Wednesday, 8 July 2015

THE GOON SHOW GUIDE: Meet the Main Characters

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Welcome to the second instalment of The Goon Show Guide, my new weekly series devoted to Spike Milligan's finest achievement. Having set things up nicely in last week's introduction, this week we're going over a few basics about the characters before we dive into the series proper next week.

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Like many comedy series before and after it, the characters in The Goon Show were not set in stone from the very beginning. In the early series, back when Michael Bentine was still part of the cast, the show consisted more of a series of skits rather than having an overarching plot. Each of the four Goons was expected to play multiple roles, and there was no real continuity between episodes from the beginning of the run to the end.
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By the end of series 3, Bentine had departed and the show had begun to crystalise around a series of recurring roles. Harry Secombe's alter ego Neddie Seagoon emerged as a recurring fall guy, with the other characters either helping or hindering him over the course of an episode. Peter Sellers, being the man of a thousand voices, played such a large number of parts that on the rare occasions he was ill, the show would sometimes need four actors to fill in for him. There would also be supporting roles for the announcer, Wallace Greenslade, and occasionally for the musicians, jazz harmonica player Max Geldray and singer Ray Ellington.
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Here, then, are the main players in The Goon Show, whom we shall be encountering in great depth over the coming weeks:

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MAIN CHARACTERS
Neddie Seagoon (Harry Secombe)
A patriotic, honest but gullible idiot, who is often unemployed. Many of the episodes revolve around Neddie taking a job which leads to trouble - such as Napoleon's Piano, wherein he accidentally agrees to steal a piano from the Louvre in Paris. Many jokes are made about his height and weight - for example, in 1985: "I lost 10 stone. My weight went down to a mere 20 stone."

Catchphrases: "Hello folks", "needle nardle noo", "what-what-what-what-what?" (said very very fast), "I don't wish to know that" (a piss-take of a well-worn music hall routine of the time).

Major Dennis Bloodnok (Peter Sellers)
A corrupt military cad, idiot and generally lecherous old man. Bloodnok is Seagoon's former commanding officer - a reference to the fact that all three Goons served in World War II - but unlike Seagoon is a complete coward who would do anything for money. Bloodnok suffers from terrible flatulance, with explosions often following his own theme tune. On the rare occasions when the sound effects wouldn't work, Peter Sellers will fill the silence by shouting "I'm cured!".

Catchphrases: "Nurse, the screens!", "It was hell in there"

Bluebottle (Peter Sellers)
A lusty boy scout with a squeaky voice who almost invariably gets killed in every episode. A regular companion to Eccles, Bluebottle will regularly help people out for sweets - particularly Dolly Mixtures or Jelly Babies - and often uses weapons made out of cardboard. He is known for reading the stage directions out loud, and will often talk over the announcer. The latter often happened when he emerged unscathed from an episode, for instance in The Case of the Fake Neddie Seagoons or The Six Ingots of Leadenhall Street. 

Catchphrases: "Enter Bluebottle, waits for applause... Not a sausage", "You rotten swine, you deaded me", "I don't like this game".

Eccles (Spike Milligan)
A total idiot, the stupidest and most well-meaning of all the characters and a regular companion to Neddie. Eccles has a childlike understanding of the world, can barely read or write, and often falls foul of people in authority due to his lack of intelligence or self-preservation. When others tell him to shut up, he will often join in and carry on saying it until long after they have stopped. Despite this, he occasionally is lucky with the ladies, as in Yehti, much to the chagrin of Bluebottle. 

Catchphrases: "Hello der", "Fine, fine, fine", "I'm the famous Eccles", "Shut up Eccles", "it's good to be alive!" 

Hercules Grytpype-Thynne (Peter Sellers)
My personal favourite character. A suave yet sleazy cad, well-educated and always with a plan on his mind. Most of the plots, particularly in the later series, revolve around Thynne and Count Moriarty (see below) trying to con Neddie out of money, whether though a race to get older faster (Around The World in 80 Days), selling him the Moon (The Moon Show) or simply trying to steal a penny that he owns (The £1,000,000 Penny). The character is based on character actor George Sanders and there are big hints throughout the series that he is gay; for instance, in The Telephone, when Neddie asks why he and his friend don't get married (to separate people), he replies: "I would, but Moriarty doesn't love me."

Catchphrases: "You silly twisted boy, you", "Have a gorilla".

Count Jim Moriarty (Spike Milligan)
An unscrupulous member of the French aristocracy who has turned to crime to support his lifestyle. Moriarty started the show on equal billing to Grytpype-Thynne, but gradually descended from a criminal mastermind into a snivelling stooge. Moriarty is often found scavenging for food in dustbins, and cursing in utterly meaningless words; in The Gold Plate Robbery, he rants for about 10 seconds while being led away from the microphones.

Catchphrases: "Oooowwwww", "Sapristi nabolis" (and various other permutations of the latter).

Henry Crun (Peter Sellers)
An extremely elderly inventor-cum-government official, and partner to Minnie Banister (see below). Decrepid, frail, doddery and forgetful, he struggles to keep pace with the world around him, and frequent takes an awfully long time to complete even the simplest of tasks. Whole sections of the show involve circular conversations between him and Minnie, such as in The Man Who Tried to Destroy London's Monuments: he keeps telling Seagoon to stop knocking at the door, so that Minnie can tell him someone's knocking - only for there not to be.

Catchphrase: "You can't get the wood you know".

Minnie Banister (Spike Milligan)
A feeble yet immensely flirtatious old spinster who was once romantically linked to Bloodnok (in various ways). Minnie loves "modern-type" music - and all "modern" stuff for that matter - frequently getting on Henry's nerves by singing endlessly and calling him "corny". Minnie would occassionally take on a maternal attitude towards Bluebottle, such as in The Case of the Fake Neddle Seagoons. She is also terrified of strangers and being murdered. 

Catchphrases: "Henrrryyyyy", "We'll all be murdered in our beds!".
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MINOR CHARACTERS
Flowerdew (Peter Sellers) - An effeminate, very camp man, usually some kind of official.
Gladys (Ray Ellington) - A secretary or personal assistant whose gender is unclear.
Jim Spriggs (Spike Milligan) - A man with a falsetto voice who speaks as though he is singing, often repeats himself and calls everyone "Jim".
Lew (Peter Sellers) - A fast-talking Jewish showbiz agent with terrible acts. Based on Lew Grade, the TV impressario who amongst other things brought Thunderbirds to British TV.
Little Jim (Spike Milligan) - A timid child whose only line is "He's fallen in the water".
McGoonagall (Peter Sellers or Spike Milligan) - An awful Scottish poet, based on William McGonagall, who overemphasises and often convolutes the plot when trying to explain it.
Miss Throat (Spike Milligan) - A person (not a woman) with a gravelly voice, whose lines are usually one word or syllable long.
Tribal Chief (Ray Ellington) - One of the show's less PC characterisations (Ray Ellington was the only black cast member - we'll come onto that later).
William Cobblers, a.k.a. Mate (Peter Sellers) - A working-class jobsworth Cockney, who refers to everyone as "mate".

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Next week we'll be diving into the episodes properly, cantering through the first three series for reasons which I shall explain next time. Join me on Wednesday 15th for the next (hopefully more insightful) episode of The Goon Show Guide!

Daniel

NEXT WEEK: Series 1 to 3

2 comments:

Splendid page. Anyone who never heard them would have a pretty good idea that they (the cast) were bonkers. Lovely stuff.

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