Spike Milligan

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Spike Milligan

Spike Milligan Kt CBE (April 16, 1918February 27, 2002) was a comedian, novelist, poet, jazz musician (trumpet and guitar - also played the piano - and was a dab hand at raspberry blowing) and is best remembered as the creator, principal writer and performing member of The Goon Show.



Spike was born Terence Alan Milligan in Ahmed Nagar or Ahmadnagar, India to an Irish-born officer in the British Army. Though he lived most of his life in Britain and served in the British Army, he was declared stateless in 1960, and took Irish citizenship.

Spike Milligan suffered from bipolar disorder for most of his life, having at least ten mental breakdowns. He was a strident campaigner on environmental matters, particularly arguing against unnecessary noise. He served in the Royal Artillery in World War 2 in North Africa and also Italy, where he was hospitalized for shell shock. During most of the 30s and early 40s he performed as a jazz trumpeter but even then he did comedy sketches. After his hospitalisation he played guitar with a jazz/comedy group called The Bill Hall Trio, at first in concert parties for the troops and, after the War, for a short time on stage. While he was with the Central Pool of Artists (a group, in his own words, "of bomb-happy squaddies") he began to write parodies of their mainstream plays, that displayed many of the key elements of what would become The Goon Show.

He was the primary author of The Goon Show scripts (though many were written jointly with Eric Sykes) as well as a star performer, and is considered the father of modern British comedy, having inspired countless writers and performers with his work on the Goon Show and his own Q series, including Monty Python's Flying Circus. Writing a show a week affected his health greatly and caused him to have a series of nervous breakdowns. On one occasion, Peter Sellers had to lock his door against a knife-wielding Milligan; on another, Sellers and Harry Secombe broke into Milligan's dressing room, fearing he was suicidal. Eventually lithium was found to be the most effective treatment.

He also had a number of acting parts in theatre, film and television series; one of his last screen appearances was in the BBC dramatisation of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast, and he was (almost inevitably) noted as an ad-libber. One of Spike's most famous ad-lib incidents occurred during a visit to Australia in the late 1960s. He was interviewed live-to-air and remained in the studio for the news broadcast that followed (read by Rod McNeil) during which Milligan constantly interjected, adding his own name to news items. As a result, he was banned from making any further live appearances on the ABC. The ABC also changed its national policy so that talent had to leave the studio after interviews were complete. A tape of the bulletin survives and has been included in an ABC Radio audio compilation.

Milligan also wrote nonsense verse for children, the best of which is comparable with that of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, and (while depressed) serious poetry. He also wrote a very successful series of war memoirs, including Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall (1971) and Rommel? Gunner Who? A Confrontation in the Desert (1976).

After their retirement, Milligan's parents and his younger brother Desmond moved to Australia. His mother lived the rest of her life in the coastal village of Woy Woy on the New South Wales central coast, just north of Sydney; as a result, Spike became a regular visitor to Australia and made a number of radio and TV programs there.

From the 1960s onwards Milligan was a regular correspondent with Robert Graves. Milligan's letters to Graves usually addressed a question to do with classical studies. The letters form part of Graves bequest to St. John's College, Oxford.

In 1972, Milligan caused controversy by 'liberating' a shark from an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery.

The Prince of Wales was a noted fan, and Milligan caused a stir by calling him a "little grovelling bastard" on television in 1994. He later faxed the prince, saying "I suppose a knighthood is out of the question now?" The knighthood (honorary because of his Irish citizenship) was finally awarded in 2000.

Milligan had three children with his first wife June Marlow: Laura, Sean and Sile. He had one daughter with his second wife Patricia (Paddy): Jane. He had no children with his third wife Shelagh Sinclair. The four children have recently colloborated with documentary makers on a new multi-platform program called I TOLD YOU I WAS ILL: THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF SPIKE MILLGAN (2005) and web site, http://www.spikemilliganlegacy.com

Even late in life, Milligan's black humour had not deserted him. After the death of friend Harry Secombe he said, "I'm glad he died before me, because I didn't want him to sing at my funeral." A recording of Secombe singing was played at Milligan's memorial service. In a BBC poll in August 1999, Spike Milligan was voted the "funniest person of the last 1000 years".

The film of Puckoon was released after Spike's death and starred one of his daughters, Jane Milligan.

Milligan lived for several years in Holden Road, Woodside Park and The Crescent, Barnet, and was a strong supporter of the Finchley Society. His house in Woodside Park is now demolished, but there is a blue plaque in his memory on the new house on the site. The Finchley Society is trying to get a statue of him erected in Finchley.

In accordance with his last wishes, his headstone bears the Irish language words, "Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite." Translated to English, these form the classic Milligan line, "I told you I was ill."

In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian's Comedian, he was voted amongst the top 50 comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders.

Radio comedy shows

Other radio shows

Milligan contributed his vivid recollections of his childhood in India for the acclaimed 1970s BBC audio history series Plain Tales From The Raj. The series was published in book form in 1975 by Andre Deutsch, edited by Charles Allen.

TV Comedy shows


  • Treasure Island (1961, 1973–5)
  • The Bed-Sitting Room (1963, 1967) written by Milligan and John Antrobus
  • Son of Oblomov (http://mikeagnew123.tripod.com/spikemilliganshop/id20.html) Opened at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, in 1964. It was based on the Russian classic by Ivan Goncharov, and gave Milligan the opportunity to play most of the title role in bed. Unsure of his material, on the opening night he improvised a great deal, treating the audience as part of the plot almost, and he continued in this diverting manner for the rest of the run, and on tour as Son Of Oblomov.



  • Silly Verse for Kids (1959); the 1968 paperback edition omits one poem and adds some from the next two books
  • A Dustbin of Milligan (1961)
  • The Little Pot Boiler (1963)
  • Puckoon (1963)
  • A Book of Bits, or A Bit of a Book (1965)
  • A Book of Milliganimals (1968)
  • The Looney: An Irish Fantasy (1987)
  • The Bedside Milligan
  • "The War (and Peace) Memoirs"
    • Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall (1971; Jim Dale played Milligan and Milligan played his own father in the film version of this book.)
    • Rommel? Gunner Who? A Confrontation in the Desert
    • Monty: His Part in My Victory
    • Mussolini: His Part in My Downfall
    • Where Have All the Bullets Gone? (1985)
    • Goodbye Soldier
    • Peace Work
  • Hidden Words: Collected Poems
  • Startling Verse for All the Family
  • A Mad Medley of Milligan
  • Transports of Delight
  • More Transports of Delight
  • Peace Work
  • Depression and How to Survive It (with Professor Anthony Clare), medical biography.
  • It Ends with Magic
  • The "According to" Books
    • The Bible - the Old Testament According to Spike Milligan
    • Black Beauty According to Spike Milligan
    • D.H.Lawrence's John Thomas and Lady Jane: According to Spike Milligan - Part II of "Lady Chatterley's Lover"
    • Frankenstein According to Spike Milligan
    • The Hound of the Baskervilles According to Spike Milligan
    • Lady Chatterley's Lover According to Spike Milligan
    • Robin Hood According to Spike Milligan
    • Treasure Island According to Spike Milligan
    • Wuthering Heights According to Spike Milligan



  • "When I look back, the fondest memory I have is not really of the Goons. It is of a girl called Julia with enormous breasts."
  • "I can't see the sense in it [his honorary CBE] 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."
  • "I told you I was ill" – his epitaph. Spike's grave remained unmarked for two years, as the church authorities would not let the family put Spike's chosen epitaph on his grave, claiming that it might offend some people. Eventually, it was decided that it should be written in Gaelic, to prevent any offence.
  • On his bouts of depression – "It's the nature of who you are. You will see sunsets in a special way, you will see life in a special way. The Milligans are like Arab racehorses. We'll kick the stable to pieces, but we'll always win the race."

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