Updated: Oct 12, 2021
On this day in 1956, Son of Fred was first broadcast on ITV (then known as Associated Rediffusion). It starred Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, and was written by Milligan.
Other cast members included regular Goon Show guests Valentine Dyall, Kenneth Connor, and Graham Stark, as well as a certain Max Geldray in a musical slot.
Geldray: Silence - You are in the presence of a great man. I am Mr Max "Conks" Geldray, the world's greatest Dutch detective. Seagoon: The world's worst actor!
(from ‘The Mountain Eaters’, Series 9 Episode 5, broadcast 1 December 1958)
Son of Fred was the follow up to A Show Called Fred, a five-episode series of sketch shows broadcast in May 1956 with broadly the same cast. These series were the first TV shows penned solely by Spike Milligan and used ‘The Ying Tong Song’ as its theme tune. Additional material was provided by some other familiar Goon names, including Maurice Wiltshire and John Antrobus.
Clifford Davis, our old friend and showbiz correspondent from the Daily Mirror, reportedly called A Show Called Fred “unfunny piffle” according to Wikipedia, but there’s no evidence of this in the British Newspaper Archive.
Other critics were more on board with the Milligan humour, praising it as a welcome move away from the tired old variety formats that the BBC relied on for its comedy and entertainment offerings.
Very little remains of the two series, but an episode of each is available to rent for the princely sum of £1 from the British Film Institute. A Show Called Fred episode five is available here, and Son of Fred episode one can be found here.
One feature of the shows that was ground-breaking at the time was the practice of running one sketch into another. Milligan continued to do this through the Q series in his later career, and it was adopted by the team behind Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Sketches often broke the fourth wall, and yet another familiar name, Hugh Jampton, cropped up as a character semi-regularly. The Nostalgia Central website has a lot more detail about the content of these shows.
Both series were directed and produced by Dick Lester, who worked on several other visual Goon projects including The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film and the screen adaptation of The Bedsitting Room.
Fun fact #1: The Beatles so loved the Goons and The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film in particular that they hired Dick Lester to direct their films Help! and A Hard Day’s Night.
Fun fact #2: George Chisholm, trombonist with the Wally Stott Orchestra and occasional contributor of Scottish voices to the Goon Show, was given two film roles by Lester. He appeared in The Knack… and How to Get It in 1965 and Superman III in 1983 (as per IMDB).