Writing the Goon Show couldn’t pay the bills on its own, as Spike Milligan was often to lament. So what else could an emerging talent get involved with in 1954?
Both Sellers and Secombe were established as stage acts at this point, and were exploring films for the first time after the (admittedly limited) success of Goon projects such as Penny Points to Paradise and Down Among the Z Men.
Milligan’s acting chops were also on display in those films, so he must have been on some casting directors’ radars. However, radio was still where the bulk of the opportunities lay for him.
In April 1954 Spike was cast as Constable Beard, a bumbling policeman, in Paradise Street, a radio comedy vehicle for Max Bygraves. You can read about Bygraves’ early career in this Radio Times preview of the show, and the listing of the first episode is here.
The show was written by Eric Sykes, who had been working with Bygraves on Educating Archie and was soon to team up with Milligan to launch Associated London Scripts. Hattie Jacques was also appearing in Educating Archie, and would go on to work with Sykes on dozens of projects over the next 25 years. The producer was Roy Speer, who would go on to produce several Goon Shows.
If you’ll forgive the weird punctuation, here are a couple of short previews of the series.
“Our street is Paradise Street, the Paradise we make it.” So runs the first line of the theme song of the new Max Bygraves series. In these weekly programmes (starting on Tuesday, April 20, Light), Max will be supported by Adele Dixon, “full of good works and the best of intentions”, Hattie Jacques as Mrs Flan, a gossipy neighbour, and Spike Milligan as Police Constable Beard, a well-meaning but ineffective type. (His Goon training, no doubt!)
(from the Aberdeen Evening Express, 10 April 1954)
“Paradise Street” The Paradise Street of the new Max Bygraves series, which opens in the Light Programme on 20th April, can be anywhere in the imagination of the listener. As its theme song says, “Our street is Paradise Street, the Paradise we make it.” In these weekly programmes Max will be supported by Adele Dixon, Spike Milligan, Hattie Jacques and the paradise Street kids, with the Augmented BBC Revue Orchestra under Harry Rabinowitz. The scriptwriter is Eric Sykes and Roy Speer produces. Max will appear as himself in “Paradise Street” and, although it is a “story-line” series, he will have some singing to do, backed up by the Paradise Street Kids, a gang of teen-agers. Adele Dixon will be heard as Miss Doxon, full of good works and the best intentions; Hattie Jacques will be Mrs Flan, a gossipy neighbour, and Spike Milligan will exchange the higher lunacy of the Goons for the Police Force. He will be Police-Constable Beard, a well-meaning but ineffective type.
(from the Coatbridge Leader, 10 April 1954)
Later in the summer, Spike, Peter Sellers (often mistakenly billed as “Sellars”) and Max Geldray could be found sharing a bill at the Empire Theatre in Chatham from 6 September. The fourth name on the bill was a George Martin, but this was a fellow comedian and not the Sir George Martin of Beatles fame.
As busy as this may have made Spike, he was evidently still on the hunt for other work, as this advert from The Stage in late September 1954 shows.
An interesting addendum to this advert is that Stanley Dale, who purports to be the point of call for all of the above acts, played a big role in the establishment of Associated London Scripts. Alongside Sykes and Milligan, ALS was formed by emerging writing duo Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, and was backed by Dale and Frankie Howerd.
Graham McCann’s excellent history of ALS, Spike & Co, details how Dale was eventually forced out of ALS for causing trouble and diluting the success of the venture. I’ll explore ALS in a bit more detail at a later date.
Image of Max Bygraves sourced from Wikipedia. Newspaper cuttings sourced from the British Newspaper Archive.