The series was devised and written by Spike Milligan with the regular collaboration of other writers including Larry Stephens, Eric Sykes (who co-wrote most of the episodes in Series 5), Maurice Wiltshire and John Antrobus, initially under the supervision of Jimmy Grafton.
Milligan and Harry Secombe became friends while serving in the Royal Artillery during the Second World War. Famously, Milligan first encountered Secombe after Gunner Milligan's artillery unit accidentally allowed a large howitzer to roll off a cliff, under which Secombe was sitting in a small wireless truck: "Suddenly there was a terrible noise as some monstrous object fell from the sky quite close to us. There was considerable confusion, and in the middle of it all the flap of the truck was pushed open and a young, helmeted idiot asked 'Anybody see a gun?' It was Milligan." Secombe's answer to that question was "What colour was it?" Milligan met Peter Sellers after the war at the Hackney Empire, where Secombe was performing, and the three became close friends.
The group first formed at Jimmy Grafton's London public house called "Grafton's" in the late 1940s. Sellers had already débuted with the BBC, Secombe was often heard on Variety Bandbox, Milligan was writing for and acting in the high-profile BBC show Hip-Hip-Hoo-Roy with Derek Roy, and Michael Bentine, who appeared in the first series, had just begun appearing in Charlie Chester's peak time radio show Stand Easy.
The four clicked immediately. "It was always a relief to get away from the theatre and join in the revels at Grafton's on a Sunday night," said Secombe years later. They took to calling themselves "The Goons" and started recording their pub goings-on with a tape recorder. The BBC producer, Pat Dixon heard a tape and took interest in the group. He pressed the BBC for a long term contract for the gang, knowing that it would secure Sellers for more than just seasonal work, something for which the BBC had been aiming. The BBC acquiesced and ordered an initial series, though without much enthusiasm.
The series had its premiere in May 1951 and audience figures grew rapidly, from around 370,000 to nearly two million by the end of the 17th show. No recordings of any episode of this series are known to have survived. The BBC commissioned a second series and a number of other changes occurred. The musical interludes were shortened, and Max Geldray joined the lineup. Peter Eton, from the BBC's drama department, replaced Dennis Main Wilson as producer. Eton brought stricter discipline to the show's production. He was also an expert at sound effects and microphone technique, ensuring that the show became a far more dynamic listening experience. However, a few episodes into the series Milligan suffered a major nervous breakdown. He was hospitalised in early December 1952, just before the broadcast of episode five, but it, and the following episode, had already been written, and the next 12 episodes were co-written by Stephens and Grafton. Milligan was absent as a performer for about two months, returning for episode 17, broadcast in early March 1952. As with Series 2, all episodes were co-written by Milligan and Stephens and edited by Jimmy Grafton.
Bentine left the show at the end of series 2, citing a desire to pursue solo projects, although there had been an increasing degree of creative tension between him and Milligan.
Milligan blamed his breakdown and the collapse of his first marriage on the sheer volume of writing the show required. His then ground-breaking use of sound effects also contributed to the pressure. All this exacerbated his mental instability that included bipolar disorder, especially during the third series. The BBC however made sure he was surrounded by accomplished radio comedy writers—Sykes, Stephens, Antrobus, Wiltshire, and Grafton—so many of the problems caused by his ill health were skilfully covered over by composite scripts written in a very convincing Milliganesque style.
Many senior BBC staff were variously bemused and befuddled by the show's surreal humour and it has been reported that senior programme executives erroneously referred to it as The Go On Show or even The Coon Show.
The show had high audience ratings Britain at its peak; tickets for the recording sessions at the BBC's Camden Theatre (now known as KOKO) in London were constantly over-subscribed and the various character voices and catchphrases from the show quickly became part of the vernacular. The series has remained consistently popular ever since – as of January 2011 it is still being broadcast once a week by the ABC in Australia, as well as on BBC Radio 4 Extra.
Only a handful of episodes survive from the first four series. All of series five to ten exist, and the Corporation is gradually releasing them, remastered and restored by Ted Kendall. Bootleg copies of all extant episodes exist on the web - the show was widely recorded by devotees - including the first two episodes of series two. The extant copies, and released discs are confused by the episodes often existing in two form - the domestic transmission recording, and the Transcription Service issues licensed to overseas broadcasters.
The scripts exist mostly in fan-transcribed versions via dedicated websites. Although three books were published containing selected scripts, they are out of print, and typically available only in libraries or second-hand. Some more recent biographical books contain selected scripts.
There were 10 series in total, plus an additional series called Vintage Goons, which featured re-recordings of early shows which had not been recorded by transcription services. The first series had 17 episodes plus one special, Cinderella (1951); the second series had 25 episodes, (1952); the third series had 25 episodes plus one special - The Coronation Special (1952–53); the fourth series had 30 episodes plus one special, Archie In Goonland (1953–54); the fifth series had 26 episodes plus one special - The Starlings (1954–55); the sixth series had 27 episodes plus three specials, (1955–56); the seventh series had 25 episodes plus two specials, (1956–57); the eighth series had 26 episodes, (1957–58); the Vintage Goons were re-performances of 14 episodes from series four; the ninth series had 17 episodes, (1958–59); and the tenth series had six episodes, (1959–1960).
Throughout its history, each episode of The Goon Show, which usually ran just under 30 minutes, was essentially structured as a comedy-variety programme, consisting of scripted comedy segments alternating with musical interludes.
The first two series were mostly produced by Dennis Main Wilson; none of the episodes was given an individual title and these early shows were loosely structured and consisted of four or five unconnected sketches, separated by musical items. According to later producer Peter Eton, the musical segments took up around half the programme. In this formative phase the show co-starred Milligan (who played only minor roles in the early shows), Sellers, Secombe and Michael Bentine as the nominal 'hero' of each episode, madcap inventor Dr Osric Pureheart. Musical performances were by virtuoso jazz harmonica player Max Geldray, singer Ray Ellington and his quartet (both of whom were recruited by Dixon) and vocal group the Stargazers, but they left after Episode 6 of Series 2, and for the remaining episodes Secombe filled in, singing a straight vocal number. Incidental, theme and backing music was provided by Stanley Black and the BBC Dance Orchestra. Series 2 also saw the first appearances of popular characters Minnie Bannister (Milligan) and Henry Crun (Sellers).
Partly due to creative tensions between him and Milligan, as well as his desire to pursue a solo career, Bentine departed after the end of Series 2. Dennis Main Wilson was replaced as producer by Peter Eton, who oversaw most episodes in Series 3, 4, 5 and 6. The last few episodes of Series 6 were produced by Pat Dixon, except for the Christmas special, which was produced by Main Wilson. Eton returned for the first two episodes of Series 7 but the remainder were produced by Pat Dixon, except the final episode, produced by Jacques Brown. In Series 8, Charles Chilton produced Episodes 1-5 and 17-26, Roy Speer produced Episodes 6-14 and Tom Ronald produced Episodes 15-16. Chilton, Speer and Ronald also variously produced the 14 episodes of the "Vintage Goons" series (1957–58) which were remakes of early programs for which recordings were no longer extant. Series 9 and 10 were entirely produced by John Browell.
From Series 3, The Goon Show (as it was now officially titled) gradually settled into its 'classic' format. Milligan, Stephens and Grafton began to work within a narrative structure and by the second half of Series 4 each episode typically consisted of three acts linked by a continuing plot, with Geldray performing between Acts I and II and Ellington between Acts II and III. Almost all the principal and occasional characters were now performed by Milligan and Sellers, with Secombe usually playing only Neddie Seagoon, who had replaced Pureheart as the hero of most of the stories. The closing theme, backing for Geldray and incidental music was now provided by a big band of freelance musicians under the direction of Wally Stott, who had been writing for the show since the first series. After the end of Series 3, original announcer Andrew Timothy was replaced (at the suggestion of John Snagge) by Wallace Greenslade, who provided spoken narrative links as well as occasionally performing small roles in the scripts.
From Series 3 onwards, the principal character roles were:Neddie Seagoon (Secombe)
Henry Crun (Sellers)
Minnie Bannister (Milligan)
Hercules Grytpype-Thynne (Sellers)
Count Jim Moriarty (Milligan)
Major Denis Bloodnok (Sellers)
Secondary characters were the "Indians", Banerjee and Lalkaka, the servant Abdul/Singez Thingz, Willium "Mate" Cobblers, Cyril, Jim Spriggs, Little Jim, Flowerdew and Chief Ellinga/The Red Bladder - both played by Ray Ellington. There were also occasional guest stars including senior BBC announcer John Snagge, and actors Valentine Dyall, Dick Emery, Kenneth Connor, Dennis Price and Bernard Miles. The traditional plots involved Grytpype-Thynne and Moriarty getting Neddie Seagoon involved in some far-fetched plan, and meeting the other cast members along the way.
Many characters had regular catchphrases which quickly moved into the vernacular; among the best known are:"He's fallen in the water!" (Little Jim)
"You dirty, rotten swine, you! You have deaded me!" (Bluebottle)
"You can't get the wood, you know." (Henry, Minnie)
"You silly, twisted boy, you." (Grytpype-Thynne)
"You can't park 'ere, mate" (Willium) –Milligan's dig at officious BBC commissionaires.
"Ying Tong Iddle I Po" (various) – which became the basis for a novelty hit as "The Ying Tong Song"
The Goon Show has been variously described as "avant-garde", "surrealist", "abstract", and "four dimensional". Broadly The Goon Show engaged in "sound cartooning". That is creating cartoons by means of sounds – voices, sound effects (FX), gramophone recordings of noises (Grams), orchestral effects etc. – all performed live in front of a studio audience. In the scripts themselves, Milligan explored the use of "subject transference". In particular he used three methods – transference of time, transference of place and transference of utility.
Examples are:Medium games
Additionally, Milligan played games with the medium itself. Whole scenes were written in which characters would leave, close the door behind themselves, yet still be inside the room. Further to this, characters would announce their departure, slam a door, but it would be another character who had left the room. That character would then beat on the door for re-admittance, the door would open and close and again the wrong character would be locked out. Milligan also specialised in writing long scenes where a pair of characters would discuss a subject in a circle, coming back to the point they started. The best example is in "The Great Tuscan Salami Scandal" 23rd episode/6th series, in a scene between Minnie and Henry.Locations
The settings for the shows were a revolution in themselves. Rather than the Britain in the '50s, Milligan set most of the shows in foreign locations, especially India, North Africa, South America, the Wild West, places where he had lived or had been posted during WWII, or had been fascinated with when a boy. It gives the shows a "boys'-own-story" atmosphere to the plots, and also an extraordinary sense of realism. The episodes set during wartime and those located in India, highlighted the absurdist humour played out against the realistic backdrops.Violence
Apart from the background, and the scripts, is the question of violence. Milligan had been caught in an explosion at the Battle of Monte Cassino during the war, and weekly he would blow up either Bluebottle, Eccles, or the whole cast. The whole cast is blown up in, for example, "The Sale of Manhattan", 11th episode/6th series. Bombs, cannons, dynamite, TNT; anything and everything was used. Eccles breaks his leg in "Shangri La Again", 8th/6th series. How? "I just got a big hammer and went WHACK!" This was weekly fare. In a particularly violent episode, "The Last Tram", 9th/5th series, Ned Seagoon and Wallace Greenslade are repeatedly belted over the head with shovels in their capacities as representatives of, respectively, the government and the BBC.
The Goon Show paved the way for surreal and alternative humour, as acknowledged by comedians such as Eddie Izzard. The surreality was part of the attraction for Sellers. All this exacerbated his mental instability especially during the third series. Many of the sequences have been cited as being visionary in the way that they challenged the traditional conventions of comedy. In the Pythons' autobiography, Terry Jones states "The Goons of course were my favourite. It was the surreality of the imagery and the speed of the comedy that I loved - the way they broke up the conventions of radio and played with the very nature of the medium." This is reiterated by Michael Palin and John Cleese in their contributions to Ventham's (2002) book. Cleese recalls listening to The Goon Show as a teenager in the mid-1950s "and being absolutely amazed by its surreal humour. It came at a key stage in my own development and I never missed a show".
Orchestral introductions, links and accompaniment were provided by a hand-picked big band made up of London-based session musicians. The arrangements and musical direction were done by Wally Stott from the third to the 10th series. Stott produced many arrangements and link passages, further improved by the first-class sound quality the BBC engineers managed to achieve. Members of the band featured prominently in the comedy proceedings, particularly jazz trombonist George Chisholm who frequently played Scots characters. The show's concluding music was usually either "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead" or a truncated and ironic rendition of the Alte Kameraden (Old Comrades') march, followed by Max Geldray and the Ray Ellington Quartet playing "Crazy Rhythm" as play-out music.
In keeping with the variety requirements of the BBC's "light entertainment" format, The Goon Show scripts were structured in three acts, separated by two musical interludes. These were provided by the Ray Ellington Quartet – who performed a mixture of jazz, rhythm & blues and calypso songs – and by harmonica virtuoso Max Geldray who performed mostly middle of the road numbers and jazz standards of the 30s and 40s accompanied by the big band. Both Ellington and Geldray also made occasional cameo appearances; Ellington was often drafted in to play stereotypical "black" roles such as a tribal chieftain, native bearer or Major Bloodnok's nemesis (and counterpoint to Bloodnok's affliction) "The Red Bladder". Geldray's roles were short and infrequent, and by no coincidence he was referred to in the show as the world's worst actor. Both musicians endured constant references to their physical appearance without apparent rancour, mostly Ellington's skin colour and Geldray's nose – but then again so did Secombe, whose height, girth, or alleged lack of neck were referenced in almost every show.
It was in its use of pre-recorded and live sound effects that The Goon Show broke the most new ground. Part of the problem was that "not even Milligan knew how to capture electronically the peculiar sounds that came alive in his head – he just knew when it had not yet happened". An example of this comes from an often cited story of Milligan filling his two socks with custard in the Camden Theatre canteen, in an attempt to achieve a squelching effect. Milligan asked the BBC canteen ladies to make some custard; they thought he must have some stomach trouble so lovingly made him a fresh custard – which he accepted with thanks and immediately poured into his sock, much to their horror. Secombe recalled "Back in the studio, Spike had already placed a sheet of three-ply near a microphone." One after the other, he swung them around his head against the wood, but failed to produce the sound effect he was seeking ("So, a sock full of custard and no sound effect!"). Secombe noted that "Spike used to drive the studio managers mad with his insistence on getting the sound effects he wanted. In the beginning, when the programme was recorded on disc, it was extremely difficult to achieve the right sound effect. There were, I think, four turntables on the go simultaneously, with different sounds being played on each – chickens clucking, Big Ben striking, donkeys braying, massive explosions, ships' sirens – all happening at once. It was only when tape came into use that Spike felt really happy with the effects." An FX instruction in one script read "Sound effect of two lions walking away, bumping against each other. If you can't get two lions, two hippos will do". Over time, the sound engineers became increasingly adept at translating the script into desired sounds, assisted from the late 1950s onwards by specialists in the BBC's newly formed Radiophonic Workshop.
In preparing for the recording of episodes, long and acrimonious shouting matches occurred between Milligan and BBC managers as he tried to get his own way. Was he a diva? "I was in the Goon Show days", he told Dick Lester. "I was trying to shake the BBC out of its apathy. Sound effects were 'a knock on the door and tramps on gravel' – that was it, and I tried to transform it." Using techniques already developed by the drama department, he went on to give the show an indelible sense of reality, going out of his way to achieve maximum believability by the use of FX (live sound effects) and Grams (pre-recorded sound effects), making the show the first comedic production of its kind to try actively to persuade the listeners that the happenings were real, and especially to create alternate realities or surreal audio imagery that would be impossible to realise visually. This approach was echoed on television in Monty Python's Flying Circus which began in 1969, through the surreal animation inserts created by Terry Gilliam.
Many of the sound effects created for later programmes featured innovative production techniques borrowed from the realm of musique concrète, and using the then new technology of magnetic tape. Many of these sequences involved the use of complex multiple edits, echo and reverberation and the deliberate slowing down, speeding up or reversing of tapes. One of the most famous was the legendary "Bloodnok's Stomach" sound effect, created by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to represent the sound of Major Bloodnok's digestive system in action, which included a variety of inexplicable gurgling and explosive noises. Lewis (1995, p. 218) states Bloodnok's stomach "was achieved by overlaying burps, whoops from oscillators, water splashes, cork-like pops, and light artillery blasts".Harry Secombe's characters
Spike Milligan's characters
Peter Sellers' characters
Michael Bentine's characters
Prof. Osric Pureheart and more
Other cast members
Guest cast members
Lurgy (river) is a small river near Kilmacrennan in Donegal in Ireland.
Several of the words and phrases invented for the show soon entered common usage, the most famous being the word lurgi. In the episode "Lurgi Strikes Britain", Spike Milligan introduced the fictional malady of Lurgi (sometimes spelled Lurgy), which has survived into modern usage to mean any miscellaneous or non-specific illness (often preceded by the adjective "dreaded"). The symptoms of Lurgi included the uncontrollable urge to cry "Yack-a-boo", though even during the episode the ailment proved to be an extortionate attempt to sell brass band musical instruments. Milligan was later to make up his own definition in Treasure Island According to Spike Milligan, where Jim Hawkins' mother describes it as "like brown spots of shit on the liver".
Alcohol was strictly forbidden during rehearsals and recording, so the cast fortified themselves with milk. The milk in turn was fortified with brandy. In later episodes the catchphrase "round the back for the old brandy!" or "the old Marlon Brando" was used to announce the exit of one or more characters, or a break for music. In "The Pam's Paper Insurance Policy" (Series 9, Episode 4) Ray Ellington, before his musical item begins, muses, "I wonder where he keeps that stuff!". In "The Scarlet Capsule" (Series 9, Episode 14) Ellington's reply to Secombe's cry of "Time for Ray Ellington and the old BRANDYYY there" was "The introductions he gives me...". In "The Moon Show" (Series 7, Episode 18), Ellington sympathises with the listeners, stating "Man, the excuses he makes to get to that brandy!", causing Milligan, Sellers and Secombe to wail "MATE!" in protest. However, Milligan got his own back by making Ellington laugh halfway through the song by doing Minnie Bannister voices while Ellington was singing.
In the episode "The Rent Collectors", Secombe complains of not having a speaking part for the first five minutes of the show, "I can't sit out the back here drinking brandy all night!" Sellers replies (as Grytpype-Thynne), "Why not? It's what you always do."
During the video of the warm-up segment of The Last Goon Show of All Milligan can be seen coming on stage three times during Secombe's song. First he brings on an empty glass jug, placing it in Secombe's hand. Next he appears with a small bottle of brandy, pouring it into the jug. Finally he brings a bottle of milk and pours it in after the brandy.
During radio programmes of the 1920s and 1930s, the background noise for crowd scenes was often achieved by a moderately large group of people mumbling "rhubarb" under their breath with random inflections. This was often parodied by Milligan, who would try to get the same effect with only three or four people. After some time, Secombe began throwing in "custard" during these scenes (for example, in "The Fear of Wages and Wings Over Dagenham"). About 10 years after The Goon Show ceased production, Secombe, Eric Sykes and a host of other well-known comic actors made the short film Rhubarb, in which the entire script consisted of what Milligan called "rhubarbs".
As well as a comic device randomly inserted into different sketches to avoid silence, the blowing of raspberries entered the Goons as Harry Secombe's signal to the other actors that he was going to crack up; you would hear a joke from him, a raspberry, and a stream of laughter. In the Goons' musical recording "The Ying-Tong Song", Milligan performed a solo for raspberry-blower, as one might for tuba or baritone saxophone. Milligan eventually had the Radiophonic Workshop concoct a sound effect recording of a donkey braying and then farting loudly; it appeared first in the show "The Sinking of Westminster Pier" as a sound to accompany an oyster opening its shell; it thereafter became known as Fred the Oyster, and appears as such in the scripts. This recording was often used as a reaction to a bad joke. Examples include The Last Goon Show of All where Neddie shouts old jokes into a fuel tank in order to "start the show".
Years later, Milligan collaborated with Ronnie Barker on The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town in which the credits read, "Raspberries professionally blown by Spike Milligan". David Jason has also claimed to have produced the sound effect and indeed was credited with this in the second segment of Ronnie Barker's LWT series Six Dates with Barker (1971) where it's noted the raspberries were supplied by David Jason. (Note that The Two Ronnies' 'serial' was an elongated version of Milligan's original script for Barker's 1971 series, which Barker expanded and lead to the humorous onscreen credit "Written by Spike Milligan and a Gentleman".)
The following films were a product of Goon activity:Let's Go Crazy (1951)
Penny Points to Paradise (1951)
Down Among the Z Men (1952) (with Bentine)
The Case of the Mukkinese Battle Horn (1956) A two-reeler starring Milligan, Sellers and Dick Emery
The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (1959) A surreal one-reeler short subject starring Milligan and Sellers and directed by Dick Lester
Spike Milligan teamed up with illustrator Pete Clarke to produce two books of comic strip Goons. The stories were slightly modified versions of classic Goon shows.The Goon Cartoons (1982)
"The Last Goon Show of All", "The Affair of the Lone Banana", "The Scarlet Capsule", "The Pevensey Bay Disaster"
More Goon Cartoons (1983)
"The Case of the Vanishing Room", "The Case of the Missing C.D. Plates", "The Saga of the Internal Mountain", "Rommel's Treasure"
The Goon Show Scripts (1972) by Milligan
"Forward by Sellers", Details of the Show, Cast, Characters, etc, and "The Dreaded Batter Pudding Hurler", "The Phantom Head Shaver", "The Affair of the Lone Banana", "The Canal", "Napoleon's Piano", "Foiled by President Fred", "The Mighty Wurlitzer", "The Hastings Flyer", "The House of Teeth".
The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004)
A recreation of a Goon Show
broadcast before a studio audience is seen early in the HBO Original Movie, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers
(2004), with Geoffrey Rush as Sellers, Edward Tudor-Pole as Spike Milligan, Steve Pemberton as Harry Secombe and Lance Ellington as Ray Ellington. A very brief moment from that recreation is seen in the trailer for that film.
Ying Tong: A Walk with the Goons
is a play written by Roy Smiles which is set partly in a radio studio, partly in a mental asylum and partly in Spike Milligan's mind. It recreates the Goons recording the show, but part way through Spike has a mental breakdown and is committed to an asylum. While it features all of the Goons throughout (although Bentine is mentioned, the fourth character represents Wallace Greenslade), the focus is on Milligan and his breakdown.
The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d (TV, 1956) and The Idiot Weekly (radio, 1958–1962)
The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d
, which starred Peter Sellers, was the first attempt to translate Goon Show
humour to television. Made for Associated-Rediffusion during 1956 and only broadcast in the London area, it was mainly written by Milligan, with contributions from other writers in the Associated London Scripts cooperative including Dave Freeman and Terry Nation, with Eric Sykes as script editor. The Idiot Weekly
(1958–1962) was an Australian radio comedy series written by and starring Milligan with an Australian supporting cast including Ray Barrett and John Bluthal. It was made for the ABC during Milligan's numerous visits to Australia, where his family had emigrated. Milligan adapted some Goon Show
scripts and included his Goon Show
characters (notably Eccles) in many episodes. Six episodes of The Idiot Weekly
were remade by the BBC as The Omar Khayyam Show
The Telegoons (1963–1964)
(1963–1964) was a 15-minute BBC puppet show featuring the voices of Milligan, Secombe and Sellers and adapted from the radio scripts. 26 episodes were made. The series was briefly repeated immediately after its original run, and all episodes are known to survive, having been unofficially released online. It was not appreciated by longtime Goon Show
fans who had been avid listeners of the original BBC radio broadcasts because the Goon Show
's radio broadcasts enabled readers to create mental images of the characters they heard, and when they saw the televised versions there were grave mismatches in listener's mental imagery and the televisual characterisation of the rich and varied cast of characters.
The Goon Show - The Whistling Spy Enigma (Secombe & Friends) (1966)
Recorded for Harry Secombe's six-part comedy series, of which only a portion was actually used for the original broadcast, this was similar to Tales of Men's Shirts
as a re-enactment of a radio play for television. Whilst initially it was thought that only the portion used in the TV show survived, a full copy of the performance was found by the British Film Institute.
The Goon Show - Tales of Men's Shirts (1968)
Essentially a re-enactment of a radio performance, the three Goons were joined by John Cleese as announcer for a special shown on Thames Television. While the original video tape was wiped, an almost-complete copy of this broadcast is held by the British Film Institute.
The Last Goon Show of All (1972)
In 1972, the Goons reunited to perform The Last Goon Show of All
for radio and television, before an invited audience that didn't, however, include long-time fan HRH The Prince of Wales, who was out of the country on duty with the Royal Navy at the time. (during the warm-up, announcer Andrew Timothy read a personal message from HRH Prince Charles, after which he added; "...and it's simply signed 'Charles'".) The show was broadcast on BBC television and radio, and eventually released in stereo, first as an LP on vinyl, and later on a CD. The television broadcast was also released on VHS and later on DVD, although there were some unfortunate omissions which detracted from at least one delayed punchline.
Goon Again (2001)
In 2001, the BBC recorded a "new" Goon Show
, Goon Again
, featuring Andy Secombe (son of Harry), Jon Glover and Jeffrey Holland, with Christopher Timothy (son of Andrew Timothy) announcing and Lance Ellington (son of Ray Ellington) singing, based on two lost series 3 episodes from 1953, The Story of Civilisation
and The Plymouth Ho Armada
, both written by Milligan and Stephens.
The Goons made a number of records including "I'm Walking Backwards for Christmas" (originally sung by Milligan in the show to fill in during a musicians' strike), and "Bloodnok's Rock and Roll Call", the B-side of which, the "Ying Tong Song", soon became more popular and was reissued as an A-side in the mid-1970s, becoming a surprise novelty hit. The last time all three Goons worked together was in 1978 when they recorded two new songs, "The Raspberry Song" and "Rhymes".Bridge on the River Wye (Parlophone 1962)
A 1962 comedy LP with Milligan and Sellers as well as Peter Cook and Jonathan Miller. A spoof of the film The Bridge on the River Kwai
, it was originally recorded under that name. However, the film company threatened legal action if the name was used. Thus some clever editing of the recording by future Beatles producer George Martin removed the K
every time the word Kwai
was uttered, creating Bridge on the River Wye
. The LP is based on The Goon Show'
s African Incident
(30/12/1957), which featured Sellers' vocal impersonation of Alec Guinness. Lewis' (1995, pp. 205–206) gives a good account of this background.
How to Win an Election (1964)
In 1964, Milligan, Secombe and Sellers lent their voices to a comedy LP, How to Win an Election (or Not Lose by Much)
, which was written by Leslie Bricusse. It was not exactly a Goons reunion because Sellers was in Hollywood and had to record his lines separately. The album was reissued on CD in 1997.
He's Innocent of Watergate (1974)
This featured Milligan and Sellers and John Bluthal, who also appeared in the Q
series, and was a response to Nixon's resignation and subsequent revelations about the Watergate scandal. It featured Milligan singing "I'm Innocent of Watergate", a song which apparently absolved Nixon of all responsibility for criminal action.
In George Perry's book The Life of Python (1999) he comments: "In the Britain of 1950, humour was derived from three main sources: print, film and radio, and despite the advent of television, throughout the 1950s radio remained the dominant source of broadcast comedy. In this period, two radio comedy shows exercised a profound influence. The first was Take It From Here, with its polished professionalism. The other was The Goon Show, with its absurdity, manic surreality and unpredictability."
On the influence of The Goons, Eric Sykes wrote that in the post-World War II years, "other shows came along but 'The House of Comedy' needed electricity. Then, out of the blue ... The Goons ...Spike Milligan simply blew the roof off, and lit the whole place with sunshine. At a cursory glance, The Goon Show was merely quick-fire delivery of extremely funny lines mouthed by eccentric characters, but this was only the froth. In The Goon Show, Spike was unknowingly portraying every facet of the British psyche".
Sykes and Milligan, along with Ray Galton, Alan Simpson, Frankie Howerd and Stanley ("Scruffy") Dale, co-founded the writers' cooperative Associated London Scripts (ALS), which over time included others such as Larry Stephens. In his book Spike & Co (2006, pp. 344–345), Graham McCann says "the anarchic spirit of the Goon Show...would inspire, directly or indirectly and to varying extents, Monty Python's Flying Circus, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Young Ones, Vic Reeves Big Night Out, The League of Gentlemen, Brass Eye and countless other strange and bold new comedies". Other ALS-related comedies such as Sykes and A..., Hancock's Half Hour, Steptoe and Son, Beyond Our Ken, and Round The Horne influenced their own genres of comedy.
Eddie Izzard notes that the Goons and Milligan in particular "influenced a new generation of comedians who came to be known as 'alternative'." In Ventham's (2002, p. 151) compilation, John Cleese notes that "In comedy, there are a very small number of defining moments when somebody comes along and genuinely creates a breakthrough, takes us into territory where nobody has been before. The only experiences to which I can compare my own discovery of the Goons are going to see N F Simpson's play One Way Pendulum ... or, later on, hearing Peter Cook for the first time. They were just light years ahead of everyone else."
The Goons made a considerable impact on the humour of The Beatles, and especially on John Lennon. On 30 September 1973, Lennon reviewed the book The Goon Show Scripts for The New York Times. He wrote: "I was 12 when The Goon Show first hit me, 16 when they finished with me. Their humour was the only proof that the world was insane. One of my earlier efforts at writing was a 'newspaper' called The Daily Howl. I would write it at night, then take it into school and read it aloud to my friends. Looking at it now, it seems strangely similar to The Goon Show." Lennon also noted that George Martin had made records with both Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers.
In a discussion of an accidentally Goonish nature, about introducing the next song during the 1963 BBC production of Pop Go The Beatles, Lennon is also recorded as quipping "Love these Goon shows". This was included in the double album and CD entitled Live at the BBC (side 4, track 10 of the LP; track 62 of CD).
Among the influences on Monty Python, the members of the comedy team are described as being "indebted to BBC radio comedy, and particularly to the Goon Show." The future members of Monty Python were fans, and on many occasions they expressed their collective debt to Milligan and The Goons. Scudamore (1985, p. 170) cites an interview for example, in which John Cleese stated "the Goon Show influenced us enormously". He reiterates this point in his contribution to Ventham's (2002, p. 151) book: "We all loved The Goon Show in the Monty Python Team: it ignited some energy in us. It was more a spirit that was passed on, rather than any particular technique. The point is that once somebody has crossed a barrier and done something that has never been done before, it is terribly easy for everybody else to cross it".
Similarly, in the introduction to Graham Chapman's posthumous anthology (2006, p. xvii) Yoakum notes that while other radio comedies influenced Chapman, "the show that truly astounded Graham, and was a major influence on his comedy was The Goon Show." And on page 23 Chapman states: "from about the age of seven or eight I used to be an avid listener to a radio programme called The Goon Show. In fact, at that stage I wanted to be a Goon".
Peter Sellers died on 24 July 1980, aged 54. Michael Bentine died on 26 November 1996. Harry Secombe died on 11 April 2001. Milligan claimed to be relieved that Secombe had died before him, because had he died before Secombe then Secombe would have been in a position to sing at his funeral. Terence "Spike" Milligan died on 27 February 2002, aged 83; Secombe ended up singing at his funeral anyway, as a recording. Two years later Milligan's wish to have the words "I told you I was ill" inscribed on his gravestone was finally granted, although the church would only agree if the words were written in Irish, as Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite.