Today in History... Comic genius Spike Milligan dies

Terence Alan Patrick Seán Milligan, better known as Spike Milligan was born in British India in 1918, to an Irish father and English mother.

From his teenage years onwards, Spike quickly displayed a prodigious talent for comedy, and also as a jazz musician, writing sketches as early as the late 1930s and teaching himself to play various instruments, notably the trumpet.

Milligan and fellow musician Harry Edgington were assigned to the North African campaign, then the Italian campaign, during the Second World War, but even here they played and created surreal stories to amuse themselves and the troops.

Spike believed that this infuriated his commanding officer, as the mood of grim, beaten doom determination that the Major thought was best cultivated in soldiers was impossible when they were being put in a chirpy mood.

Following the war, and a brief time as a professional jazz player, Milligan, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine created the Goon Show, a surreal comedy show for the radio. Milligan was the main writer (along with collaborators such as Eric Sykes) and one of the main performers.

The Goon Show made Milligan and the others very famous (although the strain of writing eventually caused him to have a breakdown) and their many fans included an enthusiastic Prince Charles.

Milligan also made a number of forays into televisions (notably Q), one of which alarmed some of the Monty Python team who were just coming together, and saw Spike as having produced a complete version of the sort of comedy they'd been slowly putting together.

Spike's poetry, mostly nonsense verse (though with some more serious pieces) is also greatly celebrated, with his poem, On the Ning Nang Nong,voted the UK's favourite comic poem in 1998.

Following his death in 2002, Spike's possessions have had an impact on the memorabilia market, with Bonhams devoting a sale to them in 2008.

Those possessions included a number pieces signed or gifted to Spike by all the Beatles, (perhaps most notably a handwritten poem by Paul McCartney entitled The Poet of Dumbwomans Lane which brought £6,000) as well as personal cards signed by Prince Charles and Diana.

Spike Milligan poem Auction Stations
Spike Milligan's Auction Stations

Most fitting, however was an autographed poem by Spike called Auction Stations:

With hand signals or polite cough
He bid twenty five million
For a Vincent Van Gogh
For that sort of money
I'd chop my ear off

-which brought, if not £25m a solid £3,000.


Image: Bonhams

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