Much Binding in the Marsh

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Much Binding

During WW2, there was a radio show for the Services called “Merry Go Round which comprised of three separate series: one for the Army, one for the Navy, and one for the Royal Air Force. These rotated, so that each was heard once every three weeks. The Army show was “Studio Stand Easy”, starring comedian Charlie Chester.

He was actually an Army Sergeant when the show was conceived, having been called-up following the outbreak of war. Unbelievably, he was actually ordered by his commanding officer to write a smash-hit radio show! This, he later remarked wryly, was easier said than done. But he was a first rate comedian, who, like Kenneth Horne, continued to be very successful on radio well into the 1960s.

The Navy’s contribution to “Merry Go Round”, initially entitled “H.M.S. Waterlogged”, starred light comedian

Kenneth Horne, Richard Murdoch, Maureen Riscoe, Sam Costa & Maurice Deham.

Eric Barker, supported by Jon Pertwee (who was later to have big successes in the BBC radio comedy “The Navy Lark” and on television as the third Doctor Who).

After the war, “H.M.S. Waterlogged” evolved into “Waterlogged Spa”, with the Naval Base becoming a health spa as the show continued into the post-war period. Many of the characters who Pertwee played in this show would later reappear in “The Navy Lark” in the 1960s!

The Air Force show, “Much Binding in the Marsh”, was the most successful of these, to judge by how long it lasted.

 


Much Binding in the Marsh from the 24th May, 1950
Much_Binding_in_the_Marsh_s04e10_1950-05-24

 

Richard Murdoch and Arthur Askey on Bandwagon

Broadcast by the BBC and Radio Luxembourg from 1944 to 1954, Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh was a radio comedy about a fictional RAF station which starred Richard Murdoch, who had previously appeared alongside Arthur Askey in the pre-war “Band Waggon”, and Kenneth Horne, who is now remembered mainly for his 1960s heyday in the two satirical successes “Beyond Our Ken” and “Round the Horne”.

During the run of the show, the RAF station changed from combat operations, to becoming a country and finally a newspaper, The Weekly Bind. The programme’s title is thought to have been inspired by the RAF station at Moreton-in-Marsh. The word “binding”, was RAF slang for moaning or complaining.

One of the most fondly remembered parts of the show was the closing theme tune, which was unique each week as topical lyrics referring to the plot of the episode were written and sung by members of the cast. Other cast members included Sam Costa, Maurice Denham, Maureen Riscoe, Dora Bryan and Nicholas Parsons.


Up the Pole from the 1st November 1948 (only known surviving episode)
Up The Pole – Nov 1 1948

Musical interludes were provided by Stanley Black and the Dance Orchestra, and songs from Helen Hill. The cast were occasionally joined by special guests; a prominent example of this was the Hollywood star Alan Ladd. Maurice Denham in particular played an important part in the programme, playing a multitude of roles of varying gender and age. These included Mr. Blake the Sexton (the name a homage to the fictional detective

Crooner, Sam Costa

Sexton Blake), the local Vicar, Mrs Dinsdale, young Percy and others.

The BBC cancelled the show in 1950 and it was transferred to Radio Luxembourg but returned to the BBC in 1951 until its run ended in 1954.

In 1970, two of its stars (Murdoch and Costa) appeared on several episodes of Frost on Sunday where they performed more comical lyrics to the theme tune. The show is also sometimes said to have popularised the term “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” for newspaper correspondents.

Kenneth Horne and Sam Costa subsequently reprised their roles from Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh in an episode of Men from the Ministry first broadcast on 21 April 1968 entitled Four Men in a Wellington. Although not specifically mentioned, the response of the audience and Sam Costa’s catchphrase ‘Good morning Sir, was there something?’ are obvious references to Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh.


HMS Waterlogged from Merry-Go-Round (8th August 1948)
Merry_Go_Round_1945-08-08_HMS_Waterlogged

Catchphrases

“Good morning Sir, was there something?” – Sam Costa, batman
“Oh, I say, I am a fool!”
“Have you read any good books lately?”
“Leave it with me, sir”
“Leave it with him, sir”
“Would you like to see my puppies?”
“Not a word to Bessie”
“Did I ever tell you about the time I was in Sidi Barrani?”

Live broadcast of Much Binding in the Marsh (Copyright British Pathe)

Little of the BBC’s radio output of the 1940s has survived, as most shows were broadcast live and were not recorded. The 78 rpm disk recording technology, which was all that was available prior to the development of tape recording, resulted in sound quality that was significantly worse than a live broadcast, so it was better not to fill the air-time with recordings, and being a non-commercial broadcaster the BBC had no financial incentive to preserve its output.

Those factors have made BBC recordings from this period rare. Luckily a few episodes of of Much Binding in the Marsh exist and can be heard every Saturday on the British Comedy Channel at 23:30 GMT

 

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The Navy Lark

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The Navy Lark was a BBC radio comedy written by Laurie Wyman and George Evans about the crew of The Royal Navy ship HMS Troutbridge and their mis-adventures.
The show was first aired on The Light Programme in 1959 and ran for thirteen series until 1976 making it the second longest running radio programme the BBC has made.
The main characters of The Navy Lark are: Cheif Petty Officer Pertwee, played by Jon Pertwee; Sub Lieutenant Phillips, played by Leslie Phillips and The Number One, which was played by Dennis Price in the first series and Stephen Murray from then on. The rest of the regular characters (too many to list here – see the cast and crew section) were played by Richard Caldicot, Ronnie Barker, Tenniel Evans, Michael Bates and Heather Chasen.
The series used accents and characterised voices to supplement the humour, as well as a good deal of innuendo. The programme featured musical breaks with a main harmonica theme by Tommy Reilly and several enduring catchphrases, most notably from Sub Lieutenant Phillips: “Corrrrr”, “Ooh, nasty…”, “Oh lumme!”, and “Left hand down a bit”.
“Ev’rybody down!” was a phrase of CPO Pertwee’s, necessitated by a string of incomprehensible navigation orders by Phillips, and followed by a sound effect of the ship crashing. Also, whenever Pertwee had some menial job to be done, Able Seaman Johnson was always first in line to do it, inevitably against his will: “You’re rotten, you are!”. The telephone response from Naval Intelligence (Ronnie Barker), was always an extremely gormless and dimwitted delivery of “‘Ello, Intelligence ‘ere” or ‘This is intelligence speakin'”
Other recurring verbal features were the invented words “humgrummits” and “floggle-toggle” which served to cover all manner of unspecified objects ranging from foodstuffs to naval equipment.
The Navy Lark made Leslie Phillips a Household Name

The series made household names of Leslie Phillips, Jon Pertwee and Richard Caldicot, but Ronnie Barker’s versatilecontributions were only recognised after he had become better known through television comedy. Michael Bates later appeared on television as Blamire in Last of the Summer Wine and as Rangi Ram in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. Judy Cornwell was later to appear in the short series Moody and Pegg, but became best known when she was cast as Daisy, one of Hyacinth Bucket’s sisters in Keeping Up Appearances. Dennis Price returned for a guest appearance in the fourth series episode A Hole Lieutenant.

There were several radio sequels, including The Embassy Lark and The Big Business Lark. The TV Lark was intended to be a replacement for The Navy Lark starting with what would have been the series’ fifth season.This situation came about due to the head of light entertainment believing that “forces” based humour had had its day and television was the next “big thing” so Lawrie was told to create a show with the same cast in an independent TV station situation. Alastair Scott Johnston and Lawrie Wyman tried to stop this folly but were over ruled, hence the arrival of The TV Lark. The entire cast had been drummed out of the service (as the announcer puts it) and hired by Troutbridge TV Ltd. Janet Brown joined the cast due to the absence of Heather Chasen for this season. However, mainly due to public pressure, the production team of Alastair Scott Johnston and Lawrie Wyman managed to revert the show back to nautical capers, and episode ten of The TV Lark revealed that although CPO Pertwee had arranged to flog almost the entirety of HMS Troutbridge. Storylines in The TV Lark nudged back to Naval origins across the ten shows until they were finally reunited with Troutbridge and acceptable storylines once more. 10 episodes were made but unfortunately Episode 9 is lost. The nine surviving episodes are available on YouTube.
In 1959 a film version was made, written by Laurie Wyman and Sid Colin and directed by Gordon Parry. 

Jon Pertwee, better known to millions as Doctor Who

It starred Cecil Parker, Ronald Shiner, Elvi Hale, Leslie Phillips and Nicholas Phipps.

Wyman co-wrote with three other writers a television sitcom HMS Paradise (Associated-Rediffusion, 1964-5) set in a naval shore establishment in which Caldicot played Captain Turvey, but only one series was made. The entire series has been wiped, but a rumour exists that one episode still exists.
The show was condensed from 30 to 27 minutes by Transcription services, the discs were then exported around the world except for South Africa. As Springbok Radio was a commercial station the BBC refused to allow the station to re-broadcast the British shows so the station acquired the scripts from Lawrie and edited them to around twenty five minutes, to accommodate the commercial breaks,the revised show was recorded them in front of a live audience before broadcasting them. All the UK associations were kept for the Durban audiences which must have been incomprehensible on occasions. Excerpts of these broadcasts can be heard on the Springbok celebration site and occasionally Pumamouse.
LISTEN TO AN EPISODE: The Navy Lark – Demise Of The Depth Charges
You can hear episodes of the Navy Lark daily on the British Comedy Channel…. Happy Listening!
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