The Goons Go Commando

Series 3 of the Goon Show was beset with problems and challenges. There were studio difficulties, a new conductor and an improvised orchestra to deal with but the issue which had the most detrimental impact on the programme was the fact that the scriptwriters, Larry Stephens and Spike Milligan, had fallen out, weren’t speaking to each other and certainly weren’t collaborating on the script.

At that time, the Goon Show comprised of a series of unrelated sketches rather than a single storyline and so Larry was writing half of the show from a small office he had taken in Shaftesbury Avenue and Spike was writing the other half in Eric Sykes’ office above a Greengrocer’s in Shepherd’s Bush.

195212 script 4
Cover page of an original Series 3 Goon Show script. The date of the tea stain is unknown!

As the series progressed, both Larry and Spike began to show increasing signs of strain. Larry was telling anyone who would listen that he was drinking more than four bottles of rum a week to cope with the pressure and Spike was becoming more and more difficult to work with. Things deteriorated and after apparently threatening to kill Peter Sellers with a potato peeler, Spike was admitted to St Luke’s Psychiatric Hospital in Muswell Hill. The bulk of the writing now fell to Larry with help from Jimmy Grafton, the script editor.

Larry drew on his wartime experiences serving with the commandos for the first episode without Spike’s input and wrote about a Combined Services exercise. BBC Commentators were on location reporting on the exercise and ‘Harold Secombe’ was interviewing the man in charge, Admiral Flowerdew, live from the operations room at HQ:

SECOMBE: …these wooden blocks they’re moving around on the map – what are they?

FLOWERDEW: They represent landing barges – and the smaller ones are the actual commandos.

SECOMBE: And what are those being slipped under the map?

FLOWERDEW: Frogmen.
(Goon Show, series 3, episode 9)

 

IWM
Landing craft on the beach at Akyab Island © IWM (CI 885)

By 1956, Spike and Larry’s friendship was going through a honeymoon period again and they wrote a special festive edition of the Goon Show together. ‘Operation Christmas Duff’ was broadcast to listeners abroad on Christmas Eve in 1956 and was dedicated to, “Her Majesty’s Forces Overseas and to the Transantarctic Expedition, the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey Teams and the Royal Society Expedition at Halley Bay.” The plot of this special episode revolved around the making of a Combined Services Christmas pudding and 45 Commando were sent in, “under cover of daylight” to gather samples of the pudding for the Army Catering Corps to test. It had originally been scripted that the samples would be collected by 5 Commando, the unit Larry served with in WWII, but during the final rehearsals the ‘5’ was crossed through and replaced with ’45’.

The commandos cropped up again in ‘Ill Met by Goonlight’, a series 7 episode which is sometimes credited solely to Spike, although the original script does bear Larry’s name as co-writer. The story concerned a 1942 mission to Crete to capture the German Commander, General Von Gutern, a character who made another appearance in ‘The African Incident’ in series 8, purely for the line, “Von Gutern deserves another” to be used again!

The Goonlight mission was led by Lieutenant Seagoon who first had to undergo training at the Marine Commando Spaghetti Hurling Depot at Rhyl. At the end of the war, the Army Commandos were disbanded and the training base at Achnacarry was closed. A Royal Marine Commando school close to Rhyl had taken over the role but spaghetti-hurling wasn’t on the curriculum, at least, not officially!

 

Spean Bri circa 1987 harry secombe
Harry Secombe meets veterans at the Commando Memorial c. 1987 © Mark Heard (Mark’s father, Tom Heard of 2 Commando, is first on the left)

 

Further information

Glarnies, Green Berets & Goons: The Life and Legacy of Larry Stephens
Get some unique rewards and your name in the back of the book when you pre-order

The Goon Show Preservation Society‘s aims are to preserve, promote and research all things Goon

Recording of Operation Christmas Duff

Script for Ill Met By Goonlight

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3 thoughts on “The Goons Go Commando

  1. As I anticipated, this second blog proves to be well worth waiting for… How interesting to learn that Larry Stephens served in No.5 Commando alongside my father.
    This blog has certainly set me thinking about the Goon Show and how I’ve never quite believed that the scripts were by Spike Milligan – my personal opinion is that the Goon Show is zany and funny but very clever and quite unlike the humour shown in Milligan’s books and tv program, notably Q5, which I didn’t find at all funny!

    Like

  2. …with… A potato peeler? Hard to tell where the Goon Show ends and real life begins. Maybe he was holding on to a peeler, for some reason, at the time the great flareup began.

    Im going to have to be careful what I carry when I go out and about now. Not sure I want history recording something like “Brad threatened to attack him with a hollow chocolate easter bunny”

    Liked by 2 people

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