The Telegoons

A Short History of The Telegoons...

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Contents of this Chapter:
   Radio's Crazy Gang--"The Goons" (...includes a list of the BBC Goon CDs)
   Goon Shows Preserved While You Wait...
   The Wonder of Ultra-Kendall-Vision...
Running Jumping & Standing Still...  
   Let's See Them Do That On Television!  
   Telegoon Toon Time...  
   Voice Actors, Puppeteers & Producers...  
   Go Ask Eccles & Bluebottle...  
   The Persistence of Goon Memory...
   Neddie Seagoon Puppet Restoration Fund...

Running Jumping & Standing Still...

The last regular Goon Show episode (10th series, #6, The Last of the Smoking Seagoons) was broadcast by the BBC on Jan 28th, 1960. Announcer Wallace Greenslade finished it up with the words, Yes, that was it--the last of them, so ’bye now! The spirit of the Goons was not left to languish long, however. Following the end of the regular BBC broadcasts of the Goon Show, two things happened: The BBC's Home Service repeated seven episodes of the Goon Show, and the award-winning short film, The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (Peter Sellers Productions, 1959) hit the cinema circuit. (The concept of The Telegoons television series was also being developed at this time, but would not enter its production and broadcast phases until 1963. See the Film Production section for more details.)

Filmed by Richard Lester (using Peter Sellers’ new Bolex 16 mm camera), and edited by Lester and Sellers, The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film was a home movie made ostensibly by friends for friends, but who were in truth desperate to break into movies. Shot over two Sundays at a cost of £70 (including £5 for the rental of one field), this eleven-minute film features the comedic talents of Sellers, Milligan, Richard Lester, Graham Stark (who is also in some of the 3rd and 9th series G.S.), and others. The humour in The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film seems to hark back to Goonery and the early experiments with Sellers’ tape recorder, rather than the Goon Show proper.  I believe it provided Milligan and Sellers with an outlet for a pent up need to experiment with visual humour, something the Goon Show did not provide. Even though the film lacked a plot and had no dialogue, it nevertheless quickly gathered a following and eventually won a prize (at the San Francisco Film Festival). Amazingly, it was even nominated for an Academy Award. Filming overlapped with the last few Goon Shows, which led long-suffering producer John Browell to comment that he was sometimes not sure which performance he was rehearsing for.

The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film was not the Goons’ first foray into visual media. The most significant earlier efforts are the cinema feature film, Down Among The Z Men (New Realm, 1952), and the featurette, The Case of the Mukkinese Battle Horn (Kingsley-Union Films, 1956). The earlier feature film, Penny Points to Paradise (Advance, 1951), even though featuring Sellers, Secombe, and Milligan, was not written by Milligan, Larry Stephens et al, and does not feature the Goon characters. Therefore it does not qualify as a Goon film. 

Down Among the Z Men stars Secombe, Milligan, Sellers, Michael Bentine, Carole Carr (also in G.S. 3rd series, #7, Robin Hood), Andrew Timothy (announcer for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd series G.S., and for the first half of the 4th series G.S.), and Graham Stark (see above). This film, which represents the first (and not entirely successful) attempt to transfer the humour of the early Goon Shows to the big screen, features a screenplay by Jimmy Grafton and Francis Charles. Spike plays Private Eccles, and Peter Sellers plays an early (and by later standards almost wholesome) version of his Colonel Bloodnok character (promoted from Major for this one film appearance). Michael Bentine plays the ever-resourceful Professor Osric Pureheart, a character who apart from a guest appearance (also played by Bentine) in The Giant Bombardon (G.S. 4th series, #13), was dropped from The Goon Show after Bentine left at the end of the 2nd series.

Discussing his early departure from The Goon Show, featuring those crazy people... (as it was billed in those days), Bentine said, I was always a breakaway Goon with an urge to apply my logical nonsense as opposed to their nonsensical logic. (Alfred Draper, The Story of the Goons). Despite his relatively short tenure in The Goon Show, Bentines Captain Osric Pureheart character was, nonetheless, very busy! According to Roger Wilmut, and from information gleaned by former Goon Show Preservation Society chairman Bob Bray (see GSPS NL#39, Aug. 1984), by the end of the 2nd Goon Show series, Capt. Pureheart had built the Suez Canal (G.S. 2nd series, #1; GSPS archives), built the Trans-Siberian Express (G.S. 2nd series, #2), built the Crystal Palace (G.S. 2nd series, #3; GSPS archives), constructed Croydon Airport (G.S. 2nd series, #4), laid the Atlantic Cable (G.S. 2nd series, #7), excavated Pompeii (G.S. 2nd series, #11), built a Time Machine (G.S. 2nd series, #14), built the Channel Tunnel, and more. Not surprisingly therefore, Bentine’s departure from the show left a definite hole. The gap was soon filled, however, by Harry Secombe’s increasingly versatile Neddie Seagoon character. Also helpful in this regard was Peter Sellers’ Henry (You can’t get the wood, you know) Crun character, an elderly, slow, very forgetful, methodical, rather dim craftsman inventor of the old school. (Note: Although scripts of all of the 2nd series Goon Shows still exist in the BBC archives, as mentioned above the only recordings of these early shows known to have survived are #1 and #3, both lent to the GSPS by Spike Milligan in 1981).

The Case of the Mukkinese Battle-Horn is a delightful 28 minutes of sight gags and Goon Show one-liners held together by a loose script, which in many ways eclipses Z Men. Filmed...


...(the first sight gag occurs right after the above film frame!), Mukkinese Battle-Horn stars Sellers, Milligan, and Dick Emery (who also appeared in several G.S. from the 3rd series). One of the most memorable scenes in this film has Superintendent Quilt (Sellers) attempting to interrogate J. Smith the night watchman (Milligan). Although we are not told so, the night watchman is obviously The Famous Eccles, operating under a pseudonym. With four years of Goon Show experience behind him, Milligan plays this part to the full. By way of comparison, Milligan’s Private Eccles in the earlier Z Men is a much less developed character. Night watchman Eccles/Smith also works nights in Maxie’s Club, where he reprises his famous Dance of the Seven Veils/Dance of the Seven Army Blankets routine that first appeared in Dishonoured, or the Fall of Neddie Seagoon (G.S. 5th series, #12):

Quilt (Sellers): Why, you’re not a girl, you’re a man!
Smith (Milligan): I know that! But don’t tell the manager.
Quilt (Sellers): Why not?
Smith (Milligan): We’re engaged!

Sellers excels variously as Superintendent Quilt, Sir Jervis Fruit (an assistant commissioner who sounds suspiciously like Grytpype-Thynne), and Henry Crun. We are also treated to the verbal antics of Mr. Crimp, who is essentially the Goon Show’s Willium Mate character, played here by Emery instead of Sellers.

Although we don’t actually get to see Milligan’s Minnie Bannister character, the scene with Minnie and Henry (who have a long exchange about someone knocking on the door) is one of the comedic highlights of Mukkinese Battle-Horn. Unfortunately, the Kingsley-Union Films (Video Yesteryear 1193, NTSC VHS) release of the film is incomplete, with the Minnie and Henry scene truncated to less than half of its original length. The Marlborough Pictures version (Surprise Video SURV 1007, PAL VHS) includes the full scene and another few lines as well, increasing the run time by a whole minute. The Marlborough version also has much better video and sound quality than the Kingsley-Union version. I managed to locate a used copy of the Marlborough Pictures version in Oxford Street, on my last visit to London.

Due to the presence of several Goon Show characters as well as several other Goon Show characterizations, Mukkinese Battle-Horn was clearly conceived as sort of cinema version of The Goon Show. Nevertheless, due to the difficulty (dare I say impossibility?) of doing a literal visual translation of Milligan’s flights of Goon Show fancy, Mukkinese Battle-Horn is actually a lot closer to The Telegoons than it is to the Goon Show itself.

In its time, Mukkinese Battle-Horn was probably about as close as it was possible to get to a visual version of the Goon Show using live actors, as opposed to puppets or some other type of animation. Visual humor and double entendres abound. Also, in true Goon Show style, Mukkinese Battle-Horn pokes fun at London’s infamous smog, Scotland Yard procedure, and the starchy mannerisms of the British. Highly recommended.

Apres Goons

Although The Last of the Smoking Seagoons was the last of the regular Goon Shows, not counting The Telegoons (described elsewhere ;-) the Goons did actually perform a few more Goon-type shows over the next twelve years: 

1964-11-8 Forces Gala Night (celebrating 21st anniversary of British Forces Broadcasting Service). Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan, and Peter Sellers (by phone from Paris). Shortened version of I Was Monty’s Treble (s09e02)

1964-12-25 The Grand Piano Orchestra (G.P.O.) Show. Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe, others. Written by Spike Milligan, prod. Chas. Chilton. Based on History of Communications (s04e18). Performed before audience of G.P.O. workers.

1965-6-16 The Army Show. As for G.P.O. Show, but without Harry Secombe. Performed before audience of soldiers.

1965-12-25 The Naughty Navy Show. As for Army Show. Performed before audience of sailors.

1968-8-8 The Goon Show—Tales of Men’s Shirts. Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan. With John Cleese, later of Monty Python fame, as announcer! Prod. Peter Eton. Televised radio production on ITV.

1972-4-30 The Last Goon Show of All. Specially performed for the BBC 50th anniversary celebration. This was the first new script since The Last of the Smoking Seagoons.

And that would be the lot except for one unfinished script that Spike had up his sleeve when the Goon Show finished. This was The Tree Maniac, which was rediscovered, and still unfinished, eventually made its way into Spike's 1987 book, The Lost Goon Shows (see Bibliography). 














The definitive Marlborough Pictures version of The Case of The Mukkinese Battle-Horn is available in PAL from Surprise Video, UK, SURV 1007

Next section in this chapter: Let's See The Do That on Television!


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