The Goons met in the 1940s before going on to create the most influential comedy show of their era. Like many of the post war entertainers, they all began performing whilst serving in the forces. Here is a brief history of the show and its cast.
WAR. All 4 founder members of the Goons were involved in World War 2 (as was most of the world). Individually, the Goons get involved in entertaining the armed forces.
WAR ends. Score 2-0 to the allies. The atomic bomb stops play.
By now all 4 original Goons are in London carving out individual careers on stage and radio and Spike is getting into script writing. They begin to gather at a pub called 'Graftons' which becomes a popular watering hole for them and other up and coming stars. Jimmy Grafton, the Landlord of the pub (and scriptwriter) is instrumental in getting the Goons started at the BBC. He will also edit the early series of the show.
The BBC are approached by the Goons with their ideas for a new radio show. They are eventually given a chance.
A pilot episode was made in early February and the first series started on the BBC in May. The first series was titled 'Crazy People' as the BBC did not like the name 'The Goon Show'. These early shows contained a number of short sketches and musical interludes. Many of the characters to be loved later pop up in these early shows. By the end of the year the show finally gets its intended title 'The Goon Show'.
At the end of the second series, 4 becomes 3 as Michael Bentine leaves to pursue other aspects of his life and career. The shows become more developed with the same characters appearing each week. The madcap comedy, characters and sound effects become more ined.
The original announcer (Andrew Timothy) leaves, saying he 'feared for his sanity'. He is replaced by Wallace 'Bill' Greenslade. During series 3 Spike suffers his first nervous breakdown and misses 12 programs. Larry Stephens and Maurice Whiltshire do most of the writing, with Sellers and other actors playing Milligan's characters during this period. With the next (4th) series, the show begins to have a single plot giving the show its well known format.
The BBC Transcription service starts to record shows, making them available to organisations in other countries. This gives the show an international audience. Eric Sykes starts to assist in writing some shows.
1954 to 1959
The show becomes hugely sucessful with large listening figures. All 3 Goons become established household names both for The Goon Show and in their own right.
Milligan announces that the 9th series will be the last. At the end of one recording session a group of girls hand over a petition signed by 1,030 listeners pleading with him to carry on writing The Goons. Harry Secombe also misses the recording of the final episode. One more series was made.
The tenth and last series ends with the shows popularity still high. 'It's better to go out on top'.
1960 Onwards (After the Goons)
Harry Secombe continues to be a popular and well loved entertainer and singer. Spike performs on stage, writes books, plays, poetry and TV comedy including the acclaimed 'Q' series. Peter becomes an international film star with classics such as Dr Strangelove, The Pink Panther, Being There and many more (plus a few terrible ones that we don't like to talk about!). The Goons occasionally appear together in film and TV etc.
Announcer Wallace Greenslade dies unexpectedly at his home in Weybridge, Surrey, UK.
The Telegoons is shown on BBC-TV. These are 15 minute puppet shows using some re-worked Goon Show scripts. This leads to a cartoon version of The Telegoons appearing in various comic strips.
The Goons reunite to do a one off special called 'The Last Goon Show of All'.
Peter Sellers dies aged 54 after years of worsening heart problems.
Michael Bentine dies aged 74.
Harry Secombe dies aged 79.
Spike Milligan dies aged 83. That's all folks!
Want to know more?
A lot of the above details are sourced from the book 'The Goon Show Companion' by Wilmut and Grafton. If you want to find out more about the history of The Goons and the show, it is well worth a read.