The Telegoons – Saturday the 5th of October was the day fifty years ago when the first episode of The Telegoons was shown on TV. To mark the occasion there was celebration at The Strutton Arms formerly The Grafton Arms, where I was the guest of honour! There are no Goons still alive and most of the Telegoon people have passed away too.
When we arrived, John Repsch as chair of the Goon Show Preservation Society was in full flow, with Tina Hammond the secretary taking notes. After the business bit, there was an auction of some Goon memorabilia. Of course, these days there is so much online, but John still got the prices he had hoped for. A cheerful bunch of followers were in attendance, some had travelled a long way.
My role was to say something about my background as puppeteer and talk about the Telegoons. So after a pleasant lunch break, I said a bit about our marionette company entertaining at the children’s parties of Peter Sellers, Kenneth More, Princess Alexandra and even the future King of England then a child, who also happens to be a keen Goon fan.
This was followed with my brief brush with fame in Variety, working with Max Miller, Hylda Baker, Alma Cogan among others, and naturally some tales of the Telegoons. Credits for puppetry for the first 15 episodes include my name which was Ann Field in those days.
Anecdotes been related before on this site, but included being sprayed with pretend snow and spiders webs, waiting for hours and hours for the sets to be completed when the puppet sequences were sometimes over in minutes. I told them of course that I made a scarf for Neddie for the Canal episode and met a fellow puppeteer for the first time in a dustbin. Well two of the Telegoons were in dustbins, I think it was Bluebottle and Eccles.
Much of the filming was done with large rod puppets, so we had to cling on to a large tripod on wheels, called a dolly and be pushed around with one hand operating the puppet’s head and the other the hand.
John knows that I can’t really talk about the Telegoons without mentioning they were was not our finest hour The early consultations and the pilot (for which we were the only puppeteers involved) were done for next to nothing on the basis that if the BBC bought the series we would be all be employed as the puppeteers.
In the end they just employed me, claiming fees for the three of us as members at Equity rates would be too high.
Later the rules changed and puppeteers could be members of a different union with cheaper fees.
My father was not happy. He had put a lot of time into the project including advising them that marionettes should be used for long shots rather than using the cumbersome rod puppets.
We had already done some TV puppetry and made our own puppet films. In retrospect we realised the film company had their own family network, including an inventor to whom they always returned. Finally however to add insult to injury later in the series |I believed that my dad’s lip sync system that he had patented started to be used on the set
Sadly I was the unlucky one that could tell this was going on and expressed my concerns. Out the blue after 15 episodes they broke my contract and dismissed me. I felt I had no choice but to sue them with thankfully the support of Equity.
Suffice to say half way through the court proceedings the film company settled out of court! The press thought it was all very funny and called me ‘The Telegoon Girl’. However a second case concerning the lip sync system we dropped, as frankly by this time I was beginning to feel ill with the stress of it all.
Puppets don’t get pensions so we needed to get on and earn a living, but when I look back on this and the many other goings on behind the Telegoon scenes, I think they would have been worthy of their own Goon show plot.
Thankfully the rest of the Telegoons series still got made with a series of different puppeteers who by all accounts had a good time.
Our careers all picked up again. My parents wrote and performed a satirical series for Granada T V. I went on to make a film as an actress, travelling on a boat through the canals to the south of France. Finally our family made the marionettes and manipulated them for the feature film ‘Oh What a Lovely War’ on Brighton’s West Pier, staying at The Grand Hotel,, enjoying meeting some of the stars, being directed by Sir Richard Attenborough no less! This was the ‘piece de resistance’ of all of our careers.
Eventually the Telegoons were on our screens, but some people preferred the images of the characters they had created in their own minds, listening to The Goon Show. The series was less popular in Britain than in other countries where they loved it and subsequent generations loved it too Some had never heard of The Goons and all the zany exploits were still there, even if the puppets were a bit clumsy and much of their manipulation done in impossible circumstances.
It is ironic that the poor old Telegoon heads eventually disintegrated because as you can see our rubber-headed Mad Hatter is still as mad as the day he was made
There were a lot of questions at the event which made the whole thing quite lively and I got a lovely bunch of flowers. Naturally our lookalike Eccles marionette posed endlessly for photos being such a show off, most of the time I left him to it! Link to one of the episodes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRcAi8Vm2Ac
Now off to the beachhut to sit in the sun while the going’s good! Cancelled the idea of planting the new garlic on the allotment, will have to wait till Monday and the sea fret? No sign of it at the moment thank goodness!
Next week really must complete the conservation work on ‘The Oh What a Lovely War’ marionettes for The Imperial War Museum, apparently the BBC Sussex want to come and film them.
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