Two! Four! Six! Eight! Who do we appreciate? GREENSLADE!
Updated: Oct 19, 2021
Happy birthday to one of my favourite Goons, BBC announcer Wallace Greenslade.
Don’t forget - you too can have a signed photograph of Wallace Greenslade for only three guineas. So, fan clubs, keep those cheques rolling in, old Wallace will find a use for them! So, ‘til next time, this is Mr Rhythm Greenslade saying chigidi-boo-boo rock-holy-coo-coo obi-doobi-doo chiggidy-snitch! Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate? Greenslade!
(Wallace Greenslade, from ‘Ye Bandit of Sherwood Forest’, Series 5 Episode 14, broadcast 28 December 1954)
Honest Wal of Weybridge joined the Goons in 1953, replacing Andrew Timothy from the sixth episode of the fourth series. Timothy, according to several sources, had decided to leave the show out of fear of losing his sanity – something he was probably only partly joking about.
Greenslade’s amiable character and large frame made him a target of many jokes, but he very obviously had a good sense of humour as he fully embraced his role. So much so, in fact, that it quickly expanded to regular speaking parts, culminating in ‘The Greenslade Story’ (Series 6 Episode 14), in which he was the central character.
According to Humphrey Carpenter’s biography of Spike Milligan, producer Peter Eton once said of Greenslade: “[He] was an amiable bum. He was a lovely man – he was a great, fat, sozzled announcer – a sweet boy – but he had nothing up here at all, bless his heart.”
This is unfair, in my opinion (and Carpenter’s for that matter). Wal threw himself wholeheartedly into his parts (ahem) and was more than happy to sing or adopt a ridiculous French accent when asked. As Carpenter rightly points out, to play these all absolutely straight required a good sense of comedy.
Wal’s humour is evident in some excerpts from recordings published in The Goon Show Compendium Volume 14, which include the introductions he makes to the orchestra and cast before the recording of the show proper begins.
Greenslade’s is the first voice listeners hear, proclaiming: “This is the BBC Home Service.” But often he didn’t stop there…
“This is the BBC. After the news there will be a talk on Early Christian Plastic Knees and the first broadcast of a piece of knotted string. If you would like a piece of knotted string, send three rust-proof shillings to ‘Honest’ Wal Greenslade of Weybridge. Ta.”
(from ‘Tales of Men’s Shirts’, Series 10 Episode 2, broadcast 31 December 1959)
One of my favourite introductions is from ‘Insurance: The White Man’s Burden’ (Series 7 Episode 21). Unfortunately it is edited out of most commercially available versions of the show, I assume for copyright reasons, which denies the world the glorious experience of a well-spoken BBC announcer singing ‘See You Later Alligator’.
Greenslade: This is the BBC. [FX: Screaming female fans] Greenslade: Right. Steady girls! Steady! This is your old pal Wallace ‘the Pelvis’ again with some real hot modern rhythm for you. So let’s get ‘hip’ with my latest recording, ‘See You Later Alligator’. [FX: Mad applause] [Orchestra: Rock ‘n’ roll intro] Greenslade: (sings) See you later alligator, after a while crocodile. See you later alligator, after a while crocodile. Cause you’re in my way, my way now, don’t you know you cramp my style. Seagoon: Stop! Stop, you mad fool Greenslade. Are you out of your mind? Milligan: (off-mic) Put that pelvis back. Seagoon: Take off those false crepe-hair sideburns and remove that elastic leg support. Greenslade: I can’t. I’ve got haricot beans. Seagoon: You mean varicose veins. Greenslade: Haricot beans. I’ve just been shopping.
(from ‘Insurance: The White Man’s Burden’, Series 7 Episode 21, broadcast 28 February 1957)
‘I’ve a good mind to back to the P&O’
Wallace Greenslade was born on this day in 1912 in Formby, which was officially part of Lancashire but is now part of Merseyside. Indeed, the Liverpool Echo mentioned his local links at every opportunity.
In the 1930s Greenslade worked as a purser for shipping company P&O, responsible for the finances for any ship he worked on (good job he was Honest Wal).
The Western Morning News of 5 May 1934 reports:
“Mr Wallace Greenslade, formerly purser of Homerio (White Star), arrived at Plymouth early yesterday morning on his first trip from New York as purser in Olympic. Arriving at 12.15am, Olympic landed 20 passengers and 1,400 bags of mails, leaving again at 1am for Cherbourg and Southampton.”
This might not be our Wal, however. He was only 22 at the time, quite young to be in charge of a ship's finances. In addition, an entry I’ve discovered on Ancestry.com shows a Wallace Greenslade born in 1888 as a ship’s purser too, so there could be some confusion here.
In any case, during the Second World War his shipping experience made him an ideal candidate for the Royal Navy. Lieutenant Commander Greenslade served in the Royal Naval Reserve for two and a half years. According to a February 1959 article in the Liverpool Echo, his travels helped him become fluent in French and German.
Greenslade: It’s all right you running Auntie [the BBC] down, but you know which side your bread’s buttered mate. Secombe: Yeah, you do all right out of it as well mate. My life… I’ve seen you knocking back the gin at the old BBC cocktail parties there, Wal. I’ve seen you staggering out reeking of whisky and your pockets full of cheese biscuits. Greenslade: This is outrageous. Secombe: You’ll get a muffin up your conk. Shut your big dinner grinder and read that. Go on, read on there Wal. Greenslade: I’ve a good mind to go back to the P&O.
(from ‘The Red Fort’, Series 8 Episode 7, broadcast 11 November 1957)
After the war he joined the BBC and was an announcer for several other radio shows apart from the Goon Show. He presented some music shows, arguably making him one of the Beeb’s first DJs. Although I might lose that argument quite quickly.
It was his role on the Goon Show that made Wal famous. As we all know, there is no greater signifier of fame than appearing in the Grantham Journal, and Greenslade did just that when he was a guest of honour at the town’s NSPCC Ball in December 1957.
As the paper reported:
Goon Show personality was guest at NSPCC Ball at Grantham
To some people Friday the 13th may be regarded as a distinctly unlucky day.
Not so Wallace Greenslade, a member of the radio “Goon Show” and, in more serious spheres, [a] news-reader for BBC television.
Twenty-two years ago on Friday the 13th he married a young lady whom he had met on a sea voyage, and they spent last Friday (the 13th) as featured guests at the George Hotel, Grantham, in support of the NSPCC.
Mainly responsible for their visit was another BBC personality, Mr Reg Gamble, the beekeeping expert and broadcaster of 21 years’ standing.
[Mr Gamble] suggested that Wallace should come along to add a touch of hilarity and Goonish madness to the proceedings.
True to the reputation of the Goon Show, Mr Greenslade did just that, and thereby helped to ensure still more the popularity of this annual social fixture...
What had the goon Wallace Greenslade to say to a “Journal” representative?
“Ah, my good fellow,” he replied. “On this sinful occasion” – here he promptly saluted Reg Gamble and kissed him on both cheeks – “have you heard about our tiddlywinks contest against Cambridge?”
This apparently is emanating from a challenge by the students there, and they promptly sent a fully-attired Irish Guardsman with a gift of two dozen bottles of Guinness to the Goon Show personality, Spike Milligan.
“And that’s a good way to train!” commented Mr Greenslade, who, entering into the fun of the occasion, helped to sell “Tombola” tickets, which made £100 profit alone. He also auctioned a bottle of champagne for £3 10s.
(Excerpts from a report in the Grantham Journal, 20 December 1957)
(The tiddlywinks tale is one for another day, once we get to the eighth series…)
Beyond the Goons
‘Bill’ Greenslade, as he was known (it’s not clear why) also appeared on an episode of Desert Island Discs in 1952, the year before he joined the Goons. The episode isn’t available online but you can see his music choices here.
Among the other shows he compered were Variety Playhouse, a music and comedy showcase programme that ran from the early 1950s until the mid 1960s, The Great Gilhooly (more info on that show here), and as one of the Beeb’s top announcers was a regular presenter on news and sports programmes. He was the presenter of the Today programme for two months in 1960.
He also compered several BBC roadshows, during which the corporation demonstrated ‘very high frequency’ radio broadcasting, gave behind-the-scenes insights and demonstrated how sound effects were created. Several newspaper reports on these show Wal as taking a central role.
"And now listeners, I would like to thank those of you who sent old Greenslade all those lovely gifts of ties, socks and shirts. Keep sending them in Greensladers, and here is my new address: Greenslade’s Natty Gents Outfitters, Petticoat Lane, London."
(from ‘The Case of the Missing Heir’, Series 5 Episode 16, broadcast 11 January 1955)
Wallace Greenslade died in April 1961, just over a year after the last episode of the 10th series. The Aberdeen Evening Express described the “genial, witty Greenslade” as being “one of the BBC’s most popular announcers”.
It’s sad that he didn’t live long enough to resume his role for ‘The Last Goon Show Of All’ in October 1972. He may have “only” been the announcer for the show, but for me he will always be a vital part of The Goon Show.
I will leave you with the final lines from ‘Ye Bandit of Sherwood Forest’ from December 1954. Robin Hood (aka Ned Seagoon, aka Harry Secombe) has just defeated the Sheriff of Nottingham (Peter Sellers) and runs away with Maid Marion (played by guest star Charlotte Mitchell) to marry her.
Robin Hood: Friar Crun? A wedding – let two be joined as one. Friar Crun: Stand there, both. Now do you take this – um – what is it? Maid Marion: Man. Friar Crun: Ah, man, yes. Take this man to be your husband? Maid Marion: Yey. Friar Crun: And sir, do you take this woman to be your wife? Greenslade: Yes, I do. Friar Crun: Pronounced man and wife! Five shillings. Robin Hood: Stop! You’ve married her to the wrong man! Greenslade: Oh yey? Two, four, six, eightest - who do girls appreciatest? Maid Marion: GREENSLADE!
(from ‘Ye Bandit of Sherwood Forest’, Series 5 Episode 14, broadcast 28 December 1954)
Newspaper articles sourced from the British Newspaper Archive.