Thursday, November 03, 2016

Comedy . . . Best Medicine-1

There's nothing like a really good laugh. Well, as they say, 'laughter is the best medicine.' I'm not sure who said it, but it's surely better to be happy and have a good laugh than sit and be miserable. The world is full of enough misery as it is without sitting around moaning with a long face and feeling depressed.  When you laugh, your body releases endorphins, hormones or neurotransmitters, chemicals that pass along signals from one neutron to the next and eventually gives you a feeling of euphoria. So, no bad thing, when you think of the horrible things going on in the world today.

Looking back, what are the things that make me laugh, particularly on television? Or, come to think of it, radio? Well, as regards radio, I can think of 'The Goons.' A college friend introduced me to them way back in the 1960's. His father had recorded many of the original broadcasts onto reel-to-reel tape and then they were rerecorded onto cassettes, which is how my friend gave them to me. Those shows are really funny, performed by such original comedians as Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and in the original line-up, Michael Bentine. Each of them went on to establish careers away from 'The Goons,' most particularly Sellers, who is perhaps best known to movie audiences today for his portrayal of the inept police inspector, Clouseau. Spike Milligan was responsible for the scripts, and on occasion was joined by Eric Sykes in producing material. The characters and situations in 'The Goons' were totally surreal. How could you avoid laughing at the antics as such classic characters as Eccles, Bloodknock, Moriarty, Grytpype-Thynne, Neddy Seagoon, Henry Run and Minnie Bannister. The show spawned a whole host of catch phrases, such as 'He's fallen in the water!' 'Needle nardle not', 'You rotten swine! You deaded me!" "You silly twisted boy!" I think it was the fact that only three men did all the voices, with only one female character (Minnie Bannister, voiced by Milligan) that is so amazing, looking back on it. It could only really work on radio, because you had to work hard, as a member of the audience, to create pictures of what the characters looked like and that's half the fun. There was an attempt at a television series, I do remember, based on the show, and called "The Telegoons" but it just could never come up to the quality of the radio version. It used rather feeble puppets and they didn't seem to fit my idea of what the characters looked like at all. The bit that might surprise modern audiences might be the fact that these shows had musical interludes, where the action stopped and you had a performance given by a musician, a singer or harmonica player. It was a hang-over from other radio entertainment shows of the period where you had a series of sketches and these linked by musical interludes. It does take a bit of getting used to, having the story (such as they were. Some are better than others. Most, if not all, are totally surreal.) broken up like this, rather like commercial breaks on ITV. Musicians included Max Geldray and Ray Ellington, although at one stage, apparently, Harry Secombe provided musical entertaiment, and  he was perhaps more renowned as a singer rather than merely a comedian. I remember seeing him in the stage musical "Pickwick" where he played the central character of Mr Pickwick. The shows had narrators or announcers,who were sort of foils for a lot of the gags, and these were Andrew Timothy and Wallace Greenslade.  The  producer of the earlier shows was Dennis Main-Wilson, who later moved from radio to television and produced such shows as 'Sykes" with Hattie Jacques and Eric Sykes. He went on to produce television comedies such as "Citizen Smith" starring Robert Lindsey and written by John Sullivan who went on toe create "Only Fools and Horses."


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