The Toothpaste Expedition
Episode 20 of the fourth series was broadcast on 12 February 1954. ‘The Toothpaste Expedition’ was a reworking of a sketch from the fifth episode of the third series. It can be found in its natural habitat on page 42 of the Radio Times.
This episode is also one of the most recent recordings to be released. It was included in The Goon Show Compendium 14, alongside several other recordings from the fourth series that were previously believed lost.
While longer plots throughout episodes were emerging, Milligan still reverted to sketches now and again. The title of this episode comes from the middle section of the show, between the musical numbers.
This episode begins with a look into the British education system. Specifically, the school of Rottingdean, “built in the 16th century by its founder, the Dean of Murdle, whose body lies buried in the grounds – hence the name, ‘Rotting Dean’”.
Secombe: Then there was Dr Arnold Fringe, the brave headmaster who lost his life in the school fire. Heroically, he dashed through the flames into his study, picked up the phone and was last heard saying: Sellers: ‘Ello, ‘ello, Prudential? I wanna take out a fire insurance as from yesterday.
The sketch is a great vehicle for one-liners and daft gags, my favourite of which concerns a maths test.
Secombe: Now Jones, let’s see what you’ve got – two, seven, three, eight, nine. And Westing? Let’s see – 10, seven, three, two, four. Hmmm. Well, I’ve got three queens, a jack and a 10, so you’ve both had it.
The other side of Max Geldray, we hear that there is a world shortage of toothpaste, and a Commander Burke has gone to investigate reports of a rich new seam of toothpaste under the Sahara Desert.
Burke (Secombe): What’s our location on the map? Headby (Sellers): Just nearing the centre of the Sahara desert. Burke: The middle of the Sahara, eh? Headby: Yes. Burke: You sure we haven’t come too far north? Headby: Oh, no, darling. Burke: Right. Well, we’ll…. we’ll make camp here. Tell the porters to clear a place in the snow and build igloos.
Of course, Burke’s suspicions are correct and they are a little off course, at the North Pole.
Quite a bit of this sketch was reused in later shows, including the Christmas cracker gag and the idea of Neddie Seagoon swimming thousands of miles back to London to buy a ticket for the Woolwich Ferry. It’s in the North Pole too, having bought the same crackers.
Meanwhile, another group aiming for the Arctic region has found itself in Egypt. This group gives Milligan, Sellers and Secombe a chance to reprise their impressions of Dick Barton, special agent, and his colleagues Jock and Snowy. The Goons had been poking fun at the popular radio serial since the first series – in fact, the first episode of Crazy People back in May 1951 had contained a Dick Barton sketch.
Barton (Sellers): Lost under the burning sand in the middle of the desert with no sign of human life for over a thousand- [FX: Knock on door] Barton: Jock? Answer the door, will you? If it’s the milkman, tell him we’ll pay him next week.
After Ray Ellington’s performance, the action switches to Canada for the moose hunting season. Henry Crun and Eccles are putting together their gear with the help of shop owner Sam Secombe.
Secombe: That’s a moose horn. It attracts any moose in the area. When yer blow it, the moose answers back. I’ll blow it and show you. [FX: Moose horn. Phone rings.] Secombe: Hello? [FX: Moose horn being blown down a phone] Secombe: Y’see? Crun: Yes, what a very clever moose answering the phone. Secombe: He’s cleverer than ya think. Crun: Why? Secombe: He reversed the charges!
Crun wants to shoot a moose to use its antlers as a hat stand. Ray Ellington offers to sell him antlers and do away with the hunt altogether, but they cannot agree a price – he wants $10, Crun will only pay $5.
Eventually they arrive at a moose hunting area.
Secombe: There’s a moose over there – give me the gun. Crun: Shoot, Secombe, shoot! [FX: Gun shot] Eccles: Okay, I’ve shot Secombe, what now?
Another shot is fired, at which point the target starts to look like a man carrying antlers – and the payoff.
[FX: Gun shots] Crun: I want those antlers! I must have those antlers! Ellington: Okay, you win! Five dollars!
Today also marks 63 years since the death of Pat Dixon, who produced 31 Goon Shows, including almost all of the seventh series, and whose passing was lamented by many throughout broadcasting.
He was a hugely important figure for the Goons, having played a pivotal role in persuading the BBC to take on the quartet, as it then was, back in 1951. He was producer for two other series that were important predecessors to the Goon Show: Listen, My Children in 1948 and Third Division in 1949. The latter included Sellers, Secombe and Michael Bentine in the cast, and according to Secombe’s autobiography Arias and Raspberries was the first time the three had worked together.
Bentine once described Pat Dixon as “scholarly and intelligently humorous” and “as radical in his approach to comedy as we were” (quoted by Humphrey Carpenter in his biography of Spike Milligan). Having recommended the Goons to the BBC, he passed the production to Dennis Main Wilson – and the rest is history, as I write far too often.
As Roger Wilmut writes in his Goonography, Dixon “allowed the Goons a freedom to develop that led eventually to the peaks reached in the ninth series”. His departure from the show at the end of the seventh series – largely due to suffering from cancer – was a blow to the Goons as they struggled to find a regular producer for much of the next series.
As well as working with the Goons, he also worked on shows including Take It From Here, It’s That Man Again, The Bradens, and Hancock’s Half Hour. He was also the producer on Bentine’s series Round The Bend in Thirty Minutes.
Dixon’s death from cancer in 1958 was “a great loss to broadcasting”, according to Wilmut – and it’s easy to see why.
Title: The Toothpaste Expedition
Series 4, Episode 20
Written by: Spike Milligan
Producer: Peter Eton
Available on The Goon Show Compendium 14
Image via Pixabay