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Prince pays tribute to Milligan

Milligan was the last-remaining survivor of The Goons
Milligan was the last-remaining survivor of The Goons  

LONDON, England -- The Prince of Wales has led tributes to comedian Spike Milligan, who died from liver failure on Wednesday aged 83.

Prince Charles, a long-time fan of The Goon Show, was "deeply saddened to hear the news," according to a statement from St. James's Palace.

Milligan, the last survivor of the hit radio show that inspired a generation of comedians, including Monty Python, died surrounded by his family at his home in Sussex, southern England.

Always outspoken, perhaps his most notorious remark was in 1994 when, at the age of 76, he received a Lifetime Achievement Comedy Award.

Accepting the honour, he read out a warm letter of congratulations from the Prince of Wales, and then, to laughter from the audience, added: "Little grovelling bastard."

He later sent a fax to the prince saying: "I suppose a knighthood is out of the question now?"

Milligan -- who once requested that his epitaph be, "I told you I was ill"-- had suffered ill health for sometime and had been nursed by his third wife Shelagh in recent months.

Norma Farnes, his agent and manager, said: "For 35 years he has been the dynamo in my life and he was my dearest friend and I will miss him terribly."

Jenny Abramsky, director of BBC Radio, where The Goons were made, told the Press Association: "He was a genius, one of the critical people who put radio comedy on the map. He was unmatched anywhere."

The BBC's Head of Comedy, Jon Plowman, said: "It is very sad. He was one of the true greats whose influence can be seen in a huge amount of comedy that we do today."

British broadcaster Michael Parkinson, who interviewed Milligan on TV and the radio more than 10 times, told PA: "He was a very important figure in the history of British comedy.

"You could make the argument that modern British comedy started with Spike Milligan. He was the godfather of it all."

Milligan was the zaniest, wackiest comic genius of his generation, but like many public clowns his private life was marred by manic depression, and he suffered at least 10 complete mental breakdowns.

It was the post-war Goon Show, with Michael Bentine, Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe, which made Milligan famous.

Originally the show was called Crazy People.

But the title was changed to The Goons -- although one mystified BBC announcer described it, innocently, as the Go On Show.

The show inspired a generation of comics, especially The Monty Python team and Milligan had a cameo role in The Life of Brian.

But Milligan once said: "I wasn't happy with the Goon shows, but I suppose they made people laugh.

The Goons -- l-r Seller, Secombe and Milligan -- changed the face of comedy
The Goons -- l-r Seller, Secombe and Milligan -- changed the face of comedy  

"I was so ill when I was writing them that I was in a mental home three or four times, and they broke up my first marriage.

"I had to write a new show every week for six months. If Hitler had done that to someone it would be called torture.

"I was in such a state of hypertension that I was unapproachable by human beings, and I became a manic depressive."

He was renowned for his irreverent off-the-cuff public comments.

In 1992, receiving an honorary CBE, visibly frail Milligan had everyone in stitches, quipping: "I can't see the sense in it really.

It makes me a Commander of the British Empire. They might as well make me a Commander of Milton Keynes -- at least that exists!"

Milligan was an accomplished poet, an author with several volumes of war memoirs which, though riotously funny, contained the bitter after-taste of brutal conflict.

He was also a better than average jazz cornet and trumpet player, with a penchant for Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong.

He was also an intense campaigner, against abortion, against vivisection, against factory farming, and, finally his fight against needless noise.

It was the noise of London which drove him from his home to live quietly in Rye, Sussex, from where he still regularly wrote letters to newspapers complaining about how inconsiderate people were with car horns, radios and lawnmowers.


• Royal tribute for comedian Secombe
April 12, 2001
• 'Monty Python Speaks'
July 29, 1999

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