Who dropped that piano? (Psst, tck, vung!)
Throughout its run, there were many Goon Show episodes that were inspired in part or in full by real events. ‘The Sinking of Westminster Pier’ is an obvious example.
For the fifth episode of the sixth series, reality took such a ridiculous turn that Spike must have felt that someone was writing the script for him. The event at the centre of ‘The Case of the Missing CD Plates’ – a piano falling from a window and someone claiming diplomatic immunity from the consequences – really happened.
A diplomat threw piano on a car
The occasion when a frustrated young Peruvian diplomat let off steam brought laughter to the House of Commons last night when the incident and its consequences were mentioned by Mr C R Hobson, MP for Keighley.
Mr Hobson was speaking during a debate on Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges, a subject once of great concern to one of his constituents.
Members laughed when Mr Hobson told them his constituent parked his car outside a London hotel when on to it fell - a grand piano.
It was not so funny for the car owner from Keighley, because the piano had been thrown by a diplomat, who, because of his status, could not be called on to pay for the damages to the car.
What Mr Hobson did not tell was the full story of how the car belonging to Mr Charles Greenwood... came to be damaged to the tune of £90.
Mr Greenwood... parked his car outside a hotel in Bayswater one day in August 1951. Inside [the hotel] was a 20-year-old Peruvian, whose mother, anxious to keep him from the temptations of London night life, had locked him in his second-floor bedroom without his trousers.
Angry, he threw out the grand piano on to Mr Greenwood's car and, in view of police, crawled across a balcony and finished off the act by throwing some chairs and a glass top table down. Hundreds of people in Kensington Gardens heard the crash.
(from the Bradford Observer, published 30 June 1955)
Mr Greenwood did eventually pursuade the Peruvian Embassy to pay for damages two years later - and was able to see the funny side.
A further discussion in the House of Lords caused the then minister for foreign affairs to state:
It is possible for a diplomat to waive diplomatic privilege and this is done in many cases, but to wave a grand piano is, I agree, a somewhat different matter. Although some may envy the particular diplomat the physical strength which enabled him to cast this particular object through the window of a hotel on to a car below it had unfortunate repercussions on the motor-car standing underneath.
(quoted from the Bradford Observer, published 1 July 1955)
I'm grateful to Sean Gaffney and Andrew Crowther on Twitter for having done the legwork, after the Goon Pod episode discussing ‘The Case of the Missing CD Plates’. The full discussion is here.
Greenslade: We present Baroness Orczy's masterpiece, Baron Orczy. Or, 'A Strange Case of Diplomatic Immunity', in which a strange case of diplomatic immunity is recounted. Chapter One: A Strange Diplomatic Case of Immunity, or A Diplomatic Case of Strange Immunity, or Through Hook, Line and Blizzard with Ava Gardner.
Baroness Orczy was a Hungarian-British novelist who created the Scarlet Pimpernel, the famous fictional hero of the French Revolution. She died in 1947, but a month before 'The Case of the Missing CD Plates' was broadcast, the BBC produced a radio adaptation of one of the Scarlet Pimpernel's adventures. Thanks to Mike Haskins on Twitter for spotting it.
Ava Gardner, meanwhile, was a much admired actress who was twice nominated for an Academy Award.
Neddie Seagoon is run over by a steamroller while on his way across Trafalgar Square. He and his nickel-plated bagpipes are flattened, and he demands immediate action from a passing police officer.
Moriarty: You can't arrest me! Seagoon: And why not? Moriarty: See that plate on the steamroller? See the letters on it? C-D. Willium: Cor blimey! Moriarty: No, Corps Diplomatique! I have diplomatic immunity! Willium: Get me out of here, call a doctor! Moriarty: Diplomatic immunity means I cannot be arrested, sued, disfranchised, blackballed, guillotined, run out, left in bulk, charged, hung, drawn or quartered, or needle-nardle-noo! You see, I happen to be the deputy vice pomfrit of the Titicacan delegation.
Alas, poor flattened Seagoon cannot take action and is left in the street. Enter reality, via a falling piano.
The sound of a smashing, shattering piano is another of my favourite Goon sound effects.
Seagoon: Help! Get this piano off me! Send for the fire brigade! Eccles: Why, are you on fire? Seagoon: No. Eccles: Okay, we've got to have a reason for sending for 'em. I'll start one.
Eccles sets fire to a hotel to bring in the East Acton Volunteer Auxiliary Civilian Fire Brigade, consisting of Henry Crun and Minnie Bannister.
The pair spend an inordinately long time preparing the crane to winch the piano off Seagoon, all the while debating whether they have the right documents for it. You must have the documents, you know.
Eccles: Here! That big hotel over there is on fire! [FX: Fire crackling, distant screams] Crun: Where? Oh, yes, yes, Minnie, make a note that that hotel over there is on fire. Bannister: Okay Fire chief Crun, buddy, yeah. Eccles: Where are all the other firemen? Crun: They're all at the Fire Safety Week Dinner. Eccles: Where’s that? Crun: In that hotel over there.
The protracted efforts to lift the piano are interrupted by a quick sidestep to music from a teahouse in Saigon, and then lunch.
Extricating himself from under the instrument, Seagoon challenges the perpetrator, Grytpype-Thynne, and demands £50,000 in compensation. However, Moriarty then appears to once again claim diplomatic immunity. He asserts that the piano has a CD plate screwed into it – but Seagoon knows this to be false, as he’s already stored the piano in a warehouse on Bond Street.
Moriarty: Sapristi piano! Unless we can get that Corps Diplomatique plate secretly screwed on that piano, we are psst, tck, vung! Grytpype: Unless we can get that Corps Diplomatic plate securely screwed to that piano we are psst, tck, vung! Seagoon: Sapristi piano! Unless they can get that Corps Diplomatic plate securely screwed to that piano, they are psst, tck, vung!
Meanwhile, in a “stench-packing factory in Saigon”, there is more music – ending in “psst, tck, vung”. As catchphrases go, it’s original, I’ll give Spike that.
Greenslade: We return you now to where we left off. Pist, tick, vung!
Seagoon employs Bloodnok as his lawyer, who demands £40,000. Fortunately, a job lands in Seagoon’s lap courtesy of Grytpype: all he has to do is sneak into a warehouse in Bond Street and screw a “small white metal plate to a certain object in the dark, which for the time being will remain incognito”. Incognito to anyone who wasn’t paying attention to the plot, that is.
Off goes our hero armed with a screwdriver, blindfold, and cucumber – the latter of which contains an explosive designed to dead our Ned.
Greenslade: By the magic of wireless we now take you to a tar barrel in Yokohama... [FX: Music, ending in “psst, tck, vung”] Greenslade: Thank you. The Diplomatic Case of Strange Immunity, Chapter Eight. A Case of Strange Diplomatic Immunity, or, with Igloo, Jack Knife and Saxophone Along the Appian Way.
At the warehouse, nightwatchmen Eccles and Bluebottle assist Seagoon in his task, and Bluebottle is delighted with his reward of a delicious cucumber. And thus we have the first Bluebottle deading of series six.
The CD plate successfully screwed to the piano means Seagoon loses the court case and has to cough up £50,000 to Grytpype and Moriarty. In desperation he travels to Titicaca, the country (actually a lake in South America) that has given them diplomatic immunity, and throws himself under a steamroller with plans to sue the driver.
Seagoon: I demand £50,000 compensation! Bloodnok: I won't pay it! […] See these CD plates on the steamroller? Diplomatic immunity, you see! Seagoon: You're not... Bloodnok: Yes, I am! Major Bloodnok, British Ambassador to the Court of Titicaca! […] I have diplomatic immunity! Keep away from me. And what is more, I shall charge you. Seagoon: Indeed? And may I hear the charge? Bloodnok: Certainly! [FX: Bugle call, sound of army charging] Seagoon: Oh, no!
The Radio Times synopsis was remarkably close to the eventual plot, for once.
Neddie Seagoon , a rich young metal bagpipe player, is washing his overcoat in a brook in Trafalgar Square when he is mysteriously run over by a steam roller with CD plates. Neddie, always the opportunist, demands recompense from the Lake Wanstead Embassy, the owners of the vehicle, who refuse to pay. On his way to a hearing of the case, Seagoon is mysteriously struck by a foreign piano also bearing CD plates. He reaches the court just in time to lose his deposit.
(from the Radio Times, issue 1666, page 24, published 14 October 1955)
Early in the episode, Bloodnok is heard singing ‘The Man From Laramie’ while bathing in the fountain in Trafalgar Square. His version is slightly different to Jimmy Young’s version, which was the UK’s number one single at the time.
The song was originally composed for the 1955 Western film of the same name, starring James Stewart in the title role.
The Case of the Missing CD Plates
Series 6, Episode 5
Broadcast: 18 October 1955
Written by: Spike Milligan
Producer: Peter Eton