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Danger! Goons at Play

Updated: Oct 12, 2021

On this day in 1955, the Radio Times hit the newsstands with a lengthy article on the Goons by writer Richard Bennett. Headlined 'Danger! Goons at Play', it is based on an interview with producer Peter Eton and can be found on page 9.

These lunatics have got a grip on popular imagination... The more outrageous the characters are the more popular the show becomes. It's positively alarming.

(Pat Dixon, quoted by Richard Bennett in 'Danger! Goons at Play', Radio Times, 16 September 1955)

The author is keen to understand the kinds of people who listen to the Goon Show. The show's success “has been very surprising to people who could advance a number of knowledgeable reasons why it could not succeed” - although the only one he names is its “surrealist” humour.

Bennett then lists the kinds of people that have professed to be fans, from schoolchildren to soldiers, teachers to bank managers, artists to clergy. “It is difficult to discern the common interest that links these addicts,” he states.

I believe this ignores a fundamental principle of Goon humour, best summarised by Michael Bentine in the 1991 radio documentary 'At Last The Go On Show', in which he stated that the Goons were all about the “pricking of the balloon of pomposity”. It was a rebellion against authority and the status quo, and whatever period you care to pick there is always a big audience for that.

I don't wish to know that

Pedantry alert... This article mentions that Peter Sellers took on Spike Milligan's characters when he was ill, as happened in the third series, but it also states that Milligan and Harry Secombe shared Sellers' roles when he “lost his voice”.

This may have happened in the early days, and there are plenty of episodes for which no recording exists to prove this, but it's the first time I've read this. I have consulted the authority on Goon facts, Roger Wilmut's Goonography, but he has no record of Sellers being absent from a recording until 1959 when he missed the recording of 'Who Is Pink Oboe?' (Series 9 Episode 11).

The last line is an amusing story that neatly rounds off the writer's point about the Goons 'splitting the room' with their humour. I have a sneaking suspicion that it is an apocryphal tale from the mind of Milligan...

One seeker after the truth of [Goon humour] was a psychiatrist who asked if he might attend a rehearsal. He listened attentively and unmoved to the end, rose and left the studio, saying 'Thank you. I've had enough.'

(from 'Danger! Goons at Play', Radio Times, 16 September 1955)

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