Spike Milligan

I seem to have a great gaping hole in my knowledge of comedy history. I had heard the name Spike Milligan, but never followed up on it to learn more. Of course, a quick visit to wikipedia to get started:

Terence Alan Patrick Seán “Spike” Milligan KBE (16 April 1918 – 27 February 2002) was a comedian, writer, musician, poet, playwright, soldier and actor. Milligan’s early life was spent in India, where he was born, but the majority of his working life was spent in the United Kingdom. He became an Irish citizen in 1962 after the British government declared him stateless.[1] He was the co-creator, main writer and a principal cast member of The Goon Show, performing a range of roles including the popular Eccles.

Milligan wrote and edited many books, including Puckoon and his seven-volume autobiographical account of his time serving during the Second World War, beginning with Adolf Hitler: My part in his downfall. He is also noted as a popular writer of comical verse; much of his poetry was written for children, including Silly Verse for Kids (1959). After success with the ground-breaking British radio programme, The Goon Show, Milligan translated this success to television with Q5, a surreal sketch show which is credited as a major influence on the members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

There is a wealth of material available on youtube, and I chose this because it’s done in silent movie style.

And this one is also silent:

And a musical number:

The man who died laughing

The Goodies were a trio of English comedians who performed on TV in the seventies and early eighties. There is a unusual story associated with them:

From wikipedia:

On 24 March 1975 Alex Mitchell, a 50-year-old bricklayer from King’s Lynn, literally died laughing while watching an episode of The Goodies. According to his wife, who was a witness, Mitchell was unable to stop laughing whilst watching a sketch in the episode “Kung Fu Kapers” in which Tim Brooke-Taylor, dressed as a kilted Scotsman, used a set of bagpipes to defend himself from a black pudding-wielding Bill Oddie (master of the ancient Lancastrian martial art “Ecky-Thump”) in a demonstration of the Scottish martial art of “Hoots-Toot-ochaye.” After twenty-five minutes of continuous laughter Mitchell finally slumped on the settee and died from heart failure. His widow later sent the Goodies a letter thanking them for making Mitchell’s final moments so pleasant

Here is the opening of the “Ecky-Thump”, followed by the infamous final scene:

Shooting Stars

On youtube I discovered this “Comedy Connections” show from England. It is a series about British television comedy. I think I’m going to spend a lot of time watching them.

This was the first one I watched, a profile of a show called Shooting Stars, which I have not heard of. It’s a four part video, and your welcome to watch as much as you like, but it’s the first minute of part 1 that sold me. About 55 seconds in they pull a gag that’s totally cartoon quality.

How come the English can do wordless TV animation?

Not long ago, Cartoon Brew posted some videos of the new Bugs and Daffy TV show.  As usual,  the producers hired a bunch of witty writers to come up with jokes for Bugs and Daffy.  Lots of attitude, but little action.

So why is it the English can turn out great TV animation that uses almost no dialog? What I’m thinking of are these two shows.  The Animated Mr. Bean, and Shaun the Sheep from Aardman. Here are samples.

Grim Tales

Rik Mayall is one of my favorite actors.  He was part of the great British television series “The Young Ones”.  Many Americans may recognize him as Drop Dead Fred. I first saw him on a kid’s program called “Grim Tales” where he was a storyteller acting out all the parts in Grimm’s fairy tales.  I love his wacky, subversive style.

The program also included puppetry and short sections of stop motion animation done with unusual materials, with Mayall continuing the narration.  It is another example of creative people on a budget producing marvelous work.  I recorded them all on VHS, but that tape has been lost. The videos are available on youtube, however the quality isn’t any better than my old tapes. Here are a couple of examples. Watch his face morph as he switches rolls.

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