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And Finally

In praise of comic genius

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By JUSTIN PARKINSON - From the Sussex Goons website

LES DREW and his mates stood by the shore, gazing out to sea with only one thing on their minds - setting fire to the English Channel.

The lunatic attempt to overcome the laws of science was not mere idiocy, but an act in praise of comic genius.

Les, from Worthing, is chairman of the Sussex branch of the Goon Show Preservation Society (GSPS).

The 32 members spend their weekends re-enacting classic sketches from the radio series, which ran from 1951 to 1960 and is the fore-runner of modern comedy.

Scriptwriter Spike Milligan has attended monthly meetings and Les has met the other cast members, Harry Secombe, Michael Bentine and of course Spike himself on several occasions.

Many of the scripts mention Sussex locations and Les, 47, and his friends, who meet once a month to re-enact scenes and listen to old shows, are determined to visit them all.

Earlier this year, they went to Norman's Bay, near Eastbourne, during a snow storm armed with a box of matches.

Les said: "It all came from an episode where one of the characters is told he can claim on a 40,000 insurance policy if the Channel catches fire.

"It is set in the middle of winter, so we decided to film our own version at that time of the year. People must think we are mad, but it's our own salute to the comic genius of Spike Milligan."
Patron

For good measure, the members sat in deckchairs and soaked up the February sun.

The society, of which Prince Charles is patron, has just visited Upper Dicker to re-enact another episode.

A story about Queen Anne's Rain (or reign) mentions the line: "The rain is coming down over Upper Dicker". The GSPS went to the village, but could not find any place signs, so made its own and stood by the road-side with it.

Les said: "Horse riders were coming past us and wondering what we were up to, but it's all great fun. "There's a more serious side though.

A lot of the work the Goons did inspired later comedy like Monty Python yet today they are hardly mentioned.

"We chose the title of preservation society rather than appreciation because our aim is to make sure the legacy isn't lost."

Spike Milligan, who lives near Rye, was stationed near Bexhill during the war and used the nearby place names as locations in his skits.

Now in his eighties, he has dubbed himself "the leper of light entertainment" after not being given a BBC series for more than 20 years.

When not committing acts of lunacy on windswept beaches, the GSPS is kept busy gathering a Goons archive.

Les said: "Spike is a great man to meet. He's really funny. Recently he and another legend, Eric Sykes, sent in a script to the BBC, but it was rejected.

"That's a terrible way to treat two great figures. It's all very well having an 80th birthday celebration for Spike, but he hasn't been given the acclaim he deserves in the last few years."

The Goons, who met in a London pub in the Forties after being demobbed, recorded around 150 episodes in which bizarre characters like Eccles, Little Jim and Bluebottle became household names.

They were known for their surreal humour and catchphrases like "He's fallen in the water" and "I don't like this game".

Its stars, of whom only Spike Milligan and Sir Harry Secombe survive, all went on to enjoy successful solo careers.

Les said: "They are a very important part of our heritage. In their day they were cutting edge and highly satirical.

They were forever being taken off the air because they were so rude about politicians. Comedians today couldn't do what they do if it hadn't been for Spike and the others."

The Sussex Goons web site is at www.sussex-goons.org.uk

Visit their site

mike@spikemilligan.co.uk