Tag: Spike Milligan

Melodious Mirth 3

My mini-outbreak of musical mayhem continues with Spike Jones’s transatlantic legacy – one Terence Alan Patrick Sean Milligan who, disliking his first name, began to call himself Spike after hearing the City Slickers on Radio Luxemburg.

Further unacknowledged Wikipedia borrowings below, folks!

The “Ying Tong Song” (also known by its refrain, which is variously either “Ying Tong Diddle I Po”  or “Ying Tong Yiddle I Po” rather than the oft-quoted but apparently absent “Ying Tong Iddle I Po”) was a novelty song performed by the Goons, usually led by Harry Secombe. Spike claimed he wrote the song as a bet with his brother that he could not get a song into the hit parade that had only two chords (in this case G and D7).

It is a nonsense song, consisting of small verses interspersed by a completely nonsensical chorus. The origin of the title is said to have come from Harry Secombe’s mispronunciation of the name of Milligan’s war-time friend and fellow jazz musician, Harry Edgington. When Secombe repeatedly called him “Edgerton”, Milligan replied, “it’s Edgington, Edgington” and emphasized the point by saying “Yington, Yington” Elsewhere, Milligan mentions that Edgington was often referred to as Edge-Ying-Tong.

Secombe spoke the lead vocals, accompanied by Spike and Peter Sellers who sang along  as various Goon show characters – Bluebottle and Major Bloodnok, to name but two.  Secombe had a glorious tenor voice but, as he was signed to Philips Records, did not sing on any of the Goons’ Decca recordings of the 1950s – including this song – only speaking his words. Their producer was one George Martin, whose work with the Goons was a massive attraction to the Beatles when they came to sign with him in 1962 …

Ah, these wheels within wheels of time! It’s hard to describe why all of this makes me feel so happy, though I suspect such feelings are shared by many other Brits of my generation. We grew up listening to this stuff, lying on the floor beside our Dansette record players and flipping the 45s – or were they 78s? – over and over. As I recall, the other side was “Bloodnok’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Call” with special guest appearance from the Major’s ‘childhood sweetheart, spotty Minnie Bannister’ …

Warning: if you play these songs back-to-back, you may require medical assistance!


Rolling in the Aisles …

There seems to be something of a laughter deficit at the moment. Real laughter brings a therapeutic loss of Control and I’ve seen grown men and women helpless with laughter when Spike Milligan does his stuff. Without laughter we lose perspective, so here is Spike (aged 76) accepting a Lifetime Achievement gong at the British Comedy Awards:

Postscript:  Immediately after this event, Spike sent a fax to Prince Charles which read: “I suppose a knighthood is out of the question?”

Millagain …

When I saw the Daily Prompt word was Spike, how could I resist another tribute to the comic genius who kept us UK kids rolling around on the floor in the 1950s? Humour is notoriously hard to explain, so I’ll settle for affection … perhaps you’ll get a warm feeling from these acrostics.

For my earlier tribute to Spike Milligan, click https://davekingsbury.wordpress.com/2015/11/10/spike-in-audience-ratings/?frame-nonce=6d17e5a226

S illy Verse For Kids – we felt the
P ain of laughing till we cried but never had an
I nkling that you wrote the book to
K eep your own kids grinning, in agonised
E xpectation that divorce might tear them from you.

S ometimes the solemn
P retence of adult life
I s given a good
K icking when one of us breaks ranks and starts to
E ntertain his inner child.

S ad little Bluebottle,
P ipsqueak
I n
K neebritches, angry with
E ccles!


Image result for Spike Milligan


Image: ABC

Spike in Audience Ratings

It’s official!

The World’s Funniest Joke is – or rather was, in 2002 – this little gem:

Two hunters are out in the woods in New Jersey when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed.

The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, ‘My friend is dead! What can I do?’ The operator says: ‘Calm down, I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.’ There is a silence, then a shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says ‘OK, now what?’

Everyone knows that you can’t analyse humour, any more than you can capture music in words. Trying to work out why something is funny is like dissecting a frog to find out what makes it tick. The joke came top in a survey and the organiser has his own ideas about why it was so popular:

Professor Wiseman said the gag almost certainly originated from a 1951 Goons sketch written by Spike Milligan. He thought the joke contained all three elements of what makes a good gag – anxiety, a feeling of superiority, and an element of surprise.

“It plays on the death theme and it makes us feel superior to the complete idiot who does not understand,” he said. “It also has the surprise element as we don’t see the death coming.”

“I think Spike was a genius with that great kind of surreal humour,” he added. “He actually once wrote a sketch about finding the world’s funniest joke so it’s a fantastic quirk.”


Now all this comes as no surprise to us British post-war baby-boomers. We grew up laughing at Spike’s anarchic comedy and our forced landing in sober-sided adulthood was cushioned by two TV shows that owed a huge debt to his madcap legacy – Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Not Only … But Also.


I was too young to hear the Goon Show broadcast live, though I’ve heard most of it since. My first dose of Milligan was Silly Verse For Kids, a Christmas present for 1959. My brother and I would roll around the floor to stuff like this:

Today I saw a little worm / A-wriggling on his belly / Perhaps he’d like to come inside / And see what’s on the telly

There were holes in the sky / Where the rain gets in / But they’re ever so small / That’s why rain is thin

The following year, what reduced us to quivering jelly were the letters to Harry Secombe written on a sea voyage in A Dustbin of Milligan. One joke, reconstructed from memory, is typical Spike – he reminds me of a high-diver, who can only gain the best scores by attempting a greater level of difficulty:

The motto of the Shipping Company was, The More You Eat The Cheaper You Travel. This morning at breakfast I left a Scotsman trying to eat enough to enable him to travel free.

Who else would have dared that one? The intensity of Spike’s clowning, I discovered recently, came from writing these books while he was terrified that his bi-polar breakdowns would destroy his marriage and thus stop his access to the children. He was writing the silly stuff to keep his kids on his side. And to think, we all benefited from that … don’t know about you, but it sends a shiver up and down my spine. Laughter and tears are always closer than you think.

Aged 17 I went to see him in his West-End one-man show Son of Oblomov, the story of a young man who spends all day in bed. As you can imagine, I found that easy to relate to. There had been a full cast but they couldn’t keep up with Spike and dropped out one by one. The show opens with a spotlight on a bed. Somebody is under the covers. There is a loud knocking at the door and Spike’s head emerges from the bedclothes, with a daft nightcap, to furious applause. He establishes instant audience rapport by miming a hilarious range of emotions before going to a door and nervously opening it. Light floods in but nothing else.

Puzzled, he indicates he will go out and investigate. So far he hasn’t uttered a word. He exits. We are then treated to a lengthy symphony of ridiculous noises – screeches, bells, whistles, explosions and more – both live and recorded, before Spike enters from the opposite side of the stage at pace, his nightshirt flapping around his thin legs, slamming that door behind him. Panting, he turns to the audience and announces: ‘Nobody there!’ Rushing back to bed, he dives under the covers. The spotlight fades to black.

A little while and many laughs later, Spike spots a couple of late-comers pushing past audience knees to their seats. He asks for the house lights to be turned up and sits on the edge of the stage, legs dangling. “The story so far, folks!” he says and proceeds to tell them what has happened, mysteriously adding one element that hasn’t.

The couple sit down and the ‘action’ continues for a bit. Then Spike says something that causes this couple and nobody else to burst out laughing. They falter in confusion as everyone else slowly cottons on to his brilliant ruse and their laughter builds like a series of waves. I’ve never heard anything like it. We are in the hands of a comedy god, a cosmic conjurer, playing with us like toys. The show continued and I actually saw people falling out of their seats with laughter. It is one of my happiest memories.

Spike’s appearances on TV chat-shows were like high-wire acts. Would he make the perilous catwalk or crash to the ground? You never knew. Some – like my grandma who’d tut-tutted at first seeing the Beatles – just found him silly. She was right, of course, but I always thrilled to his wild risk-taking. How could you know what was acceptable unless you found out where the line was?

The putative Pythons had come up with a lot of funny sketches with weak punch-lines. Terry Jones talks of a light-bulb moment when, walking upstairs, he suddenly remembered Spike’s Q5 show. With such a dense flow of jokes, you didn’t need punch-lines. Just bring on a comedy policemen to stop the nonsense. And Terry Gilliam explains how he was given the ending of one sketch and the beginning of another and asked to come up with a cartoon to join them. That’s freedom, he grins.


Favourite moments in Q5 include the Dalek coming home for his tea and a spoof David Attenborough visiting the East End Cock-a-Knees as if they are some exotic foreign tribe. Spike’s radical comedy kicked a hole in stuffy and genteel post-war ‘humorousness’ and greatly broadened the scope of what could be attempted. As to The Goons, there are so many wonderful moments – who can forget Eccles explaining the advantages of the stopped watch that’s right twice a day? But here is my favourite moment. You need to do the voices to get the full benefit but, hey, I’ll take the risk that it will fall as flat as a pancake. Spike was never afraid to risk that.

Bluebottle                                                                                                                                                                     How dare you call me thick! I’ll have you know, I’m as intelligent as the next man!


Eccles                                                                                                                                                                              Oi’m da next man!