Milligan at Rye, Sussex, c. 1990
|Born||Terence Alan Milligan|
(1918-04-16)16 April 1918
Ahmednagar, British India
|Died||27 February 2002(2002-02-27) (aged 83)|
Rye, East Sussex, England
|Cause of death||Kidney failure|
|Resting place||St Thomas's Church Winchelsea, East Sussex|
|Occupation||Comedian, writer, musician, poet, playwright, actor|
(m. 1952; div. 1960)
(m. 1962; her death 1978)
(m. 1983; his death 2002)
|Years of service||1940–1945|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Terence Alan MilliganKBE (16 April 1918 – 27 February 2002) was a British-Irish comedian, writer, musician, poet, playwright and actor. The son of an Irish father and an English mother, his early life was spent in India where he was born. The majority of his working life was spent in the United Kingdom. He disliked his first name, 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 and his seven-volume autobiographical account of his time serving during the Second World War, beginning with Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall. 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.
When the Commonwealth Immigrants Act removed Indian-born Milligan's automatic right to British citizenship in 1962, he became an Irish citizen, exercising a right conferred through his Irish-born father.
Milligan was born in Ahmednagar, India, on 16 April 1918, the son of an Irish father, Captain Leo Alphonso Milligan, MSM, RA (1890–1969), who was serving in the British Indian Army.
His mother, Florence Mary Winifred (née Kettleband; 1893–1990), was British. He spent his childhood in Poona (now called Pune) and later in Rangoon, capital of British Burma. He was educated at the Convent of Jesus and Mary, Poona, and later at St Paul's High School, Rangoon.
After moving to Brockley, south east London from the age of 12 in 1931, he attended Brownhill Road School (later to be renamed Catford Boys School) and St Saviours School, Lewisham High Road.
On leaving school he played the cornet and discovered jazz. He also joined the Young Communist League in opposition to Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists, who were gaining support near his home in south London.
After returning from Burma, Milligan lived most of his life in the United Kingdom apart from overseas service in the British Army in the Royal Artillery during the Second World War.
Second World War
During most of the late 1930s and early 1940s, Milligan performed as an amateur jazz vocalist and trumpeter before, during and after being called up for military service in the fight against Nazi Germany, but even then he wrote and performed comedy sketches as part of concerts to entertain troops. After his call-up, but before being sent abroad, he and fellow musician Harry Edgington (1919–1993) (whose nickname 'Edge-ying-Tong', inspired one of Milligan's most memorable musical creations, the "Ying Tong Song") would compose surreal stories, filled with puns and skewed logic, as a way of staving off the boredom of life in barracks. One biographer describes his early dance band work as follows: "He managed to croon like Bing Crosby and win a competition: he also played drums, guitar and trumpet, in which he was entirely self taught"; he also acquired a double bass, on which he took lessons and would strum in jazz sessions. Milligan had perfect pitch.
During the Second World War, Milligan served as a signaller in the 56th Heavy Regiment Royal Artillery, D Battery (later 19 Battery), as Gunner Milligan, 954024. The unit was equipped with the obsolete First World War era BL 9.2-inch howitzer and based in Bexhill on the south coast of England. Milligan describes training with these guns in part two of Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall, claiming that, during training, gun crews resorted to shouting "bang" in unison as they had no shells with which to practise.
The unit was later re-equipped with the BL 7.2-inch howitzer and saw action as part of the First Army in the North African campaign and then in the succeeding Italian campaign. Milligan was appointed lance bombardier and was about to be promoted to bombardier, when he was wounded in action in the Italian theatre at the Battle of Monte Cassino. Subsequently, hospitalised for a mortar wound to the right leg and shell shock, he was demoted by an unsympathetic commanding officer (identified in his war diaries as Major Evan "Jumbo" Jenkins) back to Gunner. It was Milligan's opinion that Major Jenkins did not like him, because Milligan constantly kept up the morale of his fellow soldiers, whereas Jenkins's approach was to take an attitude towards the troops similar to that of Lord Kitchener. An incident also mentioned was when Jenkins had invited Gunners Milligan and Edgington to his bivouac to play some jazz with him, only to discover that the musicianship of the gunners was far superior to his own ability to play the military tune "Whistling Rufus".
After hospitalisation, Milligan drifted through a number of rear-echelon military jobs in Italy, eventually becoming a full-time entertainer. He played the guitar with a jazz and comedy group called The Bill Hall Trio, in concert parties for the troops. After being demobilised, Milligan remained in Italy playing with the trio but returned to Britain soon after. While he was with the Central Pool of Artists (a group he described as composed "of bomb-happy squaddies") he began to write parodies of their mainstream plays, which displayed many of the key elements of what would later become The Goon Show (originally called Crazy People) with Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine.
The Goon Show
Milligan returned to jazz in the late 1940s and made a precarious living with the Hall trio and other musical comedy acts. He was also trying to break into the world of radio, as a performer or script writer. His first success in radio was as writer for comedian Derek Roy's show. After a delayed start, Milligan, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine joined forces in a relatively radical comedy project, The Goon Show. During its first season the BBC titled the show as Crazy People, or in full, The Junior Crazy Gang featuring those Crazy People, the Goons!, an attempt to make the programme palatable to BBC officials, by connecting it with the popular group of theatre comedians known as The Crazy Gang.
The first episode was broadcast on 28 May 1951 on the BBC Home Service. Although he did not perform as much in the early shows, Milligan eventually became a lead performer in almost all of the Goon Show episodes, portraying a wide range of characters including Eccles, Minnie Bannister, Jim Spriggs and the nefarious Count Moriarty. He was also the primary author of most of the scripts, although he co-wrote many scripts with various collaborators, most notably Larry Stephens and Eric Sykes. Most of the early shows were co-written with Stephens (and edited by Jimmy Grafton) but this partnership faltered after Series 3. Milligan wrote most of Series 4 but from Series 5 (coinciding with the birth of the Milligans' second child, Seán) and through most of Series 6, he collaborated with Eric Sykes, a development that grew out of his contemporary business collaboration with Sykes in Associated London Scripts. Milligan and Stephens reunited during Series 6 but towards the end of Series 8 Stephens was sidelined by health problems and Milligan worked briefly with John Antrobus. The Milligan-Stephens partnership was finally ended by Stephens' death from a brain haemorrhage in January 1959; Milligan later downplayed and disparaged Stephens' contributions.
The Goon Show was recorded before a studio audience and during the audience warm-up session, Milligan would play the trumpet, while Peter Sellers played on the orchestra's drums. For the first few years the shows were recorded live, direct to 16-inch transcription disc, which required the cast to adhere closely to the script but by Series 4, the BBC had adopted the use of magnetic tape. Milligan eagerly exploited the possibilities the new technology offered—the tapes could be edited, so the cast could now ad-lib freely and tape also enabled the creation of groundbreaking sound effects. Over the first three series, Milligan's demands for increasingly complex sound effects (or "grams", as they were then known) pushed technology and the skills of the BBC engineers to their limits—effects had to be created mechanically (foley) or played back from discs, sometimes requiring the use of four or five turntables running simultaneously. With magnetic tape, these effects could be produced in advance and the BBC engineers were able to create highly complex, tightly edited effects "stings" that would have been very difficult (if not impossible) to perform using foley or disc. In the later years of the series many Goon Show "grams" were produced for the series by members of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, a notable example being the "Major Bloodnok's Stomach" effect, realised by Dick Mills.
Although the Goons elevated Milligan to international stardom, the demands of writing and performing the series took a heavy toll. During Series 3 he suffered the first of several serious mental breakdowns, which also marked the onset of a decades-long cycle of manic-depressive illness. In late 1952, possibly exacerbated by suppressed tensions between the Goons' stars, Milligan apparently became irrationally convinced that he had to kill Sellers but when he attempted to gain entry to Sellers's neighbouring flat, armed with a potato knife, he accidentally walked straight through the plate-glass front door. He was hospitalised, heavily sedated for two weeks and spent almost two months recuperating; fortunately for the show, a backlog of scripts meant that his illness had little effect on production. Milligan later blamed the pressure of writing and performing The Goon Show, for both his breakdown and the failure of his first marriage.
A lesser-known aspect of Milligan's life in the 1950s and 1960s was his involvement in the writers' agency Associated London Scripts. Milligan married for the first time and began a family. This reportedly distracted him from writing so much that he accepted an invitation from Eric Sykes to share his small office, leading to the creation of the co-operative agency.
Milligan made several forays into television as a writer-performer, in addition to his many guest appearances on interview, variety and sketch comedy series from the 1950s to the 2000s. The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d (1956), starring Peter Sellers, was the first attempt to translate Goons humour to TV; it was followed by A Show Called Fred and Son of Fred, both made during 1956 and directed by Richard Lester, who went on to work with the Beatles. During a visit to Australia in 1958, a similar special was made for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, "The Gladys Half-Hour", which also featured local actors Ray Barrett and John Bluthal, who would appear in several later Milligan projects. In 1961, Milligan co-wrote two episodes of the popular sitcom Sykes and a..., co-starring Sykes and Hattie Jacques and the one-off "Spike Milligan Offers A Series of Unrelated Incidents at Market Value".
The 15-minute series The Telegoons (1963), was the next attempt to transplant the Goons to television, this time using puppet versions of the familiar characters. The initial intention was to "visualise" original recordings of 1950s Goon Show episodes but this proved difficult, because of the rapid-fire dialogue and was ultimately frustrated by the BBC's refusal to allow the original audio to be used. 15-minute adaptations of the original scripts by Maurice Wiltshire were used instead, with Milligan, Sellers and Secombe reuniting to provide the voices; according to a contemporary press report, they received the highest fees the BBC had ever paid for 15-minute shows. Two series were made in 1963 and 1964 and (presumably because it was shot on 35mm film rather than video) the entire series has reportedly been preserved in the BBC archives.
Milligan's next major TV venture was the sketch comedy series The World of Beachcomber (1968), made in colour for BBC 2; it is believed all 19 episodes are lost. That same year, the three Goons reunited for a televised re-staging of a vintage Goon Show for Thames Television, with John Cleese substituting for the late Wallace Greenslade but the pilot was not successful and no further programmes were made.
In early 1969, Milligan starred in the ill-fated situation comedy Curry & Chips, created and written by Johnny Speight and featuring Milligan's old friend and colleague Eric Sykes. Curry & Chips set out to satirise racist attitudes in Britain in a similar vein to Speight's earlier creation, the hugely successful Till Death Us Do Part, with Milligan 'blacking up' to play Kevin O'Grady, a half-Pakistani–half-Irish factory worker. The series generated numerous complaints, because of its frequent use of racist epithets and 'bad language' – one viewer reportedly complained of counting 59 uses of the word "bloody" in one episode – and it was cancelled on the orders of the Independent Broadcasting Authority after only six episodes. Milligan was also involved in the ill-fated programme The Melting Pot.
Director John Goldschmidt's film The Other Spike dramatised Milligan's nervous breakdown in a film for Granada Television, for which Milligan wrote the screenplay and in which he played himself. Later that year, he was commissioned by the BBC to write and star in Q5, the first in the innovative "Q" TV series, acknowledged as an important precursor to Monty Python's Flying Circus, which premiered several months later. There was a hiatus of several years, before the BBC commissioned Q6 in 1975. Q7 appeared in 1977, Q8 in 1978, Q9 in 1980 and There's a Lot of It About in 1982. Milligan later complained of the BBC's cold attitude towards the series and stated that he would have made more programs, had he been given the opportunity. A number of episodes of the earlier "Q" series are missing, presumed wiped. In 1979 he hosted an episode of The Muppet Show.
Milligan's daughter, Laura, conceived and co-wrote an animated series called The Ratties (1987). Milligan himself narrated the 26 five-minute episodes. He later voiced the highly successful animated series Wolves, Witches and Giants, which aired on ITV from 1995 to 1998. The series was written by Ed Welch, who had previously appeared in the Q series, and collaborated with Spike on several audio productions produced and directed by Simon & Sara Bor. Wolves, Witches and Giants was broadcast in more than 100 territories, including the UK and the USA.
Poetry and other writings
Milligan also wrote verse, considered to be within the genre of literary nonsense. His poetry has been described by comedian Stephen Fry as "absolutely immortal—greatly in the tradition of Lear." One of his poems, "On the Ning Nang Nong", was voted the UK's favourite comic poem in 1998 in a nationwide poll, ahead of other nonsense poets including Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. This nonsense verse, set to music, became a favourite Australia-wide, performed week after week by the ABC children's programme Playschool. Milligan included it on his album No One's Gonna Change Our World in 1969, to aid the World Wildlife Fund. In December 2007 it was reported that, according to OFSTED, it is among the ten most commonly taught poems in primary schools in the UK.
While depressed, he wrote serious poetry. He also wrote a novel Puckoon and a series of war memoirs, including Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall (1971), "Rommel?" "Gunner Who?": A Confrontation in the Desert (1974), Monty: His Part in My Victory (1976) and Mussolini: His Part in My Downfall (1978). Milligan's seven volumes of memoirs cover the years from 1939 to 1950 (his call-up, war service, first breakdown, time spent entertaining in Italy and return to the UK).
He also wrote comedy songs, including "Purple Aeroplane", which was a parody of the Beatles' song "Yellow Submarine". Glimpses of his bouts with depression, which led to the nervous breakdowns, can be found in his serious poetry, which is compiled in Open Heart University.
Bernard Miles gave Milligan his first straight acting role, as Ben Gunn, in the Mermaid Theatre production of Treasure Island. Miles described Milligan as:
... a man of quite extraordinary talents ... a visionary who is out there alone, denied the usual contacts simply because he is so different he can't always communicate with his own species ....
Treasure Island played twice daily through the winter of 1961–62 and was an annual production at the Mermaid Theatre for some years. In the 1968 production, Barry Humphries played the role of Long John Silver, alongside William Rushton as Squire Trelawney and Milligan as Ben Gunn. To Humphries, Milligan's "best performance must surely have been as Ben Gunn .., Milligan stole the show every night, in a makeup which took at least an hour to apply. His appearance on stage always brought a roar of delight from the kids in the audience and Spike had soon left the text far behind as he went off into a riff of sublime absurdity."
The Bed-Sitting Room
In 1961–62, during the long pauses between the matinee and the evening show of Treasure Island, Milligan began talking to Miles about the idea he and John Antrobus were exploring, of a dramatised post-nuclear world. This became the one-act play The Bed-Sitting Room, which Milligan co-wrote with John Antrobus and which premiered at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury on 12 February 1962. It was adapted to a longer play and staged by Miles at London's Mermaid Theatre, making its debut on 31 January 1963. It was a critical and commercial success and was revived in 1967 with a provincial tour before opening at London's Saville Theatre on 3 May 1967. Richard Lester later directed a film version, released in 1969.
On 6 October 1964, Milligan appeared in Frank Dunlop's production of the play Oblomov, at the Lyric Theatre in London, based on the novel by Russian writer Ivan Goncharov. Per Scudamore's biography:
Milligan's fans and the theatrical world in general found it hard to believe that he was to appear in a straight play ... He refused to be serious when questioned about his motives. In the story, Oblomov decides to spend his life in bed. Spike decided to identify with his character, and told disbelieving reporters that he thought it would be a nice comfortable rest for him. This was of course, prevarication. Spike was actually intrigued with Oblomov and had read a translation of Ivan Goncharov's novel.
Milligan's involvement transformed the play. The first night started poorly, Joan Greenwood played Olga and later recalled that her husband André Morell thought the show was so appalling, they should get her out of the play. Per Scudamore:
Nobody seemed at all comfortable in their roles and the audience began to hoot with laughter when Milligan's slipper inadvertently went spinning across the stage into the stalls. That was the end of Spike's playing straight. The audience demanded a clown, he became a clown. When he forgot his words, or disapproved of them, he simply made up what he felt to be more appropriate ones. That night there were no riotous first night celebrations and most of the cast seemed to go home stunned. The following night Milligan began to ad lib in earnest. The text of the show began to change drastically. The cast were bedevilled and shaken but they went along with him ... Incredibly, the show began to resolve itself. The context changed completely. It was turned upside down and inside out. Cues and lines became irrelevant as Milligan verbally rewrote the play each night. By the end of the week, Oblomov had changed beyond recognition. Andre Morell came again ... and afterwards said 'the man is a genius. He must be a genius—it's the only word for him. He's impossible—but he's a genius!'. After Oblomov had run for a record-breaking five weeks at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, it was retitled Son of Oblomov and moved to the Comedy Theatre in the West End.
In an interview with Bernard Braden, Milligan described theatre as important to him:
First it was a means of livelihood. And I had sort of lagged behind my confederates, that I ... remained in the writing seat. And I realise that basically I was quite a good clown ... and the one and only chance I ever had to prove that was in Oblomov when I clowned my way out of what was a very bad script ... I clowned it into a West End success and uh, we kept changing it all the time. It was a tour de force of improvisation ... all that ended it was I got fed up with it, that's all."
Ken Russell films
In 1959 Ken Russell made a short 35 mm film about and with Milligan entitled Portrait of a Goon. The making of the film is detailed in Paul Sutton's 2012 authorised biography Becoming Ken Russell. In 1971 Milligan played a humble village priest in Russell's film The Devils. The scene was cut from the release print and is considered lost but photographs from the scene, together with Murray Melvin's memory of that day's filming, are included in Sutton's 2014 book Six English Filmmakers.
As illustrated in the description of his involvement in theatre, Milligan often ad-libbed. He also did this on radio and television. One of his last screen appearances was in the BBC dramatisation of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast and he was (almost inevitably) noted as an ad-libber.
One of Milligan's ad-lib incidents occurred during a visit to Australia in the late 1960s. He was interviewed live on air and remained in the studio for the news broadcast that followed (read by Rod McNeil), during which Milligan constantly interjected, adding his own name to news items. As a result, he was banned from making any further live appearances on the ABC. The ABC also changed its national policy so that guests had to leave the studio after interviews were complete. A tape of the bulletin survives and has been included in an ABC Radio audio compilation, also on the BBC tribute CD, Vivat Milligna.
Film and television director Richard Lester recalls that the television series A Show Called Fred was broadcast live. "I've seen very few moments of genius in my life but I witnessed one with Spike after the first show. He had brought around a silent cartoon" and asked Lester if his P.A. took shorthand. "She said she did. 'Good, this needs a commentary.' It was a ten-minute cartoon and Spike could have seen it only once, if that. He ad-libbed the commentary for it and it was perfect. I was open-mouthed at the raw comedy creation in front of me."
Cartoons and art
Milligan contributed occasional cartoons to the satirical magazine Private Eye. Most were visualisations of one-line jokes. For example, a young boy sees the Concorde and asks his father "What's that?". The reply is "That's a flying groundnut scheme, son." Milligan was a keen painter.
In 1967, applying a satirical angle to a fashion for the inclusion of Superman-inspired characters in British television commercials, Milligan dressed up in a "Bat-Goons" outfit, to appear in a series of television commercials for British Petroleum. A contemporary reporter found the TV commercials "funny and effective". From 1980 to 1982, he advertised for the English Tourist Board, playing a Scotsman on a visit around the different regions of England.
Other advertising appearances included television commercials for Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, and Planters nuts.
In the 1970s, Charles Allen compiled a series of stories from British people's experiences of life in the British Raj, called Plain Tales from the Raj, and published in 1975. Milligan was the youngest contributor, describing his life in India when it was under British rule. In it he mentions the imperial parades there:
"The most exciting sound for me was the sound of the Irregular Punjabi Regiment playing the dhol and surmai [a type of drum] – one beat was dum-da-da-dum, dum-da-da-dum, dum-da-da-dum! They wore these great long pantaloons, a gold dome to their turbans, khaki shirts with banded waistcoats, double-cross bandoliers, leather sandals, and they used to march very fast, I remember, bursting in through the dust on the heels of an English regiment. They used to come in with trailed arms and they'd throw their rifles up into the air, catch it with their left hand – always to this dum-da-da-dum, dum-da-da-dum – and then stamp their feet and fire one round, synchronising with the drums. They'd go left, right, left, right, shabash! Hai! Bang! Dum-da-da-dum – It was sensational!"
Milligan married his first wife, June (Marchinie) Marlow, in 1952; Peter Sellers was best man. They had three children – Laura, Seán and Síle – and divorced in 1960. He married Patricia Ridgeway (known as Paddy) in June 1962, with George Martin as best man and the marriage produced one child, the actress Jane Milligan (b. 1966). The marriage ended with Patricia's death from breast cancer in 1978.
In 1975 Milligan fathered a son, James (born June 1976), in an affair with Margaret Maughan. Another child, a daughter Romany, is suspected to have been born at the same time, to a Canadian journalist named Roberta Watt. His last wife was Shelagh Sinclair, to whom he was married from 1983 to his death on 27 February 2002. Four of his children collaborated with documentary makers on a multi-platform programme called I Told You I Was Ill: The Life and Legacy of Spike Milligan (2005), which then included an accompanying website (www.spikemilliganlegacy.com).
After marrying Shelagh, he revoked his existing will which had left everything to his children, and instead left his entire estate to Shelagh. The children attempted to overturn the will, to no avail. In October 2008 an array of Milligan's personal effects was sold at auction by his third wife, Shelagh, who was moving into a smaller home. These included his vast legacy of books and memorabilia, and a grand piano salvaged from a demolition and apparently played every morning by Paul McCartney, a neighbour in Rye in East Sussex. The children were not consulted, and this further entrenched the bitterness between them and Shelagh, with whom they had not been on speaking terms.
Shelagh Milligan died in June 2011.
He suffered from severe bipolar disorder for most of his life, having at least ten serious mental breakdowns, several lasting over a year. He spoke candidly about his condition and its effect on his life:
I have got so low that I have asked to be hospitalised and for deep narcosis (sleep). I cannot stand being awake. The pain is too much ... Something has happened to me, this vital spark has stopped burning – I go to a dinner table now and I don't say a word, just sit there like a dodo. Normally I am the centre of attention, keep the conversation going – so that is depressing in itself. It's like another person taking over, very strange. The most important thing I say is 'good evening' and then I go quiet.
As Milligan was not born in the United Kingdom, his claim to British nationality was never clear. Milligan felt that he was entitled to a British passport, after having served in the army for six years. His passport application was refused, primarily because he would not swear an Oath of Allegiance; his Irish ancestry gave him an escape route from his stateless condition. He became an Irish citizen and remained so until his death.
Humour with the Prince of Wales
The Prince of Wales was a fan and when Milligan received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the British Comedy Awards in 1994, the Prince sent a congratulatory message to be read out on live TV. The comedian interrupted the message to call the Prince a "little grovelling bastard". He later faxed the prince, saying: "I suppose a knighthood is out of the question?"
In reality he and the Prince were very close friends and Milligan had already been made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1992 (honorary because of his Irish citizenship). He was made an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in 2000.
On 23 July 1981, The Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer were presented with a poem about the forthcoming Royal Wedding, delivered to Buckingham Palace on a 3ft 9in parchment scroll, written under the pen name MacGoonical. A ridiculous verse written in the style of William McGonagall. The ode was commissioned by the Legal and General Assurance society as a "mark of esteem and affection". The verse, titled "Ode to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales on the occasion of his Weeding", begins:
Oh! Twas in the year 1981
Prince Philip was reading Page 3 of the Sun!
They were all sitting in Buckingham Palace
Roaring with laughter at the comedy Dallas.
He was a strident campaigner on environmental matters, particularly arguing against unnecessary noise, such as the use of "muzak".
In 1971, Milligan caused controversy by attacking an art exhibition at the Hayward Gallery with a hammer. The artwork included catfish oysters and shrimp which were to be electrocuted. He was a staunch and outspoken scourge of domestic violence, dedicating one of his books to Erin Pizzey.
Even late in life, Milligan's black humour had not deserted him. After the death of Harry Secombe from cancer, he said, "I'm glad he died before me, because I didn't want him to sing at my funeral." A recording of Secombe singing was played at Milligan's memorial service. He also wrote his own obituary, in which he stated repeatedly that he "wrote the Goon Show and died".
Milligan died from kidney failure, at the age of 83, on 27 February 2002, at his home in Rye, Sussex. On the day of his funeral, 8 March 2002, his coffin was carried to St Thomas Church in Winchelsea, East Sussex, and was draped in the flag of Ireland. He had once quipped that he wanted his headstone to bear the words "I told you I was ill." He was buried at St Thomas' churchyard but the Chichester diocese refused to allow this epitaph. A compromise was reached with the Irish translation, Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite and in English, "Love, light, peace". The additional epitaph "Grá mór ort Shelagh" can be read as "Great love for you Shelagh".
According to a letter published in the Rye and Battle Observer in 2011, Milligan's headstone was removed from St Thomas' churchyard in Winchelsea and moved to be alongside the grave of his wife. However, in 2016 the headstone is again to be found in the churchyard of St.Thomas' Winchelsea.
From the 1960s, Milligan was a regular correspondent with Robert Graves. Milligan's letters to Graves usually addressed a question to do with classical studies. The letters form part of Graves's bequest to St. John's College, Oxford.
The film of Puckoon, starring Sean Hughes, including Milligan's daughter, actress Jane Milligan, was released after his death.
Milligan lived for several years in Holden Road, Woodside Park, Finchley, at The Crescent, Barnet, and was a contributing founder and strong supporter of the Finchley Society. His old house in Woodside Park is now demolished but there is a blue plaque in his memory on the block of flats on the site.
Over ten years the Finchley Society led by Barbara Warren[who?] raised funds – the Spike Milligan Statue Fund – to commission a statue of him cast in bronze by local sculptor John Somerville and erected in Finchley in the grounds of Avenue House in East End Road. The statue of Milligan sitting on a bench was unveiled on 4 September 2014 at a ceremony attended by a number of local dignitaries and showbusiness celebrities including Roy Hudd, Michael Parkinson, Maureen Lipman, Terry Gilliam, Kathy Lette, Denis Norden and Lynsey de Paul.
There is a campaign to erect a statue in the London Borough of Lewisham where he grew up. After coming to the UK from India in the 1930s, he lived at 50 Riseldine Road, Brockley and attended Brownhill Boys' School (later Catford Boys' School, which was demolished in 1994). There is a plaque and bench located at the Wadestown Library, Wellington, New Zealand, in an area called "Spike Milligan Corner".
In a 2005 poll to find the "Comedians' Comedian", he was voted among the top 50 comedy acts, by fellow comedians and comedy insiders. In a BBC poll in August 1999, Milligan was voted the "funniest person of the last 1,000 years".
Milligan has been portrayed twice in films. In the adaptation of his novel Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall, he was played by Jim Dale, while Milligan played his father. He was portrayed by Edward Tudor-Pole in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004). In a 2008 stage play, Surviving Spike, Milligan was played by Michael Barrymore.
On 9 June 2006, it was reported that Richard Wiseman had identified Milligan as the writer of the world's funniest joke as decided by the Laughlab project. Wiseman said the joke contained all three elements of what makes a good gag: anxiety, a feeling of superiority and an element of surprise.
Eddie Izzard described Milligan as "The Godfather of Alternative Comedy". "From his unchained mind came forth ideas that just had no boundaries. And he influenced a new generation of comedians who came to be known as 'alternative'."
Members of Monty Python greatly admired him. In one interview, which was widely quoted at the time, John Cleese stated "Milligan is the Great God to all of us". The Pythons gave Milligan a cameo role in their 1979 film Monty Python's Life of Brian, when Milligan happened to be holidaying in Tunisia, near where the film was being shot; he was re-visiting where he had been stationed during wartime. Graham Chapman gave him a minor part in Yellowbeard.
After their retirement, Milligan's parents and his younger brother Desmond moved to Australia. His mother lived the rest of her long life in the coastal town of Woy Woy on the New South WalesCentral Coast, just north of Sydney. As a result, he became a regular visitor to Australia and made a number of radio and TV programmes there, including The Idiot Weekly with Bobby Limb. He also wrote several books including Puckoon during a visit to his mother's house in Woy Woy. Milligan named the town "the largest above ground cemetery in the world" when visiting in the 1960s.
Milligan's mother became an Australian citizen in 1985, partly in protest at the circumstances which led to her son's ineligibility for British citizenship; Milligan himself was reportedly considering applying for Australian citizenship at the time as well. The suspension bridge on the cyclepath from Woy Woy to Gosford was renamed the Spike Milligan Bridge in his memory, and a meeting room in the Woy Woy Public Library is also named after him.
Radio comedy shows
Other radio shows
Milligan contributed his recollections of his childhood in India for the acclaimed 1970s BBC audio history series Plain Tales From The Raj. The series was published in book form in 1975 by André Deutsch, edited by Charles Allen.
TV comedy shows
Other notable TV involvement
- Six-Five Special, first aired on 31 August 1957. Spike Milligan plays an inventor, Mr. Pym, and acts as a butcher in a sketch.
- The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine, Milligan co-wrote and performed in some sketches.
- This Is Your Life, 11 April 1973. With Sellers, Bentine, and many others. Secombe spoke via a TV recording, as did his great friend Robert Graves.
- In 1975 Milligan co-wrote (with Neil Shand) and co-starred in a BBC TV sitcom called The Melting Pot. Its cast of characters included two illegal immigrants, an Irish landlord, a Chinese Cockney, a Scottish Arab and numerous other racial stereotypes; Milligan himself took the part of Mr Van Gogh, described as "an illegal Pakistani immigrant". After screening the pilot, the series was deemed to be too offensive for transmission. Five episodes remain unseen. Some of the characters and situations were reused in Milligan's novel The Looney.
- Tiswas – 1981 edition.
- Guest appearing along with Peter Cook in Kenny Everett's Christmas Show in 1985.
- Playing a moaning stranger in an episode from 1987 of In Sickness and in Health.
- Narrator of The Ratties (1987), a children's cartoon series written by Mike Wallis and Laura Milligan, Spike's daughter.
- The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town ran as a serial in The Two Ronnies in the 1970s.
- Special guest star of edition of 18 January 1979 of The Muppet Show
- Guest star in the 3rd episode of the award-winning BBC Scotland drama series Takin' Over the Asylum (1994)
- Was the subject of This Is Your Life for a second time in February 1995 when he was surprised by Michael Aspel.
- Narrated the 1995 TV show Wolves, Witches and Giants. A cartoon based on the book of the same name, it retold classic tales such as Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella, but with a twist. The programme won the 1995 Royal Television Society award for Best Children's Entertainment, and was nominated for the same award again in 1997.
- Guest on Series 4, Episode 3 of Room 101 in 1999
- Treasure Island (1961, 1973–1975)
- The Bed-Sitting Room (1963, 1967), written by Milligan and John Antrobus
- Oblomov opened at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, in 1964. It was based on the Russian classic by Ivan Goncharov, and gave Milligan the opportunity to play most of the title role in bed. Unsure of his material, on the opening night he improvised a great deal, treating the audience as part of the plot almost, and he continued in this manner for the rest of the run, and on tour as 'Son of Oblomov'. The show ran at the Comedy Theatre in London's West End in 1965.
- Badjelly's Bad Christmas was a play created and performed by the Chickenshed Theatre Company using the works of Spike Milligan and his characters.
- Let's Go Crazy (1951), played Eccles and a Waiter in this short, which also featured Peter Sellers and Wallas Eaton[better source needed]
- Penny Points to Paradise (1951), played Spike Donnelly. Features the later Goons, Alfred Marks and Bill Kerr.[better source needed]
- Down Among the Z Men (1952), played Eccles in a black-and-white secret agent comedy with all the Goons, including early member Michael Bentine and original announcer Andrew Timothy.
- A Kid for Two Farthings (1955), played an Indian with a grey beard (uncredited)[better source needed]
- The Case of the Mukkinese Battle Horn (1956), a Goon-like 2-reel comedy ("Mukkinese" = "mucky knees").
- The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film (1960), a silent comedy, Richard Lester's debut film.
- Watch Your Stern (1960), played Ranjid, the first civilian electrician.[better source needed]
- The Invasion Quartet (1961), he plays a leader of commandos, also featuring Bill Travers and John Le Mesurier.
- What a Whopper (1961), played a tramp. The film starred Adam Faith.
- Country postman Harold Petts in Postman's Knock (1962).
- The Bed Sitting Room (1969), post-apocalyptic comedy with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore and also Arthur Lowe; written by John Antrobus
I expect my American friends might not know the name Spike Milligan. He was the creator of a 1950's radio show called 'The Goons Show' which altered the history of British comedy by inspiring a new style of absurd and anarchic humor. Without the Goons we wouldn't have Monty Python and a host of other disruptive, irreverent British comedians. You'll probably, most likely, recognize another 'Goon' cohort, Peter Sellers (The Pink Panther and Being There.)
Because Spike Milligan is such a big deal in the UK, his poem about abortion is quite astonishing. Abortion is rarely mentioned in the (government controlled) media - least of all by celebrities, and never by comedy legends.
Written from the perspective of an unborn child as he is being murdered in the womb, the poem is hard to read, deeply sad, but altogether true, right up to the last 'punch in the gut' line. Read it and join me and many others in an important live event called EndAbortionNow tonight (April 8th) at 8pm Eastern.
by Spike Milligan.
Somewhere at some time
They committed themselves to me
And so, I was!
Small, but I WAS!
Tiny, in shape
Lusting to live
I hung in my pulsing cave.
Soon they knew of me
My mother —my father.
I had no say in my being
I lived on trust
Tho' I couldn't think
Each part of me was saying
A silent 'Wait for me
I will bring you love!'
I was taken
Blind, naked, defenseless
By the hand of one
Whose good name
Was graven on a brass plate
in Wimpole Street,
and dropped on the sterile floor
of a foot operated plastic waste
There was no Queens Counsel
To take my brief.
The cot I might have warmed
Stood in Harrod's shop window.
When my passing was told
My father smiled.
No grief filled my empty space.
My death was celebrated
With tickets to see Danny la Rue
Who was pretending to be a woman
Like my mother was.