Big ?     

Just the FAQs...
Compiled by Alastair Roxburgh,
who is occasionally assisted by
Professor Henry Crun and his able
associate Miss Minnie Bannister...

Henry & Minnie

Prev. Chapter                   Home                    Next Chapter

     
Who or what were The Telegoons?
Who produced The Telegoons TV series?
Didn't Tony Young work with the Goons prior to The Telegoons? 
Is it true that the original Goon Show recordings were re-edited for The Telegoons? 
How many episodes of The Telegoons were produced?
In what formats were The Telegoons originally distributed?
What important part did The Telegoons play in the history of Doctor Who?
Does the BBC have any plans to release The Telegoons on home video?  
How many of The Telegoons films still exist?
Do any of the Telegoon puppets still exist?
How many puppets were constructed  for The Telegoons TV series?
What types of puppets were used in The Telegoons?
Can you tell me anything else about The Telegoons rod puppets?
What part did TV Comic play in the popularity of The Telegoons?
What else did Bill Titcombe draw besides TV Comics' The Telegoons?
Who wrote the scripts for TV Comics' The Telegoons?
Where on earth did the Goons & Telegoons stuff take place?
What do you know about Grosvenor Films Ltd., makers of The Telegoons?
Who were Tonwen Ltd. and what role did they play in The Telegoons?
What connection did Cecil Madden have with the The Telegoons?
Why are broadcast run-times for The Telegoons films less than 15 minutes?

    

Who or what were The Telegoons?

The Telegoons were the Goon Show characters reinvented in puppet form. They were shown on BBC television in the early 1960s in two series of programs called The Telegoons. The puppets were designed and constructed by professional puppeteer Ron Field, and Ralph D. Young, father of Tony Young of Grosvenor Films Ltd. (who in turn made the programs for the BBC). It is not known who did the actual sculpting of the puppet heads. The puppet's hands and Eccles' worn out boots were made in Ron Field's puppet workshop. Critical to the design of the puppets were the pencil sketches of Goon characters (many of which still adorn the surviving copies of the studio scripts) done by the Goons themselves. Although Spike Milligan had final say in the look of the puppets, it is not known how much direct influence he had other than through his pencil sketches. The voices of the Telegoon puppets were provided by the usual (Goon Show) suspects, namely Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe, and Peter Sellers. The puppeteers followed shooting scripts and pre-recorded dialogue played back from magnetic tape. The tendency of the Goons to ad-lib their lines made things challenging for the puppeteers at times. Having spent the weekend familiarizing themselves with the shooting script for the next episode, at the start of the week's production they would listen to the dialogue tape and note down where the tape deviated from the script. This would mean having to relearn some of the mouth movements. About halfway through filming the series, electronic lip-synch was introduced, which made the job for the puppeteers much easier.

Back to Top

 

Who produced The Telegoons TV series?

The Telegoons came into existence principally through the efforts of Tony Young, who was assisted by Wendy Danielli and a long list of puppet makers, puppeteers, film crew, set builders, properties people, sound people, film editors, a script editor, and last but not least, the Goons themselves.  The production company was Grosvenor Films Ltd. The films were produced in association with BBCtv. Grosvenor Films was founded by Tony Young and Wendy Danielli in 1951. (see the People section for more details)

 

Didn't Tony Young work with the Goons prior to The Telegoons?

Yes. Sometime in 1950 or early 1951, Tony Young directed fledgling comedians Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan, and Peter Sellers in the comedy feature film Penny Points to Paradise (Adelphi Films, 1951, B&W, 77 minutes). The film was produced by Alan Cullimore, with a screenplay by John Ormonde. It starred Harry Secombe (Harry Flakers, the main character), Alfred Marks (Edward Haynes, lead counterfeiter), Peter Sellers (The Major, a "pre" echo of Bloodnok/Arnold Fringe, slick salesman), Spike Milligan (Spike Donnelly, Harry's friend), and Bill Kerr (Digger Graves, 2nd counterfeiter), together with Paddy O'Neil [a.k.a. Mrs. Alfred Marks] (Christine Russel, a girl fortune hunter) in her then familiar Bette Davis impression, Freddie Frinton (a drunk), Vicki Page (Sheila Gilroy), Joe Linnane (a policeman), Sam Kydd (a cross-eyed Brighton railway porter/taxi driver), and Felix Mendelssohn and his Hawaiian Serenaders. The plot is quite simple: Harry has just won a fortune in the football pools, and together with his good friend Spike, is plagued by fortune hunters and counterfeiters who would like to take it off his hands. I find it interesting that the plot and title bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1938 British comedy film, Penny Paradise (72 minutes, directed by Carol Reed, available from Nostalgia Family Video), in which a tugboat captain wins a soccer pool after which his friends get greedy.

It is of some historical interest to note that the first edition of The Goon Show was broadcast on the BBC's London Home Service on 28th May 1951, with Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan, and Michael Bentine as cast. Yet Penny Points to Paradise, which was also released in 1951, did not star Michael Bentine. Bentine was part of a select group of young comedians, among them Secombe, Milligan, Sellers, Alfred Marks, Graham Stark, Dick Emery and others, who were regulars at The Grafton Arms pub under the watchful eye of proprietor/script writer/mentor Jimmy Grafton. Likewise it is of historical interest to note that Alfred Marks, also one of the stars of Penny, apparently did very little further work with the Goons, despite his reputation variously as a "founding" and "fringe" member of the goon fraternity.

Decades after its last public showing, a special screening of Penny took place at the London Marriott Hotel on February 20th, 1999. This event was arranged by Comic Heritage, and the family of Alfred Marks who own the very rare 16 mm film print that was used. A detailed review of this showing appears in GSPS newsletter #96 (April 1999).

Another rare 16 mm print of Penny is held by ScreenSound, Australia's National Screen and Sound Archive. Although catalogued as Penny Points to Paradise, this version is actually titled Penny Points (Waverley Films, 1951?, B&W, 56 minutes). The run-time is 21 minutes less than the original version of Penny, due in part to removal of the variety-style musical interlude, Felix Mendelssohn and his Hawaiian Serenaders, from the middle of the film. As part of a tribute to Spike Milligan, ScreenSound Australia arranged a public showing of Penny Points, at their Art Deco theatre in Canberra, on the 11th August, 2002 (tickets were $6 and $8 Australian, which is substantially less than the amount charged by Comic Heritage in the UK). 

The above information was gleaned from various sources, including the GSPS newsletter and the Internet Movie Database.

Back to Top

 

Is it true that the original Goon Show recordings were re-edited for The Telegoons?

The answer to this question is a firm, resounding no! Although The Telegoons were based on scripts from the old radio series, adapted to a 15-minute television format by Maurice Wiltshire, the sound tracks were freshly recorded by the Goons in early 1963,. Incidentally, The Telegoons project brought the Goons back together again for the first time in several years.

Nevertheless, 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. However, 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, many 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 had 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 in each episode, 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.

Also contrary to several published histories, we now know that Spike Milligan gave final approval to the look of the puppets, which were designed and built by Ron Field (who also invented the electronic lip synch system used in the later episodes), and Ralph Young. 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, so the original recordings would not have been suitable anyway. All told, twenty-six of the more popular Goon Shows, such as China Story, were translated quite successfully to the television puppet format. 

Back to Top

 

How many episodes of The Telegoons were produced?

There were eleven Telegoons episodes in the first filming series, and fifteen episodes in the second filming series, making a total of twenty-six episodes. Note that the filming order bears no relationship to the order in which the episodes were first broadcast on BBCtv. Both the filming sequence and the broadcast sequence are documented in the Tele-Goonography section.

American readers please note: The term 'series' here equates to 'season' for American television shows (where 'series' refers to the entire run). However, also note that when an Englishman or woman talks about a TV series, but does not qualify it with an ordinal number (such as 1st or 2nd, etc.), then he or she too means the entire run.

Back to Top

 

In what formats were The Telegoons originally distributed?

16 mm Telegoons film print
The Telegoons 16 mm B&W film print in the GSPS archives


projector.gif (803 bytes)


The visuals for The Telegoons were shot on 35 mm B&W movie film using the versatile Arriflex 35 camera equipped with zoom lens. The sound track was recorded on 1/4" magnetic tape. Editing and post production (made difficult by the Goons' tendency to ad-lib during the sound-track recording sessions!) produced a 35 mm master negative with a monophonic optical sound track. This was printed down to 16 mm for television broadcast use and the film rental market. It was even printed down to 8 mm for the home movie market (see below).

The BBC's overseas television programme distribution network sold 16 mm release prints to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and possibly other markets.

Film libraries throughout the UK also had the opportunity to purchase the BBC's 16 mm release prints (see picture, from the start of s02e10 Tales of Montmartre). The copies held by the GSPS archives were purchased from one such library when it went out of business in 1986.

Q: Why does the 16 mm film print apparently have two sound tracks?
A: Duplicate sound tracks were commonly used in 16 mm to reduce the effect of any azimuth error in the projector's scanning slit lens assembly. Both tracks were read as one by a single optical pickup.


8 mm home movie release of
The Telegoons

Long before the home video revolution, there were home movies, and during the early 1960s, the format of choice was 8 mm (Super 8 did not appear until 1965). As well as making their own films, yesterday's film enthusiasts also bought commercial 8 mm films. Into this market, probably in 1963 or 1964, several episodes of The Telegoons, in std 8 mm B&W with sound, were released by Mountain Movies. One of these film prints is held in the GSPS film archive (episode s01e04, Napoleon's Piano, see picture). This Super 8 mm film originally sold for 6.00, which is about 30.00 in 1999 values.

 

 

 

 

 

 
Back to Top

 

What important part did The Telegoons play in the history of Doctor Who?

Radio Times Nov 23, 1963

Doctor Who had the slot immediately before The Telegoons on BBC television. On November 30th, 1963, the regularly scheduled Telegoons episode (1st Series, #8, The Choking Horror) was postponed to allow the premiere episode of Doctor Who (An Unearthly Child) to be repeated immediately prior to the second episode (The Cave of Skulls).

Due to a widespread power failure the week before, many viewers had missed the first outing of the good Doctor. Therefore the BBC did the only decent thing possible, and gave these viewers, and many others, a second chance to catch the beginning of what was destined to become one of the longest-running television series ever produced. This cleverly fiendish plan also swelled the size of the initial Doctor Who viewing audience by an amount proportional to the size of the regular Telegoons audience. Many Telegoons fans who watched the first episodes of Doctor Who have been dedicated fans of Doctor Who ever since, myself included.

Reproduced at left is The Radio Times BBCtv entry for Saturday evening, November 23, 1963. It shows the programme listings for the first episode of Doctor Who (An Unearthly Child) at 5:15 p.m. (the broadcast that many people missed), followed by the seventh episode of The Telegoons (The Canal, 1st Series, #7) at 5:40 p.m.

 

An_Unearthly_Child.jpg (11211 bytes)
Dr. Who
Episode #1

The_Canal.jpg (14984 bytes)
The Telegoons
Episode #7
Screen shots BBC
Back to Top

 

Does the BBC have any plans to release The Telegoons on home video?

I feel that it's one of the great crimes of the 20th Century that the series was not repeated, nor made available on home video! And to the best of my knowledge, the BBC still has sixteen of The Telegoons films in its possession but has no plans for releasing them on home video.  When Professor Crun was asked to comment on this situation, all he had to say was, "Mnk..mmm, they can't get the wood, you know,..mmm, they can't." Perhaps a letter campaign to the BBC would get the ball rolling? Write to:

Director of Programming
BBC Television Centre
Wood Lane
London W12 7RJ
UK
Back to Top

 

How many of The Telegoons films still exist?

The Goon Show Preservation Society of Great Britain (GSPS) owns copies of all of The Telegoons TV episodes on 16 mm B&W film. Other copies may still exist in the BBC film archives, and possibly also in the archives of Television New Zealand and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The last showing of The Telegoons on BBCtv (The Terrible Revenge of Fred Fu-Manchu) occurred 27th September, 1965. This was not the end, however, as on September 15th, 1996, a clip of The Telegoons was shown on BBCtv in 'Kicking and Screaming', a programme about football. The clip was from The Whistling Spy Enigma (2nd Series, #9) so, presumably, the BBC still have copies of The Telegoons films somewhere. More recently, one of The Telegoons films was shown in its entirety at the 2nd annual convention of the GSPS (Son of A Weekend Called Fred), which was held in Brighton, UK, October 1997. I learned from one of The Telegoons puppeteers, who talked to the BBC recently (2002), that the BBC still have eighteen of the films (presumably in the original 35 mm BBC broadcast format) in their archive.

Back to Top

 

Do any of the Telegoon puppets still exist?

Very few of the Telegoon puppets are known to still exist; most have been lost to time, rumours not withstanding. The only confirmed recent sighting is the Neddie Seagoon puppet, who came to light sometime in early 1997. Discovered in S.W. London, in a sadly dilapidated state, Ned was given an offer of better lodgings. He accepted, and is now in the care of the The Goon Show Preservation Society of Great Britain (also known as the highly esteemed GSPS). By way of celebrating the find, the puppet's remains were shown at the 2nd annual convention of the GSPS (Son of A Weekend Called Fred), held in Brighton, UK, October 1997. A restoration fund has been set up by the GSPS to restore Ned so that he may enjoy future outings without the danger of his knees falling off or his boots exploding.

Although it's not known for sure if any other puppets still exist, what we do know is that several of the puppets ended up being displayed in a Sunbury jazz restaurant, "The Nellie McQueens", run by David Young, former puppets supervisor for The Telegoons, and younger brother of Tony Young, who directed the series. David had acquired the puppets when The Telegoons series filming ended in 1963. Several of the puppets adorned the premises for many years until it finally closed, probably around 1993. A lady who was a big fan of the full size version of Ned of Wales (as he is called by the Goons' biggest fan HRH The Prince of Wales), and who was presumably a regular at the restaurant, was given the puppet as a gift one night prior to the closing. Ned then lived a private life of leisure until the lady, who lived in Richmond, was moving house. She was reluctant to dispose of the puppet, but was equally at a loss as to what usefully to do with it. After a long chain of events, including a call to Harry Secombe's office, and a call in turn from them to Bill Horsman, Chairman of the GSPS, it was left to GSPS Newsletter editor Chris Smith to drive frantically across London to Richmond and pick the puppet up. The full unexpurgated story is given in GSPS Newsletter #89 - July 1997. 

The results of some further investigations into the whereabouts of the puppets are given in GSPS Newsletters #99 and 100.  

For more information about the GSPS Puppet Restoration Fund, please e-mail Steve Arnold, GSPS archivist.

 Ned Seagoon Needs Your Help!

 

Back to Top

 

How many puppets were constructed for The Telegoons TV series?

The following Goon Show characters were made as puppets: Eccles, Bluebottle, Ned Seagoon, Major Bloodnok, Hercules Grytpype-Thynne, Count Jim Moriarty, Henry Crun, Minnie Bannister. A number of extras were also constructed, including "Fifi" (TG 2nd Series, #10), who did female parts in some of the other episodes as well; Willium Mate (who also did a stint as Fred Fu-Manchu); and an Ellington-like puppet. These latter two puppets did most of the other extra parts. It is quite obvious from the films that string puppets were used in medium and wide shots. A larger type of puppet, controlled by rods and electrical switches, and incomplete from the waist down, was used for close-ups involving dialogue and the need for the head and neck, eyes, eyelids, and mouth to move. The GSPS Ned Seagoon is the remains of one of the close-up puppets.  Therefore, there were at least two puppets built for each character, for a total of at least twenty puppets.

Back to Top

 

What types of puppets were used in The Telegoons?

The medium and wide-shot Telegoons string puppets:
The Telegoon puppets used in medium and wide shots were built one third life-size. Unlike the close-up rod puppets, these puppets were built with a full body and legs, but had no moving facial features. They were smaller, and presumably in order to save costs, had less detailing than the close-up puppets. All were string puppets, i.e., controlled entirely as string marionettes.

The close-up and dialogue-shot Telegoons rod puppets:
The Telegoon puppets used for close-up dialogue shots were actually half-puppets (head, arms and upper half of torso only), built half life-size, with moveable head, arms, mouth, eyelids and eyes. Compared to the medium and wide-shot string puppets, the close-up rod puppets had a much greater level of facial and clothing detail. Being of the rod variety, they also lacked strings, which helped keep the realism level high in close-up shots. They were also completely controlled from below by a system of rods, levers, and magnetic solenoid actuators. The Ned Seagoon puppet owned by the The Goon Show Preservation Society of Great Britain (GSPS) is of this type.

Mike Fox, who was a member of the camera team, had the following to say about the two kinds of puppets: "When we started, it was always the plan to use the smaller (string) puppets for long shots and the hand-manipulated half-puppets for close-ups. However, we found the smaller puppets were rather unconvincing, bearing in mind that our target audience was not for small children but rather for every Goon lover of any age. Thus, the ratio of usage between string and rod-puppets was about 15 to 85 respectively. The latter were also a great deal simpler to handle and move and, with the (disputed) lip-syncing, were much more convincing."

Back to Top

 

Can you tell me anything else about The Telegoons rod puppets?

The Telegoons rod half-puppets were a sophisticated evolution of the simple rod puppet, controlled from underneath by an arrangement of levers and wires, including electrical connections for mouth and eyelid mechanisms, etc. They were typically mounted on a four-foot pan-and-tilt wheeled stand placed in front of the elevated puppet set (see pictures in the Film Production section). By crouching or sitting below and behind the puppet (some of the stands had a small seat attached for this purpose), and grasping the controls through gaps in the puppet's clothing, the puppeteer could stay out of sight of the camera while maintaining a high degree of control over the puppet's movements. Mounted inside each rod puppet's head were mechanisms for controlling the eyes, eyelids, and mouth. The head was pivoted by means of a ball-and-socket joint in the puppet's neck, which was attached to a main control rod inside the body of the puppet. The ball joint and main control rod allowed the puppeteer to easily produce a full range of head movement. The eyes could also be moved in the left-right direction by means of a mechanical thumb lever on the main control rod.

At least in the case of the Neddie Seagoon Telegoon puppet, each arm was articulated at the elbow and attached to a ball-and-socket shoulder joint. An ingenious system of levers and linkages allowed a pair of rods, one per arm, to not only move an arm back and forth, but also bend the elbow by as much as 90 degrees. But as ingenious as Neddie's arm control mechanisms were, they were probably no match for the weight and stiffness of his fully clothed arms, and proved to be of limited use. A more conventional (and rather more successful) feature was a stiff axial joint in each forearm, just below the elbow, which allowed Neddie's hands to be manually rotated to the best angle prior to each film take.

Again referring mainly to the Neddie Seagoon rod puppet, one of the 12-volt DC solenoid actuators mounted inside the head was used to control the opening and closing of the mouth, while the other two solenoids allowed individual control of the left and right eyelids. The mouth solenoid was synchronized with the pre-recorded dialogue syllables, either manually by means of a finger-operated electrical trigger switch (required lots of rehearsal), or automatically via Ron Field's lip-synch electronics. A unique feature of Ron's lip-synch system (entirely absent from Gerry Anderson's puppets) was control of facial movements during simulated speech. This was achieved in part by constructing the cheeks, mouth, and neck from soft, pliable, latex rubber. Natural elasticity maintained the shape of the puppet's face, and also allowed the lower face to move in a very natural way during lip-synching. A lack of structural integrity in the puppet's lower face required an internal frame of some sort to support the upper part of the head. The Neddie Seagoon rod puppet has an internal wire frame in the lower part, which supports a stiff fiber-glass resin under-layer in the upper part of the head, which also provides a firm mounting for solenoids and levers, etc. (see photograph in the "Anatomy of a Telegoon rod puppet" part of the Puppets section). 

The solenoid-operated mouth and eyelid mechanisms used in the Telegoon puppets have quite a few similarities with the solenoid-operated mouth mechanism used by Gerry Anderson in numerous television puppet series made by AP Films since the late 1950s. The first AP Films series to be completely based on this technology was Four Feather Falls, which in 1959 introduced the viewing public to the basic techniques of Supermarionation, a term coined by Gerry in 1960 for the release of his next series, Supercar. Supermarionation, which was derived as a combination of "Super", "marionette" and "animation", also used very fine wires made of tungsten in place of the more conventional puppet strings. Not only were the wires less visible on the television screen, but they also provided a convenient path for the electrical pulses which controlled the mouth solenoid. In the case of the Telegoon puppets, it was only the rod half-puppets (used in close-up shots) which had lip-synch ability, and they were powered and controlled from below. This method of control was not adopted by AP Films/Century 21 until years after the filming for The Telegoons was completed (with the Captain Scarlet series, in 1967, where it was called the under-control process).

The lip-synch electronics system developed by Ron Field (with the assistance of electrical engineer Chris Meader who built it) also overlapped in capability with the electronics package developed by Gerry Anderson. Both systems operated their respective puppet mouth solenoids in step with the syllabic structure of prerecorded dialogue played from a magnetic tape, and both could, through a system of switching, operate several puppets at once (as long as they spoke in an orderly manner, one at a time!). 

Given that AP Films (which became Century 21 Productions towards the end of 1966) held the details of their Supermarionation system a closely guarded secret until well into the 1970s, it is likely that Ron Field's lip-synch work in the late 1950s was conducted quite independently. And even though AP Films (whose studio during the late 1950s at Islet Park, Maidenhead, West London), was situated only about 24 miles (38 km) from Ron Field's home and workshop in Highgate, North London, the communication grapevine was not as developed as it is in these days of e-mail and private facsimile machines. The tight secrecy around AP Films' Supermarionation techniques might have prevented Ron Field from knowing much about them, other than viewing the television programmes that they produced. After all, it is difficult to tell good manual lip-synch from automatic lip-synch just by watching the results on a small television screen! I've no doubt too that Ron would have been fairly secretive about his own work, which would have prevented information flowing the other way as well.

Ron Field's patents, Improvements in Dolls, Puppets, Toy Animals and the like (GB 965,916 and GB 965,917), which were applied for on March 22, 1961, and granted on August 6, 1964, do not mention any kind of automatic lip-synch as prior art, despite the fact that, thanks to the wildly popular Supercar television series, the new word "Supermarionation" was already in the public's vocabulary. AP Films promotional literature of the time described Supermarionation process as "A new TV discovery!" Supercar, it went on, was "The first all-electronic series, with miniature characters in perfect synchronization!" (Gerry Anderson The Authorised Biography, Archer & Nicholls, 1996, p.50). Yet, the only prior art mentioned by Ron was hinged mouths with manual lip-synch. Ron Field's automatic lip-synch system (which was transistorized, by-the-way!) was fully automatic, and (as was described in Ron's patents) able to control multiple puppets from a single recorded dialogue track using a series of manually operated switches. Years later it was revealed that the AP Films Supermarionation system had a similar capability (ibid., p.42).

Although Ron described a completely automated puppet lip-synch system in his patents, his special claim related to a special construction method for puppet heads. This gave very natural-looking facial movements during simulated speech (automatically lip-synched or otherwise). Contrasting this with Gerry Anderson's Supermarionation puppets, which had a stiff fiberglass-resin head and a stiff-but-moveable lower lip, giving a quite different and much less realistic effect, it would seem that Ron Field was indeed traveling down his own independent path of invention.

Probably very aware of the commercial advantage of keeping the Supermarionation technology as a trade secret, rather than applying for a (very much more public) patent, Gerry Anderson did not apply for a patent until 1977, and then it was for a new development in puppet lip-synch, namely proportional control of the mouth position.

As near as can be determined at present, Ron's pioneering work in electronic lip synch took place at the same time as Gerry Anderson's own pioneering work, probably in the 1958 timeframe. Ron first used his automatic lip-synch invention in a pilot film for a series of television puppet circus films in the late 1950s, and a lot of development work on the invention would have preceded the circus pilot. Gerry Anderson, on-the-other-hand, first used his automatic lip-synch system in the later episodes of the first series of Torchy the Battery Boy, in 1959, although development work may have started in 1957So, who was first, Gerry Anderson or Ron Field? My feeling is that it was probably Ron Field, but I'll let you decide.

Ron Field's pilot for a Circus television series pioneered the
use of automatic puppet lip-synch, and also control of facial
movements for natural-looking simulation of speech, c. 1958.

Photographs Ann Perrin

Torchy screen capture  

    Torchy publicity shot
Gerry Anderson's automatic puppet lip-synch system was first tested
during 1958/59, in the later episodes of AP Film's Torchy the Battery
Boy
TV series. AP Films' next puppet series, Supercar, used the
same technique under the new Supermarionation banner.

Screen & publicity shots AP Films
Back to Top

 

What part did TV Comic play in the popularity of The Telegoons?
During the 1960s, the now defunct TV Comic magazine was published weekly in the UK by TV Publications Ltd. Aimed at the 10-and-up age group, it featured comic strips based on popular cult television shows including The Telegoons, Doctor Who, The Avengers, and is quite famous for Battle of the Planet (B.O.T.P.), a sci-fi television serial that aired in the early eighties.
The fact that Eccles was still on the cover of the 1967 TV Comic Annual, which also had Telegoons cartoons and comic strips inside, indicates that The Telegoons popularity with the readership of TV Comic endured several years after the actual television series ended. The high quality of the comic strips was due to the talents of artist Bill Titcombe (also known for his artwork in the Dad's Army comic strip, Piccolo 1973), was probably a key factor in the longevity of the series in TV Comic. In total, 169 issues of TV Comic carried a two-page story of The Telegoons. Although The Telegoons comic strip series never made it into the colour pages (that was reserved for the Popeye, Supercar, and later the Space Patrol comic strips), at least one TV Comic Annual (1966) dressed them up with colour. That The Telegoons television show managed to get its own comic strip in TV Comic, suggests that this version of the Goons must have been quite popular across the country (with children at least).

In the words of one young eye-witness (GSPS NL#29, Jan 1982), "It is difficult for me to judge just how successful the two [Telegoons] series were as I was only 9 at the time they were shown. I can, however, comment on the effect they had on myself and my friends. At school, the show quickly became something of a cult. The playground soon began to echo to the sound of Goon-type impersonations, as no doubt it had done ten years earlier, when the radio show first began to take a grip on the nation."

TVC_Annual_1967.jpg (47000 bytes)
Telegoon Eccles and Friends,
TV Comic Annual 1967

That this is at odds with the apparently poor reception given The Telegoons, suggests that the BBC polled the parents of the program's viewing audience and not the actual (younger) viewing audience itself. According to The Goons The Story, Spike was so disappointed with the reception given The Telegoons that he has consistently refused to endorse all subsequent proposals to bring the Goons to the screen in animated or puppet form. This more than any other reason is probably why the BBC has not repeated The Telegoons since the original runs. Therefore, if you liked The Telegoons as a kid, and would like to see them released on home video, please write to the BBC and make your views known (click here for an address to write to).

A note about UK Annuals: In the UK, it was common for weekly children's magazines, comics, and television series to publish a hard-cover year-book or Annual, based on the comic or television show. This was arranged to coincide with the Christmas market, but with the following year's date on the cover. Therefore, a 1967 Annual would, for example, have been published in November or December 1966.

Bill Titcombe's TV Comic artwork
A panel from The Telegoons comic strip,
TV Comic #666, September 19th, 1964,
drawn by Bill Titcombe.
(C to R) Bluebottle, Neddie Seagoon, and Eccles.

Back to Top

 

What else did Bill Titcombe draw besides TV Comics' The Telegoons?



Bill Titcombe
Photograph Olly Day,
used with permission

A very prolific and talented comic strip artist with many styles, Bill Titcombe has been illustrating children's comics since the late 1950s. Bill's work captured the essence of many of our favourite TV and film characters into comic strips that today still delight the eye with their clean lines and bright colours. One of Bill's longest contracts was with the TV Comic weekly, where he often had as many as four different strips on the go at once. The Telegoons, one of Bill's earlier comic strips, far exceeded the norm for a TV series tie-in, in that it outlived the television original by more than two years!Eccles, the original goon, as drawn by Bill Titcombe. This says volumes about the quality of the artwork, and also the scripts, which were written by Dick Millington. Sometimes, when Bill got too busy, some of the artwork was farmed out. For example, one of Bill's more popular comic strips, Bugs Bunny, at times during its seven year run, was also drawn by John McLusky. But there was no such escape with Tom and Jerry (Bill's all-time favourite strip), because TV Comic's contract with MGM specified Bill Titcombe as the sole artist for Tom and Jerry outside the USA. But Bill's most highly acclaimed work may well be his Dad's Army comic strip, which ran in TV Comic through much of the 1970s. Also receiving their share of the limelight, are his charming, pastel-shaded, illustrations for his 1980s rework of Wind in the Willows, which appeared in Pippin in the mid 1980s. Bill is also famous for creating Buster, the son of Reg Smythe's working-class lay about, Andy Capp.  

One of Bill's comic strips deserves particular mention, being the only strip for which he created the characters, drew the illustrations and also wrote the scripts. This was Perils of Page 3 Pauline, which appeared weekly in News of the World, during the early half of the 1990s. Pauline poked fun at a national institution, namely the scantily clad young ladies who (still to this day) grace page three of The Sun, Britain's most popular newspaper. Pauline's witty one-line rejoinders showed that she had brains as well as voluptuous beauty. Bill said that he welcomed the opportunity to do Pauline because she gave him the chance to draw anatomy again, rather than the typical comic book character. 

Following the decline of much of the comics market in the 1990s, Bill found his drawing skills in demand at BBC Worldwide, for creating brand style guides for various children's television projects. His guides have defined the look of licensed tie-in merchandise for the phenomenally successful Teletubbies, and the recently released Tweenies. Final touches are being made to style guides for the revamped Bill and Ben, scheduled to air next early year. So, next time you see a Teletubbies doll in Toys 'R' Us, Des Moines, Iowa, remember it was based on one of Bill Titcombe's style guides!

Over the years, Bill Titcombe has worked on more than 60 different comic strips. The following table, therefore, is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg:

TV Terrors
TV Comic, 1961-?

Bootsie and Snudge
TV Comic, 1961-?
The Dickie Henderson Family
TV Comic, 1962-?
The Telegoons
TV Comic, 1963-1967 
World Cup Willie
TV Comic, 1965-1966
Dad's Army
TV Comic, 1973-?
Tom and Jerry
TV Comic, 1970s
Barney Bear
TV Comic, 1970s
Bugs Bunny
TV Comic, 1969-1981
The Sunday Squad
Roy of the Rovers, 1990-?
Scooby-Doo
Look-in, 1986-1993?
Mary, Mungo and Midge
MM&M Annuals, 1969-1970
Wind in the Willows
Pippin, 1983-1986
Perils of Page 3 Pauline
News of the World
1990-1995?
TV Centre
Fast Forward, 1990s

Bill Titcombe has worked on many other projects, including the TV Comic Holiday Specials, the TV Comic Annuals, a Tom and Jerry comic book, Tom and Jerry lolly wrappers(!), a children's Telegoons story and colouring book, and illustrations for his wife Audrey Titcombe's story books (and comic strip) about Tat the Cat.

Back to Top

 

Who wrote the scripts for TV Comics' The Telegoons?



Dick Millington
Photograph Olly Day,
used with permission

Although the TV Comic Telegoons comic strips were drawn by Bill Titcombe, they were scripted by Dick Millington. Dick Millington is a talented script writer as well as a comic strip artist of great repute, with a career that stretches back over fifty years. Although he showed promise as a letterer, part-time art school classes developed his drawing skills. His drawing career did not really take off until he went freelance as a cartoonist and script writer for the United Features Syndicate, USA, sixteen years later, in 1963. By 1966 he was editor of several children's comics, including the ever popular TV Comic, which at its peak in the 1970s was selling over 30,000 copies a week. Even as editor of TV Comic, he continued to work in the trenches, drawing many great comic strips, and because he could not get good script writers, writing many of the scripts as well. Dick feels that the quality of Bill Titcombe's Tom and Jerry drawing was better than anything done in the USA. A the end of a delightful conversation I had with Dick Millington, he summed up by saying, "The strips way back in TV Comic were done with a certain amount of love, which shows, and not to a formula. Back then it was a less cynical time."

The following table covers just a smattering of Dick Millington's work:

Mighty Moth
TV Comic 1960s, 1970s

Basil Brush
TV Comic, 1970s
The Moonbeams
Pippin 1967-1984
The Telegoons
(scripts only)
TV Comic, 1963-1967 
Barney Bear
(scripts only)
TV Comic, 1970s
 
Back to Top

 

Where on earth did the Goons & Telegoons stuff take place?

Goon & Telegoons map of London
(click for larger image 95K)

Map Key (includes GPS coordinates)

1. Grafton Arms,  2 Strutton Ground, Westminster, SW1. (N51:29:51 W0:08:03)
Now a phony Irish pub named Finnegan's Wake. The only signs that the Goons were ever here are a few photos on the wall in one of the booths (See History section). I'm sorry not to sound more positive, but I'm not alone on thinking that Grafton's should have been preserved as part of Britain's national heritage. The nearest underground station is 'St. James Park' which is about 250 m (3 minutes) to the north.

2. BBC Camden Theatre, Mornington Cres., NW1. (N51:32:05 W0:08:18)
Over a 103-year history, it has hosted numerous acts ranging from Charlie Chaplin and the Goons, to the Eurythmics and Madonna. Previously known as the Camden Royal Theatre, the Palace Theatre, the Camden Hippodrome and the Music Machine, it was designed in the late 1800s by W.G.R. Sprague, whom Pevsner's Buildings of England describes as "the most interesting theatre architect of his time." Starting out as a playhouse and music hall, when celluloid movies became popular it was transformed into a cinema and then much later into a radio studio for the BBC. Throughout the 1950s it was home to the BBC's Goon Show. After 1982 it was the Camden Palace nightclub, or simply 'The Palace', a venue for many of the early 90s dance parties. Following a 4m make-over in 2004, the legendary Camden Palace has been relaunched as KoKo, which one source says is its original Victorian name. The advertising copy says "this 21st century, state-of-the-art venue is adaptable for multiple use - from small intimate comedy to international awards; from intimate gigs to 1,500 capacity headline rock concerts; from stylish cabaret evenings to eclectic club nights, a popular venue for dance and music events." The nearest underground station is 'Mornington Crescent', which is right across the street.

3. BBC Aeolian Hall, 135-137 New Bond Street, London W1S. (N51:30:43 W0:08:40)
Although now called Renoir House, an Aeolian harp in the stonework is a sure give-away to its illustrious past as a BBC sound recording studio. The nearest underground stations are 'Piccadilly Circus' and 'Green Park'.

4. BBC Paris Cinema, 4 - 12 Lower Regent Street., London W1. (N51:30:31 W0:07:60)
Used as a cinema 1939-1941, and then as a radio studio for the BBC. Occasionally used to record the Goon Show during the 1950s. The new office building on this block is Rex House. The nearest underground station is 'Piccadilly Circus', which is 250 m to the north west. When arriving by tube, take Exit 3 (Lower Regent Street).

5. Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London W1B 1DJ. (N51:31:07 W0:08:38)
While there, visit the BBC Shop for a souvenir (enter down stairs towards the north end of the building).
The nearest underground station is 'Oxford Circus', which is 500 m (6 minutes) to the south, along Regent Street.

6. On-The-Spot Equipment Ltd., 208 Kensal Road, Westbourne Park, London W10. (N51:31:34 W0:12:28)
In order to film The Telegoons, Grosvenor Films rented upstairs studio space in the On-The-Spot building in Kensal Road. Situated off the street between a row of terraced houses and shops, and the tow path of the Grand Union Canal, On-The-Spot was a well-known supplier of lighting equipment to the local film industry. The upstairs studio area had painted-over windows, and gas space heaters hanging beneath bare corrugated roofing. Out the back door, a flat, paved roof area, useful for storage and prop preparation, overlooked the Grand Union Canal, which was by then in decline, and not exactly the community amenity it is today. The On-The-Spot building was demolished around 1990, but recently (2003) the site has been cleared to prepare for new construction by the neighbouring Canalot Production Studios. The nearest train station  is 'Westbourne Park' 750 m east along the towpath, and 200 m south on Great Western Road bridge (a total of 10 minutes). 

7. Telegoons sound studio in Kensington. No further details known.

8. The Neddie Seagoon rod puppet held by the GSPS archive was recovered in Richmond by GSPS newsletter editor, Chris Smith.

9a. Ralph Young lived in "Midhurst", Towpath, Shepperton, TW17 9LJ. (N51:22:57 W0:27:35)
Ralph was father of Tony and co-designed the Telegoon puppets with Ron Field. The old "Midhurst" house is long gone. In its place is a newer, more modern house, "The Summer House", built a lot closer to Towpath road.

9b. David Young, son of Ralph and puppets supervisor for The Telegoons, lived virtually next door to his father (there was a lumber yard in-between), in "Lock View". This house still exists, as does the name plaque on the stone gate post, but David's gypsy caravan affixed to the back of the house does not (I specifically checked that out!). The locals remember that as a teenager, David ran a "ferry" service (probably to Pharaohs Island, since there is no bridge) (N51:22:57 W0:27:33)

10. David Young's Nellie McQueens jazz restaurant, 41 Thames Street, Sunbury-on-Thames, Middlesex, TW16 5QF. (N51:24:25 W0:24:16)
The Telegoon puppets were initially displayed in a wicker basket on the bar. Said a regular, "The puppets just sat in the basket and disintegrated. I liked seeing them slowly disintegrate. They were quite a centrepiece at the bar." After Nellie McQueens closed, the premises became Bar 41. Last time I went by (2003) it had become the Forty One Thai Restaurant.

11. David Young's second jazz restaurant, Dixie McQueens, was at 59 York Street, Twickenham, TW1 3LP. (N51:26:53 W0:19:34)
The Telegoon puppets were transferred to Dixie McQueens from Nellie McQueens when Dixie McQueens opened. After Dixie McQueens closed, the premises eventually became Murray's Music & Sports Cafe Bar. After briefly transforming into the Thai Spoon, it has now become the Joya Bar & Restaurant, serving up-scale Mediterranean cuisine; including great vegetarian dishes!

12. Ron Field's home and puppet workshop was at 74 Dartmouth Park Hill, Highgate, London, N19 5HU. (N51:33:48 W0:08:26)
Ron was co-designer of the Telegoon puppets with Ralph Young. Assisted by Chris Meader, Ron developed automatic puppet lip-sync in the late 1950s.

The following two items on the map (x, y), while having little to do with The Telegoons, may have had an influence on or may have been influenced by the lip-synch technology used for The Telegoons. This is discussed in detail in the film production section of the website.

x. APF started in Islet Park House, Islet Park, Maidenhead, Berkshire, SL6 8LE. (N51:32:30 W0:41:48)
Islet Park House, a spacious and stately Edwardian mansion on tranquil Cliveden Reach, a very beautiful part of the River Thames. Islet Park House has now been divided up into eleven(!) flats, including a luxury penthouse apartment, for sale in 2004 for 369,995. And to think that in 1960 Gerry Anderson was offered the whole property for 16,500!

y. Gerry Anderson's automatic puppet lip-sync was developed after his APF company moved to a converted warehouse in the Slough Trading Estate, in the late 1950s. The building is now owned by Slovin Plastics Ltd., a leader in the plastic injection moulding and mouldmaking industry. The old APF premises are at 680-700 Stirling Road, Slough, SL1 4ST. (N51:31:33 W0:37:31)

The Albert Memorial became Britain's entry in the space race, in The Telegoons episode, The Albert Memorial to the Moon.

The Royal Albert Hall was the venue for a concert in aid of the Lurgi Distress Fund in The Telegoons episode, Lurgi Strikes Britain. It was also the venue of the World Saxophone Playing Contest in The Telegoons episode, The Terrible Revenge of Fred Fu-Manchu

The Houses of Parliament are where Grytpype and Moriarty briefly camped during The Telegoons episode, The Africa Ship Canal.

The electric tram marks Capham Common, the setting for The Telegoons episode, The Last Tram (from Clapham).

The Tower Bridge was infected with a certain follicular growth in The Telegoons episode, The Choking Horror.

Back to Top

 

What do you know about Grosvenor Films Ltd., makers of The Telegoons?

Grosvenor Films Ltd., was founded 19th January, 1954 by Jennifer Wendy Danielli (actress) and Lionel Bamburgh-Young (film director). Lionel Bamburgh-Young was apparently Tony Young's legal name, but was perhaps considered too unwieldy and perhaps too 'upper-class' for someone wishing to make a career as a film director. Jennifer Wendy Danielli, who listed her occupation as actress, likewise may have considered that 'Wendy Danielli' looked better on a cinema marquee than 'Jennifer Danielli'. Since Tony's father Ralph Young (who was co-designer and co-builder of the Telegoons puppets) and Tony's brother David Young (Puppets supervisor on The Telegoons, who also helped his father build the Telegoon puppets), went by plain 'Young', it's not clear how Tony gained the extra barrel on his surname.

The initial address of Grosvenor Films Ltd., was 77 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1. This was the address of Morton M. Lewis's Sunset Film Productions Ltd., establishment, which occupied the whole top floor of the three story building. Grosvenor Films rented one of the 10 foot by 10 foot offices in Sunset's studio/office space.

 

Back to Top

 

Who were Tonwen Ltd. and what role did they play in The Telegoons?

As far as I've been able to determine, Tonwen Ltd. (a.k.a. Tonwen Merchandising Ltd.) was an independent company formed by Tony Young (producer and director of The Telegoons, and a company director of Grosvenor Films Ltd.) and Jennifer Wendy Danielli (associate producer of The Telegoons, and a company director of Grosvenor Films Ltd.), to spin off film tie-in merchandise projects from Grosvenor Films.  The company name was formed from the first syllables of Tony and Wendy.

The only Tonwen Ltd. product that I know of is the children's story and colouring book, The Telegoons in The Ascent of Mount Everest, drawn by Bill Titcombe. Incidentally, Bill Titcombe also drew the popular Telegoons comic strip in TV Comic.

Back to Top

 

What connection did Cecil Madden have with The Telegoons?

Cecil Madden (d. 1987) started in television before WWII at the BBC's Alexandria Palace (Ally Pally). A playwright with more than half-a-dozen West End productions to his credit, he served as BBCtv's first programme organiser, and was a pioneering television producer. After a long career, during which he was creator of numerous television programmes including the well remembered children's variety and entertainment series Whirligig, Cecil retired with the rank of deputy director of television. For many years he lived in Chelsea, a few doors down from where Margaret Thatcher lived. 

During his tenure as president of the British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild, Cecil Madden tried very hard to trace the Telegoon puppets (see Radio Times insert, left, which was reprinted in GSPS NL#49, July 1987), but with no success other than a report that they were in a pub near Maidenhead. John Dudley, who was a good friend of Cecil's, recalled him saying that [the puppets] were on the walls of a pub out Shepperton way. Somebody visited all the pubs in the area following this tip-off, but to no avail.

Ironically, even as Cecil Madden gave up the search in Maidenhead, the puppets were still being displayed in a well-known Sunbury restaurant, Nellie McQueens, and probably also in Nellie McQueen's sister restaurant in Twickenham, Dixie McQueens. These two restaurants were, respectively, just 16 miles (26 km) and 17 miles (28 km) from Maidenhead, and just a stone's throw (at least in the case of the Sunbury restaurant) from Shepperton (if you are not familiar with these places, please refer to the map in this FAQ). After the Sunbury and Twickenham restaurants closed, probably around 1993, one of the puppets that had been displayed, Ned Seagoon, was given to a Richmond woman who had been a regular. Eventually the Ned puppet wound up in the archive of the GSPS (See this FAQ for the full story). Further chapters in the search for the puppets can be found in the Newspapers section of the website (accessible from the main menu). 

Back to Top

 

Why are broadcast run-times for The Telegoons films less than 15 minutes?

Standard television broadcast practice in PAL TV countries is to broadcast all 24 fps film-based material at 25 fps. This provides a speed-up of 25/24 or about 4%, also reducing the run-time by the same amount. Before you tell me that this was so that commercial television could squeeze in more advertising time, please remember that the BBC does not carry external advertising. The real reason is this: In years gone by, deficiencies in the design of television sets resulted in a wobbly picture unless the video frame rate was a close match for the local power line frequency. That this is no longer the case is evidenced by personal computer screens, all of which can be run at a variety of frame rates in almost any country in the world, and still give a stable, hum-bar and wobble-free picture.

Nevertheless, even though the BBC long ago decided that the 4% reduction in run-time and 4% increase in audio pitch was acceptable, remember that you will also get 4% less enjoyment out of your favourite PAL DVDs, than if you played the NTSC version.

Interestingly, and this is the part that get close to answering the original question, the film industry is quite set on 24 fps, and has generally never been interested in modifying film cameras and ancillary equipment to operate at 25 fps. Not even with the film equipment used by the BBC's own news gathering teams! So, a typical 1361' reel of The Telegoons on 35 mm film, which has a correct run-time of 1361 feet/1.5 feet/second = 907 seconds, or 15:07, will have a BBC television run time of 870 seconds, or 14:30! This is less enjoyment to the tune of 30 seconds per episode. Looked at another way, almost one whole episode's worth of enjoyment was snitched over the entire 26 episodes! I guess it's OK if you are into speed reading and things like that. 

The PAL TV countries all use 50 Hz power, and the NTSC countries all use 60 Hz power. But the signals are more similar than this suggests, because even though PAL has more scan lines (625) it has a lower field rate (it samples motion less frequently), whereas NTSC has fewer scan lines (525) but has a higher field rate. Greater number of lines may or may not look better depending on the motion on the picture, so all-in-all both systems can produce about the same level of results, on average. Technically, PAL conveys picture information at the rate of 625 lines/frame x 25 frames/second =  15,625 lines/second, while NTSC conveys picture information at the rate of 525 lines/frame x 30 fields/second =  15,750 lines/second, which is close to the same number. Both systems have the same number of pixels per line (720), so a PAL DVD contains the same amount of data as an NTSC one. 

If you're still with me, you'll be wondering how NTSC's 30 Hz frame rate (which is half of the AC power frequency) allows it to play back 24 fps film at the correct speed. Well, it does it using a primitive form of up-sampling, repeating six frames each second to make up the right number. The duplicate frames are not normally visible to the eye, and the process has the advantage of much less flicker in the picture, compared to PAL. Ironically, even though the USA television networks have the capability of playing back 24 fps film at the exact rate intended by the film makers, by using very sophisticated digital scalers, they often now squeeze down the run-time to fit in more advertising, but at no increase in frame rate or audio pitch.

Back to Top

 


FAQs Last Revised: November 29, 2011.

Prev. Chapter                Home                Top of Page               Next Chapter