Goon star Sir Harry Secombe dies aged 79
SIR HARRY SECOMBE, the comedian and entertainer who shot to fame with The Goon Show, died yesterday at the age of 79.
Myra, his wife of more than 50 years, was at his side when he died from prostate cancer in hospital at Guildford, Surrey. He had been ill for some years, living with diabetes and suffering a stroke in 1999. He had four children. A family statement said: "We are grieving for a wonderful man and a much loved husband, father and grandfather."
Friends, fans and colleagues paid tribute to a "lovely man" whose career ranged from his starring role as Neddie Seagoon to films, theatre, novels, charity work and the television religious programmes Highway and Songs of Praise.
Spike Milligan, the last surviving Goon, who founded the show with Sir Harry, Peter Sellers and Michael Bentine, said: "I grieve for an unbelievable friend. Harry was a brilliant entertainer and an incredibly funny man. He will go to Heaven with lots of great memories." The Prince of Wales, who was a big fan of The Goon Show and a friend of the cast, described Sir Harry as "one of the great life enhancers of our age".
Sir Harry, who was born in a Swansea council house, retired from show business in 1999 after a career that earned him a knighthood in 1981. John Major, who met him often, said: "He was one of the loveliest of men and a comic genius who gave pleasure to millions."
Sir Harry saw action during the war as a lance bombardier with the Swansea Territorials in Sicily, Italy and North Africa, where he met Milligan. When he was demobbed he decided on a career in show business and in 1951 the BBC ran the first Goon Show series, which quickly attracted a cult following and ran for nine years.
Inspired Goon who made millions laugh
A FINE tenor voice, talent for surreal comedy and sincere religious belief may seem a strange mix for a showbusiness career.
Sir Harry Secombe, however, managed not only to combine them, but in the process earn a degree of public affection rare in the modern world of entertainment. His genius for buffoonery - the falsetto giggle and devastating raspberry - were accompanied by a real musical talent. He was also an actor, writer and tireless charity worker.
The Prince of Wales, a life-long admirer of The Goon Show, the stream-of-consciousness radio comedy that made Sir Harry's name, summed up neatly the appeal of the entertainer, who died yesterday at the age of 79 following a long period of failing health.
Speaking from Balmoral, the Prince said: "He was one of the great life enhancers of our age and gave pleasure and constant laughter to so many of us throughout his life. He will be profoundly missed by all those people who appreciate wit and unmalicious humour."
Spike Milligan, the last surviving Goon, was close to tears as he said: "Harry was such a warm human being who always had time for other people. He deserved his knighthood, not only for his services to entertainment but also because of his kindness as a man. I will miss him so much."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, said: "I grew to know Harry as a magnificent entertainer, a good friend and a man of shining Christian faith. He drew deep on his faith - it was the source of his joy, warmth and humour, undimmed even during illness. My wife and I will miss him and thank God for him."
Sir Harry's retirement due to ill health in 1999 marked the end of a career that began in the entertainment parties of the Second World War. He was born in Swansea in 1921, the son of a travelling salesman. In the great tradition of comedians, he used humour to avoid bullying at school, but his first job was as a colliery clerk.
As with so many others, the war was to provide the catalyst for his career in entertainment and provided a chance encounter in North Africa with Milligan. The Goons - Secombe, Milligan, Michael Bentine and Peter Sellers - first performed together as a team in the late Forties at a London pub before beginning their BBC radio career in 1951.
It was the first comedy expedition into the surreal, with Sir Harry's Neddie Seagoon the useless hero. There were more than 30 attempts to suppress the programme entirely. In 1954, Sellers's impersonations of Sir Winston Churchill were banned, as were scenes depicting the House of Commons asleep.
After the show ended in 1960, Sir Harry entered a more conventional phase of his career, involving numerous film and television appearances, and his singing voice came to the fore. In later years, he became best known for his Sunday night programme Highway.
He was also proud of his marriage to Myra, who was at his side in hospital in Guildford when he finally succumbed to prostate cancer yesterday. He would say: "Marriage is a lottery and I picked a winning ticket." They had four children, Andrew, Katy, Jennifer and David. The couple lived in a 104-year-old manor house in Surrey.
He was awarded the CBE for his work on behalf of the Army Benevolent Fund. In 1981 he was further honoured with a knighthood for his services to entertainment and charity. Sir Harry once recalled how Milligan perked him up shortly after a stroke in 1999. "He sent me a fax that said: 'I hope you go before me because I don't want you singing at my funeral.' I made my mind up that I wasn't going anywhere."
Sir Harry's family said there would be a private funeral next week and a memorial service later in the year. The actress Dame Thora Hird said: "Harry was not out to please just the audience, but the cast, too. He was a great comic who was liked by everyone. You don't meet them very often."