POSTED AT 8:41 AM EST    Wednesday, February 27
OBITUARY Spike Milligan

Reuters News Agency from the Globe and Mail

Further articles: Spike gone, and his sayings

London Spike Milligan, a founding father of 20th century British comedy and zany genius behind the ground-breaking Goon Show, died on Wednesday aged 83. 

Spike Milligan: had an 'irreverent and hysterical presence'

Mr. Milligan, pioneer of the meandering joke without a punchline, turned surreal comedy into an art form, influencing a whole generation of British comedians from the Beyond the Fringe team to Monty Python's Flying Circus.

"He died this morning. I believe it was from kidney failure," his agent, Norma Farnes, told Reuters.

Fellow comedian Eddie Izzard hailed Mr. Milligan as "the godfather of alternative comedy." Prince Charles, one of the Goons' greatest fans, said he had "a great affection" for Mr. Milligan. Broadcaster Michael Parkinson said: "You could make the argument that modern British comedy started with Spike Milligan. He was the godfather of it all." Along with Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers, Mr. Milligan's inconsequential nonsense and silly voices reigned supreme. He took zany humour to new heights of absurdity but at a cost.

Mr. Secombe admitted that he and Mr. Sellers "rode on the thermal currents of (Spike's) imagination" and it was Mr. Milligan who wrote all the scripts for The Goon Show 26 a year from 1951 to 1960. Michael Bentine was also one of the early members of the Goons, but he left in 1952 to pursue a solo career.

Mr. Sellers died in 1980, Mr. Bentine in 1996 and Mr. Secombe in 2001.

Mr. Milligan, author of dozens of books, never became as widely known as Sellers. "I'm an ongoing failure, but the most successful one you'll meet," he told the Sunday Express. "I thought I had the same comic ability as Peter Sellers ... but the cards fell right for him when he went into films and never came right for me."

For Mr. Milligan, the task of writing The Goon Show sparked one of a dozen nervous breakdowns, making him the nation's most celebrated manic-depressive, a comic always on the edge of rage. "I laugh that I may not weep," was his most likely motto, said Pauline Scudamore, his biographer and a close friend. Mr. Milligan was renowned for his sharp tongue, once calling Prince Charles "a grovelling little bastard" on live television. Mr. Milligan made it up with Charles after that remark by sending him a telegram saying, "I suppose a knighthood is out of the question now?" But it wasn't Mr. Milligan was given an honorary knighthood two years ago.

He campaigned for animal rights and conservationist issues but he was far less patient with humans. In 1974, Mr. Milligan shot a boy of 15 with an airgun for being in his garden, and he was said to have once threatened to kill Mr. Sellers with a potato peeler during a Goons rehearsal.

Terence Alan (Spike) Milligan was born in India on April 16, 1918, to an over-possessive mother and a sergeant-major. As a soldier, Mr. Milligan ended the Second World War in a psychiatric hospital after being shelled in Tunisia. His experiences were a rich vein of inspiration later for hugely popular war memoirs.

His first marriage to June Marlowe collapsed under the strain of writing Goon scripts. The couple had three children. Second wife Paddy Ridgeway died of cancer in 1978. He married Shelagh Sinclair in 1983 and he also had an illegitimate son. An Irishman, he was angered by the attitude of the British authorities to his citizenship. He once said: "I never see myself as Irish, but I am. My father and mother were both Irish and had Irish passports. I had a British passport, but when I went to get it renewed and said my father was born in Ireland before 1900, they said I couldn't have a British passport some bloody law. "I went to the Irish Embassy and I said: 'My name's Spike Milligan, can I have a passport?' And they said, 'Oh yes! We're short of people.'"

Asked what words of advice he could offer to the younger generation, he once replied: "Run for it!"

From the Telegraph : Spike Milligan dies at 83
By David Sapsted (Filed: 28/02/2002)

SPIKE MILLIGAN, the last of the Goons and one of the great precursors of alternative comedy, died from liver failure aged 83 yesterday.

The Prince of Wales, a friend and admirer for many years, was among the first to express his sadness.

Awarded an honorary knighthood last year, Milligan had been in frail health for several years and died peacefully, surrounded by his family, at his home overlooking the sea just outside Rye, East Sussex, where he moved a decade ago to escape the noise of London.

Prince Charles - famously described as a "grovelling little bastard" by Milligan at a comedy awards ceremony in 1994 - said it "was an immense sadness to learn of Spike Milligan's death and my heart goes out to all his family.

"It is hard to see Spike's parting as anything other than the end of a great era of British comedy, exemplified by Spike's extraordinary genius for the play on words and for the art of the nonsensical unexpected.

"His particular form of hilarity and wit, apart from helping to sustain the British spirit through the unmentionable horrors of war, has provided countless millions with the kind of helpless mirth which adds unique value to life. To have a gift of that sort is truly life-enhancing. Personally, but along with so many others, I shall miss his irreverent and hysterical presence and can only say that the world really will be the poorer for his departure."

 
Top: Spike and fellow Goons meet Prince Charles. Bottom: Spike has the Prince in stiches as he receives his honorary knighthood

Tributes poured in throughout the day for the man who wrote the ground-breaking Goon Show scripts which he performed with Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine.

Eddie Izzard described him as "a great man - I think he was godfather of alternative comedy. He was a crazy, wonderful genius". Eric Sykes added: "The last jewel has fallen out of the crown of British comedy."

Michael Parkinson, who interviewed Milligan 10 times, agreed. "He was a very important figure in the history of British comedy. You could make the argument that modern British comedy started with Spike Milligan. He was the presiding genius behind the Goons."

John Cleese, in a Channel 4 programme to be shown this weekend, credits Milligan with being the inspiration behind Monty Python's Flying Circus. He says: "With the Goon Show, there was the first flicker of rebelliousness that turned into the satire movement. He nudged us forward."

Milligan's death was announced by Norma Farnes, his agent and longtime friend. She said: "For 35 years he has been the dynamo in my life. He was my dearest friend and I will miss him terribly."

His wife of 20 years, Shelagh, was said by a family friend to have been "moved by the many kind words".

The Milligan's front door bore a note the comic had written urging visitors to leave quietly. It read: "This door can be closed without slamming it. Try it and see how clever you are."

Goon but not forgotten, includes one of his poems about manic-depression. The tortured childish genius, perhaps. The knighthood revealed, and his passion for Rugby (Irish) and equally for ladies. And, here is an obituary for his friend Harry Secombe.

Some of the sayings of Spike (Filed: 28/02/2002)
Little grovelling bastard - Milligan on the Prince of Wales after the Prince wrote a letter praising him as he received a Lifetime Achievement Comedy Award in 1994.

Yes, but it's your mother, isn't it? You don't get board and lodging at Buckingham Palace if you don't swear an oath - Milligan to the Prince of Wales, who told him even he had to swear the oath of allegiance after the comic refused to do so.

I can't see the sense in it 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! - Milligan on receiving an honorary CBE in 1992.

I don't mind dying. I just don't want to be there when it happens.

I don't like women in positions of power because they make all the wrong bloody decisions.

I suppose basically I am very talented, but I am not personally aware of that.

I'd like to go there. But if Jeffrey Archer is there I want to go to Lewisham - Milligan on whether he believed he would go to heaven.

Then came the war. North Africa, promoted in the field (they wouldn't let me indoors). Mentioned in dispatches: nothing positive. Just mentioned. - Milligan on his army career.

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 - Milligan celebrating his 75th birthday.

He sent me a fax. It said: `I hope you go before me because I don't want you singing at my funeral' - Sir Harry Secombe after receiving a message from Milligan.

I suppose it will be my turn next to join him. But they'll have to drag me kicking and screaming - Milligan speaking in April last year after the death of Sir Harry Secombe

And:

'British-Irish? What, what, what?" "Only three watts? You're not very bright, are you?'

I said to the First Officer, "Gad, that sun's hot", to which he replied, "Well, you shouldn't touch it."

When she saw the sign, 'Members Only', she thought of him.

Are you going to come quietly, or will I have to use earplugs?

"Why does everybody I meet hate me?" "Saves time."

Biography of Spike Milligan - Sharon Peleg