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The Goon Show was a British radio comedy programme, originally produced and broadcast by the BBC Home Service from 1951 to 1960, with occasional repeats on the BBC Light Programme. The first series, broadcast between May and September 1951, was titled Crazy People; all subsequent series had the overall title The Goon Show.

The show's chief creator and main writer was Spike Milligan. The scripts mixed ludicrous plots with surreal humour, puns, catchphrases and an array of bizarre sound effects. Some of the later episodes feature electronic effects devised by the fledgling BBC Radiophonic Workshop, many of which were reused by other shows for decades afterwards. Many elements of the show satirised contemporary life in Britain, parodying aspects of show business, commerce, industry, art, politics, diplomacy, the police, the military, education, class structure, literature and film.

The show was released internationally through the BBC Transcription Service. It was heard regularly from the 1950s in Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, India and Canada, although these TS versions were edited to avoid controversial subjects. NBC began broadcasting the programme on its radio network from the mid-1950s. The programme exercised a considerable influence on the subsequent development of British and American comedy and popular culture. It was cited as a major influence by the Beatles, Monty Python (especially Cleese, Chapman, Palin and Jones. Less so for Eric Idle)
and the American comedy team The Firesign Theater.


The series was devised and written by Spike Milligan with the regular collaboration of other writers including (singly) Larry Stephens, Eric Sykes (who co-wrote most of the episodes in Series 4), Maurice Wiltshire and John Antrobus, initially under the watchful eye of Jimmy Grafton (KOGVOS - Keeper of the Goons and Voice of Sanity).

Milligan and Harry Secombe became friends while serving in the Royal Artillery during World War II. Famously, Milligan first encountered Secombe after Gunner Milligan's artillery unit accidentally allowed a large howitzer to roll off a cliff - under which Secombe was sitting in a small wireless truck: "Suddenly there was a terrible noise as some monstrous object fell from the sky quite close to us. There was considerable confusion, and in the middle of it all the flap of the truck was pushed open and a young, helmeted idiot asked 'Anybody see a gun?' It was Milligan..." . Secombe's answer to that question was the infamous "What colour was it?". Spike met Peter Sellers after the war at the Hackney Empiremarker, where Secombe was performing, and the three became close friends.

The group first formed at Jimmy Grafton's London Pub called "Grafton's" in the late '40s. Sellers had already débuted with the BBC, Secombe was often heard on Variety Bandbox, Milligan was writing for and acting in the high profile BBC show Hip-Hip-Hoo-Roy with Derek Roy, and Bentine had just begun appearing in Charlie Chester's peak time radio show Stand Easy.

The four clicked immediately. "It was always a relief to get away from the theatre and join in the revels at Grafton's on a Sunday night," said Secombe years later. They took to calling themselves 'The Goons' and started recording their pub goings-on with a tape recorder. The BBC producer, Pat Dixon heard a tape and took interest in the group. He pressed the BBC for a long term contract for the boys, knowing that that would secure Sellers for more than just seasonal work, (something the BBC had been aiming for), and the BBC acquiesced and ordered a series - though without much enthusiasm. Milligan proceeded to deconstruct and reconstruct the conventional radio comedy.

Listening figures grew rapidly throughout the series, from an average of 370,000 to nearly two million by the end of the 17th show. The BBC commissioned a further series and then a number of changes occurred. Michael Bentine left the show citing a desire to pursue solo projects (although there had been an increasing degree of creative tension between himself and Milligan), the musical interludes were shortened, and Max Geldray joined the line up.

Replacing Dennis Main Wilson as producer was Peter Eton from the BBC's drama department. Eton brought a stricter sense of discipline to the show's production and he was an expert at sound effects and microphone technique, ensuring that the show became a far more dynamic listening experience. However, a few episodes into the series Milligan suffered a major nervous breakdown. He was hospitalised in early December 1951, just before the broadcast of episode five, but it and the following episode had already been written, and within a few weeks Milligan was able to resume writing with Larry Stephens, so the series continued without interruption. Milligan was absent for about two months, returning for episode 17, broadcast in early March 1952. As with series two, all episodes were written by Milligan and Stephens and edited by Jimmy Grafton. No recordings of any episode of this series are known to have survived.

Spike blamed his breakdown and the collapse of his first marriage on the sheer volume of writing the show required. His then ground-breaking use of sound effects also contributed to the pressure. Lewis (1995, p. 217) notes "owing to the complexities of the technical side, the BBC were wanting the scripts delivered earlier and earlier - so that the boffins in the electronics department etc. could experiment with the new noises" All this exacerbated his mental instability that included manic-depressive psychosis, especially during the 3rd series. The BBC however made sure he was surrounded by accomplished radio comedy writers - Sykes, Stephens, Antrobus, Wiltshire, and Grafton, so many of the problems caused by his health problems were skillfully covered over by composite scripts written in a very convincing Milliganesque style.

Many senior BBC staff were variously bemused and befuddled by the show's surreal humour and it has been reported that senior programme executives erroneously referred to it as The Go On Show or even The Coon Show.

This show was very popular in Britain in its heyday; tickets for the recording sessions at the BBC's Camden Theatre (now known as KOKOmarker) in London were constantly over-subscribed and the various character voices and catchphrase from the show quickly became part of the vernacular. The series has remained consistently popular ever since – it is still being broadcast once a week by the ABCmarker in Australia, as well as on BBC 7; and it has exerted a singular influence over succeeding generations of comedians and writers, most notably the creators of Monty Python's Flying Circus and The Beatles' movies.

Unfortunately, the BBC as part of its archival policy, destroyed most of series one, two, three and some of four. All of series five to ten exist, and the Corporation is gradually releasing them, remastered and restored by Ted Kendall. Bootleg copies of all extant episodes exist on the web - (the show was widely recorded by devotees), including the first two episodes of series two, which the BBC had destroyed. The extant copies, and released discs are confused by the show existing in two formats - the original, and the Transcription Service edition. The TS version was the most widely circulated until the recent series of re-releases.

The scripts exist mostly in fan-transcribed versions via dedicated websites. Although three books were published containing selected scripts, they are out of print, and typically available only in libraries or second-hand bookshops. Some more recent biographical books contain selected scripts.

There were 10 series in total, plus an additional series called 'Vintage Goons'. The first series had 17 episodes plus one special, Cinderella (1951); the second series had 25 episodes, (1952); the third series had 25 episodes plus one special - The Coronation Special (1952-53); the fourth series had 30 episodes plus one special, Archie In Goonland (1953-54); the fifth series had 26 episodes plus one special - The Starlings (1954-55); the sixth series had 27 episodes plus three specials,(1955-56); the seventh series had 25 episodes plus two specials, (1956-57); the eighth series had 26 episodes, (1957-58); the Vintage Goons were re-performances of 14 episodes from series four; the ninth series had 17 episodes, (1958-59); and the tenth series had six episodes, (1959-1960).


The principal parts were performed by Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe. The first two seasons also featured Michael Bentine, the singing group The Stargazers, but both left during the second series. The show went on to feature musical intermissions from singer Ray Ellington and his quartet, and virtuoso jazz harmonica player Max Geldray. The BBC announcer Andrew Timothy, succeeded by Wallace Greenslade in the 3rd series, provided spoken links as well as occasionally performing small roles in the scripts.

The principal roles were:
  • Neddie Seagoon - Secombe
  • Eccles - Milligan
  • Bluebottle - Sellers
  • Henry Crun - Sellers
  • Minnie Bannister - Milligan
  • Hercules Grytpype-Thynne - Sellers
  • Moriarty - Milligan
  • Major Denis Bloodnok - Sellers.

Secondary characters were the 'Indians', Banerjee and Lalkaka, the servant Abdul/Singez Thingz, Willium "Mate" Cobblers, Cyril, Jim Spriggs, Little Jim, Flowerdew and Chief Ellinga/The Red Bladder - both played by Ray Ellington. The traditional plots involved Grytpype and Moriarty getting Neddie Seagoon involved in some far-fetched plan, and meeting the other cast members along the way.


Broadly the Goon Show engaged in 'sound cartooning'. That is creating cartoons by means of sounds - voices, sound effects (FX), gramophone recordings of noises (GRAMS), orchestral effects etc. - all performed live in front of a studio audience. In the scripts themselves, Milligan explored the use of'subject transference'. In particular he used three methods - transference of time, transference of place and transference of utility.

Examples are:
Transference of time.
If time causes calendars, calendars can cause time. If you drop a bundle of 1918 calendars on German troops in 1916, then they will all go home, thus shortening the war. (World War One, 22nd episode/ 8th series.) Two other shows with extreme examples of time transference are The Treasure in the Tower, 5th episode/8th series; and The Mysterious Punch Up the Conker, 19th episode/7th series. (The famous 'What time is it Eccles?' scene.)

Transference of place.
If one lives in a house, and one can say that someone lives in their clothes, then the two are interchangeable. Therefore a recurring theme in the shows is of someone living in the basement of someone else's clothes, or of someone taking the lift up and down inside someone's suit. (eg: "What are you doing in my trousers?? - 'Slumming!') The best example of this is in The Policy, 9th/ 8th series. Doors give you entrance into a different place, so a door can transport you anywhere. A door in the Himalayas can take you back to London etc.

Transference of utility.
Milligan swapped functions between objects haphazardly and to comic effect. Pianos become vehicles of transportation, theatre organs become divining machines, two bananas become binoculars, Eccles becomes an omnibus (Rommel's Treasure, 6/6th - "My, he's running well."), gorillas become cigarettes ("These gorillas are strong! Here, have one of my monkeys - they're milder."), photographs of money become legal tender, etc.

Medium games
Additionally, Milligan played games with the medium itself. Whole scenes were written in which characters would leave, close the door behind themselves, yet still be inside the room. Further to this, characters would announce their departure, slam a door, but it would be another character who had left the room. That character would then beat on the door for readmittance, the door would open and close and again the wrong character would be locked out. Spike also specialised in writing long scenes where a pair of characters would discuss a subject in a circle, coming back to the point they started. The best example is in The Great Tuscan Salami Scandal 23rd episode/ 6th series, in a scene between Minnie and Henry.

The settings for the shows were a revolution in themselves. Rather than the tepid everyday world of Britain in the '50s, Milligan set most of the shows in foreign locations, especially India, North Africa, South America, the Wild West, even the south-east coast of England, places where he had lived or had been posted during WWII, or had been fascinated with when a boy. It gives the shows a 'boys-own-story' atmosphere to the plots, and also an extraordinary sense of realism. The episodes set during wartime, and those located in India are particularly poignant, highlighting the absurdist humour played out against the realistic backdrops they provide.

Apart from the background, and the scripts, is the question of violence. Milligan had been blown up at the Battle of Monte Cassinomarker during the war, and weekly he would blow up either Bluebottle, Eccles, or the whole cast.(The whole cast is blown up in - eg: The Sale of Manhattan, 11th episode/6th series.) Bombs, cannons, dynamite, TNT; anything and everything was used. Eccles breaks his leg in Shangri La Again, 8th/6th series. How? "I just got a big hammer and went WHACK!" This was weekly fare. The most violent episode is considered to be The Last Tram, 9th/5th series, where the cast and announcer belt each other with shovels for the last 2 minutes of the show.

The Goon Show paved the way for surreal and alternative humour, as acknowledged by comedians such as Eddie Izzard. The surreality was part of the attraction for Sellers. Many of the sequences have been cited as being visionary in the way that they challenged the traditional conventions of comedy. On p. 73 of the Pythons autobiography, Terry Jones states "The Goons of course were my favourite. It was the surreality of the imagery and the speed of the comedy that I loved - the way they broke up the conventions of radio and played with the very nature of the medium." This is reiterated by Michael Palin and John Cleese in their contributions to Ventham's (2002) book. Cleese recalls listening to The Goon Show as a teenager in the mid-1950s "and being absolutely amazed by its surreal humour. It came at a key stage in my own development and I never missed a show" (p. 150).

Music and sound effects

Orchestral introductions, links and accompaniment was provided by a picked group of 12 - 13 London session musicians working casually for the BBC. The arrangements and musical direction was done by Wally Stott (later known as Angela Morley), from the 3rd to the 10th series. He produced many arrangements and link passages, further improved by the first class sound quality the BBC engineers managed to achieve.

In keeping with the variety requirements of the BBC's "light entertainment" format, The Goon Show scripts were structured in three acts, separated by two musical interludes. These were provided by the Ray Ellington Quartet—who performed a mixture of jazz, rhythm & blues and calypso songs—and by harmonica virtuoso Max Geldray who performed mostly middle of the road numbers and standards of the 30's and 40's. Both Ellington and Geldray also made occasional cameo appearances; Ellington (who was Jamaican) was often drafted in to play stereotypical 'black' roles such as a tribal chieftain or native bearer.

It was in its use of pre-recorded and live sound effects that The Goon Show show broke the most new ground. Part of the problem was that "not even Milligan knew how to capture electronically the peculiar sounds that came alive in his head - he just knew when it had not yet happened" An example of this comes from an often cited story of Milligan filling his two socks with custard in the Cambden Theatre canteen, in an attempt to achieve a squelching effect. Secombe recalled "Back in the studio, Spike had already placed a sheet of three-ply near a microphone". One after the other, he swung them around his head against the wood, but failed to produce the sound effect he was seeking. Seacome noted that "Spike used to drive the studio managers mad with his insistence on getting the sound effects he wanted. In the beginning, when the programme was recorded on disc, it was extremely difficult to achieve the right sound effect. There were, I think, four turntables on the go simulaneously, with different sounds being played on each - chickens clucking, Big Ben striking, donkeys braying, massive explosions, ships' sirens - all happening at once. It was only when tape came into use that Spike felt really happy with the effects" Over time, the sound engineers became increasingly adept at translating the script into desired sounds, assisted from the late 1950s onwards by specialists in the BBC's newly-formed Radiophonic Workshop.

In creation of the Goon shows, long and acrimonious shouting matches occurred between Spike and the BBC as he tried to get his own way. Was he a diva? "I was in the Goon Show days," he told Dick Lester. " I was trying to shake the BBC out of its apathy. Sound effects were 'a knock on the door and tramps on gravel' - that was it, and I tried to transform it." Using techniques already developed by the drama department, he went on the give the show an indelible sense of reality, going out of his way to achieve maximum believability by the use of FX (live sound effects) and GRAMS (pre-recorded sound effects), making the show the first comedic production of its kind to try actively to persuade the listeners that the happenings were real, and especially to create alternate realities or surreal audio imagery that would be impossible to realise visually. This approach was approximated on television in the 1970s by Monty Python through the surreal animation inserts created by Terry Gilliam.

Many of the sound effects created for later programs featured innovative production techniques borrowed from the realm of musique concrète, and using the then new technology of magnetic tape. Many of these sequences involved the use of complex multiple edits, echo and reverberation and the deliberate slowing down, speeding up or reversing of tapes. One of the most famous was the legendary "Bloodnok's Stomach" sound effect, created by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to represent the sound of Major Bloodnok's digestive system in action, which included a variety of inexplicable gurgling and explosive noises. Lewis (1995, p. 218) states Bloodnock's stomach "was achieved by overlaying burps, whoops from oscillators, water splashes, cork-like pops, and light artillery blasts". This effect kept turning up on later comedy shows, and can even be heard on a track by The Orb.

Cast members and characters

Major: Neddie Seagoon
Minor: Uncle OscarPrivate BoggNugent DirtIzzyWelshmenYorkshiremen
Major: EcclesMinnie BannisterCount Jim Moriarty
Minor: ThroatLittle JimSpriggsYakamotoCor blimeyThingzHugh JamptonFu Manchu
Major: Major BloodnokHercules Grytpype-ThynneBluebottleHenry Crun
Minor: CynthiaWillium "Mate" CobblersMr LalkakaEidelbergerFlowerdewCyrilFred NurkeGladysLew/Ernie CashChurchillHearnAnd more...
Prof. Osric Pureheart and more

Episodes and archiving

Running jokes

The dreaded Lurgi

Several of the words and phrases invented for the show soon entered common usage, the most famous being the word lurgi. In the episode Lurgi Strikes Britain, Spike Milligan introduced the fictional malady of lurgi, (sometimes spelled "lurgy") which has survived into modern usage to mean any miscellaneous or non-specific illness. Milligan was later to make up his own definition in Treasure Island According to Spike Milligan, where Jim Hawkins's mother describes it as 'like brown spots of Shit on the Liver'.


Alcohol was strictly forbidden during rehearsals and recording, so the cast fortified themselves with milk. The milk in turn was fortified with brandy. In later episodes the catchphrase "'round the back for the old brandy!" or "the old Marlon Brando" was used to announce the exit of one or more characters, or a break for music. In The Pam's Paper Insurance Policy (Series 9, Episode 4) Ray Ellington, before his musical item begins, muses, "I wonder where he keeps that stuff!". In The Scarlet Capsule (Series 9, Episode 14) Ellington's reply to Secombe's cry of "Time for Ray Ellington and the old BRANDYYY there" was "The introductions he gives me...". In The Moon Show (Series 7, Episode 18), Ellington sympathises with the listeners, stating "Man, the excuses he makes to get to that brandy!", causing Milligan, Sellers and Secombe to wail "MATE!" in protest. However, Milligan got his own back by making Ellington laugh half way through the song by doing Minnie Bannister voices while Ellington was singing.

Watch out Moriarty!

Peter Sellers, as Grytpype-Thynne, usually pronounced the name of his henchman . However, if he (Sellers) was not in a good mood, or Milligan (as Moriarty) was overdoing his part, Grytpype-Thynne would start pronouncing the name mo-RYE-ə-tee. This gave Milligan a cue to simmer down.

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb!

During radio programmes of the 1920s and 1930s, the background noise for crowd scenes was often achieved by a moderately large group of people mumbling "rhubarb" under their breath with random inflections. This was often parodied by Milligan, who would try to get the same effect with only three or four people. After some time, Secombe began throwing in "custard" during these scenes (For example in The Fear of Wages and Wings Over Dagenham). About 10 years after The Goon Show ceased production, Secombe, Eric Sykes and a host of other well-known comic actors made the short film Rhubarb in which the entire script consisted of what Milligan called "rhubarbs".

The Raspberry

As well as a comic device randomly asserted in different sketches to avoid silence, the blowing of raspberries entered the Goons as Harry Secombe's signal to the other actors that he was going to crack up; you would hear a joke from him, a raspberry, and a stream of mad laughter. In the Goons' musical recording The Ying-Tong Song, Milligan performed a solo for raspberry-blower, as one might for tuba or baritone saxophone. Milligan eventually had the Radiophonic Workshop concoct a sound effect recording of a donkey braying and then farting loudly; it appeared first in the show The Sinking of Westminster Pier as a sound to accompany an oyster opening its shell; it thereafter became known as Fred the Oyster, and appears as such in the scripts. This recording was often used as a reaction to a bad joke. Examples include the The Last Goon Show of All where Neddie shouts old jokes into a fuel tank in order to "start the show".

Years later, Milligan collaborated with Ronnie Barker on The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town, in which the credits read: "Raspberries professionally blown by Spike Milligan."


The following films were a product of Goon activity:
A two-reeler starring Milligan, Sellers and Dick Emery
A surreal one-reeler short subject starring Milligan and Sellers and directed by Dick Lester

Later revivals


Spike teamed up with illustrator Pete Clark to produce two books of comic strip Goons. The stories were slightly modified versions of classic Goon shows.
  • The Goon Cartoons (1982)'
The Last Goon Show of All, The Affair of the Lone Banana, The Scarlet Capsule, The Pevensey Bay Disaster
  • More Goon Cartoons (1983)'
The Case of the Vanishing Room, The Case of the Missing C.D. Plates, The Saga of the Internal Mountain, Rommel's Treasure


  • The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004)'
A recreation of a Goon Show broadcast before a studio audience is seen early in the HBO Original Movie, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004), with Geoffrey Rush as Sellers, Edward Tudor-Pole as Spike Milligan and Steve Pemberton as Harry Secombe. A very brief moment from that recreation is seen in the trailer for that film.


  • Ying Tong: A walk with the goons
Ying Tong is a play written by Roy Smiles which is set partly in a radio studio, partly in a mental asylum and partly in Spike Milligan's mind. It recreates the Goons recording the show, but part way through Spike has a mental breakdown and is committed to an asylum. While it features all of the Goons throughout, the focus is on Milligan and his breakdown.

Radio and television

  • The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d (TV, 1956) and The Idiot Weekly (radio, 1958–1962)
The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d, which starred Peter Sellers, was the first attempt to translate Goon Show humour to television. Made for Associated-Rediffusion during 1956 and only broadcast in the London area, it was mainly written by Milligan, with contributions from other writers in the Associated London Scripts cooperative including Dave Freeman and Terry Nation, with Eric Sykes as script editor. The Idiot Weekly (1958–1962) was an Australian radio comedy series written by and starring Milligan with an Australian supporting cast including Ray Barrett and John Bluthal. It was made for the ABCmarker during Milligan's numerous visits to Australia (where his family had emigrated). Milligan adapted some Goon Show scripts and included his Goon Show characters (notably Eccles) in many episodes. Six episodes of The Idiot Weekly were remade by the BBC as The Omar Khayyam Show in 1963.

  • The Telegoons (1963–1964)'
The Telegoons (1963–1964) was a 15-minute BBC puppet show featuring the voices of Milligan, Secombe and Sellers and adapted from the radio scripts. 26 episodes were made. The series was briefly repeated immediately after its original run and all episodes are known to survive (having been unofficially released on the Internet). It was not appreciated by long time Goon Show fans who had been avid listeners of the original BBC radio broadcasts. This is held to be because the Goon Show's radio broadcasts enabled readers to create mental images of the characters they heard, and when they saw the televised versions, there were grave mismatches in listener's mental imagery and the televisual characterisation of the rich and varied cast of characters.

In 1972, the Goons reunited to perform The Last Goon Show of All for radio and television, before an invited audience that didn't, however, include long-time fan HRH The Prince of Wales (who was out of the country on duty with the Royal Navy at the time). The show was broadcast on BBC television and radio, and eventually released in stereo, first as an LP on vinyl, and later on a CD. It the television broadcast was also released on VHS and later on DVD, although there were some unfortunate omissions which detracted from at least one delayed punchline.

  • Goon Again (2001)'
In 2001, the BBC recorded a "new" Goon Show, Goon Again, featuring Andy Secombe (son of Harry), Jon Glover and Jeffrey Holland, with Christopher Timothy (son of Andrew Timothy) announcing and Lance Ellington (son of Ray Ellington) singing, based on two unpreserved series 3 episodes from 1953, "The Story of Civilisation" and "The Plymouth Ho Armada", both written by Milligan and Stephens.


The Goons made a number of records including I'm Walking Backwards for Christmas (originally sung by Milligan in the show to fill in during a musicians' strike), Bloodnok's Rock and Roll Call and its B-side The Ying Tong Song. The Ying Tong Song was reissued as an A-side in the mid-1970s and became a surprise novelty hit. The last time all three Goons worked together was in 1978 when they recorded two new songs, The Raspberry Song and Rhymes.

  • Bridge on the River Wye (Parlophone 1962)'
A 1962 comedy LP with Milligan and Sellers as well as Peter Cook and Jonathan Miller. A spoof of the film The Bridge on the River Kwaimarker, it was originally recorded under the same name. However, the film company threatened legal action if the name was used. Thus some clever editing of the recording by future Beatles producer George Martin removed the 'K' every time the word 'Kwai' was uttered, creating 'Bridge on the River Wye'. The LP is based on The Goon Show's African Incident (30/12/1957), which featured Sellers' vocal impersonation of Alec Guinness. Lewis' (1995, pp. 205-206) gives a good account of this background.

  • How to Win an Election (1964)'
In 1964, Milligan, Secombe and Sellers lent their voices to a comedy LP, How to Win an Election (or Not Lose by Much), which was written by Leslie Bricusse. It was not exactly a Goons reunion because Sellers was in Hollywood and had to record his lines separately. The album was reissued on CD in 1997.

  • He's Innocent of Watergate (1974)'
This featured Milligan and Sellers and John Bluthal, who also appeared in the 'Q' serie, and was a response to Nixon's resignation and subsequent revelations about the Watergate scandal. It featured Milligan singing I'm Innocent of Watergate, a song which apparently absolved him of all responsibility for criminal action.

Impact on comedy and culture

In the Britain of 1950, humour was derived from three main sources: print, film and radio, and despite the advent of television, throughout the 1950s radio remained the dominant source of broadcast comedy. In this period, two radio comedy shows exercised a profound influence. The first was Take It From Here, with its polished professionalism. The other was The Goon Show, with its absurdity, manic surreality and unpredictability."

On the influence of The Goons, Eric Sykes wrote that in the post-World War II years, "other shows came along but 'The House of Comedy' needed electricity. Then, out of the blue...The Goons...Spike Milligan simply blew the roof off, and lit the whole place with sunshine. At a cursory glance, The Goon Show was merely quick-fire delivery of extremely funny lines mouthed by eccentric characters, but this was only the froth. In The Goon Show, Spike was unknowlingly portraying every facet of the British psyche"

Sykes and Milligan, along with Ray Galton, Alan Simpson, Frankie Howerd and Stanley ("Scruffy") Dale, co-founded the writers cooperative Associated London Scripts (ALS), which over time included others such as Larry Stephens. In his book Spike & Co (2006, pp. 344-345), Graham McCann states "the anarchic spirit of the Goon Show...would inspire, directly or indirectly and to varying extents, Monty Pythons Flying Circus, The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Young Ones, Vic Reeves Big Night Out, The League of Gentlemen, Brass Eye and countless other strange and bold new comedies". Other ALS-related comedies such as Sykes and A..., Hancock's Half Hour, Steptoe and Son, Beyond Our Ken, and Round The Horne influenced their own genres of comedy.

Eddie Izzard notes that The Goons and Milligan in particular "influenced a new generation of comedians who came to be known as 'alternative'." In Ventham's (2002, p. 151) compilation, John Cleese notes that "In comedy, there are a very small number of defining moments when somebody comes along and genuinely creates a breakthrough, takes us into territory where nobody has been before. The only experiences to which I can compare my own discovery of the Goons are going to see N F Simpson's Play One Way Pendulum...or, later on, hearing Peter Cook for the first time. They were just light years ahead of everyone else".

Peter Cook

Peter Cook is described as a "humourist much influenced by the Goons". Whilst at boarding school, Peter Cook used to feign illness on Friday evenings, just so he could listen to the Goons on the radio in the sick bay. A happy moment from his childhood concerns when he sent a script to the BBC and they sent it back, saying it was a great Goon script but not original. Despite this knock-back, this script somehow landed on the desk of Spike Milligan and brought about a meeting between Peter Cook and his heroes.He, and others from Beyond the Fringe, were later to work with Milligan and Sellers on George Martin's LP production Bridge On The River Wye, and appeared in the film version of Milligan and John Antrobus' The Bed Sitting Room.Both Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers appeared on Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's TV show, Not Only... But Also.

Monty Python

The future members of Monty Python were fans, and on many occasions they expressed their collective debt to Milligan and The Goons. Scudamore (1985, p. 170) cites an interview for example, in which John Cleese stated "the Goon Show influenced us enormously". He reiterates this point in his contribution to Ventham's (2002, p. 151) book: "We all loved The Goon Show in the Monty Python Team: it ignited some energy in us. It was more a spirit that was passed on, rather than any particular technique. The point is that once somebody has crossed a barrier and done something that has never been done before, it is terribly easy for everybody else to cross it".

Similarly, in the introduction to Graham Chapman's posthumous anthology (2006, p.xvii) Yoakum notes that while other radio comedies influenced Chapman, "the show that truly astounded Graham, and was a major influence on his comedy was The Goon Show." And on page 23 Chapman states: "from about the age of seven or eight I used to be an avid listener to a radio programme called The Goon Show. In fact, at that stage I wanted to be a Goon".

The Beatles

The Goons made a considerable impact on the humour of The Beatles, and especially on John Lennon. On 30 September 1973, Lennon reviewed the book The Goon Show Scripts for The New York Times. He wrote: "I was 12 when The Goon Show first hit me, 16 when they finished with me. Their humour was the only proof that the world was insane. One of my earlier efforts at writing was a 'newspaper' called The Daily Howl. I would write it at night, then take it into school and read it aloud to my friends. Looking at it now, it seems strangely similar to The Goon Show." Lennon also noted that George Martin had made records with both Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers.

In a discussion of an accidentally Goonish nature, about introducing the next song during the 1963 BBC production of "Pop Go The Beatles", Lennon is also recorded as quipping "Love these Goon shows". This was included in the four album LP and CD entitled Live at the BBC (side 4, track 10 of the LP; track 62 of CD).

Firesign Theatre

The Goons' influence was spread well beyond the UK; the members of the American comedy troupe The Firesign Theatre recall listening to The Goon Show at different times in their lives. Philip Proctor claims that was enthused by the group's surrealist style of comedy that they adopted that style into their performances. Peter Bergman also met and got to know Spike Milligan while Bergman was a television writer in England during the mid-1960s.

The sincerest form of flattery

Although the names, catchphrases and slang of The Goon Show came to permeate British culture, the same could not be said of the USA, so when an issue of a Marvel comic book, The Defenders issue 148, used the character names Minerva Bannister, Harry Crun (i.e. Henry), and Hercules Grytpype-Thynne, it went completely unnoticed by American readers. The reactions of British readers, if any, were not recorded.

The characters were as follows:
  • Minerva Bannister - Villainous heiress.
  • Harry Crun - Private Detective, employed by Ms. Bannister, and in love with her.
  • Hercules Grytpype-Thynne - Cop on their trail.

Other references

In the movie Shrek, Shrek refers to a constellation as Bloodnok, the Flatulent.

The rock band Ned's Atomic Dustbin took their name from a Goon Show episode.

The character of Catherwood in The Firesign Theatre production of Nick Danger, Third Eye is vocally nearly identical to Major Bloodnok. This voice was also used in other Firesign productions. The character Tweety in David Ossman's solo work How Time Flys uses a voice very much like Eccles. In the book, The Firesign Theater's Big Mystery Joke Book, David Ossman references Spike Milligan as one of the comedians all four members admired the most, and Peter Bergman in fact worked briefly with Spike Milligan in London in 1966. The Firesign Theatre's most common format, an audio play lasting roughly thirty minutes with a clear if bizarre plot on which are hung surreal or buffoonish jokes, is, in terms of format, closer to the Goon Show than the work of either Beyond the Fringe or Monty Python.

Goon Show fan and one time The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film collaborator, Richard Lester named Clark Kent's former schoolmistress "Minnie Bannister" in 1983's Superman III.


Peter Sellers died on 24 July 1980, aged 54. Michael Bentine died on 26 November 1996. Harry Secombe died on 11 April 2001. Milligan claimed to be relieved that Secombe had died before him, because had he died before Secombe then Secombe would have been in a position to sing at his funeral.

Terence "Spike" Milligan died on 27 February 2002, aged 83; Secombe ended up singing at his funeral anyway, as a recording. Two years later Milligan's wish to have the words "I told you I was ill" inscribed on his gravestone was finally granted, although the church would only agree if the words were written in Irish, as Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite.

See also



  • — includes chapters from Milligan, Secombe & Sykes. Sellers & Bentine were excused due to being deaded.
  • — remains the definitive book on the series
  • — A singly useful resource, comprising a comprehensive biography of the script co-operative 'Associated London Scripts' set up by Milligan, Sykes, Galton and Simpson in the 1950s. From these offices originated The Goons, Sykes, Till Death Do us Part, Hancock, Steptoe and Son and other ground breaking comedy shows.

External links

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