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On this day in history in 2002, died Spike Milligan.
Milligan was a scriptwriter, musician, artist and comedian who became famous for his performances in The Goon Show.
Terrance Alan Milligan was born on 16th April 1918, at Ahmednager, India, the son of Leo Milligan, a gentleman of Irish descent, serving in the British army. Although Milligan spent most of his life in Britain, strangely he was not classed as a British citizen, due to his birth in India and his father’s antecedents.
In the 1930’s Milligan performed as a jazz vocalist and trumpeter, and wrote and performed comedy sketches. In 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War, Milligan served in the Royal Artillery, with the First army, firstly in North Africa and then in Italy. He was wounded in action and hospitalised with shell shock. Milligan later published his ‘war memoirs’ in two volumes, entitled Adolph Hitler: My Part in his Downfall, and Rommel: Gunner Who? A Confrontation in the Desert. These works described the state of the British army at the time, its lack of preparation for war, the incompetence of senior officers and the naïve zeal of the enlisted men, composed in a witty humorous style that belied the serious nature of its content. Milligan spent the remainder of the war in a concert party, entertaining the troops. At that time, he wrote scripts which exhibited many of the essential elements of The Goon Show.
After demob, Milligan returned to Britain, working in musical and comedy acts, while writing scripts, which he hoped would be performed on radio. He became involved with a group, including Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers and Michael Bentine, known as ‘Crazy People’, a group which rapidly transformed into The Goon Show. This radio series intermingled preposterous plots, surreal humour and outrageous gags, with a background of bizarre sound effects. The show satirized contemporary life in Britain, especially such establishment organisations as the civil service, police and educational institutions.
Milligan was noted for his intense humour, which was not reserved solely for his comic performances. Appearing on Desert Island Discs, he requested a credit card as his luxury item. After making a derisory remark on television, regard the Prince of Wales, one of his greatest fans, Milligan faxed His Royal Highness, saying ‘I suppose a knighthood is out of the question?’ After the death of his old friend, Harry Secombe, he remarked, "I'm glad he died before me, because I didn't want him to sing at my funeral!" Despite his faux pas, regarding the Prince of Wales, Milligan received his knighthood in 2000.
Milligan died on 27th February 2002 at his home in Rye, East Sussex, and was buried at Winchelsea. [St Thomas Church, High Street, Winchelsea, East Sussex, TN36 4EB] Milligan had often said that he had wanted to be buried in a washing machine, “to confuse the archeologists”, but this could not be organised. He also wanted his tombstone to bear the inscription ‘I told you I was ill!” but the church authorities would not allow this. Instead the words were translated and written in the Irish language.
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