Listener's Guide

Spike Milligan - Dark Side Of The Goon

Spike Milligan died having fulfilled his greatest ambition.

He survived the other two Goons. Peter Sellers lived the Hollywood life of wine and women and seemed quite unaware of a weak heart. Harry Secombe was told he'd better die first as he did not want Harry singing at his funeral.

Spike was on active service in Africa when he met Harry. Gunner Milligan's 25-pounder jumped out of its gun placement with the recoil and ran down the hill, just missing Harry's tent.

"Anybody seen a gun?" asked Spike. It was returning fire that left him shell-shocked and on the road to manic depression. An accomplished jazz musician doing sessions at The Windmill Theater, he was prone to mood swings. During his set in the first half of the show, he looked at the audience and said, "You hate me, don't you", jumped on his trumpet and walked off. They had to open the second half with The East Acton Stick dancers.

It was The Goon Show that aired the relentless creativity some depressives experience. In that safe radio world, the authority figures he hated were bumbling buffoons, guns and bombs never hurt anyone. He created radio pictures stronger that TV ever could be, a style of humour echoing through the years from Monty Python to Eddie Izzard. By 1960, the audience for The Goon Show exceeded 20 million. And this on radio.

Yet he never understood fame. Radio shows at that time had to a have a catch-phrase. He came up with Ying Tong Iddle I Po which meant nothing, but within a week they were saying it on the streets. He found this threatening, more so when The Ying Tong Song got to Number 1, launching the career of one George Martin who later produced The Beatles.

Spike cared. He cared about people, the countryside, wildlife, architecture and the environment. In his later years, he became a vigorous campaigner, a writer whose frightened childlike mind could reach children as an equal, a poet and a loving father. He always ended his letters with "Love Light & Peace". All he ever wished for all of us.