Wallace Greenslade

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"Are you bored during these long winter evenings?," the soothing radio voice asks. "Then get yourself a Wallace Greenslade do-it-yourself kit and make your own Wallace Greenslade." The obvious question…
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"Are you bored during these long winter evenings?," the soothing radio voice asks. "Then get yourself a Wallace Greenslade do-it-yourself kit and make your own Wallace Greenslade." The obvious question is, who is this Wallace Greenslade, and why would anyone want to have one? On the surface, Greenslade was a quite respectable person, an announcer for the British Broadcasting Corporation in the '40s and '50s. Once he became involved with a new program that premiered in 1952, he became something quite different, sort of a symbol of the heights to which comedy could soar when released from earthly bindings, no matter what the original subject. The program was The Goon Show, originally entitled Crazy People: Featuring Radio's Own Crazy Gang: The Goons. "To save wear and tear on Wallace Greenslade's dentures, the subsequent seasons were simply called the Goons," one biographer of the series writes, despite the fact that Greenslade was actually not the announcer for the fledgling episodes of the series. Once he became a part of the cast, however, there was no looking back, and his mere presence -- and his physical presence was much more than mere, as will be explained later -- established part of the essence of the way the program operated.

The three main Goons were Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, and Sir Harry Secombe, three of the most talented creative artists in British history who between them could easily stock both a reading library, a video shelf, and a music collection with their own material. Milligan and Sellers in particular were wildly anarchistic performers, and the thought of them leashed to the stuffy operations of the BBC would seem like a non-starter if broadcasting history hadn't already proved otherwise. Greenslade was sort of a personification of the BBC, as news announcers or radio voices tend to be. He had the type of endlessly proper diction and sturdy presence that listeners would associate with the British radio empire, and was thus a perfect target for the Goons when they were ready to satirize, lampoon, and mock their own host, quite a common happening indeed. This became not only a tradition for the Goons, but followed along into many later comedy productions that owed The Goon Show a large debt. Monty Python's Flying Circus, for example, made a regular practice of knocking the air out of the BBC, not only imitating announcers such as Greenslade but producing short segments to be broadcast once the audience was under the impression the comedy program was over, with the sole intention of tricking listeners into thinking they were listening to a serious BBC program. The hit late-'60s television program Laugh In made regular comic use of a radio announcer with a so-called straight radio voice, as did the even stranger albums of the comedy group the Firesign Theatre.

Greenslade's responsibilities with the show went much deeper then simply being a large target, although this was obviously important. He would open and close each show, perform continuity segments within the episodes, and often was given brief speaking parts, such as the villainous Phantom Head Shaver in the episode of the same name, which perhaps predicted the entire skinhead movement that would erupt in England a decade later. The Goons' biggest tribute to the man was to base the plot of an entire episode around him, even going so far as to title it "The Greenslade Story." The plot of this episode bore little, if any, resemblance, to the announcer's actual biography, but that's no surprise.

Greenslade, known to most of his working associates as "Bill," joined the staff of the network as a general announcer in the late '40s. He worked on a wide variety of programs, one important aspect of which was the relative anonymity of the announcers. He often worked as a news announcer at the network. The Goons not only took great delight in mocking his proper, trained British newscaster's accent, but also took aim at his girth, a target so large that missing was nigh impossible. One official press release from the series announced that Greenslade had joined the network and program after "a brief stint in films: Most prominently played the title role in Moby Dick." Another much less sarcastic portrait begins seriously but can't help but give in to the temptation to throw in a descriptive element related to the man's physique: "He was a nice, warm, friendly man, with a very distinctive waddle when he walked." He appears on screen in a sequence near the start of Richard Cawston's 1959 film This Is the BBC for those interested in seeing for themselves. Andrew Timothy, another BBC veteran who worked as the announcer on the original first few episodes, was also brought in to do the revival performance entitled "The Last Goon Show of Them All" in 1972, with Greenslade receiving the following tribute from his goonmasters: "Excused due to death."