Spike Milligan

Radio The Goon Show The Omar Khayyam Show The Milligan Papers
Television Don’t Spare the Horses The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d A Show Called Fred
Son of Fred The World of Beachcomber Q… Curry & Chips
Oh in Colour The Melting Pot Films

Spike_MilliganSpike Milligan (April 16, 1918 – February 27, 2002) was a British-Irish comedian, writer, poet, playwright and actor. Millligan spent his early life in India where he was born. The majority of his working life was spent in the United Kingdom. He disliked his first name, Terence, and began to call himself “Spike” after hearing a band on Radio Luxembourg called Spike Jones and his City Slickers.

Milligan was the co-creator, main writer and a principal cast member of the groundbreaking British radio programme, The Goon Show, performing a range of roles including the popular Eccles and Minnie Bannister characters. Milligan wrote and edited many books, including Puckoon (1963) and his seven-volume autobiographical account of his time serving during the Second World War, beginning with Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall (1971). He is also noted as a popular writer of comical verse; much of his poetry was written for children, including Silly Verse for Kids (1959).

After success with The Goon Show, Milligan translated this success to television with Q5 which was a surreal sketch show which is credited as a major influence on the members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. He was the earliest-born, longest-lived and last surviving member of the Goons.

Radio

The Goon Show (1951–60)

First episode May 28, 1951

The Goon Show was a British radio comedy programme, originally produced and broadcast by the BBC Home Service from 1951 to 1960, with occasional repeats on the BBC Light Programme. The first series broadcast in 1951, was titled Crazy People; subsequent series had the title The Goon Show, a title inspired, according to Spike Milligan, by a Popeye character. Milligan was the principal script writer.

The Idiot Weekly (Australia, 1958–62)

When Milligan visited his parents in Australia in 1958, the Australian Broadcasting Commission signed him for a series of radio comedy broadcasts. They hoped for a local equivalent of The Goon Show with an Australian slant to it, but without Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe. The format of The Idiot Weekly was very similar to The Goon Show, with Milligan recycling or adapting scripts and jokes for the new show. The show contained typical Goonish humour and some of Milligan’s Goon Show characters, notably Eccles, made regular appearances. However it was distinctly Australian with plots translated to Australian locations and frequent references to topical events and Australian political figures of the time.

The Omar Khayyam Show (1963–64)

First episode December 27, 1963

Spike Milligan wrote and performed in three series of the radio comedy program The Idiot Weekly for the Australian Broadcasting Commission between 1958-1962. Six episodes were remade by the BBC in 1963 as The Omar Khayyam Show. With Spike were John Bluthal (Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width), Bob Todd (The Benny Hill Show), Bill Kerr (Hancock’s Half Hour) and Barry Humphries. Broadcast weekly from  December 27, 1963 scripts had minor changes to remove some references to Australian locations and personalities unfamiliar to British audiences.

Milligna (1972)

Milligna (or Your Favourite Spike), also known as “The Milligna Show” was a radio comedy sketch show, written by Spike Milligan, performed by John Bluthal (Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width), Vilma Hollingbery, and Milligan himself. Musical interludes were provided by Ray Ellington and the Alan Clare Quartet. The show’s name was based on Milligan’s introduction in The Last Goon Show of All as “Spike Milligna, the well-known typing error”.

The Milligan Papers (1987)

First episode January 28, 1987

The Milligan Papers was a BBC radio comedy show, written by John Antrobus and starring Spike Milligan. First broadcast on BBC Radio 4, it also featured Chris Langham, John Bluthal (Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width), and Antrobus. Milligan stated during the show’s production run that he was not happy with the show, and it was cancelled after only one series.

Television

Don’t Spare the Horses (1952)

First episode October 4, 1952

Don’t Spare the Horses was a British television comedy series which aired on the BBC. It featured Jimmy James, Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers, and Spike Milligan. It aired live for three episodes and were not recorded.

The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d (1956)

First episode February 24, 1956

The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d was the first serious attempt to translate the humour of The Goon Show to television. It was made by Associated-Rediffusion and was broadcast only in the London area. Peter Sellers played the editor of a Victorian newspaper, The Idiot Weekly. The headlines of the paper were used as links to comedy sketches. Although written mainly by Spike Milligan, there were many contributions from the likes of Dave Freeman (The Benny Hill Show) and Dalek-creator Terry Nation, with Eric Sykes credited as the script editor. The series was produced and directed by Richard Lester.

The title was revived by Spike Milligan for the Australian radio series The Idiot Weekly.

A Show Called Fred (1956)

First episode May 2, 1956

A_Show_Called_FredA Show Called Fred was the successor series to The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d. It was made by Associated-Rediffusion and broadcast only in the London area. It was a sketch comedy attempting to translate the audio antics of The Goon Show into visual antics in bizarre and often surreal comedy sketches which just suddenly ended with a new sketch beginning. There were few taboos, with sketches showing people in various states of undress, cameramen, behind the scenes workers and the studios. The series was written by Spike Milligan and produced and directed by Richard Lester.

The cast included Milligan, Peter Sellers, Valentine Dyall (the “Black Guardian” in Doctor Who), Kenneth Connor (Carry On films) and Graham Stark (The Pink Panther films).

Son of Fred (1956)

First episode September 17, 1956

Son of Fred was the successor series to The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d and A Show Called Fred. It was made by Associated-Rediffusion and broadcast only in the London area, Midlands and Northern England. Spike Milligan concentrated on writing and only made small walk on appearances, leaving the lead acting to Peter Sellers with Valentine Dyall (the “Black Guardian” in Doctor Who), Kenneth Connor (Carry On films) and Graham Stark (The Pink Panther films). The series was produced and directed by Richard Lester.

The minimalist format, with little or no scenery and few props, sketches without any real purpose or punch line, and mixing live action and short animations was revived in Spike Milligan’s Q series more than a decade later.

A half-hour special, Best of Fred, was broadcast on September 18, 1963 combining surviving sketches from A Show Called Fred and Son of Fred.

The World of Beachcomber (1968)

First episode January 22, 1968

The World of Beachcomber was a surreal television comedy show produced by the BBC inspired by the Beachcomber column in the Daily Express newspaper. The show, like the column, consisted of a series of unrelated pieces of humour. Links between the items were provided by Spike Milligan, dressed in a smoking jacket and cap, as in the cartoon logo above the newspaper column. The other actors were a Who’s Who of British comedy of the time, encompassing almost every supporting player seen or heard in comedy, not excluding people of diminutive stature. Likewise the writing staff included Milligan, Barry Took (Round the Horne, Points of View), John Junkin, and others. The producer was John Howard Davies.

The Q series (1969-1982)

First episode March 24, 1969

Spike_Milligan's_Q_LogoQ… is a surreal television comedy sketch show written by Spike Milligan and Neil Shand, and starring Milligan with a number of supporting players, usually including Julia Breck, John Bluthal (Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width), Bob Todd (The Benny Hill Show), and John Wells (Denis Thatcher impersonator). There were six series in all, the first five numbered from Q5 to Q9, and a final series titled There’s a Lot of It About.

Curry & Chips (1969)

First episode November 21, 1969

Curry_and_ChipsCurry and Chips is a short lived British sitcom which was produced by London Weekend Television for the ITV network. Set on a factory floor of ‘Lillicrap Ltd’, it starred a blacked up Spike Milligan as a Pakistani immigrant who went by the name of Kevin O’Grady. It also featured Eric Sykes as the foreman, Norman Rossington as the shop steward, and other regulars were Kenny Lynch, and Sam Kydd. The series was written by Till Death Us Do Part writer Johnny Speight, but based on an idea by Milligan.

It was the first LWT sitcom to be broadcast in its entirety in colour, and all episodes still exist.

The show’s ambition to highlight discrimination, rather than promote it but The Independent Television Authority disagreed and cancelled it after only six episodes. They were not alone, as amongst those who complained about the show were the Race Relations Board. The show was just as controversial for the number of swear words in it. The word ‘bloody’ was used 59 times in one episode, although Eric Sykes refused to swear at all.

Oh In Colour (1970)

First episode September 27, 1970

Oh_In_Colour_Title_ScreenOh In Colour was a comedy television sketch programme broadcast on BBC2 which ran for six episodes, written by and featuring Spike Milligan. It was shown after the thoroughly more popular Q5 and probably written to bridge the long production gap between Q5 and Q6, which did not appear until 1975.

The Melting Pot (1975)

First episode June 11, 1975

The Melting Pot was an ill-fated BBC television situation comedy starring Spike Milligan, and written by him and his regular collaborator Neil Shand. Milligan played Mr. Van Gogh alongside John Bird as Mr. Rembrandt, father and son illegal Asian immigrants who are first seen being rowed ashore in England, having been told that the beach is in fact Piccadilly Circus. They find themselves at a boarding house  run by Irish coalman Paddy O’Brien (Frank Carson). The “Melting Pot” of the title refers to the district of London where they have arrived.

The pilot episode was followed by a recording of a full series of six episodes the following year but was never transmitted. Milligan speculated that the programmes perhaps weren’t funny enough, or that the cast changes made following the pilot episode had been an unwise decision, but the popular consensus seems to be that the BBC disliked the racially insensitive nature of the series as a whole.


Films

Spike Milligan often played cameos, or appeared as himself. The following list of films feature him more as a main character.

  • Penny Points to Paradise (1951)
  • Down Among the Z Men (1952)
  • The Case of the Mukkinese Battle Horn (1956)
  • The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film (1960)
  • Invasion Quartet (1961)
  • Postman’s Knock (1962)
  • Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall (1972)
  • Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World (1973)
  • The Great McGonagall (1974)
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