Beginners Guide to The Goon Show

If you are new to The Goon Show, here is a brief introduction to the classic radio comedy series and why it still remains popular.

What is the Goon Show?

The Goon Show was a radio comedy show broadcast by the BBC. It changed the face of British comedy and influenced later comedy including Monty Python, Eddie Izzard and many more!

When and where was it on?

It was broadcast in the the UK between May 1951 and January 1960. There were ten series in total, plus a series entitled 'Vintage Goons' that consisted of some re-performed episodes from the fourth series. Shows were released in other countries including Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, India and Canada. Episodes continue to be repeated around the world today.

Who were the cast?

There were originally four main cast members: Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine.

Spike Milligan would later be considered by many to be "The grandfather of modern British comedy" due to his work on The Goon Show and subsequent comedies. Peter Sellers would go on to become a world famous comic actor, best known for playing Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies. Harry Secombe remained a well loved singer and entertainer throughout his career. Michael Bentine left the group after only a few series and before the show reached it's peak of success. He went on to have individual success as an author and comedian.

What characters were there?

As the show developed a number of main characters began to appear regularly and become well loved by audiences. Neddie Seagoon is an honest but gullible idiot, he is the main character whom the plot revolves around. Eccles is an complete and utter idiot. Bluebottle is a young, lustful boy scout with a squeaky voice. Major Bloodnok is a corrupt military cad. Henry Crun and Minnie Bannister are a feeble old couple. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne and Count Moriarty are a couple of scheming and unscrupulous criminals.

How did it start?

All of the cast members served in the military during the World War Two and became involved in entertaining the troops, this subsequently lead onto showbiz careers when they left the military. By the late forties they were all carving out individual careers in London. They met or were introduced to each other and decided to create a radio show, being encouraged and advised by friend, scriptwriter and pub landlord Jimmy Grafton.

Who wrote it?

Spike Milligan was the creative force and main writer of The Goon Show, however he was often assisted by a co-writers such as Larry Stephens or Eric Sykes. Occasionally if Milligan was unable to writer the show, others would script entire show.

Format of the show

Entertainment shows of the time were largely based on the old music hall tradition with songs, speciality acts and comedians telling gags. The format of the show was similar to many other radio comedies, consisting of a number of comedy sketches and musical interludes. From the third series, episodes moved towards having one overall plot with two musical interludes with the same characters beginning to appear in each episode.

Why was it so revolutionary?

To appreciate affect of The Goon Show, it is useful to understand the world at that time. Television was still in its infancy during the 1950's and radio shows attracted huge audiences. World War Two ended six years before The Goon Show started, but Britain was still recovering. Food and petrol were still rationed and post-war austerity meant Britain was a rather drab and downtrodden place.

The dignified "stiff upper lip" attitude still prevailed, but many who lived through the war were more inclined to question the rules and authorities that controlled their lives. Onto this scene burst The Goons with a quick fire, irreverent brand of humour that mocked those in establishment and offered a different farcical view of the world.What made The Goon Show different was it's attitude. The comedy was edgier than it contemporaries and it used mad characters, satire and ground breaking sound effects in a surreal way unlike anything had done before.