The Goon Show: Homage To A Radio Programme

Posted: August 20, 2009 in Homage, Humour, Radio
The Goons: Milligan, Secombe and Sellers

The Goons: Milligan, Secombe and Sellers

The Goon Show, is it the greatest comedy of all time? Yes, for me it is. Although to anybody outside of the UK, Australia and New Zealand it might not even be completely understandable because of its surrealism, its Britishness with its parodies of Britain in the 1950’s, and the unusual voices of some characters that take getting used to. Broadcast on BBC radio during the 1950’s it lasted for 11 series featuring a mad blend of surrealism, satire, many politically incorrect lines (happily, this was before PC reared its air-filled head), deliberate ham and corn and what can only be described as Milliganisms, not surprising really as it was mostly written by humourist Spike Milligan whose brainchild it was. The first three series and part of the fourth featured various sketches, also Michael Bentine was a fourth Goon for the first two series but then he left and there were only three Goons from series three on. Half way through the fourth series a single storyline featured instead of a number of different sketches. It is this single plot show (using the word plot very loosely, as acknowledged by the Goons in the shows themselves occasionally) that has amassed a cult following and thankfully, partly because of fans taping the shows every week, most of the episodes from series four onwards have survived.

The Goon Show featured Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers, whose voices and characterizations go a long way to ensuring the shows continued popularity according to some people, and Sellers has been quoted as saying that professionally this was his happiest time. Supplementing the main performers were occasional guests and regular announcer Wallace Greenslade, plus there were two brief musical interludes each show featuring Max Geldray and Ray Ellington.

The Goon Show: Sellers, Milligan and Secombe

The Goon Show: Sellers, Milligan and Secombe

THE GOONS:

Neddie Seagoon Harry Secombe (the central character, a gullible but well-meaning fool)
Hercules Grytpipe-ThynnePeter Sellers (a suave cad and con-artist out to fleece Neddie)
Count MoriartySpike Milligan (Grytpipe-Thynne’s dilapidated accomplice)
Major BloodnokPeter Sellers (a retired army Major, coward, money-lover, and womaniser with an explosive bowel condition)
Henry CrunPeter Sellers (an ancient and doddering old idiot and forgetful inventor)
Minnie BannisterSpike Milligan (Henry Crun’s ancient lady friend, at an unspecified time in the past she had some sort of liaison with major Bloodnok)
EcclesSpike Milligan (a tall idiot, once referred to by Neddie as, ‘the nearest thing I’ve seen to a human being without actually being one’)
BluebottlePeter Sellers (a boy scout, also an idiot, often teams up with Eccles to help Neddie)

Various minor characters appeared from time to time. My favourites? Probably the scenes featuring Henry Crun and Minnie Bannister.

The Goon Show was quite an influential programme, probably responsible for the so-called alternative comedy that had its beginnings in the 60’s, it’s been cited as a major influence by Monty Python’s members and the most famous of its devotees are probably Prince Charles and The Beatles. Although it’s a 1950’s programme, I didn’t discover it until the 80’s, though I was aware of its cult status and had heard bits and pieces but I just never had the occasion to appreciate it properly till then. Even with today’s advanced technology, I doubt whether the Goons would transfer well to a visual medium, they were conceived for radio broadcast and can only be fully realized and enjoyed by that means. Whether via the airwaves or via recordings, the Goons inhabit a fantastic world inside the listener’s head, a world of delirious and delicious humour, a world unlike any other.

The Goon Show early days with Michael Bentine far right

The Goon Show early days with Michael Bentine far right

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