Memories of Milligan

By Louis Barfe

It was pleasingly difficult on social media last week to avoid the fact that Monday 16 April would have been Spike Milligan's 100th birthday. Fans and those who were lucky enough to meet the great man (myself included) shared stories of how he affected their lives. Best of all, radio 4 marked the occasion with a play by Ian Billings about Milligan's 1960s campaign to save the elfin oak in Kensington Gardens, starring David Threlfall as the comedian, and a two-part documentary, Spike Milligan: inside out (all available on iplayer). Verity Maidlow Cornwell's documentary was nicely simple: Milligan's friend Michael Palin talking to Jane Milligan, Spike's daughter, about a hoard of interview tapes made by Milligan's biographer, Pauline Scudamore. Over a five-year period, Scudamore interviewed Milligan relentlessly and got him to open up in a way few ever did.

Her book, when it appeared, was a bit of a disappointment, as biographies of Milligan have tended to be. however, the interview tapes are the purest gold. Milligan went into great detail about how The Goon show was made, especially the importance of rebel producer Pat Dixon.

He also recalled the willingness of producer Peter Eton to make the most outlandish sound effects happen, not least the sound of a Wurlitzer organ being driven across the Sahara. Obviously, the personal stuff is covered too, but for a Goon anorak like me, these are the details that matter. While on the subject of Milligan, I should mention Neil Shand, comedy writer par excellence, who has died aged 84. He worked with Spike for many years, mostly on TV. For radio, he was proudest of his work with Bob Monkhouse on the radio 2 series The Monkhouse archive. He was a very funny man, a friend, and I’ll miss him.