‘Who are these Go-Ons?’
Updated: Oct 12, 2021
Page 16 of the Radio Times issue dated 13 July 1951 shows the listing for the eighth episode of the first series. Broadcast on 16 July, it was billed – as that whole series was – as ‘Crazy People’ rather than ‘The Goon Show’.
The Goons were described in those early days as “radio’s own Crazy Gang”, a reference to a (at the time) more successful show called The Crazy Gang. The six-piece included Bud Flanagan, Chesney Allen, Jimmy Nervo, Teddy Knox, Charlie Naughton, and Jimmy Gold.
They were immensely popular, including reputedly with the royal family, and the BBC evidently thought aligning this new quartet of Goons with the Crazy Gang would help new listeners understand the off-the-wall brand of humour the Goons represented.
“When I produced the first series, we weren’t allowed to call it The Goon Show. We had to call it Crazy People, because the BBC thought that nobody would know who the Goons were. To which I think Spike or Peter Sellers said, ‘well, who are Take It From Here then?’”
(Dennis Main Wilson, from ‘At Last The Go On Show’, BBC radio documentary broadcast in 1991)
The Goons themselves found this somewhat irritating, which is understandable. It wasn’t until the second series that the BBC let them be listed as The Goon Show, and the term “crazy people” wasn’t dropped from the listing until the third series.
There’s another story that one BBC executive asked “who are these Go Ons?”, helping cement (in Milligan’s head at least) the perceived incompetence of the corporation when it came to comedy.
Interestingly, while The Crazy Gang may have paved the way for the Goons, at least one of the gang became a Goon fan himself. In a 1958 Radio Times article, Bud Flanagan – “leader of those Knights of Madness, The Crazy Gang” – said:
“I’ve followed the Goons ever since they started on the air – in fact I’ve watched their careers very carefully, and I’m one of their biggest champions. They’re brilliant – especially Sellers. We’re ‘crazy’, but their humour is far more advanced than ours.”
(Bud Flanagan, quoted in ‘The Goons – as others see them’, published in the Radio Times, 31 October 1958)
High praise indeed.
Here's an example of the Crazy Gang's humour, from the 1937 film O-kay For Sound.
The whole 82-minute film is also available on YouTube.
(Image of the Crazy Gang sourced from British Pictures. It shows the gang and Scottish actor Alastair Sim in the 1938 film Alf's Button Afloat.)