Spike Milligan was the comic genius behind The Goons, he had his own TV series with "Q", and was a well respected and prolific author. He was an inspiration to the Monty Python team, and several generations of comics. The face of British comedy would be truly different now without Spike's irreverent and manic humour.
Milligan was born in India in 1918, but moved to England after his father retired from the army. Milligan himself was called up to the army during the second world war, and met Secombe during his time in Italy. He was shell shocked during his time in the army, but subsequently wrote about his experiences in his various books, which included "Adolf Hitler, my part in his downfall", "Monty. His part in my victory", and "Mussolini, his part in my downfall".
The Goons, a radio comedy series, was broadcast in 1950's Britain, and featured Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, Michael Bentine (in the first two series), and Spike Milligan. Sellers went on to find international fame with various films, notably including The Pink Panther series, and Dr Strangelove.
The Goons reached out to it's listeners in the 1950's. It's off tangent style, and rich characters appealed to the younger generations at first, but reached a wider audience as the years past. It finished in 1960, but later shows were recorded on occasions.
Milligans favourite character was Eccles "Eccles represents the permanency of man, his ability to go through anything and survive. They are trying to get off a ship on the Amazon and lower a boat. When they get to the shore Eccles is already there.
"'How did you get ashore?'
"'Ho hum, I came across on that log.'
"'Log... that's an alligator!'
"'Ooh. I wondered why I kept getting shorter.'"
The Goons went off to separate projects, and Milligan went on to work in Theatre, and then produced the Q series for BBC TV. He also worked on various films.
Milligan was diagnosed as a manic-depressive, and suffered no less than 10 nervous breakdowns. This was brought on by the shell shock during the war, and the pressure of writing the scripts for the Goon show.
He had a natural comic wit, and was both a delight and a nightmare for television interviewers. On a TV show to celebrate his 80th Birthday, the presenter was talking about him, when from behind the set a voice was heard shout "shut up and get on with it".
Asked what he'd like on his gravestone, he responded he'd like to see the words "I told you I was ill". Michael Parkinson, a favourite British chatshow host said "People assumed he was God's gift to talk shows, but he wasn't. He could veer from being absolutely obnoxious to being wonderful, depending on the mood you found him in. But he was a very gentle and nice man."
Milligan was a life long Catholic, but was in two minds about the existence of heaven. He once said: "I'd like to go there. But if Jeffrey Archer is there I want to go to Lewisham."
He was also a poet, and Britain voted "The Ning Nang song" as it's favourite:
On the Ning Nang Nong
Where the Cows go Bong!
and the monkeys all say BOO!
There's a Nong Nang Ning
Where the trees go Ping!
And the tea pots jibber jabber joo.
On the Nong Ning Nang
All the mice go Clang
And you just can't catch 'em when they do!
So its Ning Nang Nong
Cows go Bong!
Nong Nang Ning
Trees go ping
Nong Ning Nang
The mice go Clang
What a noisy place to belong
is the Ning Nang Ning Nang Nong!!
It is very hard to do Spike Milligan justice. Trying to summarise what Spike Milligan is about to anybody who has not heard of him before is inherently difficult. I've only tried to give a taster here.
However, his lasting legacy is not only a huge volume of work which has stood the test of time, but the lasting effect on comedy. The list includes Peter Cook, Reeves and Mortimer, The League of Gentlemen, the Monty Python team, and Robin Williams.
John Cleese said that The Goon show provided "the first flicker of rebelliousness that turned into the satire movement. He nudged us forward to be even crazier than we were intending to be".
The Press has been filled with many interesting Obituaries, and various sites exist celebrating both Milligan himself, The Goons, Q, and his various books.