Greenslade: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, here is our usual warning to those of a nervous disposition, those without a nervous disposition and those still on the waiting list. Secombe: It's the esteemed Goon highly Show. [Orchestra: Fanfare] Sellers: That was the orchestra under the direction of Wally Stott. Arthur Crube, first trumpet; Mervin Clap, bugle; Hezikiah Pipstraw, spoons; Fred Crint, Chinese cymbal, temple blocks and lace table-mats. The stool arranger was Herman Tig. They have agreed, in conjunction with the NUR, to play the theme music of... Secombe: The Yehti!
The NUR refers to the National Union of Railwaymen, which was at the time considering strike action in an effort to improve their members’ lot during the planned shift from steam to diesel trains, as well as a major upgrade to Britain’s rail infrastructure.
As Peter Sellers has kindly pointed out, episode 24 of the fifth series sees Neddie Seagoon off in pursuit of the mysterious ‘Yehti’ (usually spelled ‘yeti’), which has reportedly been seen in Yorkshire.
Footprints on the inside of a plastic deer-stalker hat lead the intrepid Neddie Seagoon to a lonely pre-fab on Carshalton Marshes. What is Admiral Grytpype-Thynne, saxophonist by appointment to the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, doing in the shallow end of Beckenham Baths? And who was the highly skilled mysterious BBC Chess Photographer found half-naked in a rabbit warren near Dungeness? Is the National Geographical Society behind all this in its attempt to find the sacred Yehti?
(from the Radio Times, issue 1634, page 24, published 4 March 1955)
And are Messrs Milligan and Sykes taking the mickey with these synopses? Answer: yes.
Seagoon is living in a “pre-fab” house (basically a build-your-own home kit) in Carshalton, south London.
Seagoon: I love my little home. And I like nothing better than to sit by my own fireside watching television in the next house but one. Yes, there’s something to be said for thin walls. And one night in the middle of Quite Contrary - yes it was Quite Contrary, I remember, because I was asleep at the time.
Quite Contrary was a variety TV show first broadcast in 1953 as a one-off, with the format revisited in 1954 and 1955. The listing for the 1955 show is here.
Seagoon is awakened by Grytpype-Thynne attempting to knock on the door.
Grytpype: You are Ned Seagoon, unmarried, no family-ties, British, occupation, er... Seagoon: I run my own business in the West End. Grytpype: Oh yes, in Oxford Street isn't it? Seagoon: Yes! Grytpype: That's right, I bought a balloon off you.
Grytpype – who, we are told, wears a jacket that “was so beautifully cut, and his trousers were torn as well” – informs Neddie that he’s wanted by the East Acton Geographical Society.
One of the more unusual techniques that Milligan used throughout the Goon Show’s run was allowing his characters to step outside of a scene to narrate, before seamlessly jumping back into their conversation. Sometimes, more than one character would do this at once, creating dualling dialogues both in the scene and the narration.
In this episode, both Grytpype and Neddie take this to a ridiculous extent, narrating ‘he saids’ and ‘I saids’ in a rapid-fire piece of dialogue that ends up with them swapping places in the story, sending Seagoon off to the East Acton Geographical Society and leaving Grytpype watching telly in Seagoon’s house.
At the society’s meeting room, members are discussing who to hire as an experienced climber. Edmund Hillary is suggested, as is Sir John Hunt, who led the expedition that took Hillary and Tensing Norgay to the top of Everest.
Society member (Sellers): Sir John Hunt? Has he had much climbing experience? Secombe (Northern accent): Yes, he has that! Everest, 1953. Society member (Sellers): Everest 1-9-5-3. Good, I'll phone him later.
Seagoon enters, and is informed by Moriarty that he has been “chosen from hundreds of Charlies” to go in search of a Yorkshire yehti/yeti.
Grytpype: You see, Neddie, the yehti is an unknown quantity, as yeti. Rumour has it that a yehti has the ability to take possession of your mind. Seagoon: Possession of my mind? Grytpype: What have you got to lose? Seagoon: No, no, I won't go! I won't! Yes, you can call me a coward if you like. Moriarty: We will pay you £50 for one yehti. Seagoon: How dare you call me a coward! I leave for Yorkshire at once.
Off he goes, into the heavy snow. Britain was going through what was later dubbed the ‘big freeze’, with heavy snowfall across much of the country. Some villages in the north of England and areas of Scotland were completely cut off and needed the RAF to deliver supplies. Video footage of Operation Snowdrop is held by Pathé News.
Our hero heads for “Long Willie’s Croft”, which isn’t a real place and is more likely a reason for the writers to get “long willy” into a script without the censors noticing. Stop laughing at the back there.
Arriving at a house occupied by Minnie Bannister, Seagoon is taken down into the huge coal cellar (“It’s a mile to the coal face you know”) in search of Henry Crun. Suddenly, a train whooshes past.
Neddie is worried for his sanity – after all, the yehti/yeti can take possession of one’s mind. This is a genuine belief among some of those who believe in the existence of such creatures, that they are telepathic.
Henry Crun appears – as do another two trains, the second of which carries Seagoon off back across the moors. Wait, who’s this under the seat?
Bloodnok: Ned Seagoon? Well well well, what a coincidence! Seagoon! Yes of course, I remember. Didn't your father have a son? Seagoon: Oh I... I never asked him about his private affairs. Bloodnok: Seagoon, of course, of course, yes! I knew your father before you were born. Seagoon: I didn't. Bloodnok: I wish you had, things might have been different.
Major Bloodnok claims to have gone to school with a yehti/yeti, but declines to elaborate further and instead throws Seagoon off the train. Luckily, he bumps into Eccles, and employs him to help his yehti/yeti hunt.
Eccles: Mr Seagoon, can I bring a friend? Seagoon: Friend? There's only one thing that can befriend Eccles and that is... A yehti! As casually as I could I asked him. - He's not about 12 feet tall with hair all over him, is he? Bluebottle: No, I'm not. Enter Bluebottle with a smile and a song. Stands waist deep in snow, smiles grimly, jabs alpine stick into snow... Ooh my foot! […] Seagoon: Now listen to me, icicle pants. Are you willing to join us in the search for the Yehti? Bluebottle: Yes, my capitan, I will join you. And Eccles will join us too, won't you Eccles? Forward! Moves forward, but feet are frozen to ground. Falls flat on face. Pretends to be examining tracks.
Onwards, and into a mysterious house. This final third of the show is a great illustration of how the Goons played with sound effects to create ‘pictures’ in the audience’s imagination, playing about with expectations and assumptions all the while.
The trio explore the house’s various strange rooms, which may or may not contain sheep, Wallace Greenslade in the bath, and a bar fight. One door is marked ‘Eccles’, and he enters to be entertained by attractive women. Excited, Bluebottle spots his own door, and enters – only to be deaded in the usual fashion.
There is but one door left – and it is marked ‘Yehti’ (or potentially ‘Yeti’). What to do? Simple! “Lock the door, and take the room to London.”
Arriving back in East Acton, Seagoon presents the room to the members of the society.
Seagoon: Now stand well back gentlemen, he may be armed. [FX: Key turns in lock] Seagoon: Now when I fling this door open be ready to grab him. Right! [FX: Door slams open] [FX: Train whooshes through]
There has been no scientifically accepted definitive proof of the existence of yetis/yehtis or abominable snowmen/snowmehn, but legends exist in many cultures and explorers have been searching for the mythical beast for decades.
In 1954, John Jackson, a schoolteacher from Nelson in Lancashire visited the Himalayas as part of an expedition organised by the Daily Mail to search for evidence of the yehti/yeti.
Speaking to the Burnley Express in an article published on 23 June 1954, Jackson said: “While we did not actually see the yeti, on a number of occasions we followed tracks believed to have been made by the animal. Each time, however, they dwindled out or led to some inaccessible place. However, I believe that the expedition has achieved its object. Much information and many facts have been collected which will be of great assistance to future expeditions.”
The article goes on to state that Jackson believed there were some “very strong pointers” indicating the existence of yetis/yehtis, and that locals “believe 100 per cent”.
Research published in 2013 suggested that animal remains believed to be from a yeti/yehti were in fact from a species of bear hitherto unknown to science.
Series 5, Episode 24
Broadcast: 8 March 1955
Written by: Eric Sykes and Spike Milligan
Producer: Peter Eton
Footprints photo shows alleged yehti/yeti footprints in the Himalayas found by Frank Smythe in 1937, published in Popular Science, 1952, and soon debunked. Sourced from Wikipedia. Mountain photo by Balaji Srinivasan from Pexels. Abominable snowman image is a screengrab - don't tell Walt.