GSPS NL#99. Missing Telegoons Puppets....? The Hunt Continues; the Story So Far...
GSPS NL#100. The Great Restaurant Puppet Mystery!
PSAS Magazine, Spring 2005. The Mystery of the Fake Peter Sellers!!!
Goon Show Preservation Society NL#99, pp. 15-16,
Copyright © 2000 Chris Smith / Goon Show Preservation Society.
by Chris Smith
It all began with an otherwise innocuous email message from that fiend Alastair Roxburgh, responsible for the new Telegoons web site. In the midst of some regular banter came his amazed location of the following Web advert.
Help wanted in locating the Telegoon puppets last seen in the 1963/64 TV series. Mel Myland of the Eastbourne Wish Tower Museum saw the Telegoons displayed in a cabinet in a riverside pub in the Isleworth, Twickenham Studios, Eel Pie Island area about 12years ago. Can anyone help locate the puppets or even the pub?
With the aid of an amazing array of cross references from Pub Guides (how did they get to Iowa??) and local maps old Smithers headed off to second-guess these fiend puppeteers. Unfortunately the news landed in time for the weekend when the England-France International Rugby match, one of the biggest in the sporting year, was staged... guess where?... Twickenham, right in the puppet zone. Every pub was seething with beer swilling rugby addicts and neither much time nor sense was forthcoming from bar staff run off their feet trying to slake the thirst of the visiting hordes.
Until, that is, the vicinity of one pub near the riverfront, where one of the semi regular pub staff (lots of people were employed by pubs just for the weekend in Twickenham) who believed their pub had puppets on display. However. the display case had been removed for safety reasons during that weekend (too many unpredictable non-locals visiting the pubs), so there was nothing to see. There was also no point in exploring anywhere else on that occasion, so I escaped before the rugby frenzy reached fever pitch.
A return visit was inevitable a couple of weeks later after the hue and cry had died down. I knew it wasn't going to be a good day when part of the rail service I used to get to Twickenham the last time was suspended for engineering works, leaving me to scurry across central London by sundry commuter services. Still, that's travel on a holiday weekend for you.
I got to the same pub, now blissfully empty of rugby addicts, and asked about the puppets they had on display. Puppets? asks the bar staff. Cue sensation of concrete in boots. "But... I asked two weeks ago..." Helpless expression by bar staff person.
I survey the pub. Where before there had been blank wall space were now festooned a myriad of rugby player PICTURES, all framed. Obviously they had been taken down previously to protect them from... oh rats rats rats rats RATS.
Take one huge crowd of beer starved rugby addicts, an unusual question, add lots of background noise and you have the means by which Puppet gets transformed into Picture. I think.
So, after I'd beaten my head against the wall a few times until I felt better, I set out to a couple of the other more ancient local pubs, including one that I had discounted because it seemed too up to date but whose landlord and landlady (so I was told) had until fairly recently a Puppet Theatre, or some such device. I will have to go back AGAIN (aaaaggghhh) because, being Easter weekend, they were not around. I can at least telephone first this time though.
This is an update of an article first published in
the Goon Show Preservation Society NL#100, pp. 22-24,
November 2000. Last updated May 15, 2002.
Copyright © 2000 Alastair Roxburgh / Goon Show Preservation Society.
by Alastair Roxburgh
Apart from the Neddie Seagoon rod puppet, recovered from Richmond in 1997 by the Intrepid Smivvers (see his report in NL#89, July 1997), several leads to the whereabouts of the other puppets have, so far, failed to yield any similar booty. To make matters more complicated, we are confronted by evidence that seems somewhat contradictory. Whether due to a conspiracy (very unlikely) or just the simple passage of time (to which all material things, including puppets, are eventually lost*), the most recent location of some of the puppets has been tantalizingly elusive. And this is despite the fact that the GSPSs Ned Seagoon puppet spent much of his puppet life with these other puppets in a restaurant display case. If only puppets could talk, theyd tell us a thing or two are you listening Neddie?
So here we have it: Driven by rumours and fading memory, we have the mystery of the Telegoons puppets and an elusive phantom Telegoons puppet restaurant! Quel irony, as Moriarty would have said; if only we had known the actual locations of David Youngs restaurants back in 1987, we might have faired much better in this quest. Here then, in chronological order, is the current evidence (some names have been changed to protect the innocent):
"KENSINGTON RESTAURANT" (Rumour 1, NL#49, 1987).
Bob Bray, then GSPS Chairman, was reported as saying to the media that the puppets' location was known to some Goons already, as they were on display in a Kensington restaurant. Chris Smith (NL#89, 1997) after a ten-year vow of silence finally reported that despite a lot of worn shoe leather, nothing has ever been found in Kensington. This rumour was a classic case of so close, yet so far
"EEL PIE ISLAND PUB" (Rumour 2).
As was recounted in NL99, yours truly stumbled upon an advertisement in an Internet-based puppet newsletter that asked for information about the Telegoons puppets: "Help wanted in locating the Telegoon puppets last seen displayed in a cabinet in a riverside pub in the Isleworth, Twickenham Studios, Eel Pie Island area about 12 years ago. Can anyone help locate the puppets or even the pub?"
Of course I alerted the GSPS immediately by means of a swiftly hurled batter pudding, and we all agreed to keep it hush hush until the Intrepid Smiff could check things out. After my totally exhaustive (and exhausting) search for likely pubs via the Internet, Chris Smith visited the area twice, survived the beer swilling rugby football crowd, and found no trace other than a false lead about some Punch & Judy puppets, or similar. Unfortunately this rumour was a case of too little, too late
"SHEPPERTON RESTAURANT" (Rumour 3, NL#89, 1997).
Chris Smith reported that the Richmond lady who turned in the missing Ned Seagoon puppet to the proper authorities, said that the puppet restaurant, from whence Ned came, and at which she is rumoured to have been a regular, was in Shepperton. An on-the-scene visit to Shepperton in October 1999 (again by yours truly, ace sleuth and information ferret, Al Roxburgh) put this particular rumour to rest.
In an interview with Mrs. Simmons (not her real name), a long-term Shepperton resident who knew the Youngs of Telegoons fame (Ralph, Tony and David), the possibility of the restaurant being in Shepperton was strenuously denied, and my attention was instead directed to Sunbury (see below). Mrs. Simmons kindly drove me to the Sunbury restaurant and introduced me to the owner. As to whether we can ask the Richmond lady if she really meant to say Sunbury instead of Shepperton, unfortunately Chris doesnt know how to contact her again, as she has long-since moved out of the area. Somehow this rumour just did not have the pizzazz of the previous ones
"SUNBURY JAZZ RESTAURANT" (Rumour 4).
Have we found it? David Young (puppets supervisor for The Telegoons production at Grosvenor Films) owned the Nellie McQueens jazz-theme restaurant (now called Bar 41), at 41 Thames Street, Lower Sunbury-On-Thames between about 1970 and 1992. A long-term local resident, Mr. Max (not his real name), who knew David Young and his wife Tina Williams, told me he remembers the puppets on display in the restaurant.
Mr. Max also seemed to remember that they were in a cabinet (which is at least partial corroboration of the 2nd rumour, above, but see below also). However, before we can know this for a fact, and since clearly from all of the above the human mind can play tricks, we need to find an actual photograph or newspaper report (the local paper is The Surrey Herald any volunteers?). Paul, who bought the Nellie McQueens after it closed, showed me some photographs taken by him when he took over the property. Tina Williams (who had been trying to run Nellie McQueens after David died) had agreed to leave everything as it was, yet Paul said there was no sign of a glass puppets cabinet. Pauls photographs, shot on possession of the property, give no hint either (nearest thing was a clown head on a shelf). Of course, it's quite possible that said cabinet was removed some time before the sale.
What worries me slightly (hence the desire for a photograph or newspaper report) is that Nigel Knapton (definitely his real name), who boarded with David and Tina in 1990, visited Nellie McQueens once with David, but does not remember seeing any puppets. Mr. Max. said he would speak to Sunbury locals, and see if anyone has a photograph. He also directed me to Twickenham, where David Young had his second jazz-theme restaurant. Mr. Max suggested an interesting possibility that some of the Telegoons puppets could well have been displayed at both restaurants.
This leads us to the fifth and final rumour
"TWICKENHAM RESTAURANT" (Rumour 5).
This has a lot in common with the 2nd rumour, and may well be a solution to the mystery it presents. Based on the success of David Youngs Nellie McQueens jazz restaurant in Sunbury, he started another one, called the Dixie McQueens. It was located in York Street, Twickenham (which is in the Eel Pie Island area), and was opened a year or two after Nellie McQueens. This restaurant is now called Murrays, but unfortunately there was another owner in-between, so the present owner knows nothing about what the place looked like when it was Dixie's, even though he knows the name well.
By the way, I learned about Dixie's from Mrs. Simmons of Shepperton. Her husband had been David Young's best friend, and also knew Davids father, Ralph Young, who was co-designer and co-builder of the Telegoons puppets. Mr. Maxs suggestion (which he could neither confirm nor deny) that both the Nellie McQueens and the Dixie McQueens had Telegoons puppets on display, if true, would explain the Eel Pie Island pub rumour (the 2nd one above) that originated with Mel Myland.
So there you have it. Although we dont seem to be any closer to finding any of the other puppets, when and if more information comes to hand, youll read about it here first, folks!
*Perhaps Dr. Steve Arnold could give us a lecture on the durability of foam latex rubber chemical binds under the influence of time, temperature, atmospheric oxygen, UV light, etc.
This is an update of an article first published in
the Peter Sellers Appreciation Society, PSAS Magazine Spring 2005 (Find the PSAS
Copyright © 2000 Alastair Roxburgh / Peter Sellers Appreciation Society.
Research in progress
Written by Alastair Roxburgh
BBC radio’s Goon Show ended Jan 28th 1960 with those immortal words uttered by announcer Wallace Greenslade: “Yes that was it, the last of them, so bye now.” As final as those words sounded, and because it is near impossible to keep a good idea down, behind the scenes an idea for a series of Goon puppet films, put forward in the late 1950s by Tony Young of Grosvenor Films, was starting to bear fruit. After much planning and hard work, the payoff finally came in March 1963, when Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, and Harry Secombe met together again in a sound recording studio to reprise their Goon Show voice talents in The Telegoons, television's answer to the long-running radio Goon Show.
Due to a dearth of repeats and no home video release, The Telegoons still remains relatively unknown. But even less well known, and not mentioned in the above conventional history of The Telegoons, is the fact that Peter Sellers was initially unavailable for The Telegoons project, and a secret stand-in, a “fake Peter Sellers” if you will, was used initially for voicing Peter's Goon characters. Indeed, this secret was so closely held by the producers, Tony Young and Wendy Danielli, that I've been unable to dig up any clues as to the identity of this person. (You know who you are, and if you happen to be reading this, please let us know!)
What I have been able to ascertain is that the mystery person stood in for Peter's characters for the first 9 episodes, recorded in Jan or Feb 1963. I learned this from Ann Perrin and John Dudley, two of the puppeteers on the project. There are, no doubt, several reasons for the stand-in's identity being such a closely held secret. If word had leaked out that Peter was not involved with the project, it would have hurt sales measurably. Indeed, near the end of the 1st production series of The Telegoons, director Tony Young confided in John Dudley that such was the BBC's perception of the risk, that the planned 2nd production series of 13 episodes would be cancelled if Peter remained unavailable.
Due to Peter's coming off Doctor Strangelove later than expected, The Telegoons production basically had to start without him. It was Harry Secombe who finally got Peter to agree to come and join the Telegoons project, and probably not wanting to miss out on some more goonish fun (but, according to John Dudley, probably also not wanting to be responsible for putting a small film studio out of work), Peter agreed. Indeed, Maxine Ventham put forward the somewhat alternative theory that maybe Peter developed his "broken" leg or sprained ankle towards the end of Strangelove in order not to miss out on the Goon reunion taking place at The Telegoons sound recording studio. Imagine the news headlines: Peter Sellers walks (hobbles?) out on the great Stanley Kubrick!"
In any case, a big press fuss was made on March 29th 1963 to celebrate Peter's joining The
Telegoons project. Moreover, once Peter got going with the voice recordings, he got such a kick out of the fun of it, that at the end he went back and redid his lines for the first 9 episodes. Of course this wiped out the stand-in's contribution, but it did not wipe out all historical evidence, in regard of which I found it constructive to look at some of the notes and corrections handwritten on the shooting scripts while simultaneously viewing The Telegoons films. The fact that the notes don't tally with the dialogue released in the final version of the films,
particularly to do with ad libs, provides documentary proof that Peter's parts (Major Bloodnok, Grytpype Thynne, and Henry Crun) were redone. So even if we had not learned that there was indeed a stand-in, we might have had to formulate such a theory anyway.
In a further interesting twist, one of the correspondents on the GSD forum put forward the theory that Peter did not redo everything in the first 9 episodes, but I have yet to listen to all of the material, and so far have not found anything conclusive in that regard. Stay tuned for updates, however!
If you, dear reader, can shed any light whatsoever on the matter of the Peter Sellers stand-in question, please don't be bashful, and
email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. That way the mysterious case of the fake Peter Sellers will (to borrow from Clouseau) at last be solv-ed.