Shut up, Eccles!
Updated: Oct 13, 2021
In the beginning God created the Heaven and Earth and darkness was upon the face of the deep; this was due to a malfunction at Lots Road Power Station. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light, but Eastern Electricity Board said He would have to wait until Thursday to be connected.
(from The Bible According to Spike Milligan, published by Penguin Books, 1993)
My aim of publishing a blog a day was scuppered by a major power cut caused by the first hurricane to directly hit Barbados in 65 years. What are the chances? Anyway – thanks to the generosity of a friend, I’m back online and happy to put the internet to good use once more.
Episode seven of the second series of the Goon Show was broadcast 11 March 1952. With the exit of The Stargazers, there was a musical slot open. It was immediately filled by a certain Mr H Secombe, singing seriously and not shaving at all, as far as I know. The Radio Times listing is here.
The same issue carries a tribute to Tommy Handley, the radio comic and star of ITMA, which did so much in the 1940s to pave the way for the Goons. It’s on page 8 here, ahead of a tribute programme broadcast shortly before the Goon Show.
The Famous Eccles
Now, ladles, jellyspoons, and other cutlery, I’d like to properly introduce you to some of the Goon Show’s main characters – starting with the archetypal Goon himself, ‘Mad Dan’ Eccles.
Bluebottle: Well, it, er, went, um… Thinks: Where did it went? It wented… Eccles? Eccles: Yeah? Bluebottle: Do you remember, Eccles? Eccles: Oh yeah, I remember Eccles. Bluebottle: Well, does he know where it wented? Eccles: I'll ask him: Do you know where it wented? Bluebottle: What does he say, Eccles? Eccles: He hasn't answered yet, I think he's out.
(from Tales of Old Dartmoor, Series 6 Episode 21, broadcast 7 February 1956)
Eccles is a staple character from Spike’s repertoire, with his Goofy-esque voice appearing in several guises even before the Goon Show emerged. In his introduction to Roger Wilmut’s Goonography, Jimmy Grafton tells of Milligan appearing in an episode of Hip Hip Hoo Roy with Derek Roy, for whom he and Grafton were writing. While not named as Eccles, the voice was clearly him.
Derek: You there, that guard over there! Spike: Duh, yeah? Derek: Why is your uniform so dirty? Spike: I’m a mud guard!
(quoted in The Goon Show Companion: A History and Goonography, by Roger Wilmut and Jimmy Grafton, published by Robson Books, 1976)
Grafton was of the belief that Eccles was Spike – or at least what Spike wanted to be: a simple idiot strolling through life without a care. This character could well have been an antidote of sorts to the depression that plagued much of Spike’s adult life.
Eccles' voice was based on that of Goofy, one of Walt Disney’s most famous characters. As Spike once explained:
A childhood love of my life was Goofy. I slightly refined him and made him more into Homo sapiens on a very low key. He represented the loser in life who always came up smiling out of every occasion, and could not be defeated by logic. He can always overcome it. If you ask him for the time, he’d say ‘I’ve got it written down on a piece of paper here’. Things like that. If you said it’s not right, he’d say ‘your bit of paper must be faster than mine’. Strange, insane – it’s a child’s logic isn’t it? That’s it, children’s logic.
(Spike Milligan on Eccles, from ‘At Last The Go On Show’ documentary, 1991)
Goofy himself first emerged as “Dippy Dawg” in 1932, when Spike was about 14 years old. His voice was created by Pinto Colvig, a cartoonist and animator who joined Disney in 1930, but who had been providing voices for several years before this.
According to no less a source than the internet, Colvig in turn based Goofy’s voice on a “grinny, half-baked village nitwit” from Jacksonville, Oregon, where he grew up. Animator Tom Palmer apparently based Goofy’s mannerisms on Colvig’s expressions as he was recording the voice.
Colvig is something of a Disney legend, as he voiced not only Goofy but also many other characters, including Grumpy and Sleepy the dwarves from Snow White, and Pluto the dog. Away from Disney he created Bozo the Clown, an iconic American character, and voiced Bluto, Popeye’s nemesis. His biography on IMDB outlines what a talent he was – a voice artist, mime, clown, musician, artist, and cartoonist – as well as the true inspiration behind Eccles.
There are a couple of things that caught my eye while researching Pinto Colvig. First was the fact that he voiced Bluto from Popeye, meaning that not only did he influence Spike regarding Eccles, but also played a small part in the Goons’ name, as all the principal cast have cited the Popeye cartoons and the caveman-like “goons” he encountered.
I also enjoyed this quote from Colvig, sourced from his biography on D23.com, a Disney fan site:
[Goofy is] the epitome of all the hicks in the world and the easiest to portray. I guess that’s because I’m a corn-fed hick, myself.
The “children’s logic” Spike mentions is a core feature of Goon humour, and no one plays to it better than Eccles. The ‘What time is it, Eccles?’ excerpt from ‘The Mysterious Punch-Up-The-Conker’ (Series 7 Episode 19) is a classic example.
Eccles’ obvious idiocy meant he was the prime candidate for government positions.
Eccles: I resign! You speak to my secretary! You can't talk to a government minister like that! I won't be out of work long, you'll see! I'll get that Ministry of Fisheries job! You watch! I've kept goldfish! Greenslade: Mr Eccles, we are not for one moment doubting your sincerity. It's just your intelligence that's in question. Eccles: Well, I accept your apology.
(from ‘The Jet-Propelled Guided NAAFI’, Series 6 Episode 19, broadcast 24 January 1956)
And he occasionally spoke on behalf of the nation.
Greenslade: This is London calling the world. Eccles: Hello world! Greenslade: That was the voice of England. Seagoon: We're in a bad way, mate!
(from ‘Robin Hood’, special episode for BBC Transcription Services, recorded 2 December 1956)
Eccles also appeared in various guises in other Goon-related projects, such as The Case of the Mukkinese Battlehorn and The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d – both for TV. His everyman idiocy made him a firm favourite of Goon Show fans everywhere, bringing him the global fame he had always known he deserved.
Eccles: I'm the famous Eccles. Seagoon: Famous? I've never heard of you! Eccles: What? You've heard of Clapham Common!? Seagoon: Yes. Eccles: Well, you mind what you say!
(from ‘The Sinking of Westminster Pier’, Series 5 Episode 21, broadcast 15 February 1955)
Picture of Pinto Colvig sourced from Offbeat Oregon.