The Telegoons

A Short History of The Telegoons...

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Contents of this Chapter:
   Introduction...
   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...

Let's See Them Do That On Television!

Prior to The Telegoons, there were other television appearances of the Goons. Foremost among these is Richard Lesterís A Show Called Fred (5 episodes), and its sequel, Son of Fred (8 episodes). Both of these shows included Milligan and Sellers, as well as Valentine Dyall (who also appeared in several G.S. from the 3rd, 7th, and 9th series), Kenneth Connor (who also appeared in one of the 9th series G.S.), Graham Stark (see above), Patti Lewis, and Max Geldray. Both shows were aired on ITVís Associated-Rediffusion Television in 1956. Other early television appearances of the Goons include Off The Record (BBCtv, October 12, 1956, with Sellers and Milligan miming to The Ying Tong Song), and Yes, Itís The Cathode Ray Tube Show (6 episodes aired on Associated-Rediffusion Television, 1957, with Sellers, Bentine, and David Nettheim).

During the 1950s, various attempts at taking the surrealist and sometimes totally off-the-wall humour of the radio Goon Show and translating it to film failed to capture Spike Milliganís full vision of the Goon characters. The familiar Goon Show refrain, ďLetís see them do that on television!Ē was Spikeís way of suggesting the superiority of the radio format for the Goon Show style of humour. And yet Spike (with his tongue firmly in his cheek) was also appreciative of the advantages of television, while at the same time pulling the rug out from under it, as suggested by the following Goon Show excerpt (G.S. 6th series #4, Napoleonís Piano):

GRAMS: Propeller plane.
Bloodnok Great galloping crabs! Look in the sky. Itís a recording of a helicopter. Saved!
Seagoon By Saint George, saved! Yes! For those of you who havenít got television, theyíre lowering a man on a rope.

As we'll see in the next section, seven years after these lines were broadcast on the radio, script writer Maurice Wiltshire very successfully met their implied challenge to television, and not with live actors, but with puppets and animation. 

Spikeís views on the subject of radio versus television notwithstanding, the various attempts during the 1950s to bring Goon Show humour to film, and the visual medium of television, do stand up to modern scrutiny. Perhaps at this distance in time from the original Goon Show broadcasts, and knowing that there wonít be any more where those came from, folks, we are more appreciative. Probably the most successful of such efforts was the 1955 short, The Case of the Mukkinese Battle Horn (discussed above). This film shows us a very credible Henry Crun (Peter Sellers) (see sidebar), but Minnie Bannister (Spike Milligan), is for obvious reasons, present in voice only. What is noteworthy about this arrangement is that our imaginations are still allowed some free reign, at least as far as Minnie is concerned. Three of Mukkinese Battle Hornís other characters, while not introduced as Goon Show characters as such, are clearly based on some of them. Nevertheless, compared to the crazier flights of Goon imagination, the Mukkinese script (but not the performance), by virtue of using live actors, is (necessarily) fairly pedestrian. Incidentally, although Mukkinese was not one of Spike Milliganís writing projects, he and Peter Sellers did develop some additional material for it. My guess is that these two lads from Finchley developed the previously mentioned scene with Henry and Minnie, which sounds like it came straight from the pen of Milligan.

As a result of the above-mentioned limitations, but also due to the impending end of The Goon Show, the Goonsí ideas had been heading in the direction of some type of animated television series. Hence a proposal from Grosvenor Films Limited to reinvent the Goon Show characters in puppet form was received very positively by the BBC and was given the go-ahead. Or so some histories may tell you. Actually, it wasnít that easy. On the proposalís first go round in late 1959, the BBC turned it down flat. It was then put in front of ITVís Associated-Rediffusion but they got a case of cold feet (a disease thought to be caused by the low ratings obtained by the Fred shows). Then the BBC was asked again, and this time they were found to be interested after all. The deal was sealed with an advance to Grosvenor Films of enough funds for 13 episodes, with financing for 13 more to follow, for a total of 26 episodes. The agreement even contained an option (never taken up) of a further 26 episodes. Appropriately, the series was called The Telegoons, a name derived from Television, as in ďWhatís on the telly?Ē and Goons

The idea was to use full-bodied string puppets in medium shots, and rod-operated half-puppets in close-up shots. The rod puppets would be lip-synched to the Goonís own voices. This was to be supplemented where necessary with documentary film footage for added realism, and library film footage for some of the backdrops. Producer Tony Young said that ďthis was thought to be the best method of transferring the out-of-this-world [Goon] characters to the home screen.Ē (Australian PIX, June 6th, 1964, reprinted in GSPS NL#89). The technique of using stock film clips to convey the atmosphere of such exotic locales as ďthe Great Wall of China and Londonís outer suburbsĒ was quite successful. It also allowed the puppets to appear in a completely natural setting, rather than the artificial confines of a studio film set. 

Although the original plan was to reuse the radio Goon Show recordings for the soundtrack, it became obvious when making the pilot film that the puppets were too slow to keep up. Besides, for some reason the BBC blocked Tony Young's use of the radio shows for this purpose. Therefore, brand new scripts and sound recordings were produced, specially paced for the puppets.

One further aspect of the production which did not work out as planned concerned the string puppets. Keeping in mind that the intended audience was Goon fans of any age, and not small children, it was soon found that compared to the rod puppets, the string puppets were rather unconvincing. Therefore, the rod puppets, which were much easier to manipulate, and with the (disputed) lip-synching, very much more convincing, were favoured over the string puppets wherever possible. Film crewman Mike Fox recalls that this resulted in the rod puppets being used six times as often as the string puppets.

It is perhaps worth noting here that The Telegoons arrived twenty years after Walt Disneyís extremely expensive experiment in Technicolor full-motion cel animation, otherwise known as Fantasia. It was also thirty years before the computer-generated wonders of Steven Spielbergís Jurassic Park. Given that the transmission medium for this new Goon series was to be the U.K. 405-line monochrome television system, and given that the budget and time were both very limited, the choice of puppets (rather than cel animation, for example), captured on 35 mm black-and-white movie film, still seems to be a good one. Black and white film tends to have good longevity, cannot be taped over (a fate that has befallen more than one classic BBC television series), and can be easily broadcast in various television formats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Henry Crun (Sellers) conversing with Minnie Bannister (Spike Milligan) who remains unseen, presumably due to the difficulty of making Spike look like the Minnie Bannister of our mindís eye. The Case of the Mukkinese Battle Horn (1955) Marlborough Pictures.

 

 

 


Next section in this chapter: Telegoon Toon Time...
 

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