The Goon Show is probably the greatest radio show of all time, and has probably reached more listeners throughout the world than any other radio comedy show. Many top comedians these days cite the show as being one of their main influences, and there is seldom anyone who cannot name The Goons when asked.
Originally the BBC was reluctant to use the name, Goon Show, not really understanding what they had on their hands, and it went out as Those Crazy People - The Goons. Originally the show was written by Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens, with editing by Jimmy Grafton, the latter being the one who should be credited for bringing the show about. It was in the Grafton Arms in London's Victoria that the show came to fruition and those that made the Goon Show met up. Fresh from the war, many actors, comedians, producers and writers would use the Grafton Arms as a meeting place, and Spike was renting a room above the pub. Spike had already met Harry Secombe during the war and they had found that they shared a common sense of humour. Peter Sellers and Michael Bentine had worked together on an RAF Gang show during the war, and when Harry introduced the pair to Milligan... well the rest is history. The Pub became a regular meeting place for the four, and under the watchful eye of Jimmy Grafton ((KOGVOS - Keeper of Goons and Voice of Sanity) their performances became a regular attraction. The BBC, being that well-oiled machine and taker of chances, snapped up the show in no time at all (well, it took several years for those who must be obeyed to take notice, and the show was turned down for three years), and a young producer called Pat Dixon gave it a go (GRAMS: LOUD CHEERS)
After the first series, the BBC relented on the name and the show was billed simply as THE GOON SHOW. This was where the style became honed, with the number of sketches being reduced, and Neddie Seagoon becoming the leading man. It was at the end of this series that Bentine left to pursue other things, and the format of Sellers, Milligan, and Secombe was continued right up until the last show of all in 1972. Although the press had a field day at the time, there was no rift between Milligan and Bentine. What follows is a list of the major characters that each of the team played:
HARRY SECOMBE plays
Neddie Seagoon, the central figure of all the shows. Cheerful, likeable, gullible, but his greed regularly leads him astray.
PETER SELLERS plays
Hercules Grytpype-Thynne, a posh, educated voice based on that of English actor George Sanders, who often played the suave cad. Grytpype-Thynne is a crook and con man, and the basic plot of most shows revolves around the efforts of him and his henchman, Count Moriarty, to swindle Neddie Seagoon.
Major Dennis Bloodnok, a devout coward either retired or deserted from the Indian Army. He too is a thief who tries to steal from one and all. He is afflicted with extreme gastric distress, and his introductory theme is usually followed by a bizarre series of explosions and bubbling noises that represent his stomach rumbling. He comments on these sounds himself with "Quick, nurse, the screens," or "Oh! no more curried eggs for me!". Occasionally the sound effect won't play, and he'll comment, "I'm cured!"
Henry Crun, crumbling, fumbling, very old man. But he takes Elderly Gentlemen's Get Fit hormones and is the nearly lusty paramour of Minnie Bannister. Most shows contain at least one extended scene with just him and Minnie.
Bluebottle, a young boy scout who usually reads his own stage directions. He is the playmate of Eccles, and most shows contain an extended scene with just him and Eccles.
Willium "Mate" Cobblers, an elderly cockney who calls everybody "Mate." He most often appears as a constable, but really can pop up in almost any role.
SPIKE MILLIGAN plays
Eccles, "the original goon," a voice combining Disney's Goofy character; Edgar Bergen's Mortimer Snerd (see local groups page*) and Clifton Finnegan, the super-stupid regular customer at Duffy's Tavern. Jokes about his stupidity are a staple of the show, with Eccles himself cheerfully joining in. His character serves both grown-up parts and as the playmate of Bluebottle.
Miss Minnie Bannister, spinster, a sexy senior citizen who plays the saxophone and regularly breaks out in song or dance. She lives in sin with Henry Crun, but whenever Major Bloodnok comes on the scene it's made clear that they were lovers in the past. (Milligan got the quaver in her voice by pinching the skin on his neck and wobbling it about as he spoke her lines.)
Count Moriarty, French scrag and lackey to Grytpype-Thynne, who usually introduces him and attributes to him some outlandish title or record that he holds ("Has played the male lead in over 50 postcards"). Delightfully wretched in his poverty and degradation.
Sellers and Milligan, both of whom had lived in India, regularly lapse into Hindi accents as (interchangeably) Lalkaka, Banerjee, and Singhiz Thing.
All three of the primary actors regularly took on other roles as needed by the plot, with Sellers, of course, doing more than the others.
OTHER CAST MEMBERS
Wallace Greenslade, announcer. He opened and closed each show, did continuities within them, and often took brief speaking parts. When not doing the Goon Show, he was in fact a news announcer at BBC. The Goons took great delight in mocking his proper, trained accent -- and his noble girth.
Ray Ellington, drummer, singer whose quartet played one of the two musical interludes in each show. He also took speaking parts in many shows, most often as African Chief Ellinga or as Bloodnok's old Arab nemesis, the Red Bladder. [The plethora of jokes linking Ellington to Ghana sprinkled throughout the Goon Show led me in an earlier version of this page to state that he was from that country. I have since learned that he was the son of a black American father and a Russian Jewish mother. If anyone has more biographical info about him I would love to receive it.]
Max Geldray, jazz harmonica player from Holland. Backed by the house band, he plays the first musical interlude in each show and occasionally takes speaking parts in a thin, accented voice.
Wally Stott Orchestra, the house band. Stott made a great contribution to the show with cleverly written themes and comedic musical bits.
Dick Baker, US Goon Archivist