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Vintage Goons and Japanese sparrows

Updated: Oct 12, 2021

The fourth series of The Goon Show launches tomorrow folks!


A few notes about it before we get there. Several of these shows (14 in total) were revisited in 1958 as the series ‘Vintage Goons’. The scripts were dusted off, reworked and re-recorded.


While a handful were broadcast in the UK, most were used by the BBC Transcription Service to send to overseas stations and so were not actually heard in the UK for many years. In a few cases, though, these are the only recordings that exist of fourth series scripts.


The full list of the originals and their Vintage Goons versions is as follows – research credit, as is often the case, goes to Roger Wilmut.

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Title

Broadcast

VG title

VG broadcast

1

The Dreaded Piano Clubber

02/10/53

The Dreaded Piano Clubber

n/a

7

The First Albert Memorial to the Moon

13/11/53

The Albert Memorial

27/10/58

13

The Giant Bombardon

26/12/53

The Giant Bombardon

06/10/58

15

The Missing Prime Minister

08/01/54

The Missing Number 10 Downing Street

n/a

17

The Mummified Priest

22/01/54

The Mummified Priest

22/09/58

19

The Kippered Herring Gang

05/02/54

The Kippered Herring Gang

n/a

21

The Case of the Vanishing Room

15/02/54

The Vanishing Room

13/10/58

22

The Great Ink Drought of 1902

22/02/54

The Ink Shortage

n/a

23

The Greatest Mountain in the World

01/03/54

The Greatest Mountain in the World

29/09/58

24

The Collapse of the British Railway Sandwich System

08/03/54

The Mustard and Cress Shortage

n/a

25

The Silent Bugler

15/03/54

The Silent Bugler

n/a

27

The Saga of the Internal Mountain

29/03/54

The Internal Mountain

n/a

29

The Great Bank of England Robbery

12/04/54

The Great Bank of England Robbery

20/10/58

30

The Siege of Fort Knight

19/04/54

The Siege of Fort Knight

n/a

Wilmut, who worked for the BBC for many years and had superb access to written and sound archives, explains that the scripts for the fourth series began to include characters in the script by name only, rather than an indicator to the actor as to which voice to use. Thus ‘Spike (Eccles):’ became just ‘Eccles:’ – implying that these characters were starting to take on a life of their own.


Another, more important, change for this series affected the recording technique. Rather than recording onto discs, the shows were put on tape. This meant much more ad-libbing was possible, and the range of sound effects increased.


It also meant that, from here on, more shows were preserved. From the start of the fifth series, every show is available somewhere – remarkable, given the surprising number of other classic shows from a similar period that do not survive in the same way.


Back to Series 4, and the Radio Times’ ‘Both Sides of the Microphone’ column from the 25 September 1953 issue explains:

The new Goon Show will be – well, typically Goonish. ‘We never know what’s going to happen from week to week,’ sighs Spike Milligan, a Goon who is part-writer of the script. ‘Characters just seem to happen. It’s all very confusing.’ Then we had a long conversation about Japanese sparrows which Spike solemnly assured us he was breeding to amuse his seven-months-old daughter.

Find it here on page 7, along with a publicity shot.

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