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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and editing the millions of words written by the late, great comedy genius, into a series of books - Box 18: The Unpublished Spike Milligan, The Compulsive Spike Milligan, Memories of Milligan - and now, Milligan’s Meaning of Life, his “autobiography of sorts”.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…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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10.26.2011
07:13 pm
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Comedy and the Occult: Michael Bentine - The Goon Who Got Away

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“One lifetime is nowhere near enough to do all that there is to do.” So said the actor, comic, psychic, and writer Michael Bentine, and in his case it was probably true.

Born in Watford, to a Peruvian father and an English mother, Bentine was party at an early age to his parents’ interest in seances, clairaudience, “table turning” and the paranormal. Such an introduction inspired his own life-long interest into spiritualism and the Occult.

In his autobiography, The Long Banana Skin, Bentine claimed whilst in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War he had visions through which he was able to tell whether his comrades would live or die. If he saw a skull super-imposed over their faces, he then knew they would not return from their next mission. Not the kind of talent to win friends and influence people, but certainly one to impress others with in later years, as he did when he recounted such tales on chat shows.

If it was all true, then it was most certainly a curse, as Bentine foresaw the death of his son, who was killed in a plane crash; and foresaw the death of his friend, the Tory politician, Airey Neave, who was blown-up by the IRA. Bentine was also a member of a Wiccan coven, and indulged in various rituals. Nothing wrong with that, but when tied to the fact Bentine was very close to the Royal Family it’s enough to give David Icke something to fantasize about.

Bentine was also involved in paranormal investigation, on one occasion he helped a family whose child suffered from recurrent illness. As the child grew weaker, Bentine was convinced evil forces were at work. His hunch proved correct when it was uncovered the family’s neighbors, an elderly couple, were using magical rites to drain the child of its life-force.

Towards the end of his military service, Bentine was involved in the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, which had such a traumatic affect on him he was never able to describe what he had seen, other than to call it “the ultimate blasphemy”.

After the war he started his career as a comedian at the Windmill Theatre, home to nude tableaux, dirty old men wanking and a generation of great comedians – Tony Hancock, Morecambe and Wise, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, Tommy Cooper and Jimmy Edwards. It was through the Windmill that Bentine met Secombe and Sellers and later Spike Milligan, with whom he formed The Goons.

Amongst the memorable roles he played in The Goons was Professor Osric Pureheart, a mad scientist whose achievements included digging the Channel Tunnel, building the giant Brabagoon aircraft and discovering the East Pole. Bentine left The Goon Show after thirty-eight episodes, just before fame struck. He then chose his own route to success, touring Australia, before returning to make his first great children’s TV series The Bumblies.

The success of The Bumblies was only a taster of what was to come. During the sixties Bentine achieved international fame with the BBC comedy series It’s a Square World (winner of the Golden Rose of Montreaux, amongst others), and made the greatly under-rated gem The Sandwich Man.  Yet, for all this original and brilliant work, to a generation of young uns, Michael Bentine’s Potty Time will be perhaps what he is remembered for best.

Potty Time (1973-80) with its mix of Goonish humor, followed the comic’s investigations into the funny and surreal world of cuddly, chubby, big-nosed puppets, which he voiced, as they re-enacted a selection of classic novels and historical events – Sherlock Holmes, Hadrian’s Wall, the Northwest Frontier, Vikings and Pirate Buses amongst others. The show was recorded live with Bentine performing to his own taped voice. Timing was essential as Bentine couldn’t fluff lines and the puppeteers had to hit their mark perfectly.

Watching the series now, it is still quite incredible how they managed to pull it off, but thankfully they did.
 

 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

The Paranormal Peter Sellers


Tears of a Clown: The Wit and Wisdom of Kenneth Williams


 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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12.11.2010
07:02 pm
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The Paranormal Peter Sellers

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Many actors are superstitious. Some like Peter Bull kept a collection of Teddy bears to bring him good luck; others like Jack Lemmon said the words, “It’s magic time,” before filming each scene. But none were quite as obsessed with superstitions and the Occult as comedy genius, Peter Sellers.

Sellers’ introduction to the Occult came via fellow Goon, Michael Bentine, the Watford-born Peruvian, who had grown-up in a household where seances and table-turning were regularly practiced. Not long after they first met, Bentine told Sellers of his psychic abilities - how during the Second World War, when Bentine served in the Royal Air Force, he had been able to tell which of his comrades would die before a bombing mission. Bentine claimed if he saw a skull instead of his colleague’s features, then he knew this person would be killed. How often Bentine was correct in his predictions is not known. No matter, Sellers was impressed by the shock-haired comic and was soon obsessed with all things paranormal.

From then on he collected superstitions, as easily as others collect stamps. He refused to wear green or act with anyone dressed in the color. If anyone gave him something sharp, he gave them a penny. He read his horoscopes every day, to divine what he should do.

Sellers often said he had no idea who he was: “If you ask me to play myself, I will not know what to do. I do not know who or what I am.”  This was his way of renouncing any responsibility for his actions.  He claimed he found comfort and stability in consulting clairvoyants and fortune tellers, which again only underlines the fact he did know who he was - a control freak, who wanted power over his future. It was inevitable, therefore, that once under the spell of sooth-sayers and psychics, Sellers was open to fraudsters, tricksters and con-men.

The clairvoyant who had most influence over his life was Maurice Woodruff, the famed TV and newspaper astrologer, whose syndicated column reached over fifty million people at the height of his career. Woodruff received over 5,000 letters a week, asking for advice and had a Who’s Who of of celebrity clients, including Lionel Bart and Diana Dors. He also famously predicted the death of President John F. Kennedy and the end of the Vietnam War. Sellers was devoted to Woodruff, consulting him before he accepted any roles, and regularly had Tarot readings performed over the telephone. But Woodruff was heavily in debt and open to the persuasion of a little cash earner when film studios asked him to suggest film scripts for the actor.

One famous tale, recounts how Woodruff was asked to suggest the initials of director Blake Edwards as being very important to him. Unfortunately, Sellers failed to connect ‘B.E.’ with the famous director. On return to the Dorchetser Hotel, his usual residence when in London, Sellers was smitten by the sight of a beautiful, young blonde-haired woman at reception. When he enquired as to who this vision of loveliness was, he was told Britt Ekland. Sellers recalled Woodruff’s prediction and married Ekland within weeks.
 
More on the paranormal Peter Sellers plus bonus clip after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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10.09.2010
07:23 pm
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