Discover a British Treasure: The Goon Show

Dec 4, 2014

The Goons: Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe.
Credit BBC

Brian Eno has called them "radio Dadaism," and ranks them among the best in British comedy. Eddie Izzard believes the Goons were the start of modern comedy. And Monty Python? Well, they idolized them. Count John Lennon and The Beatles, Firesign Theater and Prince Charles among their fans.

The Goon Show, with Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe, was a BBC radio comedy show which ran from 1951 to 1960. I had heard of these legends, but only recently have begun to listen to some of their shows on YouTube:

The tomb of the Lost Emperor where no "hunan eye has ever set foot."

The Goon's surrealistic lightning-quick word play, amidst a bewildering array of character voices (Sellers easily did over a dozen) initially presents a challenge to the American listener. Often its "Britishness" (inside jokes and heavy accents) prevents a punch line's impact, but the brilliance of the wit is profound.

The Goons broke new ground on a number of levels, not to mention introducing surrealism to a mass audience, including the use of expanded sound effects - effects, unheard of in their day, which have become commonplace.

To get an overview, watch this doc:

Give The Goons a chance and you'll find yourself marveling at their comedic counterpoint.