THE GOONS FIRST BROADCAST ON BBC RADIO 28th May 1951
My all time favourite Radio and TV Comedy Show is THE GOONS. It starred Spike Milligan – Harry Secombe – Peter Sellers – Michael Bentine. The first episode was broadcast on Monday, 28th May 1951. Exactly 70 years ago! At 18.45 on the BBC Home Service. The title then was Crazy People. As I was born in April 1949 I was only just over 2 years old. You may say no way do I remember it. But I assure you I have been a life long fan. I beleive that programme and the Hit Parade got me through an horrendous childhood.
Here is other writings about The Goons.
Crazy People, the first programme of what became The Goon Show, aired on 28 May 1951. The stars – Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine – were billed in the Radio Times as “Radio’s own Crazy Gang ‘The Goons'”.
Producer Dennis Main Wilson wrote “the series is based upon a crazy type of fun evolved by four of our younger laughter-makers”. As it developed, The Goon Show became an enduring hit that stretched the boundaries of radio comedy in new and influential directions.
Crazy People, later The Goon Show
The first Crazy People episode included many features that became typical of the Goons, such as ridiculous sound effects and extravagantly named characters. These included Ernie Splutmuscle, Sir Harold Porridge and Harold Vest. Spike Milligan was responsible for the script. The Goons were assisted by the Ray Ellington Quartet, The Stargazers, Max Geldray and announcer Andrew Timothy.
The last regular episode was broadcast in 1960, but the cast reunited for a final show in 1972. All of The Goons went on to have solo success. The impact of the Goon Show is hard to overstate, and although all four Goons are no longer alive, their absurd sense of humour can be seen to have influenced many comedians who followed them, not least the Monty Python cast.
BBC Anniversary Website
The Goon Show at 70: an anarchic, rowdy, never-bettered radio comedy
In one episode of The Goon Show, Spike Milligan’s mad magnum opus, foolhardy Seagoon and gentle idiot Eccles are trapped in a deep hole. Here’s how they escape:
Seagoon: Stand on my shoulders and pull me up! Eccles (straining): I’d like to see them do this on television.
Like a stopped clock, Eccles is sometimes right. The first episode of the radio series aired 70 years ago today, and TV has yet to come up with anything like it. How could it? On radio, as Milligan once said, “the pictures are better because they happen on the other side of your eyes.” One Goonish incident takes place on a ship “disguised as a train”: “To make the train seaworthy, it was done up to look like a boat and painted to appear like a tram.”
I am not part of the wireless generation; I was born 33 years after The Goon Show’s final series ended in 1960. But when I discovered it through charity-shop cassettes, as a child no taller than The Goons’ short-trousered boy-scout Bluebottle, I was captivated. Here was an Escher-like universe where a train station could fit easily inside a portable gas stove, where 6,000 miles could be jogged in a minute but crossing a room might take years.
Creating that world tested the limits of radio – and the fledgling BBC Radiophonic Workshop (best known for the theme tune to Doctor Who). Sounds were sped up, reversed or played through four gramophones at once. One script called for a “sound effect of two lions walking away, bumping against each other. If you can’t get two lions, two hippos will do”. Another effect famously involved a sockful of custard.
It also pushed Milligan himself to the brink. Shell-shocked and unstable, he still took on the lion’s (or hippo’s) share of writing, churning out 26 scripts a year to perform with his co-star Goons Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe (Michael Bentine left after the first couple of series). “It really destroyed me… I went in and out of mental homes about every six months,” he told psychiatrist Anthony Clare. He claimed “the best scripts I wrote were when I was ill” – sometimes even writing while institutionalised – but in his manic episodes he might destroy furniture or threaten his co-stars. “I tried to kill Sellers with a potato knife. Either that or I just wanted to peel him.”
His work had a profound influence on those stars of the 1960s counterculture who had grown up on its psychedelic, anti-establishment satire. “The Goon Show was long before and more revolutionary than Look Back in Anger,” John Lennon wrote in 1973. “The Goons influenced the Beatles… our studio sessions were full of the cries of Neddie Seagoon.” Terry Jones, meanwhile, called Monty Python an attempt “to do on TV what The Goons did on radio”.
The Goon Show has dated badly in some ways – Milligan’s appalling Indian accents; topical references to the likes of newsreader John Snagge – but what remains fresh is, for want of a better word, the stagecraft. Critics are belatedly taking notice: an award-winning academic monograph on The Distortion of Time and Space in The Goon Show was published in 2016.
For Verfremdungseffekt, Brecht had nothing on the adventures of Neddie Seagoon. Here was a show which constantly undermined its own artifice, one that would greet listeners with the words “This is the BBC Light Programme and here is a photograph of me saying that”, and force them to wait through 37 seconds of footsteps-on-stairs effects before the punchline: “I can’t understand it, we live in a bungalow.”
I grew up to fall in love with Under Milk Wood and the radio plays of Samuel Beckett, partly because their radical effects felt familiar. When Beckett’s Embers insists that a noise like a broken accordion is “the sound of the sea”, it uses the same kind of eerie disjunction pioneered years earlier by The Goons.
Audio comedy is currently going through a renaissance, led by the podcast boom. Any young comedian looking to explore the medium’s wildest possibilities could still learn a thing or two from The Goons.
Tristram Fane Saunders -Telegraph
TO ME, AGAIN!
THE LISTING IN THE RADIO TIMES
HOME SERVOCE FOR Monday 28th May 1951:
featuring Radio’s Own Crazy Gang ‘The Goons’
with Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers, Michael Bentine, Spike Milligan, Margaret Lindsay and the Ray Ellington Quartet, The Stargazers, Max Geldray
Material compiled by Spike Milligan
The Dance Orchestra
Conducted by Stanley Black
‘Crazy People’ at 6.45
The series is based upon a crazy type of fun evolved by four of our younger laughter-makers. The members of this entertainingly eccentric quartet are old friends: they met during the wartime perambulations of the ‘Stars in Battle-dress.’ Since then Secombe and Sellers have joined the successful company who can top-the-bill. Ex-Etonian Michael Bentine has won his spurs in the West End and Spike Milligan is making a reputation both as a comedian and writer (it is he who has compiled the ‘Goon Show’ material). Now it remains to be seen what will happen when their differing brands of comedy are fused in one show.
Comedian: Harry Secombe
Comedian: Peter Sellers
Comedian: Michael Bentine
Comedian: Spike Milligan
Guest: Margaret Lindsay
Musicians: The Ray Ellington Quartet
Singers: The Stargazers
Harmonica: Max Geldray
Material compiled by: Spike Milligan
Musicians: The Dance Orchestra
Conductor: Stanley Black
Producer: Dennis Main Wilson
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Click on cover for more detail