Spike Milligan

Spike Milligan

Infobox Comedian
bgcolour = silver
name = Spike Milligan

imagesize = 180
caption = Spike Milligan in his younger days
birthname = Terence Alan Patrick Seán
birth_date = birth date|1918|4|16|df=y
birth_place = Ahmednagar, British India
death_date = death date and age|2002|2|27|1918|4|16|df=y
death_place = Rye, East Sussex, England
nationality = British/Irish [cite web |url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,3604,659215,00.html |title=Obituary: Spike Milligan |accessdate=2008-06-27 |work=The Guardian |date=2002-02-28|quote=... his father's Irish background meant that he was denied automatic British citizenship ...]
influences = Groucho Marx
W.C. Fields
Walt Disney
Jacques Tati
Spike Jones
influenced = Monty Python
children = Jane Milligan
Laura Milligan
Sean Milligan
Sile Milligan
James Maughan-Milligan
Romany Watt-Milligan

Terence Alan Patrick Seán Milligan KBE (16 April, 1918–27 February 2002), known as Spike Milligan, was an Anglo-Irish comedian, writer, musician, poet and playwright. Milligan was the co-creator and the principal writer of "The Goon Show", in which he also performed. Aside from comedy, Milligan played the trumpet, saxophone, piano, guitar and bass drum.


Early life

Milligan was born in Ahmednagar, India, on 16 April 1918, the son of an Irish-born father, Captain Leo Alphonso Milligan, MSM, RA, who was serving in the British Indian Army. His mother, Florence Mary Winifred Kettleband, was born in England. He spent most of his childhood in Rangoon (Yangon), capital of Burma (Myanmar). He was educated at the Convent of Jesus and Mary, Poona, and St Paul's Christian Brothers, de la Salle, Rangoon.

He lived most of his life in England and served in the British Army, in the Royal Artillery in World War II.

econd 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 (nicknamed Edge-ying-Tong which gave birth to 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.

During World War II he served as a signaller in the 56th Heavy Regiment Royal Artillery, D Battery, as Gunner Milligan, 954024 with the First Army in the North African campaign and then in the succeeding Italian campaign. He rose to the rank of Lance Bombardier and was about to be promoted to Bombardier when he was wounded in action in Italy. 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 due to the fact that Milligan constantly kept the morale of his fellow soldiers up, whereas Major Jenkins' approach was to take an attitude towards the troops similar to that of Lord Kitchener. An incident also mentioned was when Major Jenkins had invited Gunners Milligan and Edgington to his bivouac to play some jazz with him, only to discover that the musicianship of the aforementioned gunners was far superior to his own ability to play the military tune 'Whistling Rufus' (albeit badly).

After his 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 England 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, that displayed many of the key elements of what would later become "The Goon Show" with Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine.


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 either a performer or as a script writer. His first success in radio was as writer for comedian Derek Roy's show. Milligan soon became involved with a relatively radical comedy project, "The Goon Show". Known during its first season as "Crazy People", or in full, "The Junior Crazy Gang featuring those Crazy People, the Goons!", the name was an attempt to make the programme palatable to BBC officials by connecting it with the popular group of comedians known as The Crazy Gang. [Spike & Co, Graham McCann, published by Hodder & Stoughton ISBN 0340898086 p186]

Milligan was the primary author of "The Goon Show" scripts (though many were written jointly with Larry Stephens, Eric Sykes and others) as well as a star performer.


Milligan had a number of acting parts in theatre, film and television series; 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 most famous 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 talent 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" ["sic"] .


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" [cite web |url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/1844487.stm |title=Fry's Milligan memories |accessdate=2008-06-12 |last=Fry |first=Stephen |date=2002-02-27 |publisher=BBC News] . His most famous poem, "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 [cite web |url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/190291.stm |title=Top poetry is complete nonsense |accessdate=2008-06-12 |date=1998-10-10 |publisher=BBC News] . 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 amongst the ten most commonly taught poems in primary schools in the UK. [cite web
last =
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title = Laureate attacks poetry teaching
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date =2007-12-07
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While depressed, Milligan wrote serious poetry. He also wrote a novel "Puckoon", parodying the style of Dylan Thomas, and a very successful series of war memoirs, including ' (1971), ' (1974), ' (1976) and ' (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 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".


Spike Milligan also wrote the one-act play "The Bed-Sitting Room", which premiered at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury. It was adapted to a longer play, which made its debut at the Mermaid Theatre, London.


Milligan contributed occasional cartoons to the satirical magazine Private Eye. Most were visualizations 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."

Personal life


After their retirement, Milligan's parents and his younger brother Desmond moved to Australia. His mother lived the rest of her life in the coastal village of Woy Woy on the New South Wales Central Coast, just north of Sydney; as a result, Milligan became a regular visitor to Australia and made a number of radio and TV programmes there, including "The Idiot Weekly" with Bobby Limb. In July 2007, it was proposed that the suspension bridge on the cyclepath from Woy Woy to Gosford be named after him. [ [http://www.thepeninsular.net/News/07/0709/BridgPet.asp Peninsula News: Petitions about bridge] ] [ [http://www.flickr.com/photos/spikebot/349958500/ Flickr.com: photo of Woy Woy Footbridge] ]

From the 1960s onwards 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' bequest to St. John's College, Oxford.


He suffered from bipolar disorder for most of his life, having at least ten major 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."Depression and How to Survive It", first edition, Spike Milligan and Anthony Clare, 1994]

Prince of Wales

The Prince of Wales was a noted fan, and Milligan caused a stir by calling him a "little grovelling bastard" on live television in 1994. [ [http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,658856,00.html "The Guardian": Spike Milligan dies at 83] ] 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 he was finally made a Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE) (honorary because of his Irish citizenship) in 2000. He had been made an Honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1992.


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. [ [http://www.channel4.com/culture/microsites/T/turner_2001/ShockTactics_t.htm Channel4.com: Shock Tactics] ] The exhibit consisted of catfish, oysters and shrimp that were to be electrocuted as part of the exhibition. He was a strong opponent of cruelty against animals and, during an appearance on "Room 101", chose fox hunting as a pet hate, and succeeded in banishing it to the eponymous room.

In 1996, he successfully campaigned for the restoration of London's Elfin Oak.

He was also a public opponent of domestic violence, dedicating one of his books to Erin Pizzey.


Milligan had three children with his first wife June Marlow: Laura, Seán and Síle. They were married in 1952 and divorced in 1960 during the Goon Show. He had one daughter with his second wife, Patricia Ridgeway: the actress Jane Milligan (b. 1964). Milligan and Patricia were married in June 1962 with George Martin as best man. The marriage ended in 1978 with Patricia's death. In 1975 Milligan fathered a son, James, in an affair with Margaret Maughan. Another child, a daughter Romany, is suspected to have been born at the same time by 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 have recently collaborated with documentary makers on a new multi-platform programme called "I Told You I Was Ill: The Life and Legacy of Spike Milligan" (2005) and accompanying website. [ [http://www.spikemilliganlegacy.com spikemilliganlegacy.com] ]


Even late in life, Milligan's black humour had not deserted him. After the death of friend 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 liver disease, at the age of 83, on 27 February 2002, at his home in Rye, East Sussex. On the day of his funeral, 8 March 2002, his coffin was carried to St Thomas's Church in Winchelsea, Sussex, and was draped in the flag of the Republic of Ireland. [ [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2002/03/09/nspike09.xml Piper's farewell for Spike Milligan - Telegraph ] ] 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's Church cemetery in Winchelsea, East Sussex, but the Chichester Diocese refused to allow this epitaph. [Cite news|title=Milligan gets last laugh on grave|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/southern_counties/3742443.stm|publisher=BBC News|date=24 May 2004] A compromise was reached with the Irish translation, "Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite", and additionally in English, "Love, light, peace".


The film of "Puckoon", starring his daughter, the actress Jane Milligan, was released after his death.

Milligan lived for several years in Holden Road, Woodside Park and at The Crescent, Barnet, and was a 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 new house on the site. The Finchley Society is trying to get a statue of him erected in Finchley. There is also a campaign to erect a statue in the London Borough of Lewisham where he grew up (see Honor Oak). After coming to the UK from India in the 1930s he lived at 50 Riseldine Road, Brockley and attended Brownhill Boys' school (later to become Catford Boys' School which was demolished in 1994). Lynsey De Paul is a patron of the Spike Milligan Statue Memorial Fund.There is a plaque and bench located at the Wadestown Library, Wellington New Zealand in an area called Spike Milligan corner.

In a BBC poll in August 1999, Spike Milligan was voted the "funniest person of the last 1000 years". Also, in a 2005 poll to find "The Comedians' Comedian", he was voted among the top 50 comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders.

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 himself played his own father. He was also portrayed by Edward Tudor-Pole in "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" (2004). A 2008 stage play, 'Surviving Spike', sees Milligan portrayed by the entertainer Michael Barrymore.

On 9 June 2006 it was reported that Professor Richard Wiseman had identified Milligan as the writer of the world's funniest joke as decided by the Laughlab project. Professor Wiseman said the joke contained all three elements of what makes a good gag: anxiety, a feeling of superiority, and an element of surprise. [Cite news|title=Spike 'wrote world's best joke'|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/5064020.stm|publisher=BBC News|date=9 June 2006]

Members of Monty Python greatly admired him, and 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 Pythons were filming. Graham Chapman gave him a minor part in "Yellowbeard".

Radio comedy shows

* "The Goon Show" (1951–1960)
* "The Idiot Weekly" (1958–1962)
* "The Omar Khayyam Show" (1963–1964)
* "Milligna (or Your Favourite Spike)" (1972) The title is based on Milligan's introduction in "The Last Goon Show of All" as "Spike Milligna, the well-known typing error".
* "The Milligan Papers" (1987)

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 Andre Deutsch, edited by Charles Allen.

TV comedy shows

* "The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d"
* "A Show Called Fred"
* "Son of Fred"
* "The World of Beachcomber"
* The "Q" series: "Q5", "Q6", "Q7", "Kuwait (Q8)", "Q9", and "There's a Lot of It About"
* " Curry & Chips"

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.
* 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 Indian immigrants, an Irish landlord, a Chinese Cockney, a Scottish Arab and virtually every other racial stereotype possible. 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
* 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 the 18 January 1979 edition of "The Muppet Show"
* Guest star in the 3rd episode of the award-winning BBC Scotland drama series "Takin' Over the Asylum" (1994)
* 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". Only five episodes were made.


* "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.


* "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.
* "The Case of the Mukkinese Battle Horn" (1956), a Goon-like 2-reel comedy ("Mukkinese" = " knees").
* "The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film" (1960), a silent comedy, Richard Lester's debut film.
* 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 based on the Milligan/Antrobus play. Milligan had a small role as a postman named "Mate", which was also the name of a Goon Show character.
* The traffic warden who eats the ticket in "The Magic Christian" (1969).
* "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" (1972) as Gryphon.
* "" (1972), a film of the first volume of his autobiography. Spike played the part of his father. The role of the young Spike Milligan was played by Jim Dale.
* The decrepit manager of a seedy London hotel in Bruce Beresford's "The Adventures of Barry McKenzie" (1972).
* Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World (1973) children's comedy.
* Monsieur Bonacieux, husband of Madame Bonacieux (Raquel Welch) in Richard Lester's "The Three Musketeers" (1973).
* "The Great McGonagall" (1974), untalented Scottish poet (based on William Topaz McGonagall) angles to become laureate, with Peter Sellers as Queen Victoria.
* The decrepit Geste family retainer Crumpet in "The Last Remake of Beau Geste" (1977), with Marty Feldman.
* A policeman who briefly talks to Dr. Watson and Stapleton when they first arrive on the moors in "The Hound of the Baskervilles".
* The prophet abandoned by his flock in "Life of Brian" (1979).
* Monsieur Rimbaud in "History of the World, Part I" (1981).
* A royal herald flunkie who accidentally blows a spy's cover in "Yellowbeard" (1983).


* "Silly Verse for Kids" (1959); the 1968 paperback edition omits one poem and adds some from the next two books
* "A Dustbin of Milligan" (1961)
* "Goblins" (1978) A collection of poems
* "The Little Pot Boiler" (1963)
* "Puckoon" (1963)
* "A Book of Bits, or A Bit of a Book" (1965)
* "A Book of Milliganimals" (1968)
* "Badjelly the Witch" (1973)
* "" (1987)
* "The Bedside Milligan"
* "The War (and Peace) Memoirs"
**The seven memoirs were also recorded as talking books with Spike reciting them in his own inimitable style.
** "" (1971)
** ""Rommel?" "Gunner Who?"" (1974)
** "" (1976)
*** This and the previous two books were released and publicised as the first, second and third part respectively of a trilogy.
** "" (1978)
*** This was announced as the fourth part of his "increasingly misnamed" trilogy.
** "Where Have All the Bullets Gone?" (1985)
** "Goodbye Soldier" (1986)
** "Peace Work" (1992)
* "Small Dreams of a Scorpion"
* ""
* "Open Heart University
* "Startling Verse for All the Family"
* "Sir Nobonk and the Terrible Dreadful Awful Naughty Nasty Dragon"
* "A Mad Medley of Milligan"
* "Transports of Delight"
* "More Transports of Delight"
* "Depression and How to Survive It" (with Professor Anthony Clare), medical biography.
* "It Ends with Magic"
* "The Murphy"
* "Milligan's Ark"
* The "According to" Books
** "The Bible—the Old Testament According to Spike Milligan"
** "Black Beauty According to Spike Milligan"
** ""
** "Frankenstein According to Spike Milligan"
** "The Hound of the Baskervilles According to Spike Milligan"
** "Lady Chatterley's Lover According to Spike Milligan"
** "Robin Hood According to Spike Milligan"
** "Treasure Island According to Spike Milligan"
** "Wuthering Heights According to Spike Milligan"


* "When I look back, the fondest memory I have is not really of the Goons. It is of a girl called Julia with enormous breasts."
*Of his honorary CBE — "I can't see the sense in it really. It makes me a Commander of the British Empire. They might as well make me a Commander of Milton Keynes — at least that exists."
*On his bouts of clinical depression — "It's the nature of who you are. You will see sunsets in a special way, you will see life in a special way. The Milligans are like Arab racehorses. We'll kick the stable to pieces, but we'll always win the race."
*Of heaven — "I'd like to go there. But if Jeffrey Archer is there, I want to go to Lewisham."

External links

* [http://www.tls.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,25336-2604389,00.html "Spike Milligan's people"] : an article in the Times Literary Supplement, February 21, 2007.
* [http://www.spikemilliganappreciationsociety.co.uk/ The Spike Milligan Appreciation Society] Dead link|date=August 2008
* [http://www.theqseries.webfruits.net Spike Milligan's TV Q series]
* [http://www.extrageographic.org/magazine/arts/2006/061225_spike_milligan_audio.html Previously unheard audio of one of Spike Milligan's last one-man shows. Extrageographic Magazine.]
* [http://www.spikemilliganlegacy.com/ The web site to accompany the new documentary, I Told you I was Ill: The Life and Legacy of Spike Milligan]
* [http://www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,3604,659215,00.html The Guardian newspaper obituary for Spike Milligan]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/events/millennium/aug/winner.stm Link to BBC poll article]
* [http://www.personal.dundee.ac.uk/~mhjarron/spike/welcome.htm Comprehensive list of Spike's works (illustrated)]
* [http://www.bodnotbod.org.uk/kettering/Kettering1.pdf PDF Document: Kettering Magazine - The fanzine of elderly comedy] - 700k file, contains detailed article on Milligan and his role in the film The Great McGonagall
* [http://www.puckoon.co.uk/ "Puckoon" website]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QxNJEBr_l0&feature=related Spike Milligan homecoming Dalek sketch on YouTube]


NAME=Milligan, Spike
ALTERNATIVE NAMES=Milligan, Terence Alan
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Comedian, comic writer, trumpeter
DATE OF BIRTH=1918-04-16
PLACE OF BIRTH=Ahmednagar, British India
DATE OF DEATH=2002-02-27
PLACE OF DEATH=Rye, East Sussex, England

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