Series eight of the Goon Show was put together with contributions from at least five different writers and three different producers – Roy Speer, Tom Ronald and Charles Chilton. According to Roger Wilmut writing in The Goon Show Companion, “Tom Ronald frankly did not like the Goon Show” and it seems the writers weren’t too keen on him either. A letter held at the BBC Written Archives Centre from Larry Stephens to the Assistant Head of Light Entertainment reads, “I heard last Monday’s Goon Show – the first one of mine which had been done by Tom Arnold (sic) – and frankly I was horrified.” Spike also wrote a letter of complaint about Ronald’s censorship of his script for The String Robberies and consequently Charles Chilton was brought back for episodes 17-26.
The episode commonly referred to as World War One was the 22nd programme of the series but was actually entitled ‘……!’, pronounced like the last breaths of a dying pair of rare female striped pyjamas. The story is washed up on a Brighton beach near Croydon in 1917 and a short snatch of Keep the Home Fires Burning and a series of bugle calls eventually lead us into a meeting of the British Chiefs of Staff with a background of rattling teacups and saloon-type piano music. Peter breaks the news to the gathered Heads of Service that apparently we’ve been at war for the last three years. That’s W-A-R, pronounced Bang! Boom! Bratatat! etc. (Not the OLD battle record please, Spike requested on the script.) The Chiefs all agree that this sounds jolly dangerous and it is therefore imperative to find out who we’re at war with. They eventually agree that the best course of action is to try and capture one of the naughty enemies so they can find out the nationality of his body. Harry heads off to the East Acton Labour Exchange to recruit a body-tester.
With the sound of more rattling teacups, we are transported to the lounge of the labour exchange. Harry arrives and explains that he’s looking for a chap to fly to Germany and capture an enemy. On being told that there’ll be a nice little nest-egg waiting for whichever chap is successful, Moriarty suggests a chicken would be perfect for the job since they risk their lives for an egg in a nest all the time.
Harry departs with a troop of chickens while Moriarty and Grytpype head off to seek their fortunes. They knock at a luxury villa owned by Lord Delpus and the door is answered by Neddie Seagoon.
Grytpype sells Seagoon some duff German Army shares after convincing him they’ll be worth a fortune as Germany will win every war it enters and after he’s handed over his money, Grytpype and Moriarty throw Seagoon into the river. A river policeman is waiting to hand him his call-up papers (“Some mistake. I ordered the Times.”) and then he’s despatched by cannon to Aldershot.
Over in Aldershot, Henry and Min tell him they don’t have a uniform large enough to fit him so he must travel to the Elephant Equipment Unit in Poona, staffed by Bloodnok and Eccles. After hearing from Bloodnok that Germany are losing the war, Seagoon is distraught at the effect it will have on the value of his shares. Bloodnok cheers him up with a special offer of 10,000 unused 1904 calendars, explaining that Mondays and Decembers come back regularly so 1904 will eventually come back too.
While being fitted for a civilian coward’s suit, Seagoon runs into Grytpype again who comes up with a plan to help Germany win the war. They will drop the 1904 calendars in England to make the British believe the war hasn’t started, thus giving Germany the advantage. Shortly afterwards, a radio news bulletin announces that British troops are returning home from France. In retaliation, the British have dropped 1918 calendars on Berlin and the Germans have surrendered!
And that, folks, is a nuff (nett weight 4oz).
A longer version of this appeared in the Goon Show Preservation Society newsletter no. 151. If you’d like a copy of the e-newsletter then send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and you will receive one wrapped in brown paper and marked ‘Early Victorian Studies’, completely free, gratis and for nothing with no questions asked, Mate.
Lots and lots and lots of thanks (and custard) to Tim Leatherbarrow for permission to use his fantastic illustrations, more of which also appear in the aforementioned newsletter.
Glarnies, Green Berets & Goons: The Life and Legacy of Larry Stephens
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