The Missing Prime Minister
Updated: Oct 11, 2021
Episode 15 of the fourth series told the story of ‘The Missing Prime Minister’. Insert your own Boris Johnson jokes here.
The episode was broadcast at 9:30pm on 8 January 1954 and is listed on page 38 of the Radio Times.
The scene is Christmas Eve 1953, the date, Downing Street. Or something like that. Inspector Seagoon checks on a constable.
Seagoon: Constable, where’s your helmet? Willium: Well, Inspector, a Christmas reveller whipped it for an ashtray. Seagoon: We can’t have that sort of thing going on, you know. [FX: Door opens] Winston Churchill (Sellers): Ah, Sergeant, here’s your helmet back. And a merry Christmas to you all. Not a word to Lady Astor about this.
Peter Sellers impersonated then prime minister Winston Churchill on a number of occasions, much to the chagrin of the powers that be at the Beeb. We’ll get to the time he really upset them in the fifth series. Lady Astor became the first female MP in 1919.
Shock horror! A call is made to the Bow Street Police Station reporting that Number 10 Downing Street has vanished.
Sellers (on phone): Well, in between numbers Nine and Eleven there is a blank space. Secombe (Welsh): Nothin’ there? Sellers: Nothing, save a man who's just pitched a small tent. Secombe: Who’s the man? Sellers: An itinerant Egyptian named Ali Bevan.
This is a reference to Aneurin Bevan, the Welsh Labour MP and the health minister who oversaw the establishment of the National Health Service. By the 1950s, when Labour was in opposition, Bevan led the left wing of the Labour party, opposing party leader Clement Attlee on occasion.
In late 1953 Bevan was widely criticised for an article he wrote that appeared in an Egyptian newspaper calling for British troops to withdraw from the country. Although Egypt had been officially independent since 1922, it remained under British military rule until 1936. Since then, the British presence had been restricted to the area surrounding the Suez Canal – a crucial shipping route.
A particularly tetchy debate from 17 December 1953 is preserved in Hansard, and shows how Britain’s relationship with Egypt was deteriorating well before the Suez Crisis in 1956.
Back in Goonland, Seagoon and Eccles are not concerned with such trifles as international peacekeeping and instead launch a search for the PM.
Seagoon: Eccles, we'd better take a drive up to Downing Street. Eccles: What for? Seagoon: I want to look round. Eccles: But you already look round. Ho ho hum. Seagoon: Aha ha. Constable Eccles, remember it doesn't pay to be rude. Eccles: Oh no? You seen Gilbert Harding's new Rolls-Royce?
Gilbert Harding (pictured right) was a radio personality and regular on What’s My Line?, a popular radio panel show. He was once dubbed “the rudest man in Britain” for his irascible outbursts. Partner him with Mr Bevan and we would have had a formidable explosive weapon.
Constable Willium is questioned and recounts the story of being walloped on the head that resurfaced in The Case of the Mukkinese Battle-Horn.
Willium: I was, er, tied up, Inspector, then they gagged me with this. They got it from 10 Downing Street. Seagoon: Ah. A hand towel. Willium: Yes, they stuffed it in me mouth. Seagoon: I see. These initials in the corner must mean 'Winston Churchill'. Willium: I 'ope so.
A nationwide manhunt is launched, with roadblocks in place. Major Bloodnok is in charge of one, and it is curious to hear how his voice (and that of Bluebottle) were quite different from their later incarnations. His cowardice is fully formed, though.
Fred Bogg (Secombe): Sir, there's somebody creepin' about outside. Bloodnok: What? Quick, give me my pistol. Now my sword. Fred Bogg: Here y'are. Bloodnok: Hand me that rifle, lad. Fred Bogg: OK. Bloodnok: Now me steel helmet, and that hand grenade. Fred Bogg: Here we are. Bloodnok: Now, Private Bogg – take this stick and go and see who it is.
Turns out, the mysterious person is Ray Ellington, who has fallen off a lorry with a large building strapped to it. The vehicle is traced to France, and Seagoon and co set off in pursuit.
Seagoon: I can't understand it - the French police have been most uncooperative. Eccles: These Parisians are always tryin' to hide somethin'. Bloodnok: Not at the Folies Bergeres they're not. Ohh. Seagoon: Please, Major, this is not the time to think of women. Bloodnok: Isn't it? Well, let me know when it is, will you?
Finally, Mr Churchill is located by Eccles.
Eccles: He’s been kidnapped by the French, and they’ve given him a job. Seagoon: But we need him back in England. Eccles: Don't worry, it's a very short job. Seagoon: What is it? Eccles: Prime Minister of France.
This script was updated and rerecorded for the Vintage Goons series, but was not initially broadcast in the UK. However, it was included on one of the BBC’s collections that I listened to as a child. As such, the newer version – ‘The Missing Number 10 Downing Street’ – is one of my personal favourites.
This later version is better in my view. There are more gags, a better payoff, and with three additional years of shows and experience behind them the Goons are much more polished performers in the 1957 version.
Title: The Missing Prime Minister
Series 4, Episode 15
Written by: Spike Milligan & Larry Stephens
Producer: Jacques Brown
Vintage Goons version:
Title: The Missing Number 10 Downing Street
Producer: Roy Speer
Recorded: 3 November 1957
Image of Number 10 Downing Street sourced from the Ministry of Defence, and image of Gilbert Harding sourced from the BBC.