This was – in a previous incarnation – a Twitter thread about the ‘Guggle Glub Gurgle’ – the sound effect that accompanies Sidney Stratton’s ‘contraption’ in the Ealing Comedy ‘The Man in the White Suit’ (1950). This thread has been revised and expanded.
Our story starts with sound editor Mary Habberfield, who worked at Ealing Studios between 1942 and 1954. It would appear that Habberfield was often uncredited for her work.
Habberfield collaborated with director Alexander Mackendrick. Based on a Samba rhythm, a score was constructed that read: ‘Bubble, bubble, high drip, low drip, high drain, low drain.’
The bubble sound was created by blowing through a glass tube into a viscous glycerin solution.
The two drip sounds were obtained by pinging two different sized pieces of brass and glass tubes against the palm of the hand.
The drain sound was created by air blowing through a tube into water and then amplifying the bubble sound through a metal tube.
With all the elements recorded, Habberfield tested out different combinations until she was satisfied. The sound effect was named the ‘Guggle Glub Gurgle’.
Benjamin Frankel wrote the movie’s score. He decided to incorporate Habberfield’s work into his larger composition called ‘The Guggle Triumphant’. For this, he strengthened the sounds with tuba and bassoon.
Not long after the movie debuted, the effects were sampled by Jack Parnell on the record ‘The White Suit Samba’, which was produced by George Martin, and released on Parlophone. For Habberfield, it was credit where credit was due.
The ‘Gurgle Glub Gurgle’ featured in a plethora of films and television shows, from The Avengers episode ‘The Fear Merchants’, and the film ‘School for Scoundrels’ in the 1960’s…
…to horror spoofs offered by ‘The Real McCoy’ (BBC) in the 1990’s. On a personal note, this is when I first recognised the sound effect from something other than a b/w movie.
Additional Bassoon and Tuba can be heard on the BBC album ‘Off Beat Sound effects’ as ‘Bubbling – Musical’. Another LP – ’Comedy Sounds,’ includes it as a bass line with additional overlaid noises, entitled ‘Chemical Computer’. It’s barking mad! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtX2j3zgydk
Pure speculation, but perhaps Habberfield’s work might have been an influence on Daphne Oram’s ‘Tumblewash’. (Artwork by Michael Cranston)
In 1994 Orbital released their third studio album ‘Snivilisation’. One track – ‘Philosophy by Numbers’ included a simply of Barry Grey’s Theme from Space 1999, alongside this rather recognisable sound effect.
Mary Habberfield went on to work on documentaries and newsreels for British Movietone in the 1970’s.
To this day, there is little biographical information about Habberfield. There is an intriguing footnote about her attendance at an early meeting of the MacDonald Discussion Group, a left-wing study group active in London in the 1950s, which was often comprised of people from the creative arts – such as film, theatre and architecture. Concerned that involvement with leftist movements would affect their careers, the group was invitation only, held private events, and was relatively short-lived. Oh, and they were monitored by British Intelligence. But like much of Habberfield’s life, there is little more detail than that. (2)
Habberfield died in 2011 aged 95, leaving an impressive legacy of sound editing and design, and perhaps opening doors for other female composers after her.
In my view, the ‘Gurgle Glub Gurgle’ is one of the great sound effects in classic cinema. The information on these tweets was primarily sourced from:
(2) Smith, J. (2015) ‘The MacDonald discussion group : a communist conspiracy in Britain’s Cold War lm and theatre industry or MI5’s honey-pot?’, Historical journal of lm, radio and television., 35 (3). pp. 454-472
I’m sure I’ve heard this sound in dozens of films, but Man in the White Suit is where it started. Great piece!
Thanks, glad you enjoyed!