The man repsonsible for restoring episodes of The Goon Show for release and broadcast, as well as many other radio comedy classics, graciously agreed to answer some questions about his work on The Goon Show.
Ted Kendall (Bouchard, 2014)
When did you first hear The Goon Show?
My first contact with the show would have been through The Telegoons, which aired when I was three or four. I remember being put out that an episode was postponed to allow the second showing of "An Unearthly Child", the first Doctor Who episode! Some time later, I found bits of "Dishonoured-Again" on one of the tapes I used to play on the old Grundig tape recorder we had. I remember the waiter asking "What does the dirt-enscrusted Sahib desire?" The dominant event was undoubtedly The Last Goon Show of All, in 1972. Not the greatest Goon Show by any stretch of the imagination, but enough to light the fire.
What were your first impressions of the Goon Show?
I loved it! I think it was the voices as much as anything - that and the absurd Telegoon puppets. The Telegoons suffer by comparison with the original shows, but, to a small child who knew no different, they were magic.
Fifty six years after the show originally finished broadcasting, why are people still listening to The Goon Show?
Because it is funny! Any analysis pales beside this simple fact. To go a little deeper, however, aside from the remarkable level of performance and the production values , its appeal lies in the way it deals with eternal truths about the way the world works. Idiocy exists everywhere, especially in officialdom; corruption is all but universal; people stick to their accustomed world view in the face of all evidence to the contrary; and so on.
How did you become involved in the restoration of Goon Show recordings?
The Goon Show Companion by Roger Wilmutt and Jimmy Grafton. Cover: Harold King. © Robson Books (King, 1976)
Having avidly sought out and recorded all the repeats since the Last Goon Show of All, and bought or borrowed everything that was commercially available, I came across Roger Wilmut's "The Goon Show Companion" in paperback. I was greatly impressed by the thoroughness of the research and fascinated to learn that there was much material still to be found. I also learned of the existence of the BBC Transcription Service. I was reading Electronic Engineering at the time, partly at the BBC's suggestion, and already had a mind to work for the Corporation, but this association with The Goon Show was part of the reason why I transferred to TS in 1983. Having established myself there, I lost little time in finding out just what material was on the shelf and documenting it. This turned into an official project with a brief to find whatever other Goon material was available, and this brought me into contact with Peter Copeland, author of the Goonography in "The Goon Show Companion", and John RT Davies, who had recorded many Goon Shows off-air and preserved them on acetate disc.
The first application of this research came around 1985, when Radio 4 instituted a policy of programmes for a half hour slot having to run to at least 29'15" - every ten-second shortfall cost the producer £50 of his budget. "The International Christmas Pudding" was scheduled for a Christmas repeat, but the longest version on the shelf was the 27 minute TS reissue. Now, using a tape of the original TS issue which Peter Copeland had rescued many years before, I was able to make an almost complete restoration of the text and replace the playout, which brought the duration to over 29'30". There were a few words missing from both versions, and these I replaced from a hissy domestic tape which I had discovered. All the restorations save this one were not noticeable, and the result was well received. This led to a repeat season the following Christmas, featuring some shows never before broadcast in the UK, and a restoration of "The Starlings", which reinstated a controversial line about OBEs.
Partly because of my meeting John RT Davies, I left the BBC in 1990 to become a freelance sound restoration engineer, and shortly after that I became involved with Dirk Maggs and Michael Pointon in the production of the 40th anniversary documentary "At Last The Go On Show". The interest generated by this programme led to two more repeat seasons, which between them covered most of the shows issued in truncated form by EMI, plus some others which were in need of restoration, notably "The House of Teeth".
The Goon Show on CD. © BBC (BBC, 2013)
The commercial arm of the BBC piloted issues of The Goon Show on CD in the mid 1990s, and the success of this prompted them to remake the existing cassette compilations for CD issue, and I was asked to do the engineering, making as far as possible complete versions of the shows. This series has continued, and is now up to Volume 31! Around 2007, the decision was made to take advantage of advances in technology and the emergence of new material and produce "The Goon Show Compendium", which presents the shows in transmission order, half a series or a series to a box. This commenced with the fifth series, and will end some time in 2017 with two boxes covering the pre-fifth series material.
Where do the source materials come from and what kind of condition are they in?
Ted Kendall in the studio. © Cedar Audio
Many of the original tapes still exist, or did exist when I was in a position to copy them for research purposes. Some shows have been preserved by BBC Archives on microgroove disc. TS issues survive on 16" coarse groove disc, microgroove disc or as tapes.
Secondary sources, which provide material for restoring cuts, can come from internal BBC recordings, whether official or unofficial, domestic off-air recordings, or tapes scrapped by the BBC which have nevertheless survived. A large number of tapes which were destined for erasure were instead used to fill a wall cavity in a TS editing room, and the recovery of these yielded several useful tapes. Peter Copeland and Roger Wilmut between them spirited sixteen shows out of Bush House in the early 1960s, and among these was the only broadcast quality copy of "The Terrible Revenge Of Fred Fu-Manchu". And of course there are the John RT Davies acetates. There is another tranche of domestic acetates which carries otherwise unknown shows, but these are in rather bad shape.
A lot of the material has been well preserved, but some sources deteriorate over time, notably acetate tape, which deforms and becomes brittle, and this has to be handled with particular care. When it comes to restoring a show, there are two distinct strands - one is the textual restoration, the other the technical. Firstly, of course, all the necessary sources have to be copied into a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) as well as possible. The kit for doing this is now quite esoteric - professional tape machines, a 16" disc player and a conventional turntable with a selection of pickups and stylus sizes. Then we need to establish the best source, which is usually easy, to use for the core of the show. Inserts, which may be as small as a single word, are taken from the beat available soucre and a rough edit made. Then sound restoration techniques are applied to give a technical result at one as good and as uniform as the source material permits.
Beyond Our Ken. l-r: Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden, Kenneth Horne, Patricia Lancaster, Bill Pertwee. © BBC
Have all the available Goon Show episodes been restored and released or are there more to come?
The last of the surviving Goon Shows should be released by the end of 2017.
What restoration projects are you currently working on?
Besides an issue of some of the first stereo recordings to be made available in the UK, I am finishing off the complete "Navy Lark" edition and working on one of "Beyond Our Ken". There is also some activity with newly-discovered Tony Hancock material.
Notes and References
Interview conducted by Brin Coleman via email.
BBC, 1959. Beyond Our Ken Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/12815621253
BBC, 2013. The Goon Show Compendium Available at: http://www.ebay.ie/itm/NEW-The-Goon-Show-Compendium-by-Spike-Milligan-AUDIO-BOOK-CD-Audio-Free-P-H-/381585101902
Bouchard, Justin, 2014. Popular Music History: The Remastering Hall of Fame Available at: http://popmusichistorian.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/the-remastering-hall-of-fame.html
King, Harold, 1976. The Goon Show Companion (cover) London: Robson.