It happened today - May 28, 2016
A big shout-out to Bluebottle, Mad Dan Eccles, Henry, Min, Grytpype, Dennis Blodnok and the whole crew on the anniversary of the May 28, 1951 launch of the BBC radio comedy The Goon Show featuring Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe. And the impeccable upper-crust accent of announcer Wallace Greenslade, trying to keep his poise amid the lunacy.
If you’re familiar with the Goon Show, nothing more need be said. But it will be anyway, including the fact that the legendary “Fifth Beatle,” producer George Michaels, was involved in recording Goon Show records before meeting the Fab Four who were, as boys, all devotees of the show. In fact, he introduced Sellers and the Beatles which is why, among many other things, you can laugh so hard you cry watching Sellers do the lyrics to “A Hard Day’s Night” in overwrought 1950s BBC Shakespeare style.
If you’re not familiar with the Goon Show, you really need to listen to it. For nine brilliant years it ruled the airwaves, making household names of the stars, and also of Greenslade (who only got the job because a more senior announcer, Andrew Timothy, felt it would impair his dignity) and musician Ray Ellington, who turned out to have considerable comic genius. And musician Max Geldray who, well, didn’t.
My own parents listened to it while studying in Britain in the 1950s. And when it was brought to Toronto radio in 1972, they started playing it for us, and I was astounded and hooked instantly.
It had the same effect in its original run on the future Monty Python troupe. But IMHO the Goon Show holds up much better than Monty Python despite being decades older.
It’s a technologically different world, of course, where there were no computers and no smart phones and TV was a novelty. But Milligan’s genius as the main writer, and that of all three and the bit players as radio actors, is genuinely immortal, from Sellers’ lecherous and cowardly Major Bloodnok to Milligan’s idiot Eccles to Secombe’s hapless protagonist Ned Seagoon. Sellers could even turn the arch-villain Grytpype’s dry “Please… don’t do that” into a catchphrase, while only Milligan could have created such a name as “Hercules Grytpype-Thynne” and made it work.
The good men do is oft interred with their bones. But in the case of these three, all now passed on to that great studio in the sky, the frequently astonished laughter has never stopped.
If you haven’t listened to the madcap brilliance that invariably followed Greenslade’s staid straight-man “This is the BBC”, you absolutely owe it to yourself. If you have, listen again.