ITV1's Unforgettable strand, in which friends, family and peers pay tribute to great entertainers, celebrates the life of Spike Milligan, the writer, musician, poet, artist and Goon who died in 2002. Milligan, considered a genius and madman in equal measure, had an absurd and subversive humour that fuelled The Goons, the Fifties comedy troupe which made his name and was so influential it's led to him being called the godfather of alternative comedy. In a sense, the show owes a debt to the War: Milligan met fellow Goon Harry Secombe when both were serving with the Royal Artillery in Tunisia. Post-war, they teamed up with Peter Sellers and Michael Bentine to launch the most popular comedy show of the Fifties, remembered fondly for its surreal humour and ludicrous plots.
Away from performing, Milligan was a successful author, too, producing dozens of books for children and adults, most memorably his hilarious series of war memoirs, beginning with Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall. His success was tempered by depression and melancholy, however, making Milligan the archetypal sad clown. This intimate tribute features photos from Milligan's personal collection as well as previously unseen home movies, and contributions come from Milligan's children, including the first interview with his daughter Romany, one of two of his children born out of wedlock. Eric Sykes, Paul Merton and Terry Jones also pay tribute.Vicki Power, The Telegraph, 23rd December 2010
I'm Rimsky-Korsakov. I've got a brother at home - he's got a cold on his chest. We call him Nasty-Chestikov. Boom-boom. My girlfriend used to be in a circus. She chewed hammers. Was she professional? No, hammer-chewer.
Shall I stop now? In the early 1950s a comedy new wave was breaking on the shores of the Light Programme. Spike Milligan and Michael Bentine were breaking all the rules in Crazy People, later The Goon Show, while the improvised In All Directions featured Peters Ustinov and Jones in a Beckettesque road movie, driving round in a perpetual search for Copthorne Avenue.
But some of the emerging talent cleaved to more traditional comic values, as evidenced in my intro. Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise's idols were Abbott and Costello and the Marx Brothers, and it showed in their rat-a-tat routines. Apart from playing the perfect straight man, Wise took it upon himself to be the duo's archivist, and he recorded a stack of material which lay in suitcases in his garage for decades. "I don't think he ever played them back," his widow, Doreen, told Jon Culshaw in Morecambe and Wise: The Garage Tapes. "He just knew he should keep them." A wise decision, given the BBC's historic penchant for wiping stuff.
The elements we know and love from the TV shows are all there: the bad playlets, the song and dance routines, the guest stars ripe for mickey-taking, though not the stellar names of later shows. Then, it was the likes of Jack Jackson, Brylcreemed trumpeter and Housewives' Choice disc-spinner, or Brian Rees, star of The Adventures of PC 49 ("surely you remember his catchphrase 'Oh, my Sunday helmet!' "). It feels like aeons ago, not just half a century.
When the pair first tried to break into TV, in 1954, it was a disaster. For the rest of his career Eric carried round the Express review: "Is that a television I see in the corner of my living room? No, it's the box the BBC buried Morecambe and Wise in last night."Chris Maume, The Independent, 9th May 2010