Spike, walked with a pronounced limp, L, I, M, P, pronounced Limp Folks.

One of Milligan's earlier books

Image via Wikipedia

Being somewhat aware that a number of the issues I have written about on this blog, and no doubt will continue to write about, are a little on the heavy side, I have tried to mix in more light hearted pieces, and a smattering of quotes from Terry Pratchett and others, just to raise a smile. The item posted immediately prior to this one began as ‘Random Quote No 4.’ and quickly morphed into a nod to Spike, and his humour.

It was, I suppose, to be expected that ponderings would continue and a fuller post about Spike was frankly inevitable. A summary of all the important fiddly little details, affairs, birth, death, manic depression, marriage/s, life, career and being blown up by a mortar bomb , not necessarily in that order, can be found on Spikes Wikipedia page. And frankly put his name into Google and you should have a couple of decades of reading in front of you, just on what people have said about him, never mind what he actually wrote himself.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spike_Milligan

One difficulty reading about Spikes life, is that as well as being an anarchic and surreal comedian, he was quite a good story teller, and a lot of the stories he told were about himself. Now he didn’t so much make things up as embellish them somewhat. A modern politician might call it spin, and Spike would probably tell them where to spin.

As is my want, I went to check a few details before writing this, and collided with not only Spikes embellishments, but also with things said about Spike that seem very odd to me. One blogger argued that Spike was not ‘in your face’ enough to be popular with Americans, though how much more ‘in your face’ Spike could have been, given he called one of his greatest fans, and by coincidence the heir to the British Crown a grovelling little B#$/#rd, is an open question. (Yes I know I used that one in the previous post, yes I know I am repeating myself, but lets face it how often does a republican get to say that about a future monarch, and some things are just worth milking.) Quite frankly I don’t think Americans get Spike, because his irreverence knew no bounds, and Americans get uncomfortable with such people, vis a vis Ricky Gervais on Scientology at the Golden Globes.

Now I could write about all sorts of things, but as I suggest above an awful lot has been said, so it seems more appropriate, (Not that appropriateness seemed to bother Spike) to give a more personal take.

I am actually in theory too young to be a Goon fan, but then in theory a Bumble Bee can’t fly, and just as no-one told the Bumble Bee, no one told me. (I’m a poet and I don’t know it.) Apart from ‘the last goon show of all’ broadcast in 1972, the previous last goon show had been delivered on radio in 1960, two years before I was born. My father however was a telecommunications engineer with the associated fascination with sound recording and reproduction. As a teenager he had with much effort persuaded his parents to buy him a second hand, but actually very good reel to reel tape recorder, and he had diligently recorded as far as I am aware all the goon shows from Series four onwards. To a nine year old child it looked like hundreds of tapes, if dad was telling the truth there were 178 episodes with at least two episodes to a tape.

Now not all these tapes had survived the intervening minimum of 12 years so there were some omissions where the tape had turned int a flaky party streamer, and at least one was a solid disk more use as a frizbee than anything else, but for several months each Sunday morning I listened to at least two, and sometimes more episodes. As you might imagine since most of my contemporaries were discovering the wonders of Slade and other aspects of 1970’s popular culture, I was somewhat out of step, prone as I was to complain about not wanting to play any given game anymore because they had ‘dedded me’ in an appropriate squeaky voice which to my child’s ears was the perfect impression of Bluebottle, but which my mother pointed out with annoyance and holding her ears damaged by the shriek, was several octaves too high.

This situation went on for the remainder of my childhood, cumulating in a capacity to remember entire scripts, and produce reasonable facsimiles of the voices, despite a certain level of alienation, from my generation, who frankly thought I was completely mad. It was to say the least a relief when Tiswas appeared on bbc tv, and suddenly everybody I knew began to realise what was funny. Though I never quite sealed the gap, since despite the humour being similar the characters were of course different.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiswas

I can only apologise to any Americans reading since this is as archetypal British as they come and if you don’t ‘get’ Spike or the Goons you have no hope with Tizwas, but if you fancy a try, here is the band Status Quo getting the Tizwas treatment. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyuTseYO8CU

Interestingly my father used to tell variant stories about the Goons and Spike in particular. In the ‘blown up by a mortar’ story, my fathers version has the bombardment ending and Spike sitting down lighting up a cigarette not realising he has sat on an unexploded mortar which was quite suddenly not unexploded any more.

Another tale my father used to tell concerned how Peter Sellers, Harry Seacombe and Michael Bentine would look after Spike, because they knew he suffered with overwhelming black moods.

As my father told the story, if they had not seen or heard from Spike, for a few days they would ring him up, and ask how he was? If they got the answer, ‘Bloody awful F#*& off,’ they knew he was fine and they would be likely to see him soon. If however they got the answer, ‘fine’ they knew things were serious and nipped round quick to cheer him up.

As the story went on one occasion they dashed round and had a few drinks and things started getting silly, very silly. They had all been in the services, and all had acquired ‘memorabilia’ of one kind or another, and as they got progressively drunker had dug out trench coats, SS caps, Lugers and piled into the back of Sellers open topped car, and ended up driving round London dressed as Nazis, waving functional pistols (no ammunition) seig heiling everyone in sight. Needless to say they were stopped by a policeman who rather bravely in my opinion stood in the middle of the road forcing them to stop. (Don’t try this at home folks, {driving round drunk, or standing in front of a car full of drunks expecting it to stop} it was a different time.) The group were duly arrested their ‘memorabilia’ confiscated, and after a night in the cells, dispatched the next morning to explain themselves to their wives.

Now I don’t know if the story is true, or if anyone else tells it, but somehow It sounds right, it sounds like the kind of thing a group of people who had been variously blown up, shot at, generally scared to death , and in Michael Bentines case experienced the horror of relieving a concentration camp might do, to cheer each other up, completely mad and almost incomprehensible to everyone else.

A part of me enjoys my ignorance, and it is only the part of me that likes truth that adds, that if someone reading this has ever heard the story themselves they could let me know, and if they have a reference for it, that would be great.

I guess one big difficulty with Spike is that from a purely objective point of view of his life, the logical conclusion would be that he wasn’t a very nice person. He was bad tempered, obsessive, unpredictable, an adulterer, he was violent towards his first wife, at times paranoid and carried on a decades long vendetta against the BBC. Yet from all accounts despite these considerable failings he was a fantastic father, at least as far as his children were concerned, which are probably the ones that count. And very, Very, VERY funny.

And even now I miss the prospect of him turning up on some talk show and seeing the trepidation in the hosts eyes about what unlikely and probably newsworthy absurdity is likely to occur, and worrying about if they will have a career in the morning. Despite or perhaps because of everything Spike was endlessly likeable, and oddly forgivable.

And despite his comments about Prince Charles, even up to his death Spike was undoubtedly the greatest court jester Britain or the world has ever seen or is likely to see, he got to say everything that everyone else was unable to say, but secretly wanted to say. If that isn’t in your face I don’t know what is?

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About Transremaxculver

An entirely fictitious username I created for posting on 'alt.religion.scientology', Scientology is something of which I am highly critical. For those of you who don't know, the Church of Scientology have a habit of making life very uncomfortable for even the most legitimate of critics, which is why this username is completely anonymous. Anyway I have become quite fond of this username, and although it has to some extent outgrown it's original purpose, I think a blog is perhaps the right place for me/it to continue to grow and develop.
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