The Goon Show
This is the programme that set Spike Milligan on the path to comic iconhood, Peter Sellers on the road to stardom, Michael Bentine on the crazy paving to 'Potty Time' and Harry Secombe on the highway to... er... 'Highway'.
It also provided uproarious silliness to millions and gave generations of writers and gave performers from Monty Python to Eddie Izzard licence to smash down (comic) conventions.
Like many other great comics of the period, Milligan, Sellers, Secombe and Bentine developed their performing skills during service in World War II. After the war they met while scrabbling around for work in London, becoming regulars at "The Grafton Arms" whose landlord, Jimmy Grafton, put them in touch with the BBC.
By 1951 they had convinced the Beeb to let them put on the show that would launch comedy on a new path and hundreds of silly voices on a nation.
Driven by the (literally) manic energy of Milligan's scripts and a shared sense of humour, The Goon Show was unlike anything ever heard before.
Initially it was a series of sketches, featuring a cast of regular characters and running under the title "Those Crazy People" (the BBC didn't understand the term "goon", which Milligan had taken from 1930s "Popeye" comics).
By the time of Bentine's departure at the end of series two, however, the familiar format of ludicrous plots, surreal humour ("What time is it Eccles?", "Just a minute. I've got it written down on a piece of paper"), dreadful puns (many of them old army favourites, like the character of Hugh Jampton, permanently excused shorts), catchphrases ("Have a gorilla", "No, I only smoke baboons") and weird sound effects, all interspersed with musical intervals, was firmly in place.
Plots were usually surreal romps through old standbys such as spy drama, murder mystery and wartime heroics, with titles like "The Toothpaste Expedition", "The International Christmas Pudding" and "The Dreaded Batter Pudding Hurler of Bexhill-on-Sea" giving a flavour of the liberties Milligan was willing to take with such material.
It was the characters, though, that made the show, from innocent Neddie Seagoon (Secombe) to the idiotic Eccles ([Sings] "I talk to the trees... that's why they put me away") and ancient Minnie Bannister ("we'll all be murdered in our beds") (both Milligan) to suave villain Grytpype-Thynne, military-man-on-the-make Major Bloodnok ("Moneyyyyyyy!") and, of course, squeaky-voiced boyscout Bluebottle ("Enter Bluebottle wearing string and cardboard pyjamas. Waits for audience applause. Not a sausage") (all Sellers).
The programme ran for 10 years, with most of its 200-plus episodes written by Milligan (often assisted by Eric Sykes and John Antrobus among others), who was driven to a nervous breakdown at one stage by the weekly pressure of producing a script.
Since the programme ended in 1960 it has been in constant demand as a repeat and has been broadcast all over the globe. 60 years after it started it retains the power to reduce audiences to helpless laughter; no comedy could ask for more.
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