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Spike Milligan - The Unsung Comedic Hero


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IBLiTZKRiEGI #1 Posted 01 July 2012 - 02:34 PM

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Aside from the text quoted from other sources, I knocked this up myself just as a tribute to this great man. I hope more people become aware of him and his amazing services to comedy.



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"And God said, 'Let there be light', and there was light, but the Electricity Board said He would have to wait until Thursday to be connected."

"How long was I in the army? Five foot eleven."

"I thought I'd begin by reading a poem by Shakespeare, but then I thought, why should I? He never reads any of mine!"





- Spike Milligan




I have a feeling that few, if any, users will have heard of Spike Milligan. It's true that he was very well-known from the 1950s to 80s but his fame declined after Monty Python outshone his efforts (they actually borrowed a lot from Spike, and he deserves more credit than he is given from the Pythons).

He is referred to by many as the father of alternative, as well as surrealist, comedy.

His rise to fame began a few short years after his service in the Second World War, in a Heavy Artillery Regiment. He would later go on to write a series of memoirs on his time in the war (which I can certainly recommend; they're informative as well as hilarious). His big break on the comedy scene was the highly-esteemed and ever-popular Goon Show, a radio programme like nothing before. It pushed the boundaries of comedy, and the use of the bizarre, unorthodox and outrageous sometimes left the audience puzzled, but nearly always in fits of laughter.

Spanning 1951-1960, The Goon Show was popular worldwide by the time it had run its long course, 238 episodes in total, with the vast majority of episodes being written by Spike, sometimes with the help of another excellent writer, Eric Sykes.

One of the Goon Show's most original and unique aspects was its surrealism. To quote Wikipedia:

"Transference of time

If time causes calendars, calendars can cause time. If you drop a bundle of 1918 calendars on German troops in 1916, then they will all go home, thus shortening the war. ("World War One", 22nd episode/ 8th series.) Two other shows with extreme examples of time transference are "The Treasure in the Tower", 5th episode/8th series; and "The Mysterious Punch Up the Conker", 19th episode/7th series. (The famous 'What time is it Eccles?' scene.)

Transference of place

If one lives in a house, and one can say that someone lives in their clothes, then the two are interchangeable. Therefore a recurring theme in the shows is of someone living in the basement of someone else's clothes, or of someone taking the lift up and down inside someone's suit. (e.g.: "What are you doing in my trousers?? - 'Slumming!') The best example of this is in "The Policy", 9th/ 8th series. Doors give you entrance into a different place, so a door can transport you anywhere. A door in the Himalayas can take you back to London etc.

Transference of utility

Milligan swapped functions between objects haphazardly and to comic effect. Pianos become vehicles of transportation, theatre organs become divining machines, two bananas become binoculars, Eccles becomes an omnibus ("Rommel's Treasure", 6/6th - "My, he's running well."), gorillas become cigarettes ("These gorillas are strong! Here, have one of my monkeys - they're milder."), photographs of money become legal tender, etc."

One of the best and most well-known moments of the Goon Show, which sums it up perfectly and is also hilariously peculiar, is "What Time is it, Eccles?" Bluebottle, a young schoolboy voiced by Peter Sellers, and Eccles, a slow and simple man played by Milligan, discuss the time written on a piece of paper. The scene takes place in the "ground floor attic" of a house.

http://www.youtube.c...h?v=-tjHlFPTwVk

In the 50s and 60s Milligan did a large amount of stand-up comedy, as well as appearances on TV shows, being interviewed or playing roles within shows or films, as well as some plays (including Treasure Island, where he played Ben Gunn).

His next successful venture was the Q series, which was often seen as very "hit or miss". Q was a surreal comedy sketch show, and was a major influence on Monty Python's Flying Circus. The levels of surrealism matched, and in some cases surpassed, the levels in the Goon Show. Milligan would often suddenly end sketches and begin another, or create sketches with no real punchline.

One of Q's most popular scenes, the Dalek Sketch:

http://www.youtube.c...h?v=C0n88tZQc4Q

Unfortunately Milligan didn't get on well with the BBC, who criticised his sometimes risque screenplay choices. They took coldly to his style of humour and often ridiculed scripts, proclaiming them to be "not funny". Flying Circus was, after a short bumpy period to begin with, taken well by the BBC. Milligan was left high and dry while the Pythons took the fame he deserved. There was a gap of a number of years before his Q series continued with Q7 (the number of the series followed the 'Q'). The final series was named "There's A Lot Of It About", but by this time the Pythons had amassed a gigantic global fanbase and Milligan's work attracted little interest in comparison.

However, his other works including prose, fiction and poetry were popular. His comedy story 'Puckoon' as well as his series of War memoirs attracted a sizeable amount of attention. His fame declined as he did less work on-screen and more on paper. The age of surreal comedy, with the end of Flying Circus, had ended and had been replaced largely by Alternative Comedy, with shows like The Young Ones and A Bit of Fry and Laurie (Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie would later go on to become global stars). Today comedy is very simplified, with jokes often holding little ambiguity or not needing much intellect to grasp. Personally, I'd like to see a return to the form of comedy pioneered by Milligan; it was simply designed around pushing the limits of comedic understanding, and breaking moulds.

Towards the end of his life Milligan's popularity began to to rise, partially due to the re-airing of some of his work as well as many major modern comedians citing Milligan as an influence.

For much of his life Spike had battled with depression, having no less than 10 mental breakdowns though out his life, some lasting a year or more.

To quote an online source standing as a tribute to him;

"In a BBC poll he was voted funniest person of the last 1,000 years ahead of Cleese, Billy Connolly and Charlie Chaplin.

The baffling anarchy of his nonsense poetry endeared him to British readers, who picked his verse "On The Ning Nang Nong" as the nation's favourite poem.

He was also a prolific, highly respected comic author, bringing out titles such as "Adolf Hitler: My part in his downfall", about his war-time service."

He died of liver failure in 2002 at the age of 93, the last of the Goons to pass away. With him he took away an era of comedy that may never return. There will never be another Spike Milligan, and despite no longer being well-known in mainstream society his unique brand of comedy will be remembered for decades to come.

He never lost his sense of humour to the end, as his epitaph on his gravestone proves:

"I told you I was ill".

Yag0 #2 Posted 01 July 2012 - 02:51 PM

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A hero of mine .
Loved reading his war memoirs .
Very true what you said about Python too , they basically ripped everything from Spike's Qx series .

+1 from me mate

A tale of Spike's I read somewhere ...

One Christmas Peter Sellers was bought a Rolls Royce by his wife as a gift .
Sellers noticed there was a strange sound coming from the rear of the car when driving over bumps , so he phone Spike for assistance in tracking down the problem .
He turned up at Spike's late in the night , told him of the problem and his plan ..... Spike was given a torch and a piece of chalk and instructed to get into the boot of the car ... and Spike did so .
Sellers proceeded to then drive the car , up and down the kerbs of the pavements , trying to illicit the mystery noise .
The police saw this car "drunkenly" mounting the pavement and swerving all over the road .
They pulled Sellers over , and suspicious of something weird going on , searched the car .
When opening the boot , they were presented with the sight of Spike eerily illuminated by the torch and still clutching the chalk .

"Oh it's you" said the police and left !

Edited by Yag0, 01 July 2012 - 02:57 PM.


IBLiTZKRiEGI #3 Posted 01 July 2012 - 02:58 PM

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View PostYag0, on 01 July 2012 - 02:51 PM, said:

"Oh it's you" said the police and left !

Lol, basically sums up Spike :P

Yag0 #4 Posted 01 July 2012 - 03:19 PM

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They certainly knew better than to question him and engage in a battle of wits !

Love the bit where he met Harry Secome in the war .
Spike was doing the comms for artillery , upon a plateau . A gun was fired without any brakes on and it sped backwards from recoil , off the plateau down the drop and squashed Secome's tent (vacant) !
There followed some conversation about the approaching German tanks : Spike"there's tank coming" , Secome "how many" , Spike "millions" , Secome "Tanks a million?"

This is all from memory , read those books about 20 years ago , so don't bollock me for inaccuracies !!

IBLiTZKRiEGI #5 Posted 01 July 2012 - 03:53 PM

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View PostYag0, on 01 July 2012 - 03:19 PM, said:

They certainly knew better than to question him and engage in a battle of wits !

Love the bit where he met Harry Secome in the war .
Spike was doing the comms for artillery , upon a plateau . A gun was fired without any brakes on and it sped backwards from recoil , off the plateau down the drop and squashed Secome's tent (vacant) !
There followed some conversation about the approaching German tanks : Spike"there's tank coming" , Secome "how many" , Spike "millions" , Secome "Tanks a million?"

This is all from memory , read those books about 20 years ago , so don't bollock me for inaccuracies !!

When Milligan opened Secombe's tent, he asked "Have you seen a gun?", to which Secombe replied "what colour?"

Yag0 #6 Posted 01 July 2012 - 05:42 PM

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Yes , that's the one Blitz !!!!




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