Updated: Dec 6, 2021
It’s almost December, which means one thing: pantomime season!
Greenslade: Doncaster, late in the 12th century. 'Tis December, and the snow covered coaching yard of the Bowman's Inn is thronged with travellers each awaiting to go his journey.
‘Ye Bandit of Sherwood Forest’ was broadcast on 28 December 1954, and was trailed in the Radio Times surprisingly accurately.
In ye year of Grace, Mary and Uncle Fred, 1190, Wallace Greenslade, an itinerant announcer, was bounde for Nottingham when ye coach was stoppd inne Sherwood Forest by Robin Hood who did persuade himme to join hys bande as second sackbuttist and part-time dustman. Greenslade did don Lincoln Green and did assiste ye outlaws in their recklesse adventures.
(from the Radio Times, page 32, issue 1624, published 24 December 1954)
Take a second to click the link and view the credits, as Messrs Milligan and Sykes obviously had a lot of fun coming up with character names. Note "Ray Ellington and his Quartet of Four", "Max Geldray on the Panpipes", and "Walter Stott and his Strolling Players".
This episode features guest star Charlotte Mitchell for the first time, as Maid Marion, and she is in wonderful form with an exaggerated posh English accent.
Maid Marion: Oh! Sobs of despair! Sobs! Locked in this dark dungeon with nothing but an old straw television set. This is a chamber of torture. Oh woe! Oh misery! Oh fie! Oh, whatever shall I do...
Lucky as she was, she ended up upgrading from being engaged to Robin Hood to marrying Wallace Greenslade. Before we get there though, the sheriff of Nottingham gets on a horse-drawn coach assisted by Eccles, who he proceeds to throw off and leave in the forest.
Minnie Bannister: The poor, poor lad, lost in the forest. The wolves will get him. Coachman (Secombe, Eastern European accent): Please don't mention the wolves! Bannister: Why not? Coachman: I'm a Hungarian!
This got the second biggest laugh of the episode, which was baffling to me for years until I discovered the topical reference it was making. You’ll recall that the Hungarian national team had inflicted some pretty heavy defeats on the English over the past two years, prompting the Goons to take drastic action in the first episode of this series.
On 13 December 1954, a few days before this episode was broadcast, English football champions Wolverhampton Wanderers (also known as Wolves) played an exhibition match against Hungarian champions Honved, which included several members of the national team that had just finished second in the World Cup, including the legendary Ferenc Puskás. Wolves won 3-2 and declared themselves World Champions, which likely upset the Hungarians somewhat. (And probably the West Germans, who actually were World Champions.)
It was broadcast on BBC television - at least, the second half was. In the early days of sports broadcasting it was often the case that viewers would get to see half of the game. Many clubs objected to broadcasting matches as they thought it would stop people from attending in person.
The biggest laughs were reserved for Peter Sellers’ impression of Winston Churchill - which later landed the Goons in hot water with the BBC. More of that in another post.
Robin Hood, sounding remarkably like Neddie Seagoon, attempts to rescue Maid Marion from the sheriff but instead gets locked up himself. Never fear! There is always a cardboard-and-string hero on hand to save the day.
Moriarty: Tie him to a stake! Bluebottle: No! Do not tie me to a stake! Moriarty: Why not? Bluebottle: I'm a vegetarian.
Robin breaks loose and confronts the sheriff and his men. A great fight breaks out, with the entire cast crying "Whack! Blat! Thud!" and other nut-hitting-type noises.
Friar Balsam (Bloodnok/Sellers): Club! Whack! Oh Robin, we can't keep this up much longer, will they never arrive? Robin Hood: Who? Friar Balsam: Those blasted sound-effects men.
Eventually the sheriff surrenders, Robin Hood and his gang having overwhelmed them with louder thuds, blats and wallops. Friar Crun officiates the wedding of Maid Marion and... Wallace the Greenslade!
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!
The Radio Times issue covering this episode is very festive, including as it does both Christmas and New Year programming. On pages 4 and 5, writer and producer Gordon Glover writes a fictitious account of inviting a wide selection of the BBC’s light entertainment stars to his house for a party, featuring our very own Harry Secombe and ITMA’s Colonel Chinstrap, aka Jack Train.
The illustrations (see left) seem to show their disembodied heads being used as tree decorations, which suggests that the party took a bit of a turn.
The Goons are busy this Christmas: find Mr Secombe on Television’s Christmas Party at 7:50pm on Christmas Day, sharing the bill with Harry Corbett and Sooty among others. Peter Sellers appears on Ted Ray Christmas Time on the Home Service at 8:30pm on Boxing Day, alongside Kenneth Connor.
Both Secombe and Sellers juggled their appearances with panto commitments. Secombe was appearing in Cinderella at the Hippodrome in Coventry, while his colleague was in Mother Goose at the London Palladium – quite a big gig.
Larry Stephens and Jimmy Grafton wrote the bulk of the material for a bumper edition of The Forces Show, starring Derek Roy (for whom Grafton had written for many years), Kenneth Horne and Joy Nichols. This was broadcast on the Light Programme on 29 December. All in all, a busy Christmas period.
Title: Ye Bandit of Sherwood Forest
Series 5, Episode 14
Broadcast: 28 December 1954
Written by: Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes
Producer: Peter Eton