A short clip from Come to London, British Pathé‘s featurette highlighting some of the attractions available in the Swinging Sixties’ capital. This is worth watching for the water-bike, but especially for Peter Sellers giving Britt Ekland a birthday cake in 1966.
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and editing the millions of words written by the late, great comedy genius, into a series of books - Box 18: The Unpublished Spike Milligan, The Compulsive Spike Milligan, Memories of Milligan - and now, Milligan’s Meaning of Life, his “autobiography of sorts”.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.
“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
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 few have ever been 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 these predictions is not known. No matter, Sellers was greatly impressed by the shock-haired comic and was soon obsessed with all things paranormal.
From then on, Sellers 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 so he would always know 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 composer Lionel Bart and actor Diana Dors. Woodruff had 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 film roles, and regularly had tarot readings performed over the telephone. But Woodruff was heavily in debt and open to the persuasion of earning a little cash when film studios asked him to suggest film scripts to Sellers.
One famous tale, recounts how Woodruff was asked to suggest the initials of director Blake Edwards as being very important to Sellers. Unfortunately, Sellers failed to connect ‘B.E.’ with the famous Hollywood 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 who was this vision of loveliness, 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…
The great comedic actor Peter Sellers would have been 85-years-old today. Here he is seen as Laurence Olivier doing Richard III reciting a Shakespearean version of “A Hard Day’s Night” on the Beatles TV special, “The Music of Lennon and McCartney.”
During a 1968 promo shoot for Apple Records, Peter Sellers visited The Beatles in the studio and some impromptu drug talk ensued. Lennon reminds Sellers of the time “when I gave you that grass in Piccadilly.” Sellers response: “it really stoned me out of my mind.”
Listen for Yoko’s remark about “shooting as exercise,” a none too subtle reference to her and John’s heroin use.
The second video is Sellers performing ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ in the style of Laurence Olivier’s Richard the Third on the Granada TV special The Music of Lennon & McCartney. Sellers goofy take on The Beatles’ tune was actually released as a single and made the pop charts.
Sellers performs ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ after the jump…
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.
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 ?