Tributes to The Goon Show & Spike Milligan
(Review of 'The Goon Show Scripts' for The New York Times, 1972)
I was 12 when the Goon Shows first hit me. Sixteen when they were finished with me. Their humor was the only proof that the world was insane. Spike Milligan's is a cherished memory for me, what it means to Americans I can't imagine (apart from a rumored few fanatics). As they say in Tibet, "You had to be there." The Goons influenced The Beatles (along with Lewis Carroll/Elvis Presley). Before becoming the Beatles' producer, George Martin, who had never recorded rock-n-roll, had previously recorded with Milligan and Sellers, which made him all the more acceptable -- our studio sessions were full of the cries of Neddie Seagoon, etc., etc., as were most places in Britain.
There are records of some of the original radio shows, some of which I have, but when I play them to Yoko I find myself explaining "that in those days there was no monty pythons 'flyin' circus,'" no "laugh-in," in fact the same rigmarole I go through with my "fifties records," before rock it was just "Perry Como," etc. What I'm trying to say is, one has to have been there! The Goon Show was long before and more revolutionary than "look back in anger" (it appealed to "eggheads" and "the people"). Hipper than the hippest and madder than "Mad," a conspiracy against reality. A "coup d'etat of the mind! The evidence, for and against, is in this book. A copy of which should be sent to Mr. Nixon and Mr. Ervin.
One of my earlier efforts at writing was a "newspaper" called the Daily Howl. I would write it at night, then take it to school and read it aloud to my friends; looking at it now it seems strangely similar to the Goon Show! Even the title had "highly esteemed" before it! Ah well, I find it very hard to keep my mind on the book itself, the tapes still ring so clearly in my head. I could tell you to buy the book anyway because Spike Milligan's a genius and Peter Sellers made all the money! (Harry Secombe got showbiz.) I love all three of them dearly, but Spike was extra. His appearances on TV as "himself" were something to behold. He always "Freaked out" the cameramen/directors by using to fit the pattern. He would run off camera and dare them to follow him. I think they did, once or twice, but it kept him off more shows than it helped him get on. There was always the attitude that he was wonderful but, you know...(indicating head). I think it's 'cause he's Irish. (The same attitude prevails toward all non-English British.)
I'm supposed to write 800 words, but I can't count. Anyway, Spike wouldn't approve. I could go on all day about the Goons and their influence on a generation (at least one), but it doesn't seem to be about the book! I keep thinking how much easier it would be to review it for a British paper. What the hell! I've never reviewed anything in my life before. Now I know why critics are nasty. It would be easier if I didn't like the book, but I do, and I'd love you to love the Goons as I do. So take a chance.
P.S. Dick Lester (of A Hard Days Night fame) directed the TV version of the Goon Show - A Show Called Fred. It was good, but radio was freer - i.e., you couldn't float Dartmoor Prison across the English Channel on TV (maybe the BBC should have spent more money). Also there is a rare and beautiful film (without Harry Secombe) called "The Running, Jumping, and Standing Still Film." Ask your local art house to find it - it's a masterpiece and captures the Goon spirit very well.