Origin of the Goon Show's Bluebottle
by Robert Priddy
One incident from my scouting days seems worth recounting, for it bears on a small
part of British social history, in its way. Towards the end of my scouting career, late 1952 or perhaps early in 1953, a three-day bicycle marathon with camping on the way was organised which was to end in a large jamboree - a county-wide meeting of many patrols and troops at some place in the Essex countryside... I think it was Billericay. The climax was supposed to be a visit from the main organiser, whose real name I forget. We were told that he was a very active and enterprising scout leader, one who knew lots of well-known people including Michael Bentine, Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan. Prior to his delayed arrival, our scoutmaster, Mr. Morley, made us promise not to remark on this other scoutmaster's way of talking or mannerisms, nor to laugh or show any signs of fun... for
he was a rather different sort of person, unusual.
As soon as I heard the great man's voice approaching, I recognised it as that of the
grotesque character Bluebottle from a BBC radio comedy show 'The Goons'. It was unbelievable
that anyone could pronounce words in such ridiculous fashion and unlikely tones, and moreover with such assured self-importance as did this barrel-chested, hairy-legged
wonder in short trousers complete with whistle, scarf, woggle, knife in sheath and so on. It
was fascinating but oddly repellant ... also confusing, for Peter Sellers used exactly the same tones and weird twists of language on the weekly show. He even boasted
of his friendship with Sellers and Co. to us. It was perfectly obvious that he had been the model
for the contorted phrases and falsetto leaps of voice of Sellers' character Bluebottle.
However, nothing much was said about this, probably because we had been told not to mention it - obedient boys that we actually were - and anyway, there was no way of finding out any more. But he was a steaming fool if ever there was one! I can't remember his name or where he came from, but he was a scoutmaster in some place like Walthamstowe, Ealing, Ilford... I seem to recall.
As years went by, I virtually forgot all about this peculiar chap, until in the 1970s when,
having rediscovered the pleasure of the old Goon Shows, I got an l.p. of
the Parkinson TV interview with Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe in 1972. There, the origin
of Bluebottle's voice and some character traits was publicly revealed by Sellers.
It was the selfsame red-bearded, wide-chested scoutmaster in full regalia from khaki
shorts to wide-brimmed hat that Sellers described, along with the preposterous voice!
He had tried to get Sellers to do a show at some scout meeting, but the declining
Sellers had instead taken the opportunity to send him on to the other 'goons' instead, chiefly
to be studied as potential material. Potent it surely became... Bluebottle must have
been the most popular fictional radio character ever.
The Michael Parkinson interview of 28 October, 1972 in which
Peter Sellers tells of his meeting with the scoutmaster whom he copied for the
character Bluebottle is hilarious. It was released on vinyl lp as 'Michael Parkinson
Meets the Goons' by BBC records and tapes. If you have more infomation on the
subject of the 'proto-Bluebottle' ,
owner of this website.
"Ah well... Just a thoouught. Sincere goodbye folks!!" (howled in your direction through this webbed, mellophonic mega-speaking-trumpet)
Since posting this page, I have heard from one esteemed Dick Baker who also has a Bluebottle website with a photo of the very same scoutmaster.