"The Greenslade Story" from Newsletter: 63
Wallace Greenslade was a BBC staff announcer for some years before the opportunity arose to appear in the Goon Show, replacing Andrew Timothy. The task suited him admirably - a big, jolly man who acted as producer's assistant (unpaid) in organising the audience and trying to keep order.
Having used him in many a show as more than just the announcer, (a French hotel owner for example) it was a happy idea of Spike's to make Wallace the subject of a whole show; bringing him into the foreground and enabling Spike to play around with BBC-type sounds and rituals. (Despite all he had said and written about the BBC, he surely at heart loved the institution, but hated the bureaucracy).
With announcing as the main plot it was natural to invite John Snagge to appear, the senior BBC announcer, famous for his wartime broadcasts and the Boat Race commentaries. As the senior man he always did the news on big days. Snagge, perhaps surprisingly, was a great supporter of the Goon Show, and but for his intervention on several occasions, the show would have been axed.
The episode's opening announcement gives rise to a favourite sound effect - a sharp intake of breath indicating horror, following which Secombe as narrator explains that the applause is for a common-or-garden announcer, Wallace Greenslade. The title announcement gives as its alternative "Winds Light To Variable" a phrase we shall not be allowed to forget (and one which is still used today by forecasters' when describing the weather).
Snagge explains that Greenslade went to the BBC seeking refuge from hard work, and sounds of the typing pool herald the appearance of Sellers in drag as a secretary. First in the queue for the job of announcer is a dashing yuppie wearing a brass deerstalker, white cricket boots and shredded cardboard wig - yes, it's Eccles himself. Wallace retains his dignity and mutters a curt 'good morning'. At this point we have the Cambridge tie joke, told by Eccles, used by Spike over the years and still appearing from time to time.
Miss Sellers ushers Eccles into the Presence, but he is swiftly ejected with the riposte, "We'll write to you." "That's no good, - I can't read" says Eccles. Wallace is next, and he wisely takes off his shoes, and kneels. The Presence, played by Sellers, is a delicious characterisation which I wish he had done more often. A camp voice, beautifully placed and timed as only Sellers new how. Wallace gets the job and starts at once - he has really made it - a BBC announcer, with patriotic music to prove it.
The acceptance of Greenslade and rejection of Eccles cause consternation at the Seagoon School of Announcing, which boasts 56,000 trainees including one Major Bloodnok, - waiting patiently for "earthquakes in East Acton." Grytpype Thynne is engaged by Neddie to kidnap (or adult-nap!) the whole BBC announcing staff in order to provide vacancies for his own students. Most of Sellers' giggles were edited out of shows but we hear him at this point about to break-up at the sound of Eccles' voice superimposed on a scratchy record saying, yes, "Winds light to variable" again.
Max Geldray's interlude here is One, two, button your shoe.
Gryptpype's fiendish plan is to tempt Wallace out of the BBC by offering a lucrative stage contract. Snagge is called in to talk him out of it. "Tell him it's Snaggers" he informs Ellinga, Wallace's manservant. Topical references to the Boat Race commentaries are included, to remind the audience that Snagge is really only guesting on the show. However, these topical inserts are useful for placing the Goon Show in its 50's context.
Snagge appeals to Greenslade's sense of fair play - "Remember you are British! Aren't you happy with us? Man alive! Isn't £3.10s a week enough? And a free copy of the Radio Times…" To clinch the deal he is empowered to offer £4.0.0 a week. (When one remembers Spike's salary for writing and appearing in the show at first was about £18.0.0 a week, this part of the script can't be that far-fetched). It is to no avail and Wallace is soon topping the bill at the Palladium with his stage act. (I wonder what is was?)
Enter Lew, Greenslade's agent and another of Peter's great voices. As it is at the expense of Jewish agents in general, Sellers is partly mocking his own origins. The weak joke about Lew's father being a Duke appears here for no apparent reason, other than to fill a couple of lines of dialogue. We feel here that Spike is beginning to lose direction with the script. Min' and Hen' are introduced here as a couple of autograph hunters, fairly inconsequentially, and Ray Ellington intervenes to prevent things grinding to a halt.
The final part of the show has us at the Palladium, Star Dressing-Room, with Greenslade enjoying a black Russian cigarette. Lew re-appears, in a terrible state: he is ruined because the audience has departed. It is nearly nine and everybody's gone to hear - yes - "Winds light to variable" by Eccles. The tables are turned; Wallace is out of a job and reduced to busking.
Eccles the new Star arrives by taxi. Lew seems to have Eccles on his books as well (he seems a very active agent), "Eccles schmeckles, my lovely boy, you're going to make a lot of money for me." However, the euphoria doesn't last long, as once again the audience disappears, deserting the live theatre for the steam radio, but this time the announcer is……… Bluebottle, with the news.
Thus ends a happy show, one which is very down to earth with no surrealism, neatly constructed, and giving a breather to our old favourites, Bluebottle, Bloodnok, Minnie and Crun, who make only token appearances.
The four cartoon drawings used to illustrate this article are taken from newsletter no: 63 and are Copyright © Tim Leatherbarrow.