The Telegoons

What what what what
what what what?

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To paraphrase Neddy Seagoon’s famous question, which appears in the title above (and must be said very rapidly), what is a “Telegoon”? Simply put, Telegoon (which is a combination of the words television and goon) in its plural form refers to Grosvenor Films' puppet version of BBC radio's famous “Goon Show”. “The Telegoons”, as the series was called, in more ways than one, was television's answer to the original radio version of the “Goon Show”, replacing “its all in the mind, you know” and “let's see them do that on television” taglines with real pictures. The term “Telegoon” was coined by producer Tony Young of Grosvenor Films, who having directed Goon Show members Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers and Spike Miilligan in a non-Goons feature film in the early 1950s (”Penny Points to Paradise”), had long dreamt of bringing the actual Goon characters to the television screen.

Made as a series of 15-minute puppet films, the familiar “Goon Show” stories were adapted by Maurice Wiltshire from Spike Milligan’s original radio “Goon Show” scripts. Giving the films complete authenticity, they were made in collaboration with BBC-TV and were voiced by the original show’s members, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Milligan. The sound tracks were freshly recorded by the Goons in early 1963, which brought them back together again for the first time since the end of the “Goon Show” in 1960. That Tony Young was able to get the Goons back together for “The Telegoons” project was a considered by many to be a near miracle, and was a considerable achievement, since by 1963 they were all busily involved in their own respective post-Goon careers. Although not completely appreciated by the typical older dyed-in-the-wool Goon fan, “The Telegoons” television series, of which 26 episodes were made out of a planned 52, finally put faces to the voices that had been enthralling the radio fans for years. The new visual presentation of Spike's original radio scripts also won a new, younger generation of followers, from the ages of 7 to 17. 

From the outset it was the intention of the show's producers to re-use the original radio series recordings until the BBC scuppered this idea by refusing permission. Therefore Tony Young decided to start from scratch with new voice recordings as well as new sound effects and music. Interestingly, due to the fact that a recording of the radio show, Tales of Manhattan, was used as the soundtrack of the initial 31-minute version of “The Telegoons” pilot film, several TV historians were misled into believing that the original soundtracks had been used with all of the episodes, with new material being recorded only where needed. In the absence of good historical information about “The Telegoons” this rumour persisted for many years. We now know that prior to being transmitted as the second episode, the pilot film, The Lost Colony was heavily edited, and the soundtrack completely replaced by a new recording. The other episodes all had brand new recordings from the outset.

Neither was the radio series simply transferred to television without some changes taking place. Television script writer Maurice Wiltshire added a good amount of visual humour as suited the TV medium, the musical interludes were deleted, and a brand new theme and musical effects were written by Ed White. A humorous opening scene was placed ahead of the main story, which usually had very little to do with the main plot. The job of announcer, which was usually done by Wallace (Bill) Greenslade in "The Goon Show", fell to Grytpype-Thynne. 

The puppets were based mostly on Spike Milligan's sketches and doodles of the Goon characters. Contrary to several published histories, we now know that Spike Milligan gave final approval to the look of the puppets, and we also now know that they were designed and built by Ron Field (who also invented the electronic lip synch system used in the later episodes), and Ralph Young (Tony Young's father). On the subject of the puppets, one further interesting point is that the rate of delivery used in the radio show had to be slowed down to match the speed of the puppets. All told, twenty-six of the more popular Goon Shows, such as China Story, were translated quite successfully to the television puppet format.

The history of “The Telegoons” abounds with further interesting stories, such as a stand-in used for Peter Sellers' voice parts in the early stages of the production, and the possibility that Ron Field's electronic puppet lip synch may have predated Gerry Anderson's work in this area by several months, but to learn more you'll need to visit other parts of this website. 

                                                                                                               Alastair Roxburgh, September 2004.


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