The grave of Spike Milligan, hailed by millions as a comic genius, remains unmarked more than two years after his death.
To the disgust of his fans and to the distress of some family members, the final resting place of the man who created the Goons is notable only for the fact that it is one of only two graves without a headstone in a country churchyard.
Visitors yesterday to St Thomas's churchyard in the ancient Cinque Port town of Winchelsea, high on the Sussex coast above the English Channel, were clearly bemused when they eventually found the overgrown plot, marked by pot plants placed by his children and grandchildren on earlier visits and which now struggle to flower above the grass.
The only monument is a small praying angel, now decorated with a plastic flower, which was placed there last year by James Milligan, 27, and his mother Margaret Maughan, with whom the comic had an eight-year relationship.
Mr Milligan said this week that he had since tried to get a proper headstone erected but had been unable to do so without the permission of the immediate heirs of the madcap comedian, who was buried in Winchelsea in March 2002, after his death at the age of 83.
"I think it's a total disgrace that there is no headstone at my father's grave," said Mr Milligan. "I've been trying for a year and a half to get one erected but with no success.
"I've been blocked by the family over and over and all I want is to put a gravestone where my father is buried. It would be quite a simple thing to do with a normal family but they are all more bothered about fighting in court over my dad's will. It's a disgrace."
Last year Shelagh Milligan, the comic's widow, did apply to the Chichester diocese for approval for the wording of a headstone.
There was talk of the stone being in place early this year - with Milligan's chosen epitaph, "I told you I was ill", written in Gaelic to overcome objections by the Church - but nothing has happened.
"It is absolutely deplorable. Words can't describe how I feel about it," said Bill Horsman, chairman of the Goon Show Preservation Society.
"Fans all over the country feel very strongly about it but there is little we can do. It is a delicate situation and the decision rests entirely with the family.
"There is a blue plaque to him at 9 Orme Court, his former office in London, which Eric Sykes unveiled, but nothing at the spot where he is actually buried. It is appalling that we treat one of our comedy legends like this."
Milligan's first wife, June Marlow, left him after they had three children.
He married Patricia Ridgeway, an actress 20 years his junior, in 1962 but she died from cancer in 1978 when their only daughter was 11.
In 1983 Milligan married Shelagh, whom he first met when she came to see him at the Lyric Theatre, London, in 1964.
The comic also had two illegitimate children.
From the Independant
Two years on, Spike Milligan's grave is still without headstone
By Terri Judd
14 April 2004
Spike Milligan's desire to have his grave inscribed with the satirical words, "I told you I was ill", appeared to many a fitting epitaph to one of the country's greatest comics. Yet, more than two years after Milligan died, his last resting place still has no headstone.
Only a small angel on a plinth and a few flowers mark the spot in St Thomas's churchyard in Winchelsea, East Sussex.
Father Fred George, the locum priest at the church, said: "I would not know which one of the graves was his."
The locum priest, who explained that there had been no application for a headstone in the six months since he arrived at the church, insisted it was not unusual or significant. "There are many graves in the church yard that don't have memorials," he added. But, for James Milligan, the comic's youngest son, the lack of stone is a sore point. He said: "It's a total disgrace that there is no headstone at my father's grave. I've been trying for a year and a half to get one erected but with no success."
James, 27, whose mother, Margaret Maughan, had an eight-year affair with the Goons creator, only met his father at the age of 16 and remains estranged from most of the rest of the family. He claimed he was "frozen out" after his father's death and not invited to the funeral.
Earlier reports said that Milligan's third wife and widow, Shelagh, 59, was desperate to erect a fitting memorial but was awaiting approval from step-children, but James insisted his efforts to get a headstone in place had been blocked by the immediate family.
Milligan, who died aged 83 in February 2002, left three children from his first marriage, one from his second and two offspring born out of wedlock, and feuds broke out over his will. Last year, it was reported that the row over the grave had descended into farce when the angel, left by James, had been removed and replaced by a plain wooden cross which the local paper described as "more fitting for a pauper than the clown prince of comedy". The angel was later returned.
Fans of the comic think it is time a fitting memorial was put in place. Bill Horsman, the chairman of the Goon Show Preservation Society, said yesterday: "We are very sad about the whole situation. Spike was a genius and he deserves better recognition on his grave but only the family can sort this out."