|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...
Go Ask Eccles & Bluebottle...
Telegoons were billed as BBC Radio’s world-famous Goons in a
new puppet series for television. The Radio Times television
section was quite up-beat about the series, as indicated by the following
preview of the episode entitled Napoleon’s Piano (T.G. 1st series, #4), broadcast October
Nevertheless, the BBC’s audience research department gave The Telegoons a disappointingly low rating. Spike was so let down by this cool reception that he has consistently refused to endorse all subsequent proposals (of which there have been several) to bring the Goons to the screen in animated or puppet form (Norma Farnes: The Goons The Story,1997, p.174). This more than any other reason is probably why the BBC has not repeated The Telegoons since the original runs, nor transferred them to home video. Therefore, despite early sales to the television systems of several Commonwealth countries, in addition to several film libraries in the UK, the complete series was broadcast once, never to be heard of again.
Seven years after The Telegoons completed its run on UK television, the BBC notified Grosvenor Films that the non-returnable minimum guarantee paid by them for overseas rights to the “Goon Puppets Films” as part of their contribution to the cost of the films had still not been earned in respect of overseas sales. Nothing happened subsequently to change this situation, and despite the good money now being made by the BBC’s home video division, no such version of The Telegoons has ever been produced.
Bill Horsman (long-time chairman of the Goon Show Preservation Society), writing in the society’s newsletter, ventured an explanation for why The Telegoons were not very popular with (as he put it) the "heavily oiled, gin encrusted Goon addicts" of the time, namely that the series was broadcast too soon after The Goon Show had ended and also while The Goon Show was still being repeated on radio. Bill further says, “The die-hards insisted, and still do..., that the Goon humour does not translate successfully to visual--‘it's all in the mind you know’.”
Nevertheless, this author has found ample evidence that the generations born after the Goons own generation have a very different point of view. Today’s “forty-something-year-old” Goon fans, who were in the 9-and-up age-group way back when The Telegoons were shown on television, have many fond memories of the puppets. Nevertheless, due to the absence of television re-runs, there are now more than two generations of Milligan fans (many of whom are familiar with recordings of the Goon Show, Q, and other works of Milligan), who have not had the opportunity to see The Telegoons. Those hardy few who have had that privilege (mostly on 16 mm cine, or more likely a videotape borrowed from the GSPS) seem to have been favourably impressed. GSPS video archivist Paul Norman (who was born around the same time as The Telegoons), after watching video copies of The Telegoons films, exclaimed, “...these programmes are seriously amusing!!” (GSPS newsletter #71, Jan. 1993). Surely, therefore, The Telegoons films are worthy of commercial video release!
That The Telegoons managed to get their own two-page cartoon strip in the (now defunct) TV Comic children’s weekly (drawn by children’s comic strip artist Bill Titcombe, with scripts by Dick Millington) is further evidence that the original television version of The Telegoons must have been very popular (with children, at least) throughout the British Isles. In fact the comic strip version of The Telegoons lasted for several years after the television series ended, running for a total of 170 weeks. Since TV Comic regularly conducted polls of its readers, a long run time such as this a strong indicator of popularity. Although The Telegoons comic strip never made it into the colour pages of TV Comic (that was reserved for Popeye, Supercar, and later Space Patrol), at least one TV Comic Annual (1966) dressed them up in full glorious colour.
To better understand the sustained popularity that The Telegoons enjoyed among the younger age group back in 1963, there is probably no better place to start than the following eye-witness account (GSPS newsletter #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.”
That this is at odds with the apparently poor audience research ratings given The Telegoons, suggests that the BBC polled the parents of the program’s viewing audience and not the actual (predominantly younger) viewing audience itself. Although The Telegoons was intended for an adult audience, it was the 9- to 17-year olds that appreciated it the most, something that seems to have completely escaped the BBC’s notice. Therefore it is a great pity that when Spike was faced with the official audience ratings, he did not go and visit the schoolyards of England. If he had, he would have heard the shrill voices of hoards of would-be Eccles and Bluebottles, echoing Goonish phrases that that they had learned from television the previous Saturday evening. And now, thirty eight years later, I get many e-mails from this formerly ragged band of schoolboy Telegoons fans (no former schoolgirls yet), all asking why the powers that be have not seen fit to either re-run the series, or make it available in the home video format.
...and a plea
|Way back in 1964, when I was a teenager, my
(myself, mother, father, two sisters and my grandmother) avidly watched and enjoyed all of the Telegoons
episodes, broadcast on the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation’s new 625-line
black-and-white TV system. I still have a vivid memory (proving that the persistence of
memory is at least 35 years) of seeing the exploded and blackened Bluebottle puppet sitting up on a
lamp post, in The Last Tram (T.G. 1st series, #5).
As a child I often used to travel the streets of Wellington, N.Z., by electric tram, and being a member of the TV generation, The Last Tram episode of The Telegoons therefore got my interest in a way that the corresponding Goon Show radio performance did not. In my experience, the mental pictures generated by The original lantern-slide wireless-type Goon Show (as it was so often introduced) will forever be influenced by the Telegoon puppets. This is quite OK by me, since after all, the puppets were based on the Goons’ own drawings of the outlandish characters they portrayed so well. We all have our own cherished mental images of the characters, but rather like reading the book and then seeing the movie, The Telegoons gives us a chance to gain an inkling of mental images other than our own. To me this is valuable because it enriches my original experience.
In the early 1960s, studio video tape recorders were still very expensive (and home VTRs and VCRs were non existent), so The Telegoons episodes were filmed in B&W on 35 mm film, and distributed on 16 mm. This film size provided a good match to the resolution of the British 405-line television system of the time. Now that the VHS home video recording revolution is upon us (although showing some signs of decline due to the onset of the DVD format), the BBC still has not rerun The Telegoons on television, nor has it released the any of the episodes on home video. Videotape copies, therefore, are very few and far between. What all of this means is that few people have had the opportunity of seeing any of The Telegoons episodes. Fortunately for those of us who were living in the Antipodes (New Zealand’s North and South Islands) in the early 1960s, and were old enough to appreciate television comedy, Television New Zealand (then known as the NZBC) purchased The Telegoons series, and aired it soon afterwards (see Tele- Goonography). I do not know how many of The Telegoons episodes still exist in the BBC archives or the archives of TVNZ, or elsewhere. However, at the 2nd annual convention of the Goon Show Preservation Society (Son of A Weekend Called Fred, held in Brighton, of Phantom Head Shaver fame, UK, Oct. 1997), a Telegoons episode was screened, from one of the surviving 16 mm film prints. An additional attraction at this event, in the words of Maxine Ventham (who organized the event during her term as GSPS Secretary), was “...a lonely small, large, rotund figure of enormous value...” Yes, folks, it was one of the Ned Seagoon puppets used in The Telegoons, recently discovered, and in a very fragile state indeed. In one attendee’s words, “Not much survives of the Telegoons...even the puppets themselves are falling to bits now.” However, on the brighter side, there are persistent rumors that the GSPS owns all 26 episodes of The Telegoons on 16 mm film, legitimately bought by the Steam Count (a.k.a. Bill Horsman, chairman and a founding member of the GSPS), no less. You can read all about it in the April 1986 issue of the GSPS newsletter (NL#45). Many Bothans died to bring us this information (oops! Wrong web site!!!). Oh, by-the-way, the great Spike himself attended the above-mentioned SOLD OUT event.
Will the BBC get around to releasing The Telegoons on home video? Only time will tell. The very successful re-release of many of the Goon Show episodes on CD and audio cassette, not to mention a heightened public interest in our radio and television heritage, suggests that they could possibly even make some moola by doing this.
|Next section in this chapter: The Persistence of Goon Memory...|