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The Goon Show

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The Goon Show was a British radio programme of the 1950s, originally airing from 1951 to 1960 in the UK. Episodes are still regularly broadcast in Australia and New Zealand and are still occasionally repeated on BBC Radio 2 or Radio 4 in the UK. More recently the show has become a regular feature on the new digital archive radio station BBC 7.

The series was devised and written by Spike Milligan with occasional assistance from others such as Eric Sykes and Larry Stephens[?] under the watchful eye of Jimmy Grafton[?] (KOGVOS-Keeper Of The Goons and Voice Of Sanity).

Performed by Milligan, Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe (the first two seasons also featured Michael Bentine), the Goon Show was an extremely popular comedy show on the BBC Home Service. The scripts mixed ludicrous plots with surreality, puns, catchphrases and an array of silly sound effects. Note, however, that some of the content had logic in it - note the piece of paper showing 8 o'clock; if it's 8 o'clock it tells the time. If it isn't 8 o'clock don't look at it. How do you know when it's 8 o'clock? By looking at the piece of paper....

"The Telegoons" (1963-4) was a 15-minute BBC puppet show featuring the voices of Milligan, Secombe and Sellers and adapted from the radio scripts.

In 1972 the Goons reunited to perform "The Last Goon Show of All" for radio and television, before an invited audience that didn't, however, include long-time fan Prince Charles.

In 2001 the BBC recorded a "new" Goon Show, "Goon Again", featuring Andrew Secombe (son of Harry), Jon Glover and Jeffrey Holland, based on two unpreserved series 3 episodes from 1953, "The Story of Civilisation" and "The Plymouth Ho Armada", both written by Milligan and Stephens.

Many of the earliest radio episodes no longer exist. Only one episode from series 4 (1953-4) survives, and only selected episodes from later series were selected for preservation in the BBC Sound Archive. However, commencing with the start of series 5 (1954), BBC Transcription Services began making copies for overseas sales, and even commissioned re-recordings of some key series 4 episodes.

The Transcription Services versions were cut to remove topical and parochial material and anything that might be potentially offensive (and the Goon Show did feature quite a lot of politically incorrect humour, much of it sneaked past the noses of BBC censors). For many years these abridged versions were the only surviving copies of many episodes, but in recent years the BBC has done a huge amount of research work to find and restore the missing footage, often literally from the cutting room floor.

To date, the BBC has released no fewer than 20 CD sets of these remastered episodes, making a total of 80 shows, plus "The Last Goon Show of All" and "Goon Again". Another 12 shows had been previously issued by EMI, but for contractual reasons these were all heavily cut to remove musical interludes and other music cues, and to this day they are the only commercially available versions of those particular episodes.

The show was extremely influential. The future members of Monty Python's Flying Circus were fans, but ironically their efforts over-shadowed Milligan's later TV efforts. It is fair to say that British alternative comedy based its modern form on the model created for the Goon Show by Spike Milligan.

Regular members

  • Harry Secombe as Neddie Seagoon, usually the hero, affable but gullible idiot.
  • Spike Milligan as
    • (The Famous) "Mad Dan" Eccles, idiot supreme.
    • Miss Minnie Bannister, elderly spinster with an interesting past.
    • Count Moriarty, impecunious French idiot and Grytpype-Thynne's sidekick.
    • Throat or Miss Throat, with the very gravelly voice.
    • Little Jim, with the single line "He's fallen in the wa-ater".
  • Peter Sellers as
    • Major Dennis Bloodnok, military cad, lecher and idiot.
    • Hercules Grytpype-Thynne, a suave, well-educated impecunious homosexual cad and swindler.
    • Henry Crun, aged idiot inventor and beau of Minnie Bannister.
    • Bluebottle, young lecherous Boy Scout and idiot - often "deaded", pre-dating South Park's Kenny.
    • Willium "Mate" Cobblers, working-class cockney idiot.
    • Sinjiz Thing, an Indian idiot.
  • Michael Bentine was part of the regular cast for the first two seasons, often playing Prof. Osric Pureheart.

Other members

  • Wallace Greenslade - announcer, he opened and closed each show (often parodying the traditional BBC announcing style), and occasionally played himself in an episode, as well as other small parts.
  • Ray Ellington (not related to the Duke) and his Quartet - singer and drummer and occasional player of small parts. The Quartet acted as rhythm section for the show's orchestra.
  • Max Geldray - jazz harmonica player (but no actor).
  • Wally Stott and his Orchestra - the house band.
  • George Chisholm - one of the show's regular musicians, sometimes called upon to play Scottish characters

Guest appearances

  • John Snagge - doyen of BBC newsreaders, who like Wallace also played himself, a great supporter of the show.
  • Valentine Dyall[?] - radio's "Man in Black", often called upon to play sinister characters.
  • Jack Train[?] - made two appearances reprising his role as Colonel Chinstrap from ITMA, who fits into the Goon framework surprisingly well.

They made a number of records including 'I'm Walking Backwards for Christmas' (originally sung by Milligan in the show to fill in during a musicians' strike), 'Bloodnok's Rock and Roll Call' (the first British record with the word "rock" in its title) and its B-side 'The Ying Tong Song', which was reissued as an A-side in the mid-1970s and became a surprise novelty hit.

In the movies the following were a product of Goon activity:

  • Let's Go Crazy (1951)
  • Penny Points to Paradise (1951)
  • Down Among the Z Men (1952) (with Bentine)
  • The Case of the Mukkinese Battle Horn (1956) (a two-reeler starring Milligan, Sellers and Dick Emery[?])
  • The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film (1959) (a one-reeler starring Milligan and Sellers, directed by Dick Lester[?])

Resources:

  • http://www.goon.org/
  • http://minnie.tuhs.org/Goons/
  • The Goon Show Archive (http://minnie.tuhs.org/Goons/index2)
  • The Goon Show YAQ (http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=2pkt9s%24m3j%40ccu2.auckland.ac.nz&output=gplain): Google Usenet archive
  • the alt.fan.goons (news:alt.fan.goons) newsgroup exists to discuss the Goon show and Goon-related things
  • BBC On-line Shop (http://www.bbcshop.com/bbc_shop/dept.asp?shop=bbc&dept_id=39)
  • The Goon Show Companion: A History and Goonography by Roger Wilmut and Jimmy Grafton (1976) remains the definitive book on the series, but has never been updated.



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