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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Classic Comedy Films for Easter – Happy Holidays :)

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Sit back this Easter and have a little rest and a big laugh with our collection of Comedy Classics.

Watch them in the comfort of the Pumpkin Palace Cinema, your very own movie theater! I would like to wish all our listeners a happy, peaceful, and fun filled family Easter with plenty of the finer things in life, not excluding marshmallows, chocolate, and jelly beans!

Best wishes: John
ROK Classic Radio

** Click on a movie poster to watch that particular  film! **

Band Wagon

The film version of the radio series Bandwaggon released in 1939 by Gainsborough. The plot involved Arthur Askey and Richard Murdoch running a pirate TV station in a ghostly castle and rounding up a gang of spies.

Cast:-Arthur Askey, Richard Murdoch, Jack Hylton and his band, Pat Kirkwood, Moore Marriott, Peter Gawthorne, Wally Patch, Donald Calthrop.

You may be interested to know that Richard Murdoch plays ‘2’ in the Men from the Ministry!

Africa Screams

Though many of the gags go splat (they’re either feebly timed or missing the requisite punch line), the chemistry between the preeminent straight-man Abbott and his tubby, scatter-brained sidekick Costello is as raucously abrasive as ever.

Yes, the range of their shtick is admittedly narrow (the Marx Brothers would’ve had these guys for lunch), but after whiling away numberless Saturday afternoons during my formative years with revivals of their movies on television, the very thought of Abbott and Costello fills me with a nostalgic warmth.

Ask a Policeman

Another comedic masterpiece from Will Hay and his associates Moffatt and Marriott from 1939.

Here we have all three as village policemen trying to save their jobs whilst fighting headless horsemen, smugglers and a disgruntled police commissioner! … definitely not to be missed if you love classic British comedy.

I Thank You

In desperate need of money to put on a show, the pair dress up as house servants {Murdoch a servant and Askey in drag as a cook} and bluff their way into the home of Lady Randall (Lily Morris), an ex-music hall star known to give financial aid to performers in the arts close to her heart.However, chaos reigns.

Cast:

Arthur Askey, Richard Murdoch, Lily Morris, Moore Marriott, Graham Moffatt, Peter Gawthorne, Kathleen Harrison, Felix Aylmer

Oh, Mr. Porter!

William Porter is working as a lowly wheel tapper on the English Railways until, through the influence of his downtrodden brother-in-law (who happens to be managing director of the railway company), he is offered the position of station master at the isolated station at Buggleskelly in Northern Ireland.

The greatest and funniest of all Will Hay’s comedies, Oh, Mr. Porter! still stands as one of the all-time classics of British cinema, a joyous anarchic romp that can never fail to send an audience into hysterics of unbridled laughter.

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The Men from the Ministry

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The Men from the Ministry was a British radio comedy series broadcast by the BBC between 1962 and 1977, starring Wilfrid Hyde-White, Richard Murdoch and, from 1966, when he replaced Hyde-White, Deryck Guyler.

The Men from the Ministry
Wilfred Hyde White & Richard Murdoch

Written and produced by Edward Taylor with contributions from John Graham, and with some early episodes written by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke, it ran for 14 series, totalling 147 half-hour episodes. A further 14 episodes were made by the BBC Transcription Service in 1980 but never broadcast in the UK.

The series was about lazy, bungling, incompetent civil servants, “Number One” – Roland Hamilton-Jones (Wilfrid Hyde-White) and later Deryck Lennox-Brown (Deryck Guyler), “Number Two” – Richard Lamb (Richard Murdoch), with their dim, typo-prone, teenage secretary, Mildred Murfin (Norma Ronald), all watched-over by the lecherous, pompous, self-seeking Permanent undersecretary Sir Gregory Pitkin (Roy Dotrice and later Ronald Baddiley), all members of the British Civil Service based in Whitehall.

 

Derek Guyler in Men From the Ministry
Derek Guyler

The stories centered on their General Assistance Department which helps other governmental departments. Instead of assistance, the department creates mix-ups, misunderstandings and cock-ups that lead to a telling-off from Sir Gregory, who sees his ‘hard earned’ Civil Service career and pension disappearing.

In one 1960s episode, “The Big Rocket”, General Assistance Department is put in charge of publicity for Britain’s almost non-existent space programme. With “One” out of the office and through a series of blunders by “Two”, a press release reveals the launch of a non-existent British space rocket, carrying Britain’s first female astronaut, Mildred Murfin. This surprises Mildred as she has that morning stormed out announcing she is “going round Ma’s”. The press interprets this as the rocket “going around Mars” and “One” and “Two” are faced with “bringing Mildred down to earth” while keeping their blunders from the public and superiors.

Norma Ronald
Norma Ronald played Mildred Murfin

In another episode, “The Whitehall Castaways”, Lennox-Brown, Lamb and Mildred row to an island in a lake in Regent’s Park, General Assistance having been told to ensure the safety of a great bustard, a rare bird that is nesting there. Neglecting to tie the boat up, Lamb allows it to drift and the trio are, as Mildred puts it, “marooned”, none of them able to swim to shore and Lennox-Brown having ordered the park to be closed and not re-opened “until I give the order”. Spending weeks on the island, Lennox-Brown shows leadership and Lamb shows signs of mental distress, while back at the office Sir Gregory is delighted with their non-attendance and the prospect of being able to fire them, until a note cancelling an order for wooden pixies is found leading him to the conclusion that they may have taken their lives due to the shame of a blunder and his thoughts immediately turn to the effect this will have on his prospects. The trio are released by a boy and the fate of the bird and its eggs is revealed.

The characters are portrayed as inept, subject to greed, selfishness and incompetence. However, malice was never a factor and all the humour was light-hearted. There was also a little broad satire in many episodes. Later series tended to recycle older scripts, just people and places being changed.

Cast

* “One” (Roland Hamilton-Jones) – Wilfrid Hyde-White (1962-65)
* “One” (Deryck Lennox-Brown) – Deryck Guyler (1966-77)
* “Two” (Richard Lamb) – Richard Murdoch
* “Mildred Murfin” – Norma Ronald
* Under-Secretary “Sir Gregory Pitkin”, CBE – Roy Dotrice (1962-65), Ronald Baddiley (1966-77)

Other occasionally recurring characters include “Lord Stilton”, Sir Gregory’s equally pompous boss, “Mr. ‘Whizzer’ Wilkins”, Lennox-Brown and Lamb’s aged and absent-minded colleague, and “Mr. Stack” – “Mr. Stack of ‘Records'” – in charge of the Ministry’s Records department and prone to taking naps in one of his filing cabinets.

In the 1970 episode, Bye-bye Mildred, Sir Gregory does not appear and we hear instead “Sir Hector Gunn”. Also appearing in some episodes are Mr. “Creepy” Crawley, a rather ingratiating member of the Department, and Miss Lusty, an elderly lady in the Pensions Department who lives up to her name. One of Sir Gregory’s later paramours was ‘Daphne Bentwater’ from the typing pool. Other named but non-appearing characters include ‘Mrs Bratby’, Lamb’s landlady.

Actors who appeared in episodes of the series include Clive Dunn, Pat Coombs, Warren Mitchell, Bill Pertwee, Joan Sanderson and Nicolette McKenzie.

Catch the Men from the Ministry on the Comedy Channel from the ROK Classic Radio OTR Network!

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