Comic influenced generations of comedians

LONDON — Spike Milligan, the godfather of modern British comedy, died Wednesday at his home in Sussex, south of London. He was 83.

Milligan was the last surviving member of The Goons, the seminal comedy troupe that also included Peter Sellers, Michael Bentine and Harry Secombe.

In the 1950s on BBC radio, the quartet’s surreal material, most of it written by Milligan, laid the groundwork for Monty Python and virtually all British comedians to today.

“I met him a few times and it was an honor,” comic Eddie Izzard said. “He was a great man and it’s a very sad day.”

Milligan’s later work included TV — including the anarchic “Q” series for the BBC in the 1970s — movies, writing novels, poetry and children’s books.

Although he is best remembered for the “The Goon Show,” which ran for six years, that early success left Milligan with a life-long depressive condition.

“I had to write a new show every week for six months,” Milligan said. “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.”

One of his most outrageous moments came in 1994 when he received a lifetime achievement comedy award along with a letter of praise from fan Prince Charles. Live on ITV to millions of viewers, Milligan pronounced the royal a “little grovelling bastard.”

Milligan was also impassioned about causes close to his heart, and campaigned vigorously against abortion, vivisection, factory farming and excessive noise.

In 1986, he was tossed out of Harrods department store for attempting to stuff spaghetti down the food hall manager’s throat.

“I told him it might give him some idea of how a goose feels being force-fed maize to make pate de fois gras,” Milligan said.

Milligan was born in 1918 in India where his Irish father was serving in the military. He came to Britain at age 16, but throughout his life steadfastly refused to take British citizenship.

Milligan is survived by his third wife Shelagh and three children.

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