Friday, September 22, 2006

Spike Milligan

Spike Milligan in 2002
Spike Milligan in 2002

My father had an old reel-to-reel tape recorder and several reels full of The Goon Show he'd recorded off the radio. We used to listen to them of a winter evening. Milligan playing Eccles and Moriarty, the booming tones of Harry Secombe as Neddy Seagoon and Peter Sellers as Bluebottle. My favourite bit was Eccles being asked if someone was dead. He says, 'Wait a minute' and there's a bang and he comes back and says 'He is now'.

My favourite of his poems is the one about rain:

There are holes in the sky where the rain gets in
But they're ever so small
That's why rain is thin.

Haven't read any of his books yet except Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall which was about his time as a gunner in World War II and was hilarious.

Wiki has a list of what looks like all his works and says:

"During most of the 1930s and early 1940s he performed as an amateur jazz vocalist and trumpeter both before and after being called up for military service, but even then he wrote and performed comedy sketches as part of concerts to entertain troops."


"Milligan and Harry Secombe became friends while serving in the armed forces during World War II ... 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..." "

The Goon Show was first broadcast in May 1951, 6 years after the war finished.

The BBC obituary says he died in Sussex (England) on 23 February 2002 at 83 years old and was born in Poona, India in 1918. He was the "son of an Irish sergeant-major in the Royal Artillery ... Milligan also served with that regiment during World War II."

The thing that struck me when he died was that he was probably pretty old for someone with bipolar disorder, which used to be called manic depression and is known to up your risk of suicide considerably.

Orange Grove Road Blackwall

This is the former Milligan family home on Orange Grove Road Blackwall. Spike's parents and his brother Desmond migrated from the UK to Woy Woy in 1951 (Spike stayed in England and did The Goon Show) the same year as my grandparents and thousands of other Poms migrated to Australia. I don't know if they were ten pound Poms or not. You had to be fairly hard up to qualify for that.

Spike Milligan was a patron of Woy Woy Little Theatre and his mum used to represent him at the theatre's knees-ups. He used to come here for holidays and wrote most of Puckoon here.

Milligan's younger brother Desmond also served in WWII, right at the tail end of it.

Spike Milligan's dad's marker in Woy Woy War Memorial Park

Embiggulate the picture and you can read Spike's dad Leo Milligan's plaque on the wall of the Woy Woy Memorial Park. If you're down there at the park, it's to the left and a few feet forward of the big stone block saying 'Lest we forget'.

The plaque reads:
1 . 2 . 69"

Which part of that means sergeant-major in the Royal Artillery I don't know. "RET." probably means retired and "R.A." Royal Army.

Hugh Garsden of a Goon Show fan group quotes a July 1990 edition of "Hello Folks! ... the newsletter of the Goon Appreciation Society of Perth" as saying:

MOTHER DIES: Comedian Spike Milligan has been kept from his
elderly mother's death bed by work commitments. Florence Milligan,
96, who had lived in Australia for almost 46 years, died in
hospital on the NSW central coast yesterday. Spike, the eldest of
her two sons, had secretly visited her before returning to London
a week ago. "Spike spent every day with her for the two weeks he
was out here," his brother Desmond said.

(Dunno how kosher this Hugh Garsden is. His email adress's domain is Oz means Australia, .au means Australia and the University of Sydney's domain is

Anyways, that's a brief version of the life and times of Woy Woy's biggest claim to fame and the bloke who declared Woy Woy to be "the only above-ground cemetery in the world".


Inexplicable DeVice said...

A very cromulant post, there Spike.

Harry Secombe once sang outside the cafe where the Host used to work. I think it was for Songs of Praise, or some other malarkey. Anyway, we certainly didn't need a foghorn that day, I can tell you...

How're you feeling now? Better, I hope.

Jimmy Little said...

You're only a few tens of metres from my dad's place with that top photo -- getting close :-). And I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but when Spike (and occasionally Harry S.) stayed with "Milly" (as Spike's mum was universally known around there), he'd drop by sometimes for a few quiet hours with my dad (he was pretty reclusive when he stayed with Milly). Somewhere I have the (signed) book Spike gave me for my seventh (?) birthday -- something he and Harry Secombe had written for kids or something (hell, this was a long time ago, and the book's currently somewhere in my dad's place in Woy Woy..). He was really fairly well-known and liked in the immediate neighbourhood back then (especially since one of the bigwigs at the Woy Woy little theatre lived just around the corner -- you very nearly took a photo of her house a few months ago :-)).

As for his dad's inscription, he's a *Captain*, and the R.A. Ret. usually means "Royal Artillery, Retired". I can't remember what the M.S.N. stood for...

Spike said...

Device dear - Ta. I think :)

I saw that episode. Was that the Host in the cafe window with the lairy green earplugs?

Jimmy - Lovely story. And how cool are you knowing Spike Milligan? Had no idea his mum was known as Milly. Why, for gods' sake, when her name was Florence? And did Harry Secombe boom when away from a microphone?

Read some snippet somewhere about Spike going into a bank in Blackwall Road in his later years and the young teller asking him for ID. The older staff leaned in and whispered that Spike Milligan didn't need ID. Presumably the teller said Spike who?

Racking my brain to remember a sixties house near the old Milligan place. Will have to take another trip along there.

Inexplicable DeVice said...

Oh no, it must have been one of the fishermen. I was safely ensconced in the kitchen with a couple of scones in my ears!

Jimmy Little said...

Spike -- I'd never admit it if you put up a photo of my dad's place :-).

And if you were called Florence, wouldn't you rather be "Milly" than "Flo"? (Spike was never actually called "Spike", from memory, but "Terrance", at least by his mum and the people around her). As for the coolness factor, remember that at the time I was just a young kid, and while I knew my dad liked the Goons, Spike and Mr Secombe (etc.) were really just rather odd people with funny accents and voices who visited every now and then. I didn't have much appreciation for all that until much later...

Spike said...

Device dear - I remember Secombe howling out 'My way' and wishing he'd put a sock in it. 'My way' should only be sung by one's colleagues on a tanked-up karaoke evening at the end of which someone falls off the stage.

Jimmy - Dunno if I'd rather be called Milly. Next door when I was a wee thing had an incontinent dog called Milly.

Spike said...

More on Milligan.

Spiny Norman said...

I am a distant relative of Uncle Spikey...that's what I called him at Christmas one year. When my Mum asked him if he wanted some fruit cake he said..What are you insinuating? We went fishing off the wharf, and he's so cruel to use a hook, so he cut it off.

Richard said...

It's MSM, not MSN - "Meritorious Service Medal",