here.
Bader was a quite remarkable pilot who lost both legs in an accident in 1931 but recovered and convinced the RAF to let him resume his pilot duties at the outbreak of war in 1939. He took part in the evacuation of Dunkirk, the Battle of France, and the Battle of Britain. He was forced to bale out over France in 1941 and was captured, made several attempts to escape, and was eventually sent to the Colditz prisoner of war camp until near the end of the war.
Bader kept flying until 1979, three years before his death.
The Cruel Sea was originally written by Nicolas Monsarrat and published in 1951. It was partly base don the author’s own experiences in the Royal Navy during the war, and tells the story of life aboard smaller navy ships that usually escorted convoys of larger supply or troop ships.
The film version, released in 1953, starred Jack Hawkins and Donald Sinden – the latter of which would much later feature in Rentadick in 1972, alongside Spike Milligan and Michael Bentine.
I Flew For The Führer is the war memoir of German fighter pilot Heinz Knoke, and is still in print.
The Colditz Story was published in 1952 and written by Pat Reid, a soldier who was captured in France in 1940 and made several escape attempts from different prisons – latterly Colditz. This last attempt was the most successful as he and three others made it to Switzerland where Reid began working for MI6. The film version was released in January 1955, and starred John Mills as Reid.
The Hotditz Story… is a daft joke. Just in case you were wondering.
The men who actually (maybe) won the war
Finally, there are at least two men dubbed as “The Man Who Won The War”.
Andrew Jackson Higgins was a US businessman who owned Higgins Industries, which built a huge number of boats for the US navy, including innovative new landing craft. President Dwight Eisenhower claimed Higgins’ contribution was crucial to the Allies’ victory.
In 1936, Robert Buckner wrote a short story entitled The Man Who Won The War, apparently based on the life of a naval officer Cecil Brandon – however, there is scant information I can find online to verify any of this.
There is, however, a 1950 radio broadcast (I think from the US) available on Spotify of the same title.
The Man Who Won The War
Series 6, Episode 1
Broadcast: 20 September 1955
Written by: Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes
Producer: Peter Eton
Barrage balloons image sourced from Wikipedia. Douglas Bader image by Ragge Strand from the National Archives of Norway, via Wikipedia.