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King Goon

Started by lauraxsynthesis, September 18, 2022, 12:08:31 AM

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Video Game Fan 2000

#30
Quote from: Jake Thingray on September 26, 2022, 06:10:07 PMWere you permitted to see, or listen to, mainstream comedy?

Some. It was pretty arbitrary what was considered offensive. Jasper Carrott was alright but my mum used to tut and leave the room over Steptoe and Son. My first exposure to Peter Cook was the Clive Anderson interviews, I think.

Most of what we watched were repeats from the 1970s, but my dad had a distaste for anything sexist or racist so Carry Ons or club comedians were as forbidden as Chris Morris and anything I'd watch or listen to on the sly once I got to high school. Honestly think that Milligan got a pass just because his parents were Irish and he never made any jokes about the pope. Unlike Dave Allen who'd get put on just so he could get turned off again with a comment about it being a shame the best comedian in the world was also a smutty blasphemer. Which is hilarious to me, and typical of the attitude to comedy amongst older Catholics I knew - he's going to straight to hell and his show should be banned, but don't you dare suggest he's anything other than greatest comedian in the world.

Jake Thingray

Quote from: Video Game Fan 2000 on September 26, 2022, 06:25:56 PMHonestly think that Milligan got a pass just because his parents were Irish

Can identify with a lot of that post, and you've stated it well, but it was only actually Milligan's father who was Irish.

FredNurke

Quote from: Video Game Fan 2000 on September 26, 2022, 03:43:19 PMI think the re-recorded "Vintage Goons" series might mark a cut off. I think it was around that time that Stephens died, or stopped appearing as a cowriter, and Milligan needed other cowriters to fill in, mostly Sykes. Establishing Milligan's pattern of treating his cowriters, who often did the lion's share of the work, as second bananas and treating them like garbage.

Larry Stephens died in 1959, part-way through the ninth series, but his first period of involvement ended in the fourth series when he had a serious falling-out with the BBC over scripts being delivered late, at a time when he seems to have had a breakdown of his own. The fifth series (1954-55) went out without any credited involvement from him (though he may have been involved behind the scenes), and this is the one where Milligan and Sykes, after an initial co-writing experiment that ended very badly (the paperweight incident), wrote alternate scripts and were co-credited for all of them, with the actual writer's name credited first. Stephens then started getting official credits again in the sixth series, when he was basically working for Milligan rather than the BBC. There are certainly scripts from both early and late period Goon Shows that are entirely Stephens, or Stephens / Wiltshire, and possibly one or two that came from other sources (e.g. John Antrobus) but in most cases we can't readily untangle what really happened.

For my money, the fifth series has the highest hit rate (with some of the fourth and sixth as good, but neither as consistently good), and Sykes's scripts are better than Milligan's on average, but there's a sameyness to it that struck me when I listened to them all in chronological order several years ago, which again I'd put on Sykes - he could write in the established style, and do it extremely well, but he couldn't innovate. The other creative force that should be given credit is of course Peter Eton, who pushed for the continuous story in the first place, who encouraged them to push against BBC blue-pencilling (there's some good stuff on this in David Nathan's The Laughtermakers), and who didn't put up with any bullshit. I think it was he who briefly sacked Peter Sellers when he'd had enough of him. He's also quoted as saying that Stephens' scripts had a beginning, a middle and an end, whereas Milligan's had a middle.

The absence of 'craft' is what really limited Milligan as a writer - he was either inspired, or you got nothing but nonsense (or worse), whereas someone like Sykes, or indeed Stephens (whose early death deprived him of the credit he richly deserved - he was a major comedy force in the 50s), could craft out a script without needing lightning to strike.

Video Game Fan 2000

#33
Quote from: Jake Thingray on September 26, 2022, 07:36:11 PMCan identify with a lot of that post, and you've stated it well, but it was only actually Milligan's father who was Irish.

Oh yeah, you're right. But the pass you get from being Irish and never joking about the pope is patrilineal. He's from an Irish family, see.

Quote from: FredNurke on September 26, 2022, 07:45:46 PMThe absence of 'craft' is what really limited Milligan as a writer - he was either inspired, or you got nothing but nonsense (or worse), whereas someone like Sykes, or indeed Stephens (whose early death deprived him of the credit he richly deserved - he was a major comedy force in the 50s), could craft out a script without needing lightning to strike.

I totally agree with this, and I've read the quote about Stephens scripts having a beginning, middle and end before. If I had to make a case for why the Goons were special or why they might be taken seriously as something really exceptional or revolutionary in comedy beyond the technical innovations, I'd say it was Milligan's intuitive destruction of the grammar of comedy and performance. Which is something he got from cartoons, but in remaking that style with the constraints of an audio medium he had to extend things further than they had been before. The most famous example is "the war" becoming a detached location drifts around, and characters can walk in and out of it; it can intrude upon other places. It goes so far beyond whimsy about there being an ocean in the front room, Africa being next door or other 'random' or 'surreal' ideas that crop up regularly in comedy. And its not just like later "meta" comedy where people can walk in and out of stories and break the fourth wall either, it a few steps beyond (and beneath) that. In the Goons, abstract ideas could be places to visit, periods of times could be objects that could be picked up and moved, and characters could become trapped in repetitions. Time and space, quality and quantity were all interchangeable. Milligan seemed to steal things from Chuck Jones, E C Segar, the writers of the Goofy shorts and others and find a grammar or logic in them that could be sustained across multiple situations beyond a single gag. I think it was mainly in series five and six, because the two examples of this I would pick (The Yehti and Napoleon's Piano) are from then. Its not just the logic of a train of thought that Milligan plays with, but the grammar that allows there to be that kind of logical flow at all. That's what captured my imagination, but unfortunately it means his weaknesses in the 'craft' of writing are all the more apparent. I find the Goons to be like On The Hour/The Day Today - specifically in that there is a lot out there that is superficially similar, and some superficial aspects are easily imitated, but made them really good is unrepeatable. The comparison ends there since On The Hour is very tightly written and the Goons were looser than my bowel after two cans of guinness and plate of liver. (Edit - writing this I realise that I've never read or heard Chuck Jones mentioned in relation to the Goons, only Goofy and Popeye, but it surely can't be a coincidence that Duck Amuck came out around the same time as the Goons hay day, pretty much immediately before they established their familiar style)

The absence of 'craft' I'd define the absence of any persistant sense of character or location, or any real sense of structure beyond the cartoon logic. With the Goons Milligan had two performers whose presence was undeniable, it made up for a lot of weaknesses - Sellers was Sellers, and even if Secombe is a supremely irritating performer to modern audiences, he could be infectious in his idiom of light entertainment and make any old toot sound spontaneous. Without something like this Milligan's intuitions just become annoyingly like listening to a story told by a small child - one incident into another without any point or structure. Milligan's gift was with the grammar, unravelling intuitions, and there is little sense of overall structure there unless he is parodying something or someone else is writing the story or providing the logic for him to play with. On his own its all very "and then what happened was..." which makes his first novel a very sad read. Maybe he was really best at sloppily establishing a style and then getting someone with a little discipline like Sykes or Eton to iron it out into something decent.

Luornu

I remember Milligan being on the Robbie Vincent phone in programme on Radio London in 1985. No doubt this episode exists nowhere but my memory. But he was kinda off that day and at one point started ranting about how women who had abortions were murderers.

As I recall, Robbie swiftly changed the subject in a "oh dear we booked him for a light hearted chat about comedy, we don't want any controversy" kind of way. He never was asked back.

Always stuck in my mind that. I was 12/13 at the time.

SpiderChrist

Quote from: FredNurke on September 26, 2022, 07:45:46 PMThe absence of 'craft' is what really limited Milligan as a writer - he was either inspired, or you got nothing but nonsense (or worse)

Can't disagree with this. Finished watching Q7 yesterday, and it's definitely patchier than either of it's predecessors.

JesusAndYourBush

Quote from: Luornu on September 27, 2022, 12:04:44 AMI remember Milligan being on the Robbie Vincent phone in programme on Radio London in 1985. No doubt this episode exists nowhere but my memory.

Refresh your memory.

QuoteHe never was asked back.

He was... nearly 5 years later. After being racist he probably wasn't asked back again though.

Video Game Fan 2000

I might be misremembering but I think he was also a regular caller on right wing radio in Australia?

Do you remember in about 1990 there was an advert featuring the Ying Tong Song played over an animation that took the mickey out of South-east Asian people?  Heads would roll over that today.

Video Game Fan 2000

i half remember an ad that used it over footage of kids doing the eyes thing, you know the one

Lapsedcat


[/quote]
Quote from: Video Game Fan 2000 on September 26, 2022, 08:51:59 PMIn the Goons, abstract ideas could be places to visit, periods of times could be objects that could be picked up and moved, and characters could become trapped in repetitions.

Best exemplified by the Series 8 episode Treasure In The Tower