The Goons on Television

British television was still in its infancy during the 1950's and it is fair to say that it struggled to convey Goon humour at it's best.

One of the biggest issues was that television shows were mainly performed and broadcast live. Where radio provided the freedom for a writer to go anywhere that his imagination took him, live television in a 1950's studio was rather more restrictive.

Another issue was that radio allowed the 3 main cast members to perform nearly every character in the show. This was impossible on live TV, so additional cast members were required to fill the parts.

Despite the restrictions, some TV shows did successfully bring Goon humour to the small screen. Programmes such as 'A Show Called Fred' and 'Son Of Fred' even pushed the boundaries of TV comedy.

Here are the key Goon programmes that were produced...


Goonreel

Writers: Michael Bentine, Jimmy Grafton,Spike Milligan
Director / Producer: Michael Mills
Broadcast:02 July 1952

GoonreelIn July 1952 the BBC-TV broadcast a 45-minute special entitled Goonreel. It was a spoof television newsreel done in typical Goon style and starred Spike Milligan, Michael Bentine, Peter Sellers, and Harry Secombe. The cast also included Andrew Timothy as the commentator, Graham Stark, Eunice Gayson, Sam Kydd and Leslie Crowther.

The script was originally to have been shown as a programme called 'Trial Gallop' earlier that year, but was delayed following the death of King George VI. This is the only television programme to feature all 4 original Goons.


The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d'

Writers: Spike Milligan, Dave Freeman, John Junkin, Terry Nation
Script Editor: Eric Sykes
Director / Producer: Dick Lester
Broadcast: 24 February 1956 to 06 April 1956

The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d' The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d' was the first full Goon style comedy series for television. 6 half hour programmes were broadcast by Associated-Rediffusion Television in the London area only.

Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan were involved, being aided by other entertainers including Eric Sykes, Kenneth Connor, Graham Stark, Valentine Dyall, June Whitfield and Max Geldray.

'Idiot Weekly' was a tatty Victorian newspaper, of which Peter Sellers was the editor. It's headlines were used as links to off-the-wall sketches and allowed the subject matter to change quickly. Due to the fact that the shows were live and fast moving, they were a little ragged at the edges, but still contained ideas that were distinctly goonish.

Spike Milligan is credited with writing the majority of the scripts. However, Associated London Scripts, a co-operative of talented scriptwriters of whom Milligan was a member, also contributed. The title The Idiot Weekly was used again by Spike for an Australian radio show, which ran for three series between June 1958 and November 1962. This has never been broadcast in Britain.


A Show Called Fred

Writer: Spike Milligan
Director / Producer: Dick Lester
Broadcast: 02 May 1956 to 30 May 1956

A Show Called FredLess than a month after the end of The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d', Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers returned with a further attempt to translate the lunacy of The Goon Show to the small screen. This time Spike Milligan wrote the 5 episodes alone.

Again, it was broadcast by Associated-Rediffusion Television in the London area only, and again the result was reasonably successful, creating a crazy visual style to match the bizarre audio antics that elevated the radio series above its contemporaries. The cast included those from 'The Idiot Weekly' series including Valentine Dyall, Kenneth Connor, Graham Stark, Patti Lewis and Max Geldray.


Son Of Fred

Writer: Spike Milligan
Director / Producer: Dick Lester
Broadcast: 17 September 1956 to 05 November 1956

Son of FredBy the latter part of 1956, Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers completed the follow-up series of 'A Show Called Fred', entitled 'Son of Fred'. They were again broadcast by Associated-Rediffusion Television, but this time in London, the Midlands and the North of the UK.

The cast included those from the earlier series and a few others including Valentine Dyall, Kenneth Connor, Graham Stark, Patti Lewis, Max Geldray, Cuthbert Harding, johnny Vyvyan, Jennifer Lautrec, Mario Fabrizi and The Alberts. Interestingly, Milligan restricted himself merely to fleeting walk-on roles.

This was a very significant series in the development of TV comedy. By now Milligan was growing tired with the standard format of sketch-show comedy and began to experiment with even more outlandish humour, sketches without a real tag line and animated sequences to link sketches.

The format was years ahead of it's time and evidently the 1950's audience and TV executives were not completely ready for this type of humour, so the show ended after 8 episodes. It was eight years before Spike Milligan would do another sketch show in 1964 with Milligan's Wake and a full 13 years until Milligan would begin his acclaimed 'Q' comedy series in 1969.

These shows never found the massive success of the radio version of The Goon Show. However, the legacy of the Goons and these early 'Fred' shows goes much further. It is widely acknowledged that they pushed the boundaries of TV comedy using a format that the likes of 'Monty Python Flying Circus' would make hugely popular in the late 60's and 70's.


The Telegoons

Script Editor: Maurice Wiltshire
Producer: Tony Young
Series 1 Broadcast: 05 October 1963 to 20 December 1963
Series 2 Broadcast: 28 March 1964 to 01 August 1964

The TelegoonsThree years after the last Goon Show series ended, the BBC broadcast 'The Telegoons'. Television scriptwriter Maurice Wiltshire shortened and re-worked 26 original Goon Show scripts to 2 series of 15 minute puppet films.

Wiltshire had co-written some of original Goon Shows and was well placed to adapt the scripts. He edited the scripts and added a good amount of visual humour to suit the TV medium.

The Goon characters to were brought to life by string and rod puppets, which combined with traditional cartoon animation and library footage gave the programmes a unique look. The puppets' visual characteristics were based on Spike Milligan's doodled impressions of how they might look, creating a somewhat grotesque but worthwhile visual interpretation. The sound tracks were freshly recorded by The Goons, which brought them back together again for the first time in several years.

The Telegoons was not particularly successful with its adult audience. However, it was popular with the younger television viewing generation which led to regular Telegoon comic strips in 'TV Comic'. Find out more about The Telegoons at www.telegoons.org


The Goon Show - Tales of Men's Shirts

Writer: Spike Milligan
Producer: Peter Eaton
Broadcast: 08 August 1968

The Goon Show - Tales of Men's ShirtsThis was in effect a televised radio production of an original Goon Show script, broadcast by Thames Televison. The three Goons reunited with the addition of John Cleese as announcer. This followed 2 years after the Goons re-enacted 'The Whistling Spy Enigma' for inclusion in a broadcast of 'Secombe and Friends'.


The Last Goon Show of All

Writer: Spike Milligan
Producer: John Browell
Broadcast: 26 December 1972

The Last Goon Show of AllAs part of the BBC's 50th anniversay celebrations, The Goons performed their final Goon Show, which was specially written for the occasion. Again, this was simply a televised radio production that included the musicians Max Geldray and Ray Ellington, plus the shows original announcer - Andrew Timothy. The Show was broadcast on BBC1 and BBC Radio 4 and subsequently released on LP.


Michael Parkinson Meets The Goons

Interviewer: Michael Parkinson
Broadcast: 28 October 1972

Michael Parkinson Meets The GoonsAlthough not a Goon performance as such, all three Goons were interviewed on Michael Parkinson's chat show in 1972. Spike Milligan was ill in Australia and participated via filmed inserts. Sellers and Secombe talked about their lives and The Goon Show. Music was provided by Ray Ellington. These interviews were subsequently released on LP.