SPIKE MILLIGAN was the zaniest, wackiest comic genius of his generation.
16th April 1918 - 27th February 2002
Comic genius of his generation
The man who dominated the Goon Show had a unique and audacious sense of fun and could transform
a mundane situation into a madcap absurdity, leaving his audience in gales of laughter.
But like the classic clown, his life was beset by manic depression, and he suffered at least 10 complete
He liked to regard himself as a misanthrope and once said that most people bored him to death.
But he was the complete performer, as irreverent as he was hilarious. And most of it was off-the-cuff.
Probably his most famous - or notorious remark - was in 1994 when, at the age of 76, he was receiving
a Lifetime Achievement Comedy Award. A letter praising him from the Prince of Wales, his number one
fan, was read out - and in front of a stuffed-shirt audience and millions of TV viewers, Milligan declared:
"Little grovelling bastard ..." Charles, who was not present, saw the funny side, but many outraged viewers
complained to ITV.
It was his ability to shock and startle, and yet have his audience in fits of virtually hysterical laughter,
which made this bizarre individual the comic genius that he was.
But there was more to Spike Milligan than comedy - indeed that was probably the area of his life he cared
for the least.
He was an accomplished poet, an author with several volumes of war memoirs which, though riotously
funny, contained the bitter after-taste of brutal conflict.
He was also a better than average jazz cornet and trumpet player, with a penchant for Bix Beiderbecke
and Louis Armstrong.
Then there were his intense campaigns - against abortion, against vivisection, against factory farming, and,
finally his fight against needless noise. It was the noise of London which drove him from his home to live
quietly in Rye, Sussex, from where he still regularly wrote letters to newspapers complaining about how
inconsiderate people were with car horns, radios, lawnmowers and the like.
His home was littered with "No Smoking" signs, and a notice on the large front door said: "This door can
closed without slamming it. Try it and see how clever you are."
Sometimes Milligan took his crusades to almost unbelievable lengths. In 1986, he was thrown out of Harrods
when he tried to stuff 28lb of spaghetti down the mouth of the food hall manager. "I told him it might give him
some idea of how a goose feels being force-fed maize to make pate de fois gras. Everyone looked stunned and
their faces fell."
Terence Alan Milligan - his name in Irish, Traigagetcetc O'Maolagain, meant small-tonsured one, he claimed -
was born in India on April 16, 1918. He was 16 when he was brought to Britain.
His Irish father was an Army captain, and Spike adopted his nationality after immigration laws declared him
"stateless" in 1960, even though he had spent seven years as a gunner on active service in the British Army.
Milligan had obstinately refused to take the oath of allegiance which stood between him and a British passport.
His friend, the Prince of Wales pointed out that even he had to swear the oath and urged him to think again.
Milligan told him: "Yes, but it's your mother isn't it? You don't get board and lodging at Buckingham Palace
if you don't swear an oath."
Young Spike was educated in Poona and Rangoon before he was brought back to England in the 1930s.
He was sacked from his first job as a mechanic in a nuts and bolts factory - at 13 shillings (65p) a week -
because he continually fused the lights, he said.
He started writing what he called his "lunacy" during the war. And at about that time he met Harry Secombe,
with whom, along with Peter Sellers and others, he was later to star in the Goon Show.
During the war he was injured on active duty with the Royal Artillery, and suffered a series of nervous
breakdowns. This resulted in him being unfairly branded a coward by his commanding officer.
His first marriage, to an actress called June, ended in divorce in 1961 after nine years. They had three
children, Laura, Sile and Sean.
A year later, in 1962, he married Patricia "Paddy" Ridgeway, 16 years his junior. They had a daughter,
Jane, but Paddy died from cancer in 1978.
His third marriage, in 1983, was to Shelagh Sinclair, 27 years his junior. They fell in love after she was
sent to do secretarial work for him.
It was the post-war Goon Show which made Milligan famous. Originally the show was called Crazy People.
But the title was changed to The Goons - although one mystified BBC announcer described it, innocently,
as the Go On Show. Even though it was a hilarious success, Milligan, who was the writer and chief
Goon, found that it became a millstone which changed his life, not always for the better.
"I wasn't happy with the Goon shows, but I suppose they made people laugh," he said. "I was so ill when
I was writing them that I was in a mental home three or four times, and they broke up my first marriage.
"I had to write a new show every week for six months. If Hitler had done that to someone it would be called
torture. I was in such a state of hypertension that I was unapproachable by human beings, and I became
a manic depressive."
For all that, he remained one of the most original and comic writers and performers in his genre, with a
string of radio and TV hits. He took a panto role - to the surprise of his friends - in Snow White at Marlowe
in December 1993, when he was in his mid 70s, but had to withdraw at the last minute through ill health.
His writings were as ludicrously funny as his performances. About his war service, he once wrote:
"Then came the war. North Africa, promoted in the field (they wouldn't let me indoors). Mentioned in
dispatches: nothing positive. Just mentioned."
He was also always in two minds about the existence of heaven. Once he said: "I'd like to go there.
But if Jeffrey Archer is there I want to go to Lewisham." But his personal idea of heaven was this:
a candle-lit room, a log fire, someone playing nocturnes, and a good meal with his wife and friends.
Milligan was always unnecessarily belittling himself as "the most successful failure". He said:
"I wanted to be a superstar, up there in Broadway and Hollywood. I never made it."
He wrote numerous books of "silly" poetry for children and other volumes with such titles as Indefinite
Articles and Scunthorpe, Floored Masterpieces with Worse Verse, Sir Nobonk and the Terrible, Awful,
Dreadful, Naughty Nasty Dragon, as well as Spike Milligan's Further Transports of Delight and Milligan's War.
It was not until 1992 that he finally received an honorary CBE in the office of the then Heritage Secretary,
David Mellor, who made the presentation.
The visibly frail Milligan had everyone in stitches, quipping: "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!"
His death marks the passing of the last of The Goons. Sir Harry Secombe died in April last year, and Milligan
said in tribute: "I grieve for an unbelievable friend." Even in his last years, Milligan, although plainly infirm,
could make people laugh uproariously with his absurdities and economic and bizarre use of language.
He was, from the end of the Second World War until his death, probably the most consistently funny and
unorthodox performer on the British comedy circuit.