Spike Milligan – Writer – Actor - Comedian
Spike Milligan, my favourite comedian, died on 27 February 2002 aged 83. He was the last survivor of The Goon and was the writer of The Goon Show, perhaps the earliest example of alternative comedy, and was the genius behind the show.
In the show he performed with Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine. Milligan played many of the characters in the Goon Show. That just seemed to tumble out of his mind: Eccles, the loveable, toothless dimwit; Abdul, the twittering bearer; the vague, hen-like Minnie Banister, spinster of the parish. And Springs, given to nasal objections from the back of the hall during meetings; and Count Toulouse-Moriarty of the House of Roland, an impoverished cosmopolitan of the 1920s.
Peter Sellers acted the smooth villain Hercules Grytpype-Thynne and the shameless Indian Army Major Bloodknock; he also took on Henry Crun, Minnie Banister’s equally poultry-like associate; William ‘Mate’ Cobblersliam, a despairing, croaking Cockney as well as Bluebottle, a ludicrous personification of schoolboy dreams of glory. Harry Secombe was Noddy Seagram, forever involved in some crazy exercise – laying a telephone line to 17a Africa or taking part in a drum race from John O’Groats to Lands End.
Milligan was born in Ahmednagar, near Bombay, India where his father was a British Army Captain, originally from Sligo, Ireland.
He was a great friend of the Prince of Wales, even if he did once call him a “grovelling little bastard” and it says much for Prince Charles that he took it in good humour. When he was presented with an honorary CBE (Commander of the British Empire) he said, “I can’t see the sense in it really, it makes me a Commander of the British Empire. It might as well make me a Commander of Milton Keynes – at least which exists “.
He was the author of many books, which took an upside-down view of the world. He wrote delightful books about animals for children Milliganimals (1960), Milligan’s Ark (1971) and Condensed Animals (1991) not to mention Badjelly the Witch (1973) which have had generation of young readers enthralled.
He loved animals and hated factory farming and once smashed a window at the Haywood Gallery in protest at an exhibition, which proposed to electrocute 20 catfish as a work of art. He was also the founder of the Finchley Society and he stopped the Dept of the Environment from removing a Victorian lamp standard on Constitution Hill outside Buckingham Palace. In the early 70s he spent three years personally restoring an oak carving of elves in Kensington Gardens.
He was married three times and had numerous children. He died at his home where he had been looked after by his third wife overlooking the sea just outside Rye, Sussex, where he had moved a decade previously to escape the noise of London.
Jenny Éclair in “The Times” said a wonderful tribute: “He has gone to that great gig in the sky and has probably been given a special dispensation by the Pope”.
There was a dark side to him – he was a manic-depressive for more than 60 years but had the sense to check him into a private hospital when he knew he needed to for treatment so that it was kept under control. In fact Michael Parkinson was most amused when he arrived for a live radio show in his dressing gown, was brilliant on the show, then went straight back to the clinic!
He once faxed a message to Sir Harry Secombe: “I hope you go before me because I don’t want you singing at my funeral”.
His agent Norma Farnes said, “For 35 years he has been the dynamo in my life. He was my dearest friend and I will miss him terribly”.