Glarnies, Green Berets & Goons – the book

The remarkable story of a WWII Commando who transformed British comedy

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The Ladykillers, coming to this cinema SOON. COMING to this cinema soon. Coming to THIS cinema soon. Coming TO…

Peter Sellers’ big break came in 1955, when he was cast to appear alongside Alec Guinness in an Ealing Studios film called The Ladykillers. The film’s Director, Alexander Mackendrick, and Associate Producer, Seth Holt, were both avid fans of BBC Radio’s Goon Show, in which Sellers had been starring since 1951, and this is how he came to be given the role of Harry Robinson, a thuggish Teddy Boy. Sellers was also the voice of various parrots that appear in the film while animal impersonator, Percy Edwards, was paid £25 for providing the additional parrot noises!

The story for The Ladykillers had apparently come to William Rose in a dream and Mackendrick happened to hear him describing it in the pub one evening. Although Rose had vowed never to have any further dealings with Mackendrick after they had worked together on The Maggie, the Director eventually managed to persuade Rose to write the script.

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The plot concerns a gang of criminals who rent rooms in the house of a sweet little old lady called Mrs Wilberforce. They tell her that they are an amateur string quartet and need somewhere to meet and practise but in reality, they are plotting to rob a security van at King’s Cross Station. When “Mrs W” discovers what they have really been up to, she tells the gang she is going to report them to the police and so they decide they are going to have to kill her. In the process of crossing and double-crossing each other, all the criminals wind up dead and Mrs W ends up with the proceeds of the heist.

Before the first draft of the script had been completed, Rose and Holt had an argument which led to Rose storming off the picture and swearing never to return. Mackendrick and Holt managed to complete the script using Rose’s notes but they wanted a few funny one-liners to include throughout the film and so they brought in Sellers’ friend and Goon Show scriptwriter, Larry Stephens, to write some. Although Stephens wasn’t named in the credits, Mackendrick told Philip Kemp all about his contribution when Kemp interviewed him for his book, ‘Lethal Innocence – The Cinema of Alexander Mackendrick‘.

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This wasn’t Larry Stephens’ only Ladykillers contribution though. At the wrap party, Sellers handed out very special gifts to members of the cast and crew. Based on a script Stephens had written for him, Sellers had made recordings of his own version of the film trailer and had voiced all the different characters himself. This recording still survives:

Glarnies, Green Berets & Goons: The Life and Legacy of Larry Stephens
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A guide to series one of the Goon Show: Crazy People

Episode 1 (recorded 27 May 1951)

  1. Herschell & Jones
  2. The Story of the BRM
  3. Dick Barton, Special Agent
  4. The Quest for Tutankhamen
  5. Salute to Britain

Fascinating fact:
First use of the word ‘lurgi’.

Episode 2 (recorded 3 June 1951)

  1. Herschell & Jones
  2. Ernest Splutmuscle, Rat Catcher
  3. A Hundred Years from Today
  4. The East Pole

Scripted credits:
The script was concocted by Spike Milligan. Additions to the mixture made by Larry Stephens.

Episode 3 (recorded 10 June 1951)

  1. Herschell & Jones – Jones’ Schooldays
  2. Russian Sports
  3. Sound Effects
  4. The Bluffs
  5. History of Flight

Scripted credits:
The script was written in Urdu by Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens and translated by Jimmy Grafton.

Episode 4 (recorded 17 June 1951)

  1. Herschell & Jones – Jones goes to prison
  2. Slimming
  3. Honeymoon Memories
  4. Parliament in Session
  5. The Conquest of Everest

Scripted credits:
The script was mapped out by Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens and plotted by Jimmy Grafton.

Episode 5 (recorded 24 June 1951)

  1. Herschell & Jones – Jones’ adventures in Russia
  2. Visit to the Health Clinic
  3. Story of the Airliner
  4. Holidays
  5. Story of the Yukon Gold Rush

Scripted credits:
The script cargo was swung aboard by Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens and lashed and stowed by Jimmy Grafton.
Fascinating fact:
First scripted appearance of Major Bloodnok (although the name Bloodnok has been crossed through and replaced with O’Shea).

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Episode 6 (recorded 1 July 1951)

  1. Further Adventures of Herschel
  2. The Story of Civilisation
  3. Splutmuscle – The Boxer
  4. Operations of MI6
  5. African Adventures

Scripted credits:
Script equipment and stores including a Bentine bundle were supplied by Messrs Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens through selling agent Jimmy Grafton.

Episode 7 (recorded 8 July 1951)

  1. Herschel & Jones
  2. The History of Communications
  3. Adventures of Phillip String
  4. Sea Stories
  5. The Building of the Merseygoon Tunnel

Scripted credits:
Script was dug up by Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens and refined by Jimmy Grafton.
Fascinating fact:
First named appearance of a character called Eccles (although played by Peter Sellers).

Episode 8 (recorded 15 July 1951)

  1. Herschel & Jones
  2. BBC Skit
  3. Episode 2 of Phillip String
  4. Commentaries from the Funfair
  5. The Goonbird

Scripted credits:
Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens wrote the log which was then chopped up by Jimmy Grafton.
Fascinating fact:
Eccles appears again but this time played by Spike Milligan.

Episode 9 (recorded 22 July 1951)

  1. Herschel & Jones
  2. Summertime Activities
  3. Episode 3 of Phillip String
  4. Splutmuscle the Private Investigator
  5. Journey into Space

Scripted credits:
Script was by Spike Milligan, Larry Stephens and Jimmy Grafton.
Fascinating fact:
Contains a version of the ‘World’s Funniest Joke‘.

Episode 10 (recorded 29 July 1951)

  1. Herschel & Jones
  2. The Building of the Sydney Harbour Goon Bridge
  3. Air Pageant and Widdigoon Country Fair Commentary
  4. The Story of Colonel Slocombe

Scripted credits:
Regimental orders were scripted by Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens and the seal was affixed by Jimmy Grafton.

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Episode 11 (recorded 5 August 1951)

  1. Herschel & Jones
  2. Stories of Scotland Yard
  3. Mock Sea-battle Commentary
  4. The Quest for the White Queen

Scripted credits:
The script was discovered by Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens and dusted off by Jimmy Grafton.
Fascinating fact:
First appearance of Major Bloodnok.

Episode 12 (recorded 12 August 1951)

  1. Herschel & Jones
  2. The Bentine Lurgi-driven Tank
  3. The Quest for Cloot Wilmington

Scripted credits:
The script was written in cipher by Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens and decoded by Jimmy Grafton.

Episode 13 (recorded 19 August 1951)

  1. Herschel & Jones
  2. Survey of Britain
  3. Clushboot-on-Sea
  4. The Story of Colonel Slocombe

Scripted credits:
The script was designed for me by Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens under the watchful eye of my publicity agent Jimmy Grafton.

Episode 14 (recorded 26 August 1951)

  1. Herschel & Jones
  2. Dick Barton, Special Agent
  3. The Boxer Rebellion

Scripted credits:
The whole thing was deliberately planned by Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens and callously approved by Jimmy Grafton.

Episode 15 (recorded 2 September 1951)

  1. Herschel & Jones
  2. The Goonitania
  3. The Quest for the Ring-tailed Yakkabakaka

Scripted credits:
The funeral notices were written by Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens and printed by Jimmy Grafton.

Episode 16 (recorded 9 September 1951)

  1. Courting Hydia Harbinger
  2. The Salvaging of the Goonitania
  3. Sound Effects Men on Trial
  4. Bloodnok of Burma

Scripted credits:
History was created by Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens and chronicled by Jimmy Grafton.

Episode 17 (recorded 16 September 1951)

  1. Music Lessons
  2. The Brabagoon
  3. Holiday Time
  4. Bloodnok the Peacemaker

Scripted credits:
Passes were made out by Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens and signed by Jimmy Grafton.

Special episode (recorded 16 December 1951)
Title: Cinderella

Glarnies, Green Berets & Goons: The Life and Legacy of Larry Stephens
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The Forgotten Oscars

Graham Stark used to take great delight in describing how he had once presented an Oscar to Sir Bruce Forsyth but the trophy he handed over in the 1950s was no Academy Award.

In 1954, Clive Dunn had asked Graham to join him in a summer show in Norfolk and as it was to be Graham’s first ever summer season, he needed an act for it. He asked his close friend Larry Stephens to write some sketches for him and the result was apparently more esoteric than the usual comedy routines of the time.

Graham had trained in ballet and played the part of the Dancing Master in a 1950 production of Molière’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme at the Edinburgh Festival and he remembered that, “Larry was fascinated by this. He wrote a very funny sketch about a dancing instructor who was giving a lecture on dance but while wearing big army boots.” Larry also drew inspiration from his own experience of acting in the Molière classic during his schooldays in Birmingham after which, “the stony silence of Stephens” had been mentioned in his school magazine’s review of the production.

Graham’s summer show, ‘Fraser and Dunlop’s Take It Easy’ at the Summer Theatre in Cromer, was a resounding success. As well as Clive and Graham, other notable performers included Michael Darbyshire and a newcomer called Ronnie Corbett who, according to a report in The Stage on 29 July 1954, showed, “a marked penchant for comedy.”
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The summer in Cromer was a particular success for Graham as he was awarded a ‘Concert Party Oscar’ or as it was more commonly referred to, a ‘Bucket and Spade Oscar’ after having been judged the best individual act in the UK that season.

The idea for a Bucket and Spade Oscar had been conceived after an article in a Sunday newspaper declared that seaside summer shows had become passé and the Concert Artistes Association (CAA) wanted to prove the journalist wrong. The award was sponsored by the South African Outspan orange company as part of their tercentenary celebrations and Gordon Marsh, chairman of the CAA, went on a six-week tour on the organisation’s behalf to find the worthy winners.

Graham was presented with his Oscar – a silver trophy in the form of a starfish balancing on an Outspan orange and playing a seaside spade as a guitar – in a special ceremony at the Arts Theatre Club at the end of October. Several of Graham’s friends attended the celebratory party and performed a brief chorus in his honour. Dressed in Pierrot hats and ruffles their number included Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe. The following year, Graham presented the award to the 1955 winner… Sir Bruce Forsyth!

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Graham Stark pictured with his Bucket and Spade Oscar in 2011

Graham had previously joined Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe in several episodes of the Goon Show when he stood in for Spike Milligan and he also appeared in Christmas and Coronation specials. When he wasn’t acting in the show he would join Larry and Diana Stephens in the audience to watch the recordings being made.
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A talented photographer, Graham’s work included nude portraits of model Diana Stephens, photographs which Stanley Kubrick particularly admired. Graham claimed that having seen the pictures, Kubrick expressed an interest in making an erotic movie, went on to obtain the filming rights to Arthur Schnitzler’s novella ‘Dream Story’ in the 1960s and eventually shot it in the 1990s under the title ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The film didn’t receive any Oscar nominations – Bucket and Spade or otherwise!

 

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Diana Stephens by Graham Stark

Glarnies, Green Berets & Goons: The Life and Legacy of Larry Stephens
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Your country needs you! Y – O – U

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.

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The Goon Show Companion cover illustration by Larry Stephens

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.

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© Tim Leatherbarrow

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.

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© Tim Leatherbarrow

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 administrator@thegoonshow.org.uk 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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A Goon Show Tour of West Bromwich

Spon Lane

References to a landholder called William atte Sponne have resulted in suggestions that there has been an area known as ‘Spon’ in West Bromwich since at least 1344. More recently, Spon Lane became known for the number of pubs along its length and it is commonly acknowledged that in the second half of the 19th century, 27 of them were in operation at the same time. Hitchmough’s Black Country Pubs lists 33 of the Lane’s former watering holes.

The word ‘spon’ first appeared in the seventh series of the Goon Show in an episode entitled, ‘The Nasty Affair at the Burami Oasis’. Wallace ‘Bill’ Greenslade announced that to fill “an unexpected time lapse”, Ray Ellington would spon. (What actually happened was that the Ray Ellington Quartet performed a number called ‘Stranded in the Jungle’!)

From that point on there was a veritable explosion of spons in the Goon Show. It was a multi-purpose word assigned to characters (Major Spon, Captain Spon, Lord Spon); places (Fort Spon); diseases (Spon Plague); episode titles (‘Spon’ – series 8, episode 1); and curses (Great Spon of Nukes!)

Thynne Street

The highest point in West Bromwich can be found at the junction of Beeches Road and Thynne Street which is 568 feet above sea level.

Hercules Grytpype-Thynne was a Goon Show character with a lofty opinion of himself. A bounder and a cad, he was always looking for get-rich-quick schemes together with his sidekick, Moriarty.

Thynne (played by Peter Sellers) would introduce Moriarty (played by Spike Milligan) with a variety of nicknames and skills, such as:

“This bucket of pig swill contains the head of none other than Count Jim ‘Steam’ Moriarty – inventor of the brown boot and first man to go three weeks without stopping.”
(The Thing on the Mountain)

“The wig resting on this ebony wig-stand belongs to none other than Count Jim ‘Shag’ Moriarty – strolling knee-clapper and inventor of the round hole.”
(The White Neddie Trade)

“The teeth resting in this glass of stale beer belong to none other than Jim ‘Ping’ Moriarty – ace knee-slapper and king of pong.”
(The Stolen Postman)
TWINS

Beaconsfield Street


Beaconsfield Street is located on the Tantany Estate, the first council house development in West Bromwich. One of the small houses in this street was the birthplace of Goon Show founding member and scriptwriter, Larry Stephens.

Lyng Lane

“The murderer was a thule man with a lyng hat and farglow boots.”
(The Moriarty Murder Mystery)

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

Spon Lane, West Bromwich – a snapshot of our history. The Black Country Bugle
West Bromwich: The Growth of the Town. British History Online

 

Britain’s First Sitcom (almost)

The writers of Hancock’s Half Hour, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, are often referred to as the creators of the British sitcom but few people realise Tony Hancock had previously explored the genre with his friend, Larry Stephens.

Speaking to members of the Goon Show Preservation Society in 1976, BBC Producer Peter Eton remembered that, “before anyone had heard of Hancock, he (Larry) came down to my office one day with this man and he said: ‘This is Tony Hancock who has an act on the stage. You should put him in one of your plays because I think he’s got great potential.’ Larry had found this man – he was writing material for him.”

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Tony Hancock and Larry Stephens in 1950

In July 1952, Larry approached Eton with another suggestion. By that time Hancock was a much more familiar figure and Larry’s name as a writer was being mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Frank Muir and Denis Norden so Eton took it much more seriously. Larry had come up with an idea for a comedy series, entitled Vacant Lot, to star Hancock as a blundering and pompous auctioneer and estate agent. The half-hour programmes were planned to consist of a complete story and would have no musical breaks, as was then the norm.

Eton approached the BBC’s Head of Variety and ‘The Light Programme’ expressed an interest in the proposal. Larry put together a brief synopsis:

Churdley Bay, a small town on the South Coast of England, is neither modern nor ‘olde-worlde’. It is different from other sea-side towns only in that, whereas they are crowded during the summer and dull and deserted for the rest of the year, Churdley Bay is dull and deserted all the year round. We are told that the elections for the Town Council are taking place the following day, and learn that the local auctioneer and estate agent – a gentleman who is regarded with amused tolerance by the local bigwigs – is standing for one of the smaller wards. We meet the Mayor, Ambrose Tripfield, and his wife, discussing Hancock’s chances of becoming a Councillor; Dr Quince, the local GP – a quiet, sardonic observer of the everyday scene – making a dry remark about Hancock’s future in politics, local and otherwise; the regulars in the Saloon Bar of the Churdley Arms – a seven-bedroomed hotel-cum-pub owned by George Madkin, a Yorkshireman, and Fred Clodley the local garage owner – a loud-mouthed oaf who always laughs at his own feeble jokes and whose greatest delight is pulling Tony’s leg, a habit which Tony resents and detests. We first meet Tony holding a sale of furniture and effects in the Churdley Arms sale room, assisted by Mr Pemble – his old-fashioned, precise and aged clerk and cashier, and Alfie Lemon, his office boy…

The script for a trial programme was commissioned and auditions took place at the end of October 1952 with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan both considered for parts. Eton forwarded the script to the Variety Department on 3 November 1952, describing it as a gentle situation comedy – the first known use of the term in British broadcasting.

 

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Detail from the cover page of the script for the Vacant Lot trial recording

Vacant Lot had been conceived and written as a non-audience show but the Variety Heads were umming and ahing over whether to invite a studio audience after all and even suggested recording the programme twice on the same day to try out both scenarios. Larry and Hancock felt this would necessitate different scripts and casts and so the Variety Department reconsidered and consented to the non-audience format. A few days later they changed their minds again. The Planners wouldn’t agree to an amended date for the recording until they had seen a new script and an exasperated Hancock declared that rather than delay the project once again he would prefer that it was dropped. It was subsequently shelved in November 1952 and has remained in the archives ever since.

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 Tony Hancock Appreciation Society is dedicated to preserving and promoting the works of Tony Hancock

Official website of Galton and Simpson

British Comedy Guide news item: Forgotten Hancock Script Rediscovered