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Spike Milligan
In Memoriam
More Pictures of Spike
Drawings of Spike Milligan
Drawings by Spike
The Life and Times of Spike Milligan
Duirt me leat go raibh me breoite
Spike Tudor-Pole
Everything Goes Back To Spike
OK Again, After Spike Of Success
For One Week Only
The Ugliest House In The World
Comedian, Campaigner and Philosopher
Pythons' Tribute To Goon Legend Spike
Did You Hear The One About...
Comic Genius
Spike: An Intimate Memoir
Me and My Dad, Spike
Fry's Milligan memories
Parsons Toasts A 'Comic Icon'
The Prince And The Comic
Stars Pay Tribute...
Gospel According To St Matthew
Sonnet XXX
Here's That Rainy Day
Guide Me
A Truly Remarkable Interview
Simply Spike
Slan Leat, Lance Corporal Milligan
Goon But Not Forgotten
Goon But Not Forgotten...Take 2
In Memoriam
Ever The Old Flatterer!
Crystal Palace Bulletin Board Messages
Danny Bakers Message Board
Spike Milligan Messages
Rename The Thames...
Medics Win Spike Milligan Trophy
His Part In Our Lives
Compassionate Comic Genius
Australian Reviews - Three Books On Spike Milligan
The Spoof
London Statue
Woy Woy Peninsula
Draining The Mirror
Spike Milligans Great Grandfather?
The Ex Nanny
The War
On The Stage
It's Behind You! Mother Goose
Mukkinese Battle Horn
Down Among The Z Men
Watch Your Stern
Invasion Quartet 1961
What A Whopper 1961
Postman's Knock
The Bed Sitting Room
The Magic Christian
The Three Musketeers
Ghost In The Noonday Sun
Great McGonagall
Beau Geste
Digby - The Biggest Dog In The World
Scene 17
Misc Spike Stuff
On Music
78 Not Out
Bill Hall Trio
The Goon Show
Goon Images
The Telegoons
Under The Influence...
The World Of Beachcomber
Curry And Chips
An Apple A Day
The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine
Cure For The Common Cold
On The Muppet Show
An Evening With Spike Milligan
Multimedia And Downloads
My Brief Encounter With A Genius
Spike and Milligan
Poke A Penguin
Contact Us & Related Links
Spikefest UK 2004
Buy Limited Edition Prints
And Finally

'Myself and Sellers always thought of ourselves as comic Bolsheviks. We wanted to destroy all that went before'


Sunday March 3, 2002
The Observer

After years of fan worship, I finally got to interview the great Spike Milligan for The Observer in 1995, writes Sean O'Hagan. It was a surreal and, at times, sad encounter.

Initially, he was grumpy and unaccommodating, but soon snapped out of it and, as the anecdotes and reminiscences flowed, he grew animated and mischievous.

There was a strict time limit on the interview, which meant we never touched on his masterful war memoirs, Adolf Hitler, My Part in His Downfall , and Rommel? Gunner Who? or Puckoon.

In interview, as on stage, Spike's thought processes were predictably unpredictable. He seemed fascinated by both my Irishness and my lapsed Catholicism, returning to them again and again, and insisting, as he had done many times before, that his name translated into Gaelic as 'small tonsured one'.

His jokes, it has to be said, gave him as much, if not more pleasure as they did his audience. He spent an inordinate amount of the interview creased up in childlike giggles.

As that other great Irish surrealist Flann O'Brien once said: 'We will not see his like again.' What follows is my original piece from 3 December 1995.

I am waiting in the reception of his agent's Bayswater office when Spike Milligan emerges, wide-eyed, from an adjacent room. 'Norma!' he shouts, seemingly oblivious to my presence. 'Where the fuck is Norma?' Norma is Spike's agent.

At this moment, she is one floor and several rooms away, dealing with a bemused Eric Sykes who, minutes earlier, had turned up minus his briefcase. 'I left it in the bloody restaurant. It's the one with ES on it.'

I wonder whether I should tell Spike about Eric's predicament but he seems somewhat agitated. 'Bloody hell!' he mutters in mock desperation. 'Where is anybody?' He stops suddenly and peers at me, not bemusedly like Eric had done earlier, but in a more troubled way.

Spike looks like a startled pensioner.

I notice that his shirt is speckled with crumbs. He does not acknowledge my presence but simply shuffles past and, like Eric before him, disappears up the stairs, leaving me to wonder if life is meant to imitate art in quite such a disturbing way.

'How are you?' I say when we are finally formally introduced.

'That's a bit of a cliché,' he retorts grumpily. Oh dear. Help! 'Can't you see he's nervous, Spike?' Norma interjects.

Then, sarcastically: 'I can't imagine why, can you?' Spike ignores her interjection. He is looking at me intently, though with what sort of intent I am not quite sure. 'You're Irish, aren't you?' he says finally. I nod.

'Me too. Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?' I take a deep breath, wondering where this is all leading. 'Catholic,' I reply, 'lapsed.' His face lights up. 'I'm one, too. In fact, I'm a lapsed Catholic and a practising Catholic.

I practise all the time. Then I lapse. Then I practise a bit more. It never stops. Am I making sense?'

Where Spike Milligan is concerned, there is no definitive answer to that last question. This is a man, after all, who, when he has not been deadly serious or terminally depressed, or both, has devoted his life to not making sense.

A man who, it is generally acknowledged, invented contemporary comedy with The Goon Show and the even more madcap Q series.

'I think I was the first not to think in terms of punchlines or even jokes,' he explains, when I ask him about the genesis of his particular brand of absurdist humour. 'I'd sit in Jimmy Grafton's bar and test my routines on the drinkers.

They never laughed.

Not once.

That's when I knew I was out on a limb.' Was he aware, back then, that he was an iconoclast or was it simply a case of doing what came naturally? 'A bit of both, actually.

Myself and Sellers always thought of ourselves as comic Bolsheviks. We wanted to destroy all that went before in order to create something totally new. We were actually very serious about that.'

It is hardly surprising, then, that Spike has never become part of the comedy establishment.

The grizzled old guard have, in turn, been more than happy to keep Spike at arm's length, but that may be more to do with his reputation for erratic and often dangerous mood-swings.

He is now Britain's most celebrated manic depressive, but for a long time he was seen as simply another madcap comic genius.

'Manic depression is a terrible thing,' he tells me matter-of-factly, 'particularly when it is undiagnosed. It has,' he sighs, words trailing off into a whisper, 'caused me to behave unreasonably in the past.'

He once tried to kill his friend and fellow Goon Peter Sellers with a potato knife for no real rea son other than, 'Sellers was being his usual selfish self and I was, unluckily for him, at the end of my tether'.

In retrospect, Spike acknowledges that the pressure of 'turning out a finished Goon Show script every week for half a year' was the prime reason for this aberration, as well as for the break-up of his first marriage and his subsequent nervous breakdown.

'I've actually been on stage in manic depression,' he says, shaking his head at the absurdity. 'And I made them laugh.' More often than not, though, when the darkness descended, he would wake up in a psychiatric ward.

There have also been quite a few run-ins with the law. He once put a brick through the window of the Institute of Contemporary Arts as a protest against an art installation that electrocuted live goldfish.

Recently, he made the tabloids when he fired an airgun at a teenage intruder in his garden. Though Irish, he possesses that peculiarly English trait of preferring animals to humans.

'Humans are boring,' he states in all seriousness, 'and they're cliché-ridden. They do tend to bug me rather a lot.' When Spike Milligan was once asked how he imagined his public pictured him, he replied: 'Eccentric, funny, ill.'

That is probably still the case.

'I'm an outsider,' he says, without a trace of bitterness or self-pity. 'I used to send scripts to the television people, but they'd send them back with Unfunny written on them.'

He seems suddenly deflated, confounded by the vagaries of time and taste. 'They don't seem to want to let me in. I guess I've gone out of fashion.'

This, sad to say, seems to be true. The last script Spike wrote featured two old comedians who could no longer find work. It was written for Eric Sykes and himself to star in.

It was rejected, stamped, metaphorically at least, Unfunny. The ironies are too many and too close to the bone to dwell on here, but to his credit, he does not appear to be bitter, simply bemused. 'I've got the message.

They're too comfortable with Coronation Street and EastEnders. Coronation Street,' he says, suddenly leaning close and whispering conspiratorially, 'is the asshole of soaps.'

For a moment, his disgust at the world, and the world of entertainment in particular, is palpable. For some time now, his books, and his extraordinary poems - some mad, some gut-wrenchingly sad - have been the sole outlet for his undiminished and often unedited imagination.

The earlier manic energy that underpinned Milligan classics such as Puckoon and Adolf Hitler has given way to a more whimsical though no less wacky narrative approach.

He recently published his own version of the Bible. 'I took all the turgid bits and spiced them up. Zacharias was this old bore who ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot, so I gave him third-degree burns.'

His next book is a reworking of Frankenstein where the monster is an 'addictive smoker who goes round people's houses going, "Have you got a fag?"' He creases into a fit of protracted giggling as he mimics the monster's voice. Now 77, Spike Milligan still lives in a world of his own, albeit one where, as Tony Hancock once noted, 'funny is not necessarily happy'.

For the last few years, with the aid of his daily dose of lithium carbonate, Spike seems to have finally found a modicum of contentment. 'My wife said to me the other day, "You don't talk to me any more", but I don't seem to have that much to say any more.'

There are many things, however, that still annoy him intensely. 'I'm a very private person. All that showbiz lot thrive on attention, but I absolutely hate being recognised.' Unfortunately, for him, he is still recognised rather a lot.

He suddenly looks exhausted. What, I ask him in conclusion, does he write in the space marked 'occupation' in his passport?

He thinks for a moment.

'Author. Though I could also put clown, poet and painter.' And what would his epitaph be? 'I told you I was ill.' He laughs to himself again, a little ruefully this time. Any regrets? 'I wish I'd done it more often,' he says, grinning.

So do we, Spike, so do we.