The Australian-English phrase in more trouble than Speed Gordon, and variants, mean beset with extraordinary difficulties.
This phrase refers to Speed Gordon, which is the Australian name of Flash Gordon, the hero of the eponymous space-opera comic strip created by the U.S. cartoonist Alex Raymond (1909-1956) and first published in 1934.
This is Speed Gordon, from the fifth instalment of the comic strip, published in The Sun (Sydney, New South Wales) of Sunday 28th October 1934:
These are the earliest occurrences of the phrase that I have found, in chronological order:
1-: From Sporting Editor’s Column, by E. N. Greatorex, published in The Sun (Sydney, New South Wales) of Sunday 2nd October 1938:
I ran across a friend of football years. We used to call him “The Pessimist.” The name still fits. “How are you doing?” I asked, that being the conventional gambit at the races.
“No good,” he answered, just as conventionally. “I’m in more trouble than Speed Gordon ever dreamed about!”
2-: From an advertisement for How to Sub-Let (1939), a film directed by Roy Rowland (1910-1995), starring the U.S. humorist and actor Robert Benchley (1889-1945)—advertisement published in The Sun (Sydney, New South Wales) of Friday 10th February 1939:
The Prince of Humorists!
is in more trouble than Speed Gordon
when folks come to rent his apartment in
“HOW TO SUB-LET”
3-: From the account of a rugby-union game, published in The National Advocate (Bathurst, New South Wales) of Tuesday 11th July 1939:
Hyland is a marvel. He gets into more trouble than Speed Gordon and gets out of it as easily as Brick Bradford. Luck is a fortune, and Hyland has his share of it.
4-: From Father Flanagan Not Financial Wizard: Studio Story Causes Marked Drop In Public Donations, published in Wireless Weekly (Sydney, New South Wales) of Saturday 8th February 1941:
Two years ago M.-G.-M. made “Boys’ Town” with the chief character, Father Flanagan, a financial wizard and superman who was always able to overcome the financial difficulties that beset him.
Then the trouble started.
The public looked upon Father Flanagan as a real financial wizard and a marked falling off in subscriptions to the home was the result.
In fact, as a result of the flattering portrait, contributions to the youths’ institution near Omaha showed an alarming decline.
But M.-G.-M. is also stocked with financial wizards, and scenarists, Norman Krasna and James K. McGuiness, and Director Norman Taurog, guaranteed that in “Men of Boys’ Town” Spencer Tracy, as Father Flanagan, would be confronted with unsurmountable obstacles in the hope that the priest’s patrons will see the film and resume their donations.
In addition to recording Father Flanagan’s struggle to pay for the £100,000 worth of improvements which have been made since the initial picture was shot, the plot will deal with a youth who killed his father for beating his mother.
Metro hopes to put Flanagan in more trouble than Speed Gordon ever thought possible.
5-: From the account of a golf tournament, published in The St George Call (Kogarah, New South Wales) of Friday 11th June 1943:
Now this is news—George Sidaway, or as the press reporters will insist on calling him Fideaway or Hideaway, or something, was in more trouble than Speed Gordon in the early stages. As he settled down did he play headline golf—you’re telling us! Judiciously imparting back fire, back spin, top and side spin, cheek and running side with a lot of stop and go, George finalised an attractive display by taking out the morning prize with 35 off his 17 start.
A variant of the phrase, in more bother than Speed Gordon, occurs for example in Taking The Rap, by ‘Tellem’, of the Australian Imperial Force, published in Smith’s Weekly (Sydney, New South Wales) of Saturday 4th December 1943—Itie is a shortening of Eyetalian, meaning Italian:
Quite early in your Army career you realise that the RAP [= Regimental Aid Post] corporal is a handy bloke to be palsy-walsies with. Now that I am no longer within reach of Billo, however, I feel there can be no repercussions in recounting this story. (Sorry, Billo, if you read this, but I’m shy on tobacco money.)
During the Alamein show, the boys came upon much wearing apparel left by Ities who had evidently thought: “What the hell . . . the less clothes I’ve got on the faster I can move.” For the subsequent week or two, the troops dressed like Ities, and even spoke like them. […]
[…] Billo—looking for all the world like an Itie—not only secured and ornamented himself with a complete wardrobe, but also managed to get hold of an Itie motor bike. He was very smartly taken in as a prisoner of war.
Now, Billo stutters—not a great deal, but, nevertheless, he does—particularly when he’s excited. Taken to Intelligence, Billo found speech beyond him, and for a time looked like being in more bother than Speed Gordon. Finally, he managed to get out his name, and the Battery to which he was attached.
Another variant, in more strife than Speed Gordon, occurs for example in Her Name Was Mabel, by L. T. Sardone, a short story published in The Western Mail (Perth, Western Australia) of Thursday 4th October 1945:
Pte Edward Nelson, of the [XX Pioneer] Company, known universally as “Nugget,” was noticed getting around in a haggard, dejected way—a mere shadow of the man he used to be.
“Loots and dames,” he kept saying to himself, “they’ll be the death of me. I’m in more strife over ’em than ‘Speed’ Gordon!”