Sunday, February 12, 2012

How I Identified Bob and Ray's Mystery Sound - Sarah Cole

I love Bob and Ray! During the forty years they worked together, Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding managed to introduce their listeners to characters as implausible as Uncle Fletcher Rush's acquaintances, and scenes as more improbable than any science fiction writer ever imagined. They stood respected radio serials on their head (Mary Noble, Backstage Wife became "Mary Backstage, Noble Wife, and One Man's Family became One Fella's Family – and improving on their sources, to my way of thinking!), they parodied great literary figures like the Scarlet Pimpernel and Sherlock Holmes (with The Green Pickerel, and Sherlock Sage and Doctor Clyde); they visited ordinary places, like factories or festivals, that, thanks to human whim or Murphy's Law, became gloriously new and extraordinary. Unexpected familiarity is part of their charm.

The first Bob and Ray broadcasts I recall hearing were a sequence of five of their 1959-era CBS shows, that had been included in an Old Time Radio program honoring famous radio teams. I don't remember having heard them before, but I felt as if I had known them all my life. And I knew I was going to like them when one program ended with a mystery voice. Ray announced, "Can you identify this mystery voice:" and voice said "This is Bing Crosby," That's the kind of mystery I like!

But one of those quarter-hour programs concluded with a mystery sound that did not have as obvious a solution as Bing had offered. This one was a brilliant representation of utter madness. I'm not sure it can be adequately transcribed but the sound was of a man's voice howling: "zzzZZEEAAHH! Hudda! Hudda! Hudda!" It was so wild, and so unexpected that even Ray had trouble maintaining his composure. It was also so effective that they used it again on at least one occasion. When Wally Ballou calls in a man-in-the-field report from a tranquilizer factory (a factory in which – naturally – everybody is on the verge of a nervous breakdown), that noise was used for the gibbering of the plant manager. The sound was so memorably bizarre that a listener would look forward to hearing it again.

Bob and Ray twisted sense of humor lent itself to this kind of reuse of, not so much sound effects, but sounds themselves. Sounds of people speaking, or of odd conversations. In one episode from that CBS era, the show opens with murmuring in the audience, which Ray scolds into silence. On another occasion, that same clip was used as the interview responses of a group of "Somaliland Pharmacists." Bob and Ray would ask relevant questions, and react as if the unintelligible conversation made sense. They also had a lot of fun with the recording's exclamation "Wan Dajha! " On another occasion, a recording of a little old lady enthusing about her deceased cat became the voice of an audience member who couldn't be silenced. Sometimes, Bob and Ray would reuse recordings from their own broadcasts. In an episode of Lawrence Fectenberger, Interstellar Officer Candidate (an hilarious send-up of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet), in which he is delivering a forgettable commencement address, the commandant is heard laughing. The voice of the commandant was a recording of the distinctive laugh of one of their announcers: "HAH HA Ha ha (gasp) Oh-ho! HAH HA Ha ha ha (gasp) Oh-ho!" It was like hearing an old friend in an unexpected place.

The humor of Bob and Ray is clever, witty, plausibly absurd, and cynically optimistic. Their broadcast career lasted from the late 1940s to the 1980s, It is also regrettably hard to find on radio these days. Happily, a little hunting on the internet can return sources for hearing these brilliant comedians at work. (A source where I've had some success has been ). Hearing them, or anything connected with them, is a pleasant surprise.

And it was just such a surprise that I had recently, when an old "friend" solved the mystery of that other old friend: the mystery sound. A local rebroadcaster of vintage old time radio, Those Were the Days, was playing the first program of the Gulf Screen Guild Players (January 8, 1939). Because it was meant as an introduction to the series, this episode was a showcase of the talents of the actors and actresses who might eventually perform in upcoming dramatic plays. I tuned in late, so the first thing I heard was Reginald Gardiner delivering a monologue about the rage of railway locomotives, which intrigued me. Though Reginald Gardiner's film persona was generally that of a dryly sarcastic English snob, it was always a pleasure to see him in a movie. You may remember him as Barbara Stanwyck's fiancé in Christmas in Connecticut or as the orchestra conductor/jewel thief in The Horn Blows at Midnight. In any event, he began his talk by describing an engine angrily setting out on a journey, with some surprisingly effective verbal sound effects. He goes on to tell about the bickering between the train and the rails, which sounds like: giddle-le-de, guddle-le-duh, giddle e-de. . ." I had to step out of the room briefly, so when I came back, he was explaining that the one thing an engine really loathes is another engine coming in the other direction. It sounded something like this: ". . .Giddle-le-de, guddle-le-duh, giddle-le-de zzzZZEEAAHH! HUDDLA! HUDDLA! HUDDLA! HUDDLA! HUDDLALALA! giddle-le-de, guddle-le-duh, giddle-le-de. . ."

If I had been sitting down, I would have fallen out of my chair. It was the voice of the tranquilizer factory manager; and Bob and Ray's Mystery Sound! And how Bob-and-Raylike that the visual picture of uninhibited madness should have originated with a reserved Englishman. But, as Bob Elliott might have said, "Elementary, my dear Clyde!"

That Gulf Screen Guild Theater episode can be found at:

- Sarah Cole

©Jimbo 2010/2011

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff, Jimbo. I also like Bob and Ray. The first time I heard them was in the early 50s and it was on 'stereo' record. Our first 'stereo' record which also included a variety of music. I think it was too emphasize sound coming from all directions. Their skits were great and I have liked ever since.


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