Spike Milligan – A Personal Reflection
Even though I grew up in the late 60s and early 70s the Goon show formed an important part of my childhood. The original shows had long been recorded and were definitely of the previous generation (I was more of a Goodies fan and later Monty Python of course), but they were still played regularly on Radio 4 and we had a Goon Show script book in the library at choir school which my friend David Fisk and I would avidly read through trying all the voices.
One of my very earliest memories is my Dad putting on his 78 record of the Ying Tong Song and singing along syllable perfect, there was also “Bluebottle Blues” and “I’m Walking Backwards for Christmas”, played endlessly till the groove was worn out.
I was reading “Silly Verse for Kids” from a very early age, which I loved. Then my uncle gave me the “Book of Milliganimals” for my 7th birthday, and that sealed the deal. I was officially a lifelong Spike fan, memorising most of the poems and re-reading the Bald Twit Lion more times than I could say. When something you read makes you laugh out loud when you are on your own until it hurts you remember those times fondly. The concept of monkeys hanging in the sky waiting years for the trees to reach them resonated with me like nothing else, and it has been wonderful to discover as I grew that many other people feel the same about this unique imagination. Spike Milligan has been and probably will be the single most influential comic mind of our time and possibly any other, and it would be a brave person who could argue otherwise given the weight of evidence that supports this claim.
They say you should never meet your heroes but I very nearly did. In the late 80s I was starting out as a professional musician and often sang around London churches building up a list of contacts and deputy lists – one of these places was in Knightsbridge where they often hosted celebrity weddings. So I found myself as one of the quartet booked to be the choir at the wedding of Bill Wyman and Mandy Smith, complete with TV news cameras and more paparazzi than could fit in the churchyard. Normally you just turn up at these occasions, sing the hymns and a Rutter anthem, no one says anything and you are ushered out of the vestry door unceremoniously. This was a little different as apparently they were so taken by the “singing” of the choir that we were invited to the reception at the Grosvenor House Hotel Park Lane. Well we weren’t going to turn an offer like that down and found ourselves in a melee of celebrity. Literally everyone you ever heard of was there, and we had to explain ourselves quite a lot. I was sat next to Jimmy Perry and David Croft (writers of Dad’s Army) and across the table from Jeff Banks the fashion designer, who was very friendly as I recall.
Suddenly there was a commotion and everyone looked over to where the fuss was – Spike had arrived bringing with him his wedding present for Bill – a zimmer frame. Of course it brought the house down in the same way that his infamous outburst about Prince Charles at the award ceremony would in later years. All this time later I’m not sure why I hadn’t plucked up courage to say hello. I think I started offering peanuts around awkwardly and Kim Wilde took one, but that was as close as I got.
In 1998 “On The Ning Nang Nong” was voted the Uk’s most popular comic poem of all time. There are musical versions, including one for an Australian kids TV show, but recently I thought this really deserves a proper choral treatment, so here it is; along with settings of “There Are Holes In The Sky” and “I’ve Never Felt Finer”, both among my personal favourites. We are so very honoured that Spike’s family have agreed to an exclusive publishing deal with us here at ChoirCommunity so this is the only place you will find these settings. They have also never been performed as a set so you have the chance to present a World Premiere if you act fast! Click here to preview the arrangements.
…and if they go down well you might be getting news of possible additions to the set – as the great man once said – “And there’s more my friends where that came from!”
Craig McLeish – September 16th 2019