The Four Defences (J.J. Connington)

By J. J. Connington

First published: UK, Hodder & Stoughton, 1940; US, Little Brown, 1940


Blurb (UK)

Connington - The Four Defences UK.JPG
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

They liked J. J. Connington’s “new line in detectives” and now Mark Brand (The Counsellor), having emerged with flying colours from the Treverton case, tackles Case 2.  A highly ingenious and complex business, but the author’s hand is definitely “in,” and down to the very last piece, the jigsaw drops deftly in place under his light, sure touch.

An unidentified body is found in a blazing car.  A man in the locality is missing.  But the corpse in the car is not that of the missing man, though someone has made an uncommonly thorough job of faking it to seem so.  Just because his unknown opponent had gone to such lengths to prevent investigation going further, The Counsellor’s “satiable curiosity” was up.

 

Blurb (US)

Connington - The Four Defences
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

Mr. Connington’s wireless detective, The Counsellor, matches wits with a murderer who has planned a veritable Maginot Line of defences to screen his guilt.

FIRST: The corpse in the burning car—unrecognisable in itself—would be identified and a verdict of suicide reached.

SECOND: If there should be a suspicion of murder, the murderer would not be identified.

THIRD: If actually brought to trial he could prove that his crime was not that with which he was charged.

FOURTH: Should his guilt be later discovered, the murderer could still beat the law—which says that one cannot be twice put in jeopardy for the same crime!

How the Counsellor knifes straight through to the fourth line of defence, by cunning use of evidence, forms an enthralling mystery that fits together as neatly as the pieces of a picture puzzle.  See if you can beat him to the solution!


My review

I knew two things about this book before I started: 1) it was the pure puzzle at its most crosswordy and complicated; 2) it was one of Connington’s most ingenious books.  Neither is true.

I expected a damn dry slog through arid wastes of police procedure, “painstaking” (and giving!) detection, without a pause at a refreshing oasis of excitement, humor, or characterization.  Instead, this may well be Connington’s most zestful book since the 1920s.

The detective is Mark Brand, “The Counsellor”, a wealthy young man who runs a radio show as a hobby.  (He first appeared in The Counsellor, a weak work.)   He’s brighter, wittier, more extroverted than Sir Clinton Driffield, Connington’s usual Chief Constable sleuth, and his exuberant language is a relief after the dreary last few Conningtons.  Throughout, the style is lively – including a comparison of one character to a King Charles spaniel.  This is the Connington we’ve missed.

The story is based on the Rouse case: the “Blazing Car” murder of 1930, when Alfred Rouse tried to fabricate his own death. There’s one body, and two men are missing.   Just how many murders have been committed – and whose corpse is in the car?

Connington knows how the clever reader’s mind works.  Halfway through, he lists the theories of which you (O clever reader) will have thought.  You’ll suspect one character as soon as you learn his profession (and possibly remember a certain Dorothy L. Sayers story).  But you may wonder when you learn…!  Isn’t that too obviously suspicious to be true?

The real solution, though, is disappointing, because it doesn’t live up to expectations.  It’s clever enough – but not as clever as it could have been.

One of the murders is unpremeditated, and not part of an elaborate scheme.  SPOILER  The victim (Campion) happened to see too much on the night of the crime, so X killed him and threw his body in the lake.   I was expecting something subtler.  What about putting Campion’s corpse in the car, to make it look like Hawkstone eliminated a jealous husband who threatened him?  Or putting Campion (or Hawkstone) in Earlswood’s coffin?  With three possible corpses to play with, surely Connington could have done something more ingenious!


Contemporary reviews

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 30th June 1940):

The Four Defences is the second of Mr. Connington’s investigations by “The Counsellor”, a heart-throb expert, at a somewhat imprecisely described radio station.  The case turns out to be a most intricate murder for insurance racket, the murderer having four lines of defence to fall back on one after the other.  Its defects are a certain looseness and diffusion of interest in the narration, but it contains a wealth of thorough, expert, scientific investigation, like a sort of concentrated essence of Dr. Thorndyke.  This should delight all connoisseurs.

 

Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 6th July 1940):

A NEW WEAPON

A blazing car has a body inside it; who that body had been can be decided on page 39 and confirmed on page 50 of The Four Defences.  Why read more?  But there is still the title to explain. Once that task begins there is plenty of ingenuity.  This is in the cold-blooded category which sets drama in the past and excites a crossword puzzle kind of interest.  Nothing in the Rouse case would prepare you for these complications upon complications.  Some person or persons unknown had committed what ought to have proved the perfect murder.  But as attack and defence are always overtaking each other, no less than in war and cricket, a new weapon comes into the hand of the detective.  The radio “Counsellor” has, besides his microphone, his pounds for information received and his puzzle corner.  With all these at his command, and less regard for expenditure than the local police who are curiously unconcerned about Scotland Yard, the “Counsellor” deals meaningfully with most of the clues and somehow hypnotises the criminal into sending him the rest.  Would it be ungenerous to say that he is lucky?  He is so out-of-date in his knowledge of “men’s wear” that nothing but the blind faith of an indulgent author permits a theory he forms on this subject to prove well-founded.  There is also a feat of weight-lifting, lightly dismissed in seven words on the last page, which strains the reader’s inward eye.  Such queries are unavoidable.  What they prove is that Mr. Connington has the power of penetrating into the puzzle-corner of the brain.  He leaves it dazedly wondering whether in the records of actual crime there can be any dark deed to equal this in its planned convolutions.

 

Manchester Guardian (E.R. Punshon, 13th August 1940):

The detective story is but a truncated thing, one feels, if it relies only upon the interest of a complicated and difficult problem presented for solution to the reader who then is shown how he, too, could have reasoned out the puzzle by logical deduction from the given facts.  Nevertheless, tribute is due to the extraordinary ingenuity the authors of such tales often display.  Among them Mr. J. J. Connington ranks high.  In The Four Defences, which, as he makes plain, was suggested by the Rouse case, it is hard to tell whether the careful scheming of the murderer, providing him with “four defences” against conviction, or the ingenuity displayed by the “Counsellor”, Mr. Connington’s broadcaster detective, in breaking through those four defences shows the greater cleverness, or again which is the more likely to baffle the reader.  A pity that Mr. Connington shows little skill in characterisation, so that his personages have no more individuality than chess pieces, and that he has but small care for the niceties of style.  But it is difficult to believe that a more carefully constructed or more puzzling problem has often been offered for the amateur detective to try his skill on.

 

Boston Transcript (Marian Wiggin, 31st August 1940, 80w):

A good mystery and a good mental exercise combined.

 

Sat R of Lit (31st August 1940, 40w):

Fairly bulging with plot, shrewd villainy, keen deducing and bright conversational byplay—all making up for paucity of movement.

 

Books (Will Cuppy, 1st September 1940, 150w):

Mr. Connington displays his customary ingenuity in ringing the changes on standard themes, and you’ll like the story all the more if you care for Mark, the Counsellor, a persistently gay type.

 

New Statesman (Ralph Partridge, 5th October 1940):

Murder at Lilac Cottage and The Twenty-one Clues are by two old friends of ours, and confirm their industry and reliable workmanship without adding to their lustre.  In the bad old days many of our old friends, to make their little secrets as watertight as possible, used to keep back even the bodily introduction of their criminals until nearly the last page.  Fortunately, the umpires have managed to rule that unfair practice right out.  Now we are always allowed at least a peep at the villains’ faces from the start, while the authors content their miserly instincts by keeping back all the evidence against them as long as possible.  But they hardly reckon with their readers’ perspicacity.  Who are the persons in Murder at Lilac Cottage and The Four Defences whose presence near the scene of the crime and on the first fifty pages seems totally unnecessary?  Mr. Rhode and Mr. Connington must learn to cover up better, if they hope to bewilder us at the finish.  At the leisurely production of evidence and the laborious putting of two and two together both these gentlemen are masters.  Nothing could be more sound, more convincing or more slow than their respective plots.  Mr. Rhode’s deals with a mystery man in the country, who is struck on the head by an iron bar on entering his garage one evening.  Mr. Connington’s is the Rouse case all over again, an unidentifiable body in a burning car, with a few extra refinements.  The four defences are the four successive red herrings with which the murderer hopes to defeat the arm of the law.  But the arm of the law in The Four Defences is reinforced by Mr. Connington’s imposing Councillor, so what chance has the villain got?  Anyway, we knew who he was the instant he appeared by his very unobtrusive manner.

THE GOON SHOW: “The Toothpaste Expedition”

The Goon Show – Series 4, episode 20

First broadcast: BBC Home Service, 12 February 1954

Cast: Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan

Musical interludes by the Ray Ellington Quartet and Max Geldray

Orchestra conducted by Wally Stott

Announcer: Wallace Greenslade

Writers: Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens

Producer: Peter Eton

Script


My review

One of the “lost” episodes, this one survives as an off-air recording, and is not held by the BBC.

Milligan was having an off week, as well he might.  He supported his family by writing 30 episodes of the Goon Show a year, and the pressure had led to his hospitalization with a mental breakdown the previous year.

Two of the three sketches appeared in earlier shows (both themselves now lost), while the third feels more like an improv sketch.

  • A magazine-format sketch parodying the British public school.  “The ancient school of Rottingdean was built in the 16th century by its founder, the Dean of Murdle, whose body lies buried in the grounds – hence the name ‘Rotting Dean’ .”  This sketch first appeared in Series 2, episode 2.
  • “The Toothpaste Expedition”: The world faces a shortage of toothpaste, so two expeditions are sent to look for another mine; the one sent to the Sahara ends up at the North Pole, while the one destined for the Arctic finds themselves in Egypt.  This sketch first appeared in Series 3, episode 5.
  • Henry Crun, that eminent sportsman, and Eccles hunt moose in Canada.

THE GOON SHOW: “The History of Communications”

The Goon Show – Series 4, episode 18

First broadcast: BBC Home Service, 29 January 1954

Cast: Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan

Musical interludes by the Ray Ellington Quartet and Max Geldray

Orchestra conducted by Wally Stott

Announcer: Wallace Greenslade

Writers: Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens

Producer: Peter Eton

Script


Like many of the early episodes, this is an off-air recording, missing the first few minutes.  Milligan recycled scripts from previous episodes.

The first segment is a sketch telling the history of communications, from yelling across mountains to yelling over the telephone.  Lots of short, clever jokes, an explosion, and Sellers shows off his vocal mimicry.  First appeared in Series 1, episode 7.

The rest of the show is an “educational” piece, about the siege of Khartoum (1884-1885).  Muhammad Ahmad, self-proclaimed Mahdi (redeemer of Islam), besieged the British garrison under General Gordon; he captured the city in January 1885, and killed the defenders.

It first appeared in Series 3, episode 18.  It’s a fast-paced episode, with some brilliant wordplay about mosquitoes, M.C.s, and nasty cracks on the wall.  Major Bloodnok challenges the Mahdi to a duel by conkers, Henry Crun leads the relief column, and Eccles is an intelligence officer.

BLOODNOK: Eccles, you’re a stupid, ignorant idiot.

ECCLES: Well, I say this.

BLOODNOK: What?

ECCLES: Well, I don’t say much, but what I do say don’t make sense.

Ends rather abruptly.

 

Let Him Lie (Ianthe Jerrold)

By Ianthe Jerrold, as Geraldine Bridgman

First published: UK, Heinemann, 1938


Blurb (Dean Street Press reprint, 2015)

Jerrold - Let Him Lie.jpgMurder begins with the death of a kitten…

Artist Jeanie Halliday is thrilled to move into a country cottage of her own, next door to the home of her dear childhood friend Agnes. But the countryside idyll isn’t quite what she might have expected: Agnes is suddenly and unaccountably unfriendly for one thing; and then the neighbours are a little peculiar – old Mr Fone, obsessed with burial mounds; the scandalous Hugh Barchard; and an estranged mother taken to brandishing pistols around.

Soon after the feline victim is found, a shot is heard – the corpse of Robert Molyneux, Agnes’s husband, is discovered with a bullet in his brain. Was Molyneux a meddler in sacred places, a secret lothario… or simply a man who knew too much? And how does the unfortunate cat fit in? It will fall to Jeanie to assist the local police superintendent and fit the pieces of a baffling mystery.

Let Him Lie is a classic golden age detective story from 1940, written by a queen of the form. It includes a new introduction by crime fiction historian Curtis Evans.


My review

Guns and graves in Gloucestershire.  Jerrold’s third crime story is more of a suspense mystery than an orthodox detective story.  She wrote it nearly a decade after her first two, The Studio Crime (1929) and Dead Man’s Quarry (1930); in the interim, Curt Evans says in the introduction, she’d made a name as a straight novelist – hence the decision to write mysteries under a pseudonym.

I enjoyed it, but more as fiction than as detective fiction.  It’s well written and characterized, but I found the plot transparent.

It reminded me of Gladys Mitchell, another English detective writer who, as one critic put it, writes better than she plots.  We have prehistoric England (a tumulus – bell grave –  with a possible curse); independent young women; and natural, unaffected dialogue.

The viewpoint character is Jeanne Halliday, a sensible, likeable young artist, new to the neighborhood. As an artist ,Jeanie is someone who observes, and who sees clearly – unlike the other characters, who are wrapped up in their emotional problems, or simply in themselves.

The women are skillfully drawn: Agnes Molyneux, the schoolmistress Jeanie idolized, revealed as an insecure egoist; clever, awkward Miss Wills; neurotic Mrs. Peel (no relation to Emma); Marjorie Dasent, plain, sporty, and doomed to spinsterhood; and imaginative adolescent Sarah.

Jeanne talks to the characters, and occasionally discusses theories with them, but doesn’t set out to solve the mystery.  The police are seen from a distance, as a menace; Superintendent Finister “disturbs” Jeanie.  Towards the end, Jeanie realizes the truth.  Whereupon X tries to kill her.

I knew both X and why, and how X would try to kill Jeanie, well in advance.  (Intuition!)  I also worked out the significance of the vicar of Huntley immediately.  (I suspect this may have been intended as a red herring.)  Jerrold takes clueing seriously; the deductions from the position of the victim’s head are sound, and the wandering hen is clever.

Jerrold, like Allingham and Sayers, raises the issue of women’s role in marriage.  Miss Wills criticizes marriage because wives sacrifice their independence, and depend on their husbands for their happiness.  Other relationships are jealous and possessive, again denying the woman’s autonomy.

Jerrold’s answer seems to be that marriage should be founded on mutual respect.  The sympathetic, intelligent Jeanie is more mature than the man she (probably) marries, but the couple seems well matched.

This may not be the ideal marriage of mystery-mongering and good writing, but it’s too good to leave lying.

La toile de Pénélope (Paul Halter)

By Paul Halter

First published: France, Masque, 2001


For Anglophones…

Penelope’s Web

An entomologist is presumed dead in the Amazon.  His wife is about to marry again – and then he returns.  But his family thinks he’s an impostor.  100 pages pass before he’s killed; at first, it seems a suicide – but it’s really murder.  How, though, could the killer have left the room without breaking the spider’s web over the window?


Blurb

Halter - Toile de Pénélope.jpg“Heureux qui comme Ulysse a fait un beau voyage.”  Tel pourrait être le crédo du professeur Foster, de retour d’Amazonie au terme d’un périple de trois ans.

Las!  Son épouse, le croyant mort, s’apprête à convoler une seconde fois, et sa famille l’accuse d’imposture.

De surcroît, “ses souvenirs” de la jungle brésilienne sèment la terreur: difficile de cohabiter avec des mygales, même si l’une d’entre elles, Pénélope, d’une nature forte paisible, tisse inlassablement la même toile.

Alors, quand l’un des habitants de la maisonnée passe de vie à trépas, l’inspecteur Hurst doute fort que la victime se soit donné la mort.  Mais s’il s’agit d’un assassinat, comment le meurtrier a-t-il quitté la pièce?  Il ne peut avoir traversé la toile de Pénélope…

Paul Halter repousse les limites du crime impossible, mais aucun défi n’effraye le célèbre duo Twist et Hurst!

 


My review

3 stars.png

Reviewing this is tricky, because I agree with Xavier Lechard’s write-up of a few years ago.

It’s a minor Halter: a straightforward locked room mystery.  It reads well; it’s brisk, rather light, but it lacks subplots and complexity.  It doesn’t have his flaws (no psychologically improbable explanations, no poorly motivated situations, no likeable young men who are really Jack the Ripper), but it’s not as creative as his best works, either.  Halter, unlike the tarantulas in this book, doesn’t weave a complex web of mystery.

There aren’t any great surprises – X will probably rank high on your list of suspects – but Halter’s clueing is more fair than usual.  (SPOILER The title should get you thinking in the right direction)

The solution to the locked room is sound.  I’d compare it to one of John Rhode’s, rather than J. Dickson Carr’s: it’s not dazzlingly brilliant, but it’s a workmanlike job of mystery carpentry.

Colonel Gore’s Second Case (Lynn Brock)

By Lynn Brock

First published: UK, Collins, 1925; US, Harpers, 1926


Blurb (UK)

With the methods of Colonel Gore, the reader has already become acquainted in The Deductions of Colonel Gore.  As he faces now with that genial individual the task of solving the intricate problem presented by the Powlett case, he will find, no doubt, as before, some naïvetés to smile at, some miscalculations to deplore, a flair of real brilliance and a perseverance of invincible determination to admire.  He will walk with him, at all events, step by step along the devious and baffling path to the truth.  Equipped with no less knowledge and no more.  And if at moments along the pilgrimage he disapproves of some little strayings of his companion from the straight path, it is trusted that at the second Finis of this series the two will part as good friends as they did at the first.


My review

Lynn Brock was one of the second-tier writers of the 1920s, the pseudonym of Allister McAllister, an Irish playwright and novelist who dabbled in detection.  His tec is Colonel Wickham Gore, international polo player and African explorer turned private eye.

S. S. Van Dine and Milton M. Propper (another minor writer, from the States) both liked him; so did the newspaper reviewers.  (See ONTOS for some.)  Barzun & Taylor are more reserved.  I read a couple nearly 15 years ago – his first, The Deductions of Colonel Gore (1925), and the very late, impenetrably convoluted Fourfingers (1939).  

I tried to read Colonel Gore’s Second Case back then, but couldn’t get into it.  This time round, I persevered, and discovered, halfway through, that I was enjoying this tale of multiple murder in the English countryside.

Brock - 2nd Case.jpgDon’t be put off by the hypnotically boring opening chapter, which consists of middle-aged men walking slowly around a golf course.

The fourteenth was a 4-bogey.  Gore and the Secretary followed their drives along the fairway, which rose at first gently with the broad upward sweep of the ground, played spared irons of indifferent success for their seconds, and took each three more to get down.  Scott-Keith remained thus one-up, with four to go.

It improves.  And how.  By halfway through, we’ve had three corpses in the present (including a Bishop, possibly bumped off by his vicar in a quarrel over church doctrine); one murder in the past; a few attempted murders; two men gone missing; and an ex-convict with a grudge.  And Colonel Gore himself has been gassed.

Gore, you might say, doesn’t bore.

The excitement continues apace, with confusion over a courtesan, some toothsome evidence, and the rescue of the intended victim from a sinister nursing-home.

The solution’s intricate; too intricate, some critics thought.  “A tale of incredible complexity,” Barzun and Taylor wrote, with “twenty-five pages of fine print (Gore’s ‘notes’) … to clear up any small points.”

It’s not that bad; but the crime’s the work of two principals and six accomplices (some of whom don’t appear until the very end).  (British writers wrote a few detective stories where a gang did the deed; J. J. Connington penned several, and Agatha Herself tried her hand in Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?.)  What people did is clear – but the why is less so.  (SPOILER I’m not sure how the villains benefited from the Mrs.  P. / Mrs. L. substitution.)

There’s at least one surprise – surprising to Colonel Gore, who didn’t suspect X until he walked into the trap.  Gore’s strictly in the amateur class; luck, not the little grey cells, plays a large part in his investigations.  But we’re onto the clues at the same time he is.

This, though, isn’t really a fair play puzzle plot; it’s telling that the explanation is based on evidence given at the trial and on the criminal’s confession, rather than on clues planted in the narrative.


Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (25th February 1926):

The scenes of this story are laid on and near a West Country golf course.  There is a murder in the bunker at the seventeenth hole, there is an attempted murder in the grounds of the president of the club, a bullet narrowly misses a lady while telephoning in his house, a man is kidnapped and hidden in some ruins near the course, and the Bishop of the diocese is found murdered in the adjacent parish church.  One of the Bishop’s brothers has been murdered before the story begins and the corpse of a girl disentangled from a motor accident a few hours after the murder of the prelate is identified as that of his niece.  With such a wealth of violent incident to occupy his mind and an attempt on his own life to distract him, it is small wonder that Colonel Gore is sorely puzzled, and the reader will be quite bewildered until the Colonel, in trying to prove one theory, is forced to adopt its direct opposite, only just in time to stop yet another murder and rehabilitate a much-injured reputation.

 

The Spectator (27 February 1926):

A long and very detailed murder story which would be easier reading if it had begun with Chapter XXI.  True, the element of mystery would be wanting in the book, but the mystery is too involved to be too easily followed.

THE GOON SHOW: “The Missing Prime Minister”

The Goon Show – Series 4, episode 15

First broadcast: BBC Home Service, 8 January 1954

Cast: Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan

Musical interludes by the Ray Ellington Quartet and Max Geldray

Orchestra conducted by Wally Stott

Announcer: Wallace Greenslade

Writers: Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens

Producer: Peter Eton

Script


This survives as an off-air recording, so the sound quality isn’t brilliant, and it’s missing the opening.

10 Downing Street goes missing, with Churchill in it – and he must be found quickly, otherwise England’s cigar trade is ruined. The plot (not that it matters) is about French politics; under the 4th Republic, there were 21 administrations in 12 years.

It’s the one where Eccles, on foot, follows a car going 80 miles, and throws a brick at the driver and his companion, knocking them out cold.

Otherwise, it’s a solid episode, parodying ’50s police films.  The Missing Link joke is groanworthy, and there are a few good jokes about Marilyn Monroe and the Folies Bergères.

ECCLES: These Parisians are always tryin’ to hide somethin’.

BLOODNOK: Not at the Folies Bergeres they’re not. Ohh.

SEAGOON: Please, Major, this is not the time to think of women.

BLOODNOK: Isn’t it? Well, let me know when it is, will you?

The Min and Hen scene, though, drags.

 

 

 

THE SAINT: “The Better Mousetrap”

The Saint, Season 5

First broadcast: 25 November 1966

Cast: Roger Moore (Simon Templar); Alexandra Stewart (Natalie Sheridan); Madge Ryan (Bertha Novesham); Ronnie Barker (Alphonse); Arnold Diamond (Colonel Latignant); Lisa Daniely (Milo Gambodi); Patrick Whyte (Bernie Kovar); Eddie Byrne (Tench); Michael Coles (Hugo); Aimée Delamain (Lady Haverstock); Marika Riviera (Concierge); Pauline Collins (Marie-Thérèse); Alan Downer (Gendarme); Robert Bridges (Fat Man); Tom Macaulay (Banker); Vicky Hughes (Mirelle)

Director: Gordon Flemyng

Screenwriter: Leigh Vance

Producers: Robert S. Baker

Based on: “The Better Mousetrap”, in The Saint in the Sun (1963), by Leslie Charteris


My review

Saint - Better Mousetrap.jpgThe French police suspect Simon Templar of stealing jewels from hotels in the Riviera.  Despite the “glamorous” setting, this is a stodgy episode: competent, but unremarkable.  The story’s an adaptation of one of the very last, slighter Saint stories, and it doesn’t feel like there’s enough material to fill 50 minutes.  It’s hard to get excited about wealthy Americans, draped in boas, baubles, and bibelots, being burgled.  There’s an attempt at misdirection – but you’ll probably guess the twist early on.  (SPOILER  Natalie is so obviously the accomplice that it’d be an anti-climax if she were.)

Still, it looks good.  ’60s television, like ’50s movies, glows with rich color; if you’ve got color, flaunt it!

Ronnie Barker plays a clumsy French cop.  The death of one of the villains, by falling from a balcony, is a clear shout out to the rooftop chase from Hitchcock’s Vertigo.  The fight on the hotel roof at the end might be a nod to Charade.

THE GOON SHOW: “The Ghastly Experiments of Dr. Hans Eidelburger”

The Goon Show – Series 4, episode 3

First broadcast: BBC Home Service, 16 October 1953

Cast: Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan

Musical interludes by the Ray Ellington Quartet and Max Geldray

Orchestra conducted by Wally Stott

Announcer: Andrew Timothy

Writers: Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens

Producer: Peter Eton

Script


The sound quality is poor – an off-air home recording – but this is the first episode that really feels like the Goon Show.

“The Ghastly Experiments of Dr. Hans Eidelburger”: Where can the crazed German scientist (and his sinister Oriental assistant, Yakamoto) find a man who can take the weight of a steamroller on his face?

SECOMBE: Wait! Wait, I heard that, and I warn you I’m not paying for any fancy Harley Street treatment. Do I get everything on the National Health?

EIDELBERGER: Everything except the steamroller. That, you get on your face.

This is a fast-paced and clever parody of American magazine fiction.  “The Adventures of Fearless Harold Secombe”, from the boys’ Bullseye Magazine.  It has the earliest surviving “Little does he know” routine, and ends by driving a steamroller straight through the fourth wall, and over the announcers.

“The Mount Everest Project”: Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbed Mount Everest in 1953 – but the Goons question the authenticity of that achievement.  In 1887, Lord Hairy Seagoon decides to bring Mount Everest to England, and make her the tallest country in the world.

MILLIGAN: Does the Honourable Member know what he’s talking about?

SEAGOON: I’m not supposed to, I’m a politician.

Eccles has two brilliant moments.  He climbs all 40,000 feet of Mount Everest (which is only 30,000 feet high) and can see the back of his own head.  And a joke about beauty being only skin deep.  Ends aboard the HMS Regurgitant, slowly sinking under the weight of the mountain, wrapped in brown paper.

 

THE GOON SHOW: “The Man Who Tried to Destroy London’s Monuments”

The Goon Show – Series 4, episode 2

First broadcast: BBC Home Service, 9 October 1953

Cast: Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan

Musical interludes by the Ray Ellington Quartet and Max Geldray

Orchestra conducted by Wally Stott

Announcer: Andrew Timothy

Writers: Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens

Producer: Peter Eton

Script at the Goon Show Site


Eighteen months and nearly two whole seasons after the last surviving Goon Show episode.  The main characters are, by and large, established: straight man Neddie Seagoon; cowardly old Major Bloodnok; cheerful imbecile Eccles; senile Minnie Bannister and Henry Crun.

Moriarty, though, is a criminal mastermind, has a German accent, and seems to be voiced by Peter Sellers (?).  In later episodes, he’s a heavily oiled French wreck played by Spike Milligan.

It’s still a sketch comedy: one short sketch, and one long one.  The short sketch is unmemorable: Neddie becomes a life guard to rescue a millionairess – but he can’t swim.  Ho hum.

The longer sketch is workmanlike.  “The Man Who Tried to Destroy London’s Monuments” will blow up Nelson’s Column, the Albert Memorial, Anna Neagle (an actress) – and then Greater London!  Crun and Min have a long, circular argument about knocking on a door.  And there’s a large explosion at the end.  What was all them little green pins for?

SEAGOON:

Why weren’t you two evacuated with the rest of the people?

HENRY:

They said that we wouldn’t last the journey.

SEAGOON:

Nonsense, they have ice boxes.