The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town, thanks in part to the later Two Ronnies remake, is one of the more interesting segments of Six Dates With Barker. The Six Dates version was written by Spike Milligan whilst the Two Ronnies remake was credited to Milligan and A Gentleman (an indication that Barker had a hand in reshaping the original concept in order to fill out the expanded running time of the Two Ronnies serial format).
Unsurprisingly there’s more than a touch of Goon Show humour about this one. If the rumours are to believed, then Milligan originally planned it as a film which would have featured himself, Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers – but these plans were abandoned due to Sellers’ film commitments.
After the somewhat laboured comedy of The Removals Man, Phantom is a joy right from the start. Milligan’s eye for the absurd is given free range with numerous sight and dialogue gags. One of my favourites revolves around Sergeant Bowles, who’s played by different actors of various builds. One Bowles might enter a room directly behind Inspector Alexander (Barker) only for another to be seen in the next shot. It’s stupid, but it works.
Barker plays several other roles (including dragging up as Lady Penelope Barclay-Hunt). Lady Penelope ends up so shocked by the Phantom that her face turns black and her hair white (not something you’d see today of course). The identity parade is another exercise in total ridiculousness – as we see a topless Scotsman, a Chinaman, a black Chelsea pensioner, a vicar and an upper class toff (played by the lovely Moira Foot, who’d earlier been equally unconvincing – in a comic way – as a newspaper urchin).
With concerns that Queen Victoria may be targeted, a number of male officers with no resemblance at all to her Majesty are drafted in to impersonate her (Pat Gorman is amongst their number). Another favourite moment is the meeting of the heads of the Commonwealth, who feature a number of dummies amongst their number, including one who has a pumpkin for a head and another who sports a balloon instead! Moira Foot, who’d also appeared alongside Barker as Effie the maid in Hark at Barker, once again provides a touch of glamour, this time as the pneumatically enhanced Maureen Body.
The later Two Ronnies remake might have seen the addition of many more gags (as well as enjoying the comic talents of Ronnie C) but the compact Six Dates with Barker version is highly entertaining in its own right. A pity they didn’t spin this one off into its own series, had Milligan been able to keep up this stream of comic invention it might have worked very well.