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Peter Sellers vs. Spike Milligan: ‘The Running, Jumping & Standing Still Film’, 1960

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Peter Sellers was bored. It was 1959, and he was tired of appearing in The Goon Show with Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe.

While The Goon Show was still the biggest and most influential comedy show on British radio, Sellers was now a movie star, with a successful stage and TV career, and the offer of a tenth Goons series was too much to contemplate. He said:

‘I think we should leave it now before the standard goes down - we [Sellers, Secombe & Milligan] aren’t adding anything new and the original drive and enthusiasm has gone.’

Sellers was more of an anarchist than Milligan. Sellers wanted the unfettered life, to be free of all responsibilities. Milligan was far more predictable, he was enthralled by the success of his legacy.

Sellers pretended not to give a fuck. While Milligan’s ambitions meant he was often a shit to those people closest to him.

When The Goons first started, the rivalry between Milligan and Michael Bentine forced the latter to leave the group. Similarly, when Milligan worked with Goons co-writer Larry Stephens, he did everything in his power to belittle him. ‘Larry Stephens was small beer…’ Milligan once said:

‘He was never really a writer…Larry would occasionally think of an idea, but by then the show was over.’

TV writer, biographer and Goons expert, Roger Wilmut disagrees with Milligan’s opinion about his co—writer.

‘Stephens’s plots tend to have a beginning a middle, and an end; whereas Milligan’s tend to have a middle.’

Milligan was great at coming up with original, often brilliant ideas, but he needed someone to help structure these ideas into a coherent script. At first he had Jimmy Grafton, then Bentine, Stephens and Eric Sykes. He also had his producers, like Peter Eton who later said:

‘Spike used to have the marvelous lively extrovert ideas, and Larry used to bring them down to earth. Larry was the strong man. Spike used to have these paradoxical ideas and wrote them down in the form of one line gags. Most of it was rubbish, utter rubbish. It was Larry who used to pull it into shape and make sketches out of it.’

The seeming anarchy of Milligan’s Q series now seems like a collection of unfocussed gags. Yet, I have always preferred Q to The Goon Show.

By 1959, Stephens’ untimely death (he suffered a brain hemorrhage while driving a car, and died in hospital days later) left Milligan to write the final Goons series on his own. As he later viciously said:

‘Larry Stephens died conveniently, it was very nice of him, and I went on to write them on my own.’

Milligan’s response to his past life often depended on his mood, he also claimed (falsely and tearfully) that Stephens had died in his arms at a restaurant.

With no Stephens to fret over, Milligan turned on his fellow Goons, in particular Peter Sellers, whose film career, and successful stage and TV work, had greatly dimmed Milligan’s own success. It was up to Harry Secombe to act as peace-keeper.

Sellers wanted to do something new. Something different. Something with film. He bought a camera for £75, and suggested to Milligan they make a short movie together. The tried the camera out at Sellers home, then asked Dick Lester to direct, and over 2 days The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film was made.

When released in 1960, it was an incredible success, award-winning no less, and a direct influence on The Beatles to hire Lester to direct (and ask Leo McKern to star in) their fab movies.

But Milligan wasn’t happy. The success of The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film niggled, and he felt aggrieved over who was the real talent behind the film. Of course, he had to wait until after Seller’s death in 1980 to claim the film as his own:

I said to Peter [Sellers], ‘Look, films are being made for millions - I think we can make one (not very long) for - what’s the cost of the cameraman?’ He said, ‘Seventy-five pounds.’ So we paid that, and the sound engineer was fifty.

We had about twenty ragged characters in a van and we just drove up the Great North Road until we saw a suitable field…

We just went to the hill, and I wrote the script out, what I wanted roughly, and we had just to improvise how to do it.

Milligan also claimed, at a Goons Appreciation Society meeting, that he had in fact directed the whole thing.

So, that is Milligan’s version of events. What actually happened was that Dick Lester directed and operated the camera, and the script was a concoction between Sellers, Lester, Milligan and Mario Fabrizi (an actor and friend of Sellers), which included some re-workings of sketches lifted from the TV series The Idiot Weekly Price 2d, A Show Called Fred and Son of Fred, which had been the first collaborations between Lester, Milligan and Sellers.

The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film was shot over 2 days, with Milligan only in attendance for one of these days. It was then edited by Lester and Sellers in a bedroom at the actors home.

Inevitably, because of his incredible influence on British comedy, The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film was ( and still is by many) considered mainly a Milligan film, when it truth, it should be seen as a film devised by Peter Sellers in collaboration with Dick Lester, Spike Milligan and Mario Fabrizi.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The Goons: The near impossibility of interviewing Spike Milligan

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Chaos ensues when presenter Bob Wellings attempts to interview Goons Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe, about their single “The Raspberry Song” in this short clip from BBC’s Nationwide, in April 1978.
 

 
Bonus track from Spike Milligan, after the jump…
 
With thanks to NellyM
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘I am desperate to have some real fun again’: Peter Sellers’ final telegram to Spike Milligan

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Peter Sellers didn’t know he was dying, he believed he was going to live until he was seventy-five. That’s what his spirit guide, the ghost of Victorian Music Hall performer, Dan Leno had told him.

Sellers was terribly superstitious, his film career had often turned on the say-so of his clairvoyant, Maurice Woodruff. By the early 1970s, Sellers believed he was similarly able to communicate with the spirit world. He also recounted to his friends how he had been various famous people in various past lives. His colleague and friend Spike Milligan, poked fun at Sellers’ beliefs, pointing out that he was always Napoleon, or Ceaser, or Leonardo da Vinci in his past life, rather than some ordinary joe.

Perhaps Sellers should have listened to Milligan, for he may not have been so credulous. He may even have uncovered that his faithful clairvoyant Woodruff was in the pay of the film studios, and his advice on starring roles was not inspired by Tarot, but rather on the size of check Woodruff received. Similarly he may found out his beloved Leno had died babbling insane, a victim of tertiary syphilis.

If Sellers had stuck more to the real world, then he may have accepted Dr. Christiaan Barnard’s offer in 1976 of open-heart surgery and the bypass that would have certainly lengthened his life. Though he attended a heart operation and photographed Barnard at work, Sellers was fearful he would die on the operating table as he had in 1964, after suffering 8 heart attacks.

Come 1980, with the failure of his third marriage to Lynne Frederick, and a grueling work schedule, Sellers was physically exhausted. As before at such times, he reached out to those people who had created some of his happiest working days: his fellow Goons, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe.

Two months before he died, Sellers wrote to Milligan in the hope that the 3 of them would once again work together on some new comedy shows. Sadly it wasn’t to be, as hours before the 3 men were about to meet, on the 22nd of July, Sellers suffered a fatal heart attack.

PADDINGTON

28 MAY 80

MR SPIKE MILLIGAN

DEAR SPIKE I AM DESPERATE TO HAVE SOME REAL FUN AGAIN WITH YOU AND HARRY. PLEASE CAN WE GET TOGETHER AND WRITE SOME MORE GOON SHOWS? WE COULD PLACE THEM ANYWHERE I DONT WANT ANY MONEY I WILL WORK JUST FOR THE SHEER JOY OF BEING WITH YOU BOTH AGAIN AS WE WERE.

LOVE

PETER

 
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Now a classic Goon Show sketch, “What time is it, Eccles?”
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

The Paranormal Peter Sellers


 
Via Letters of Note, with thanks to Tara McGinley
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Spike Milligan’s Meaning of LIfe: An Autobiography of Sorts

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For thirty-six years, Norma Farnes was Spike Milligan’s manager, agent and Mother Confessor. She was also his friend. Since Milligan’s death in 2002, Norma has shown a loyalty to their friendship, which our world of social networks, Friending, Following and +1ing may never replace. For Ms. Farnes has been collating and editing the millions of words written by the late, great comedy genius, into a series of books - Box 18: The Unpublished Spike Milligan, The Compulsive Spike Milligan, Memories of Milligan - and now, Milligan’s Meaning of Life, his “autobiography of sorts”.

Who else but Norma Farnes could have edited together this fabulous collection of loose threads, extracts, and letters, which make Milligan’s Meaning of Life, such a brilliant autobiography.

As Norma explains in her introduction:

‘A sort of autobiography’. Yes, Spike would have liked that. I can hear him saying, ‘Yes, well, I suppose I’ve had a sort of life.’

...His many followers will, no doubt, find gaps, but it wasn’t my intention to give a complete account - rather an impressionistic journey. I did my best, but as Spike used to say to me: ‘That’s what worries me.’

Farnes should have no fears, as she has compiled a marvelous book, cherry-picking from the best of Milligan’s various writings. Farnes has a terrific eye for the telling phrase and revealing sentence, which presents Milligan as a bruised, sensitive, mercurial, inspired and very funny man. A man who had long bouts of severe depression, suffered terrible nervous breakdowns, was riddled with shyness and insecurities, yet through it all produced some of the our best, funniest and most memorable comedy.

During his life, Milligan produced over eighty books, ranging from poetry (Silly Verse for Kids to Small Dreams of a Scorpion), prose (most notably Puckoon, one of the best comic novels written), and his 7 volumes of War memoirs, starting with the hilarious Adolf Hitler - My Part in His Downfall, plays (The Bed-Sitting Room and countless radio scripts form The Goons and his own classic comedy series Q. In very real terms, Milligan produced more work, and of a higher quality, than most novelists or writers ever achieve in a lifetime.

Milligan’s Meaning of Life Edited by Norma Farnes is available from Penguin Books / Viking Books. Check here for details
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

The Paranormal Peter Sellers


Michael Bentine: The Goon who got away


 
More from Milligan, plus bonus clips, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Forgotten film of Goons restored by BFI

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The British Film Institute has restored a long forgotten short film of Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Spike Milligan:

The BFI regards the restoration as a significant one, a “missing link in British comedy history”. The institute’s curator, Vic Pratt, said: “You are able to see them at the beginning of their careers. The film captures the moment as they are about to revolutionise comedy with the Goon Show and it’s really important for that reason.”

A DVD of the film will be released next month and while the movie is, as Pratt admits, “a bit rough around the edges”, it is not as bad as Sellers remembered.

Sellers, in particular, shines in his two roles as an old major and a smooth talking salesman, Arnold P Fringe. “In Peter Sellers, you see a talent that was fully formed from the beginning and he clearly knows how to use the camera,” said Pratt.

 

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In other news about Sellers, an insecure love letter written by the actor is being auctioned off that gives insight into the tempestuous union with his second wife, Swedish beauty Britt Ekland:

He wrote: “I have a dreadful fear at the back of my mind that you might leave me. I love you so desperately, and think you are so absolutely wonderful in every way, that I find it very difficult to understand why you married me. You who are just the most lovely thing in the whole world. What do you see in me? I’m not handsome. I’m not tall. I’m not special in any way.”

He described himself feeling “quite faint and ill and terrible and wretched and awful” as he imagined other actors wanting to sleep with his wife. “Without any doubt I am a raving idiot and I ought to have my head examined.”

Clearly feeling insecure about his marriage, he questioned why such a ?

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment