The Goon Show was first broadcast in 1951 on BBC radio and ran until 1960. There were originally four main cast members; Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine, but Bentine left early in the series, leaving Milligan, Sellers and Secombe to perform as The Goons, ably assisted by the occasional guest star, an announcer (mostly Wallace Greenslade) and full orchestra.
The original format, a series of sketches, continued throughout the series. Originally titled the ‘Crazy People’, the series originated in an era when the UK was still recovering from the horrors of World War II and gave the British population a reason to laugh again. Food and petrol were still rationed and post-war austerity meant Britain was a rather sad and downtrodden place to live.
The Goons produced surreal and ludicrous storylines, puns, catchphrases and ground-breaking sound effects. Nothing and no one was safe from their humour. They ridiculed the pomposity of the aristocracy, authoritative figures, history and the general stupidity of humankind. Goons’ humour was also strongly rooted in the tradition of madcap British comedy films produced by studios such as Ealing during the 1940s and 1950s.
202 episodes were produced, featuring many characters, which were mainly performed by the multi-talented performers Milligan, Sellers and Secombe. Some of the major characters featured were Neddie Seagoon, Bluebottle, Major Dennis Bloodnok, Eccles, Minnie Bannister, Henry Crun, Hercules Grytpype-Thynne and Count Moriarty, but there were many other delightful and crazy identities introduced in every episode. Milligan was the creative force behind the series and responsible for a large number of the scripts but was also assisted by other writers such as Eric Sykes, Larry Stevens, John Antrobus and Maurice Wiltshire.
The massive influence that the Goons had on comedy cannot be underestimated. Without the Goons, there would have been no ‘ Monty Python’s Flying Circus’, ‘At Last The 48 Show’, ‘National Lampoon’, ‘The Goodies’, ‘Fawlty Towers’, ‘Saturday Night Live’ or ‘South Park’ etc. Few comedies from the UK have endured so well or been so beloved. Episodes are still being repeated all around the world, and the BBC continues to release them on CD.