Archive for The Goon Show

The Nod

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2020 by dcairns

I decided to read, after discovering to my surprise that it’s available online, the screenplay for ROMANCE OF THE PINK PANTHER, the Inspector Clouseau films scripted by Peter Sellers and one Jim Moloney, to be directed by Clive Donner, Sellers having successfully elbowed out Blake Edwards.

Since Sellers had reportedly been bored of playing Clouseau by the second time he did it (which was the first film in which the bumbling inspector was lead character), his eagerness to revisit the role can only have been an attempt to prove to the world, and Edwards, and himself, that he, Sellers, had always been the principal genius behind the most successful comedy franchise in screen history. I had a feeling the script, left unfilmed after the star’s death, wasn’t going to do that — after all, the same pair of “writers” were to blame for THE FIENDISH PLOT OF DR. FU MANCHU, an absolute steaming load of cack which became Sellers’ last film, rather marring the beautiful valediction that is BEING THERE.

Sure enough, ROMANCE is dreadful. Scene one, in which Professor Auguste Balls, master of disguise-making, sells Clouseau a Louis XIV chair disguise, did make me laugh out loud, actually. Well, FIENDISH PLOT had one good bit — the “elephants on the knees” routine, in which somebody looks through a microscope and sees archive film of elephants. It’s very much Goon Show humour, which is Sellers’ default mode, borrowed wholesale from his chum Spike Milligan, and you can hear him dropping Milliganesque catchphrases into the Clouseau films and elsewhere (“It must be hell in there,”) from the very beginning.

It wouldn’t have really worked onscreen, because a Louis XIV isn’t something a man of woman born can hide in. So you’d have an unavoidable surrealism that has nothing to do with the PINK PANTHER series’ style. But it was amusing to read, and to think of Sellers maybe being somehow influenced by Edogawa Rampo.

The rest of the thing is dross, though you can imagine Sellers, if he was on good form, getting some laughs out of the deeply inane, underplotted material. He’d done it in the past. What really interested me was this ~


The writing, you will note, is clunky and childish. Moloney was an actor, like Sellers, and clearly the junior party, lucky to be in on the thing. One pictures Sellers pacing while Moloney types. What seemed odd to me, given that there were two men present for the writing, was that an obvious idiosyncrasy, the idea of people nodding to indicate “NO” rather than shaking their heads, like humans, had survived the collaborative process.

But OK, it’s a one-off, I thought.


Argh. There it is again. So I think we can project ourselves into the writing room now…

SELLERS: …and she nods ‘no’ almost imperceptibly.

MOLONEY: Nods ‘no’?

SELLERS: What was that?

MOLONEY: You said, “Nods ‘no.'”

SELLERS: I know that.

MOLONEY: Don’t you mean…?

SELLERS: I know what I mean!

Moloney shrugs, types “…and she nods ‘no’ almost imperceptibly.”

OK, maybe I’m making too much of this.


I’m definitely not making too much of this. I know this looks almost like the same passage but it’s not, it’s another, nearly identical passage from much later on.

SELLERS: Clouseau nods ‘no’ almost imperceptibly.


SELLERS (a note of warning): Yes?

MOLONEY: Nothing.


A theory can be formed. Perhaps some of Sellers’ craziness, his temper tantrums and paranoia and resentment, is that he really did think people nodded no. Being a Hollywood star, he would be surrounded by yes men, but sometimes, as is the way of those things, those yes men would have varied things up a bit and nodded instead of saying yes. And Sellers, the poor deluded fool, would have thought they were refusing him, defying him. Some of those instances would have been really disturbing, as they would seem to be changing their minds capriciously in mid-sentence. It would be enough to destabilize the sanest man. The effects on a raving maniac can barely be calculated.Footnote 1: the neanderthals in William Golding’s wonderful novel The Inheritors shake their heads in agreement.

Footnote 2: experts in micro-body language say that a “barely perceptible nod” when saying “no” indicates a lie. Like the truth is trying to blast out of you even as you fib, like Gepetto yelling from inside Monstro the whale.

Footnote 3: I once knew a chap who shook his head yes and nodded no. There seemed no reason behind it. He clearly wasn’t lying about whether he’d had breakfast. He missed his vocation as personal assistant to Peter Sellers.


The Sunday Intertitle: Catchpole Burkington

Posted in FILM, Radio, Theatre with tags , , , , on August 26, 2018 by dcairns

We returned to the Pleasence Dome on Friday night to see Jeremy Stockwell as Spike Milligan in A Sockful of Custard, Terry Johnson, author of Ken, had told us that JS was “just as uncanny” in this role as he was as Ken Campbell in Ken. No exaggeration. Somehow, by some subtle constriction of the jaw muscles, he transforms “no particular physical resemblance” into “Oh look, it’s Spike.” And the voice, the laugh, everything.

The play is co-devised by Chris Larner, who co-stars as almost everybody else.

I’m making this a Sunday Intertitle purely in order to get the thing up a little before the show closes, so any Edinburghers reading can catch it in time. The intertitle is from the best bit of THE CASE OF THE MUKKINESE BATTLEHORN, a fairly inept attempt to transpose The Goon Show to the cinema screen. A little while later, THE RUNNING JUMPING STANDING STILL FILM would demonstrate that Milligan humour COULD work visually – but only if it was conceived visually. His scripts for the Goons made such imaginative use of the radio medium that to slap pictures on is to ruin most of the jokes and flatten the eerie, ludic, nonsensical world he created.

That’s why I like this scene, conceived as it is for the movie — when Catchpole Burkington, “famous star of the Silent films,” enters, the soundtrack is overtaken by melodramatic solo piano and everyone else loses the power of speech. They have to match his intertitles with hastily scribbled cards of their own.

When Burkington mistakenly tries to exit via a closet, it feels for a moment like the gag is too general, the kind of thing Clouseau might do, not specific to a silent tragedian — but then he exits the closet dressed in an Edwardian bathing suit and the piano accompaniment plays “Rule Britannia.” The only missed trick is to have normal sound return after he leaves.  That should have been good for a laughlet in itself.

When I first heard the Goons as a kid I found it all slightly disturbing (Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python cut-outs also scared me). The words and sounds conjured images — like a cartoon with the picture turned off — but the images couldn’t quite coalesce. “Climb through this photograph of a hole.” Your brain tripped over itself trying to assemble an illustration.

Some of the jokes would use sound to deliberately wrong-foot you: one character shouts increasingly loud instructions to his companion, painting the picture of increasing distance between them, and then hs friend speaks in a normal tone of voice and you realise he’s still standing right next to him. The shouting was just madness.

But other jokes went further into bizarre abstractions, things you just couldn’t create pictures for. “This is the BBC.” A POP and GLUGGING. “Oh no, the cork’s come out.” “Stop it, before the BBC flows away!”

The Goon Show, like the Hollywood cartoons which influenced it on some level, could seem like nightmares of brutality if unpicked too earnestly. Characters are regularly shot or blown up with dynamite. But they comment on their own deaths, making each episode a kind of playground ritual, a game which the characters enter into wholeheartedly, safe from real harm in their parodic, surreal dream-universe.

Returning to A Sockful of Custard — Jeremy Stockwell’s impersonation of Milligan as a child I found particularly moving, because you sensed the wellspring of all that mad creativity was right in front of you. And Milligan’s GLEE, which he retained an incredible capacity for in adulthood, suddenly made sense when you saw it played out as the explorations of that little boy growing up in India.



French Farce

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Painting, Radio, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2014 by dcairns


Things done –

Pere Lachaise Cemetery – people kept asking me if I knew where Jim Morrison was, but I was avoiding him. Also Edith Piaf. The only famous person I met was Ticky Holgado, whose terrifying sepulchre, depicted above, evokes the awe and horror of death better than any of the more tasteful tombs.

Charcuterie. With two ex-students: one is working as a nanny and being bitten all over by small children while pursuing her documentary career, the other was attending a fantastique film fest (but they weren’t showing LET US PREY so I’m safe).


Coffee at the Hotel du Nord, from the film of the same name, avec Phoebe Green, who sometimes appears in these pages as La Faustin, and who was our translator on NATAN. You can’t get a view of the hotel through the bridge as Marcel Carne manages in his film — having rebuilt the whole neighbourhood in the studio he could shuffle things around, lose a few trees, and arrange things to the camera’s advantage.

Lunch at the Cinematheque – boeuf bourgignon where I bought many postcards, also some awesome KING KONG flipbooks. It’s quite something to have Kong waving his arms about in the palm of your hand.

There’s a lovely Truffaut exhibition on just now, with letters and photos and other souvenirs – not the Jeanne Moreau letters, she’s sitting on those – and it was a chance to nod sadly at the image of Marie Dubois, one of our recent departures for realms unknown. Truffaut ought to feature in the Late Movies Blogathon, come to think of it – I have a soft spot for VIVEMENT DIMANCHE! And THE GREEN ROOM is one of the most apt late films of all.


Truffaut’s boyhood notebook — LE CORBEAU, he recorded later, was the first film he saw twice. But what caught my eye, of course, was the Pathe-Natan LE MISERABLES, which must have been on its post-war re-release, hopefully with the Jewish names restored to the credits which were removed under the Nazis.

St. Sulpice, a large church featuring some impenetrably dark works by Delacroix.

Many many bookshops, where my inability to read French prevented me from making many an extravagant purchase, like the giant book of stereoscopic images of diabolical tableaux – little dioramas with miniature imps and demons frozen in the act of cavorting with pitchforks and other accoutrements — co-authored by Brian May of Queen. The kind of book one SHOULD own. But I couldn’t walk away from the little pamphlet by Samson Raphaelson, his memoir of working with Lubitsch. It was only four euros, and reading the first few sentences I was pleased to discover that my schoolboy French did not leave me wholly in the dark. Actually, I need to modify the expression “schoolboy French” lest I be seen to traduce the educational system. Some qualifier like “concussed schoolboy French” or “sleeping schoolboy French” gives you a better idea.

Now, since I need to see a movie, obviously, and I need a movie I have a chance of understanding, preferably, I have been drawn to the Cinema Desperado, whose Romy Schneider season is featuring WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT. I’ve never actually seen the whole thing. TV versions were always pan-and-scanned and just TOO SMALL to allow Richard Williams’ elaborate titles to be enjoyed… the documentary series Hollywood UK more or less accused this film of ruining British cinema, since it led to the excesses of CASINO ROYALE and the belief that throwing enough gaily coloured, fashionable shit at the screen would be enough to attract and keep an audience. And I have a complex, mostly abusive relationship with the works of Clive Donner, though it’s never been entirely clear whether it’s abusing me or I’m abusing it. Here goes nothing…

(Typed at 17:41 in a café with no internet.)


Later – well that was highly enjoyable. Can’t remember the last 35mm projection I saw – probably THE BOFORS GUN at EIFF. The cinema belongs to Jean-Pierre Mocky and shows all his films, a different one every day.


The film is a hot mess, as expected, but there are very funny, silly bits, and some clever bits too. The editing is all over the place – continuity is appalling, but that is sometimes evidence of a cutter following the rhythms, or creating them, and saying the hell with making stuff match. But there are clear signs of whole sequences having been moved about on a whim (probably that of increasingly erratic producer Charles K. Feldman), characters show up out of the blue (not Ursula Andress, who does so literally, as a deliberate gag, but people like the bomb-throwing anarchist, who the script must have intended to set up earlier as Paula Prentiss’s boyfriend), and Paula Prentiss’s early scenes appear to have been set upon with a meat cleaver – the conversations have been hacked into nonsensical soundbites, set-ups for gags that never come or punchlines to gags never set up.

Fortunately, Peter O’Toole is usually able to find his way through a scene if it’s allowed to proceed in sequence, dragging co-stars behind him, and Peter Sellers augments the best lines of Woody Allen’s script with nonsense of his own (therapist Fritz Fassbender curses upon soaking his thighs with petrol: “Geschplund!” A straight Goon Show quote if ever there was one).


It’s a shame about the messiness because feckless dithering in the control room is the last thing a tight farce needs, and there’s some evidence that Allen had constructed such a farce. The idea is a sound one – a shameless philanderer decides to get married and be faithful, and suddenly he’s besieged by beautiful women. Capucine’s nymphomaniac Mrs. LeFevre is possibly the funniest actor in the film, despite not getting any actual jokes. She just has beautiful timing and emphasis, and makes the other actors funnier in turn (Sellers: “You look ravishing in zat whistle”). The colossal beach whore from EIGHT AND A HALF, dressed as a Valkyrie, is also good value.

The whole cast gets assembled for a climax at a country hotel, with a rampant Andress in dropping into O’Toole’s lap from the heavens (“I yam a paris-chew-diss!”), stripping off her aviatrix jumpsuit to reveal a seductress jumpsuit underneath, then ditching that too. Oddly, despite the crummy continuity, Andress running through the hotel in her undies always has her undies disarrayed the same way from shot to shot, left butt cheek bulging out.

Disappointingly, after scene after scene of stunningly beautiful, chic Parisian sets by Richard Sylbert, the hotel is mostly a dowdy location, and rather than giving us a satisfactory conclusion there’s mere chaos, and O’Toole getting nagged by his new bride at the fade-out. Still, as she accuses him of looking at another woman (Francoise Hardy!), O’Toole enunciates acidly: “I *had* to look at her, she was *speaking* to me. I Turned in the Direction of the Sound.”