1 ke tt ering the fanzine of elderly british comedy No. 1 Wotcha, Welcome to this, the first issue of Kettering, the fanzine that covers the stranger, tucked away bits and bobs of '50s, '60s and '70s British comedy, along with a modest helping of new comedy writing. Why are we doing this?
Well, it struck me some time ago that everyone I knew who loved British comedy of the era had one show, film, LP or what-have-you they loved with a passion, one which, as far as they knew, everyone else had either never heard of or had written off. This is the place for these peculiar passions. We hope to specialise in articles packed with previously overlooked material, original research and new insights.
This is by way of being a 'test' issue - a pilot, if you will. So any feedback will be gratefully received. If you would be interested in seeing another issue of this publication or have comments to make on this one, please let me know by filling out the accompanying paper slip and posting to our Kettering address (see below).
You could also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, but I would prefer the paper slips because I hate ... more. less.
trees. Also, please let me know if you think you would like to contribute to any future issues of Kettering. We want articles full of intelligence and genuine critical appreciation.<br><br> We're not after recycled material or secondhand opinions. We want interviews with the people who actually made the programmes or recorded the albums. In short, we want stuff that our readers will never have read anywhere else before and will make us look at that part of British comedy in a new light.<br><br> My only request is that you contact me first before writing a word of the article itself so that we can discuss the best way for you to contribute to the bold new phenomenon that is Kettering. PETER GORDON Kettering, 51 Braidwood Road, London SE6 lQU email: email@example.com CONTENTS A User 9s Guide To The Great British Sitcom Movie 3 Funny Game, Politics 10 If It 9s Wednesday It Must Be... 13 The Mental Health Act 19 The Great McGonagall 22 Mr Stangelove review 41 Up Your Player 46 Credits: Richard Larcombe, Matthew Coniam, Graeme Payne.<br><br> With thanks for all their help to Joe McGrath, Victor Spinetti, John Bluthal, Ron Geesin, Peter Lewis, Christine Rodgers and Clare Kelly. Special thanks to Paul Hamilton and Gayl. 3 The origins of the late-sixties/seventies/early-eighties sitcom movie can be located in the British cinema of the late nineteen-fifties, and specifically in the British cinema 9s response to the threat of television.<br><br> Throughout the fifties increasing mass-ownership of tv sets had become a pressing problem, and Hollywood, which had begun by mocking its pint- sized rival, had come to see it as a serious menace. (The 1955 Ealing film The Love Lottery is a late, and unusually British, example of this mockery.) Far outstripping the British industry in resources, Hollywood 9s response to the problem was to throw money at it, in order to provide sensations that television could not offer. The switching-over from black and white to colour (previously saved for fantasy and special occasions) is attributable to this, as are various other fifties gimmicks, some of which survived (widescreen) and some of which did not (3-D).<br><br> The proliferation of Cinemascope epics with their lavish battle scenes and location filming were conceived to lure audiences out of their homes and back into cinemas, and the same anxiety underpins such fifties moments as the pre-title sequence of Martin and Lewis 9s Hollywood or Bust (1956) saluting cthe American movie fan d and the decision to precede The Girl Can 9t Help It (1957) with actor Tom Ewell 9s announcement that the film is shot in widescreen and cgorgeous, life-like colour by DeLuxe d. The scene in Billy Wilder 9s The Apartment (1960) in which Jack Lemmon 9s efforts to watch Grand Hotel on tv are frustrated by the proliferation of crude sponsors 9 announcements exorcises the same neuroses on the part of its makers. But Britain could not afford to suddenly start making Ben Hur , so for its survival it hit on exactly the opposite tactic.<br><br> Instead of giving tv audiences something they cannot experience at home, why not give them the very things they like experiencing at home, only bigger? It was sleeping with the enemy, but it worked. Though smaller companies like Hammer made outright adaptations of tv and radio hits (and with their version of the BBC 9s The Quatermass Experiment scored a massive hit which set them on the path to horror success) the initial idea was usually to take a popular radio or tv comic and give them a big screen vehicle, often with a standardised plot that allowed A User 9s Guide to the Great British Sitcom Movie By Matthew Coniam precious little room to display any of the distinctive comic style that had made them popular in the first place.<br><br> Again, this was nothing new. In earlier decades, British cinema had plundered the music hall and variety stages for stars, achieving notable successes with George Formby and Will Hay, but finding it more difficult to find a place for emasculated versions of Max Miller and Frank Randle. But in those days, films were bringing theatre performers to huge new audiences, and probably the majority of fans who flocked to Let George Do It!<br><br> or Oh! Mr Porter had never seen their stars on stage. This time, however, it was different.<br><br> Huge audiences watched Frankie Howerd and Benny Hill and Charlie Drake on television, and thus knew that what they were getting in The Runaway Bus (1955), Who Done It? (1956) and Sands of the Desert (1960) wasn 9t the same thing at all. Indeed, even when the films were genuinely good, audiences voted with their feet if the format deviated too far from that with which they were comfortable and familiar.<br><br> Tony Hancock 9s two star vehicles for instance, The Rebel (1960) and The Punch & Judy Man (1962) are both far better than most critics will allow; the former in particular is able to take its place among his very best work. But while audience antipathy has been exaggerated in both cases, it is true that they were uncomfortable with the star 9s attempts to broaden his range, particularly in the case of the oddly gloomy second film. On the hunt for box-office champs to replace the increasingly restless Norman Wisdom, Rank had three cracks at making movie stars of Morecambe & Wise.<br><br> The public was unconvinced and posterity has recorded the experiment as disastrous, but in fact all three films are harmlessly enjoyable, and the first two in particular (1965 9s The Intelligence Men and 1966 9s That Riviera Touch ) now seem genuinely cherishable. The problem, it seems, was simply that people did not and do not like Morecambe & Wise without the added response of a studio audience. Truly, television had taken over.<br><br> 4 Bless This House Oddly, when the fad for sitcom movies died out in the eighties, this older formula was briefly revived (shortly before it was decided that a British film industry of any kind had all been a terrible mistake). Three oddities resulted: Smith and Jones 9s ambitious Morons From Outer Space (1984), Kenny Everett 9s sporadically hilarious Bloodbath at the House of Death (1983) and Cannon & Ball 9s Will Hay remake The Boys In Blue (1983). Audience response to all three was decidedly lukewarm and seemingly for the usual reasons: because all three, especially the latter, were made without sufficient enthusiasm to give appropriate material to their stars.<br><br> (Though according to a questionnaire in the 1983 Cannon & Ball Annual , to make a feature film was Tommy Cannon 9s foremost ambition. Bobby Ball 9s, still unrealised to the best of my knowledge, was to open a children 9s adventure playground.) So what happened in between Morecambe & Wise contentedly marching in step with an all- dolly bird army at the end of The Magnificent Two (1967) and Bobby Ball trying to get a herd of cows through a traffic jam at the beginning of The Boys In Blue ? What alternative formula did British film-makers hit upon to keep audiences out of their homes and in the cinemas?<br><br> Looking back, it all seems so ludicrously simple. Why bother trying to reinvent tv comics for the cinema and, as often as not, fail? Why not take a hit sitcom, bag the cast and writer, make a feature film version and give them what they know?<br><br> This, with Hammer yet again at the forefront (along with British Lion and later Cinema Arts International), is just what they did. A frame of mind informs all of these pictures, rendering them as discrete a unit as the films of German Expressionism or the French New Wave, the only difference being that these are lowbrow movies for mass audiences, not part of any artistic or cultural movement. Yet watching them, there is an aura; a sense of being invited into a club or initiated into some secret cult: a sense exaggerated by the critical ignominy in which most of the films themselves have always languished.<br><br> They are time capsules, product of a film-making ethic more Steptoe and Son than Hollywood. Sitcom movies, and the whole world of seventies British low comedy of which they are part, have nothing to do with the exportable face of British cinema; with David Lean or Ealing or James Bond. These were the bastard children of British film, and they made it look ridiculously easy .<br><br> Stanley Long 9s Adventures of a Taxi Driver (1976) may not loom as large in film history as those of Travis Bickle, but in Britain at least they took more money. And because the film was made on a budget of about a fiver, that meant a very comfortable Christmas for Mr and Mrs Long. Of course it had to end, and sure enough, when Margaret Thatcher 9s Conservatives entered Downing Street bringing hope where there was despair, harmony where there was discord, salt where there was vinegar and Laurel where there was Hardy, one of the first things they did was to cut the Eady Levy, a tariff which had ploughed a fixed percentage of all film profits directly 5 back into production.<br><br> Next morning the lowbrow mavericks woke to discover that their industry could no longer support itself, and within a year only Derek Jarman 9s interminable home videos remained to remind us that there was ever any such thing as an independent British cinema. Sitcom films are among the most truly British movies ever made. By which I refer not to the exclusive, Sunday-best Britishness of Ian Fleming and The Avengers but that unguarded, unromantic England-in-its-overalls that (to quote Philip Larkin 9s Lines On A Young Lady 9s Photograph Album ) shows cdull days as dull, and will not censor blemishes d.<br><br> The film- making is best described as functional. Viewers of George & Mildred (1980), for example, will not fail to notice that the exterior of the restaurant in which the characters celebrate their anniversary is plainly a modest suburban bungalow with a string of fairy lights on the roof. They will also note the oddity that none of the characters in the early sequences feel obliged to comment on the howling wind sending their ties and hair in all directions as they converse in their front gardens.<br><br> No American film would be made in such weather, this one doesn 9t even acknowledge it. So how did it all work? The first problem was how to stretch thirty-minute sits into a ninety-minute com.<br><br> Half-hour sitcoms are not half an hour by accident: it 9s about the right length. The usual solution was to graft a heavy-handed and unrealistic plot onto the familiar characters and settings. So George & Mildred begins with ten minutes or so of typical material, before sending its heroes off on a honeymoon to 8The London Hotel 9 (stopping off en-route at 8The Candlelight Restaurant 9) where a hitman makes several failed attempts to kill them after George is mistaken for a gangster.<br><br> This plays especially strangely in comedies where the central situation is essential to the point of the programme. For instance, Man About The House was a mildly risque series about a heterosexual man sharing a flat with two girls. Come fresh to the 1974 film, however, and you will be baffled at how little is made of this in its story of a crooked property developer and his attempts to knock down their house.<br><br> Sitcom films are always funnier when one imagines never having seen the original programme. How strange that a film called Are You Being Served? (1977), in which all the characters work at the same department store, should opt not to base the film in said store, but to send them all on holiday to the Costa Plonka (for which read: a few ramshackle sets at Pinewood).<br><br> The sense of strain is even more evident in the endlessly enjoyable Bless This House (1973), a mild generation gap sitcom which relied almost entirely on the presence of Sid James in 6 the lead. Faced with the task of making a film out of all of this, screenwriter David Freeman opted to push the clock back to the silent era and base the film almost solely around slapstick episodes. So we have uncontrollable hosepipes, people stepping in wallpaper paste, a farting, falling-to-pieces car like clowns have, wet cement calamities and an exploding shed.<br><br> There 9s even a pie fight. Of course, the better the writers, the more considered the screenplay. Two by Clement and Le Frenais, The Likely Lads (1976, a spin-off from Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?<br><br> despite the title) and Porridge (1979) have been opened out sensibly and in-keeping with the style of the originals. So, after a fashion, have Galton and Simpson 9s two Steptoe and Son movies, notable for their heightened sense of squalor and for their interestingly matter- of-fact use of the word 8wanker 9. But of all of them, only Dad 9s Army (1971) really plays as a film in its own right, beginning with the forming of the Home Guard and ending with a Nazi siege in the village church.<br><br> (Even so, there 9s at least twenty minutes of superfluous stuff around the middle of it.) Be in no doubt. These were incredibly popular films. They even had their own sequels.<br><br> There are two Steptoes and two Alf Garnetts. On The Buses (1971), Hammer 9s most successful film of its year, made it to three. Up Pompeii took on a life of its own at the movies: the 1971 spin-off was followed by two sequels in which the central character reappeared during the Crusades ( Up The Chastity Belt , 1972) and the First World War ( Up The Front , 1973).<br><br> Others twisted their original formats into incredibly complex new shapes. The spin-off of Thames TV 9s Man About The House ends at the studios of Thames Television, where the characters meet Spike Milligan and the cast of Love Thy Neighbour playing themselves. So the film exists in a world where George and Mildred are real people but Love Thy Neighbour is a television sitcom.<br><br> This, I should confess, is one of my favourite 7 Man About The House films and (along with Bless This House ) the best illustration to newcomers of the peculiar joys of the form. You have to see it: it 9s not something I can explain in words. Yes; the locations are wonderful (Maida Vale at its greyest and least hospitable), yes; the film-making is delightfully eccentric (the street where the characters live has a sign with its fictional name written on it next to the unobscured real one, one character hails a taxi outside Thames Television and asks to be taken to Thames Television), and yes; the cast is perhaps the finest ever assembled for a single film.<br><br> But there 9s more to it than just that, or rather less to it& It 9s something purer, simpler than that. It 9s the essence of it, the taste of it, the air that it breathes. Great comedy, great cinema it plainly is not.<br><br> But it is perhaps the classic example of a film that has such unconscious beauty in itself that it transcends its immediate purpose. (Remember Larkin 9s photograph album here.) Every film, whether it knows it or not, is ambassador for a whole range of incidental concepts: a certain place, a certain moment in time, a certain set of values, impressions, ideas. And it is these things, often, that ingrain themselves deeper in the audience than the plot, or the acting, or the jokes, or some other superficial ingredient.<br><br> And Man About The House seems to stake its claims, in particular its claims for London and for 1974, more vividly than any other I can think of. And no other film makes me so curious as to what it was like actually making it. What sort of direction did the director give?<br><br> Were there discussions about the script? Did Sally Thomsett say things like cI don 9t think Jo would say this d or Yootha Joyce ask what her motivation is for objecting to her husband cutting his toenails next to a bowl of salad? I find myself imagining conversations on set, between takes, during lunch breaks.<br><br> I picture actors Richard O 9Sullivan and Doug Fisher discussing the merits of film over television in the same spirit as that in which their characters Robin and Larry might compare blondes and brunettes. How would it feel to be actually out there on those streets as the cameras turned? The point is this.<br><br> You may well have seen Man About The House and have no idea in the world what mysterious delight I seem to be taking in it. But you do know what I 9m talking about. I 9m sure you can think of some other film that affects you in such a fashion, even if it 9s a much safer choice like Casablanca or Annie Hall or that one where Paul Hogan dies and comes back as an angel.<br><br> We all acknowledge the power of film to invade our consciousness in such a fashion. It is not mere enjoyment, it is the desire to somehow make its world and ours the same, to be alive within it. There are of course films about this very phenomenon (like Purple Rose of Cairo ) so I must assume that it presses buttons with 8 everybody.<br><br> The choice is academic. For you: Casablanca . For someone who likes rubbish films rather than good ones: A Clockwork Orange .<br><br> For me: Man About The House . Nowhere else is London so Londonish, or 1974 so 1974-ish, as Larkin would doubtless more poetically observe. It positively reeks of its moment, and one watches it in the same spirit in which one sinks into a warm bath.<br><br> And by 8one 9 I of course mean me. Because everyone else thinks it 9s shit. From their heyday, around 1972-5, the films thinned out as the decade wore on and the Eady money dried up.<br><br> Their death was announced in 1980, when Cinema Arts put out two of the oddest: George & Mildred , made shortly before the death of its star Yootha Joyce, and Rising Damp , made shortly after the death of its star Richard Beckinsale. This latter is chiefly notable for being composed largely of chunks of the tv scripts rather than an original screenplay, and for the extent of its deviations from the original format. Relocated to London in a big white house (instead of the beautifully brown tv set) the film featured the plot revelation that Don Warrington 9s Philip is only pretending to be an African chief and a disco-style theme song ( Rising damp is climbing up the walls, Rising damp is out there in the halls, Rising damp is gonna get us all!<br><br> ). Token reference is made to the fact that the late Beckinsale 9s character has moved away, but nobody seems to notice that replacement Christopher Strauli has been given all his old dialogue. Alas, it all ended here.<br><br> We never got to see a film version of Open All Hours in which Arkwright and Granville try to fight off competition from a new supermarket by releasing rats in the food hall and setting off stink bombs. Cruel fate denied us the Hi-De-Hi movie, in which oil is discovered under Maplin 9s holiday camp, and Ted Bovis becomes a millionaire oil dealer. And we can only dream of the film of Terry & June in which the pair inherit a haunted castle from Terry 9s mysterious uncle, only to discover that the 8ghosts 9 are really villains trying to scare them away so that they can find loot hidden in the building by its previous owner.<br><br> But perhaps we should be thankful for the ones we do have. After all, it now seems so unlikely that this whole adventure ever happened, we really should be grateful that Man About The House and Bless This House , two of the most adorable comedies of British film history, exist at all. And no, I 9m not being ironic.<br><br> I really mean it. Note: An entirely different version of this article first appeared in the May 1996 issue of The Comedy Review. The reason it was entirely different was because it was not so much edited as gutted, and completely rewritten without my permission.<br><br> As well as adding large numbers of errors, inane 8jokes 9 and opinions I do not hold, the magazine decided to give individual paragraphs puerile titles, such as 8Seventies Plotless Rubbish 9 and 8There Wuz Only Three Good Uns 9. Not only that, but it took about a year to get any money out of the bastards. 3 MC 9 A regular feature on the lost art of the comedy album 3 not just those with sketches and clips from famous TV or radio shows, but also those records created purely for their own sake.<br><br> Expect to see the words "produced by George Martin" come up a lot. This week& FUNNY GAME, POLITICS: or How The Dogs Went To The Country (1964) Featuring Millicent Martin, Kenneth Cope, Roy Kinnear, Lance Percival, William Rushton. Written by Peter Lewis and Peter Dobereiner.<br><br> Produced by George Martin. Parlaphone PMC 1225 Side 1 3 Who Do You Fancy/ Call To Action/ Listen With Mother/ Good Day To You, Sir/ H.P. Sauce/ Zero Zombie Swings Liberal/ Policy For Britain/ Funny Game.<br><br> Politics Side 2 3 Consumers 9 Guide/ Raise The Standard 3 1/ My Dear Prime Minister/ Mr Wilson At Home/ This 9ll Kill You/ Raise The Standard 3 2/ How To Be Happy With The Bomb/ Raise The Standard 3 3 The summer of 1964, a General Election was looming and the satire boom that had been so central to British comedy for the last four years was, for the most part, dead and gone. Beyond The Fringe , the stage show which had started it all back in 1960 (despite not containing all that much actual satire) was drawing to a close. One member of the original cast, Jonathan Miller, had already left during the show 9s Broadway run, and the other three were soon to follow.<br><br> It went on for a couple of years with various replacement casts, but became a shadow of its former itself. The Establishment , the satirical nightclub and brainchild of one of the Fringers, Peter Cook, had gone into terminal decline in 1963, and by the next year was being overrun with gangland heavies, gradually becoming just another Soho club with only a passing interest in political cabaret. Private Eye , who had seen their circulation build up over the years until reaching astronomical heights in 1963 during the Profumo Scandal, had then seen them fall again just as quickly as satire went out of fashion.<br><br> And then, in December 1963, the last ever That Was The Week That Was was broadcast. In the space of two series, TW3 (as it was referred to) had revolutionised the public 9s idea of what could and could not be said on television. Indeed, when viewed even in our own jaded times, some sketches (such as the This Is Your Life parody with Willie Rushton as home secretary Henry Brooke) retain much of their initial impact.<br><br> TW3 had managed to mightily piss off many within the establishment. (It had also managed 10 Vinyl Obsucra to piss off quite a few of its own fans and supporters by broadcasting, in their penultimate show, a fawning eulogy to the recently assassinated President Kennedy - a tribute many felt had no place in a satirical show.) Some of TW3 9s detractors may point out that it had merely built on the work of people like Private Eye and Beyond The Fringe , but what it did do was take satire from its mainly Westend audience and broadcast it around the nation. Most people could not or would not trek all the way to London to watch the Fringers or spend an evening at The Establishment , but they could easily catch David Frost and the cast on their televisions on a Saturday night.<br><br> Funny Game Politics is a direct descendent of TW3 . It contains all the regular TW3 cast, minus Frost, and is scripted by two of the TV show 9s main writers, Peter Lewis and Peter Dobereiner, two Daily Mail journalists turned satirists. As with TW3 , it consists of a number of quick sketches, along with a handful of musical items, performed in front of an audience.<br><br> It 9s a stripped down version of TW3 , lacking such items as Millicent Martin 9s opening song or Lance Percival 9s topical calypso, but still has much the same feel as the original show. Many of the items have a feeling of familiarity about them. The opening track is a husband and wife dialogue with a likeable Hancock feel to it.<br><br> There 9s a Listen With Mother parody, which has since become something of a cliché of the form. How To Be Happy With The Bomb feels very like The Great Train Robbery sketch from Beyond The Fringe . In addition Consumers 9 Guide , a comparative study of each of main political parties done as if they were different brands of detergent, is reminiscent of the classic TW3 sketch A Consumers 9 Guide To Religion , originally written by Robert Gillespie and Charles Lewsen.<br><br> Not that any of this detracts from the quality of the material. In fact, what they bring home 11 is that the album was made during the period when what we now think of as clichés of political satire were first being played around with. Also surprising is how much of the material would be easily transferable to today.<br><br> Many of the album 9s jokes at the expense of Harold Wilson living in Hampstead could be used with Tony Blair and Islington. Jokes about the ineptness of the Liberal Party apply equally well to the Lib Dems. A sketch about a political party hiring a pop group (led by Zero Zombie) fits perfectly with New Labour 9s attempts to court favour with the likes of Oasis and Jarvis Cocker.<br><br> The stand out piece for me, however, is This 9ll Kill You , a Roy Kinnear monologue about the morality of selling tobacco. The speech is delivered with all the dry wit and satirical bite of TW3 at its best and is a classic of the form. The album was made at the suggestion of producer George Martin.<br><br> After the end of the second series of TW3, those on high at the BBC let it be known that there was to be no third series. The 1964 General Election was approaching and the Beeb 9s hierarchy decided it was far too dangerous a time for comedians to be taking the mick out of the great and good. Martin approached Lewis and Doberiener and the cast and suggested that, if the BBC didn 9t want to a TW3 for the election, why not put one out themselves on record?<br><br> The only main member of the TW3 cast missing from the LP is David Frost owing to a certain amount of bad feeling between Frost and the show 9s other cast and writers. Funny Game Politics was performed in front of an audience as a one-off show at Abbey Road. As with almost everything else about the album, everything was arranged at the last minute and there was no time to get proper publicity for the recording session, with the result that 8invitations 9 to the show took the form of posters stuck up in the local hospital.<br><br> According to Peter Lewis, the LP was written, rehearsed and recorded in a chell of a hurry d, in an attempt to get it out in time for the election. As it turned out, the record finally appeared only ca couple of weeks before the election d, says Lewis. cBy the time it came out everyone was pretty much sick of [the election]. d The poor timing of the album 9s release ensured that it sunk almost without trace.<br><br> With hinsight, though, it 9s a fascinating document. This was the last gasp for TW3 . The cast never again fully reassembled and went to their various careers in Private Eye , Carry On films, Brookside and US sitcoms.<br><br> As for the writers, Peters Lewis and Dobereiner went on to write for BBC3 and Not So Much A Programme More A Way Of Life , both successors to TW3 but which failed to recapture the original 9s popularity. Dobereiner, a New Yorker who came to England to study at Oxford in the 1940s, went on to become a golf writer for the Guardian and Observer, and edited many highly popular books of golf humour until his death in 1996. Lewis continues his career as arts reviewer for The Daily Mail .<br><br> Many thanks to Peter Lewis for his invaluable help in writing this article. 12 By Peter Gordon If ever there was a show that typified the phrase "They don 9t make them like that anymore," then surely it must be BBC Radio 4 9s If It 9s Wednesday It Must Be& . The show ran for three series in 1972-73 and was intended to be a children 9s version of Start The Week , the grown-ups round table chat show which began life in 1970 and runs to this day.<br><br> Broadcast during the school holidays, beginning with the summer break of 1972, it replaced the termtime programmes for schools every Wednesday from 9.35-10.15 in the morning. Each show would feature a series of guest slots all hosted by the naughty-uncle figure of one Kenneth Robinson. All the shows were produced by the man responsible for STW , Richard "Dickie" Gilbert (no relation to Jimmy Gilbert, the then-Head of BBC Television Light Entertainment).<br><br> The guests themselves were a strange mixture. Only two guests appeared in every show of the series run. One was Kenny Everett, Radio 1 9s enfant terrible disc jockey.<br><br> Everett brought over many of his favourite routines from the Radio 4 9s hip cousin, including the Musicians 9 Walk Out sketch and his nasal Eleanor Rigby singalong, as well as taking the opportunity to introduce the station 9s middle class listeners to the music of The Beach Boys, and, after one his sackings from Radio 1, letting loose a tirade against "those rat bags" in BBC management. The other ever-present guest was former Bonzo Dog Band leader Vivian Stanshall. Stanshall used his slot in a variety of ways.<br><br> Sometimes he would tell a story weaved around a selection from his collection of old 78s, some of them embryonic versions of what would 13 If It 9s Wednesday It Must Be& Kenny Everett later become his Rawlinson End saga (which at one point he rechristens "Rawlbottom"), which he was also doing on STW at around the same time. Other times Stanshall would just play some records and give theme- based chats (for instance feminism, mothers, loneliness) to the audience at home. Anyone interested in the early versions of his Rawlinson End stories, the fabulous, fantastical tales of a secluded pocket of English eccentricity and its strange cast of inhabitants, would do well to visit the Rawlinson End website at http://www.rawlinsonend.org.uk which includes many transcripts in its Radio Flashes section.<br><br> At the end of this article we 9ve included an extract from one of his stories, Rawlinson End Part 11 , along with Stanshall 9s slot on the post-Christmas show where he gabbles and meanders away in a most delightful fashion. Another show has him presenting his section from The Edinburgh Fringe Festival where he was doing his Men Opening Umbrella Ahead show, accompanied Bubs White and Gasper Lawall, which is where the poem below originated. Other contributors were a mixed bag indeed, including Scottish absurdist poet Ivor Cutler, columnist and later celebrity alcoholic Jeffrey Barnard (a strange choice for a children 9s show, but there you are), Benny Green (Cockney band leader and broadcaster), hippy DJ Anne Nightingale and satirist Miles Kingston.<br><br> Also in the mix were Ron Geesin (a experimental Scottish composer, reasonably big at the time for of his collaboration with Pink Floyd on the Atom Heart Mother album, but very much an artist in his own right), and Lady June, a hippy poetess from the Canterbury scene and part of the Gong/ Soft Machine crowd. The Credibility Gap also appeared, an American satire-sketch group featuring a pre- Spinal-Tap -and- Simpsons Harry Shearer. The show 9s host, Kenneth Robinson, deserves special mention.<br><br> Once an architect and concert pianist who was constantly getting sacked for playing practical jokes on his orchestras, Robinson had enjoyed a stint replacing Robert "No Relation" Robinson as the presenter of Points Of View on television in the mid-1960s and was making a name for himself as a broadcaster. Kenneth was already appearing as a guest on STW , where his speciality was to act as grumpy, rude counterpoint to the presenter Richard Baker 9s 14 Vivian Stanshall diplomatic politeness. Although he did some other work, including narrating the children 9s animated series Shadoks (1973) and a number of appearances on the radio panel game Just A Minute , STW was to be his main job until 1986.<br><br> During his time on the show he gained a reputation for being especially nasty to any female guests, once reducing Angela Rippon to tears by enthusiastically criticising her book, annoying Esther Ranzten to the point where she could no longer speak and provoking Pamela Stephenson into throw a jug of water over him on air. The end was in sight when in 1984, during a discussion about dating agencies for the disabled, Robinson quipped "You can hear the wheelchairs banging together all night in some parts of the country," provoking a tidal wave of complaints. When the end finally did come him two years later it cannot be said that he went with good grace.<br><br> After Richard Baker bade him farewell on his final show, Robinson announced to the listening public "I 9m not going. I 9m not going. I 9ve been given three days notice after fifteen years.<br><br> It 9s a bloody disgrace." He died in March 1994 aged 68. Here, then, is a little selection of Viv Stanshall 9s contributions to the show. Poem Citadels of concrete, Shell of the eternal electric citizen, All ready your cold iron hearts are rusted and, However Snowden-sculpted you seem From the soft tap and touch of children 9s games And laundry bundles shoulder hugged, To me you are the stuff of shivering shelters still And base foundations.<br><br> That 9s not enough, for folk 9s sake. ( note: this poem eventually featured among the lyrics on Stanshall 9s solo album Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead ( 1974 )) Stories Rawlinson End Part 11 - an extract The story so far: Gwen and Maureen have become successful wrestlers and spend most of their time trying grips and practising in mud or fast setting jelly, their preference being for blackcurrant. Naturally this has somewhat inflamed Great Aunt Florrie, who lives on, remote and aloof as Miss Faversham [ sic ], at Rawlinson End.<br><br> In her opinion, loosed from great Olympian height, the girl 9s choice of career has brought shame on the house of Rawlinson. Hearing of their magnificent win at the Fairfield Hall, Croydon, in a tag match against two shaven bears underwater, she tartly retorted, "So what? My beloved Ralph could play billiards on horseback when he was 18." Had she but known it, her beloved Ralph was homeward bound and, in mid-Atlantic, was only a few hours from Southampton, and then some moments from Rawlinson End.<br><br> The idea of seeing Roxanne again excited him. He wondered what, if anything, had changed. Certainly 15 the years had taken their toll on him.<br><br> A dozen years, and yet it seemed merely the day before yesterday when, clear-eyed, spruce and eager for the expedition, he 9d left for Venezuela. Ralph, a well-fleshed six-footer, sported three pairs of legs. He stared moodily at the green-scaled iridescent flying fish, skipping and fluttering as though being spawned under the huge liner as it lunged nearer, through the waves, toward Rawlinson End.<br><br> A po-faced steward reminded him that second sitting for lunch was already well entrenched in the entrée. The man had the simian posture and mental stature of a pigmy. Ralph couldn 9t care less, but at that very moment, snug in London 9s Soho in Cathartecles Khazi-Kebab And Puck House, his cousin, Peregrine Posonby-Rawlinson, was preparing to order.<br><br> And Perry, as he liked to be called, knew just how. [ FX: sitar ] [ Bertie Wooster-ish voice :] "I say, what say we start with a tandoori chicken numero uno, followed by a sag ghosht, just as a starter, then a 33, and 47, two Bombay duck and a soixante-neuf if I can get enough gin down you?" He smirked at the impressionable young porcelain person he was trying to impress. "[ strangled laugh :] Hnnhnnhnnn," she hnnhnnhnnnded and wondered vaguely what all this was going to cost her in terms of flesh.<br><br> "People have such funny ideas about taste. Nobody really makes their own minds up," said Peregrine, knowledgeably. "I mean, stand up the chap or chappess who hasn 9t got an Aubery Beardsley or Arthur Rakham or 200 Motels - even though it 9s a load of rubbish including the poster - stuck on their walls." Porcelain young thing remained respectfully silent.<br><br> Peregrine knew a lot about art, and especially the Impressionists: Gougin, Van Gough, Tolouse Latrec, Mike Yarwood, Pissaro the Irishman, Mani and Moni the Jewish boys. And Perry grinned and began to stroke the dusk-gray maroon flock mock-William Morris wallpaper suggestively. "With my looks," he murmured, "you don 9t expect intelligence too do you, what?" He felt Very Important.<br><br> Very Important was sitting at the adjoining table and he didn 9t want to be felt at all, although he had considered rubber as a student. "Look here," he gruffed, "Have you any idea how important I am? I 9m incredibly important, and I 9m getting more and more all the time.<br><br> And bigger, much bigger." He indicated some spots of greenish effluvia spattered over his thighs and gargantuan-style loom stomach. "I dare say a spot of the jolly old penicillin and a lie down in a darkened room would clear that up," murmured Peregrine, cooling to the subject. "Penicillin be damned, it 9s Peace you toad," said V.I.P.<br><br> ( note: parts of this story eventually appeared in the book of Sir Henry At Rawlinson End ) A Chat About Christmas I was going to do something along the lines of "The Spirit Of Christmas Past", but in my 16 case I think "The Spirit Of Christmas Psst 3 er, what was that?, er, sorry, yeah 3" would be more appropriate... I managed to type that "appropriate" with three p-s. Tuh, it 9s all go today.<br><br> What the Dickens am I talking about? I think I 9ll eat some brazils to calm myself down. 183 calories per ounce, weight watchers.<br><br> [ talking while chewing nuts :] Now all I need is a base song or a podge poem or a fat& Fatswallah. Er, no, can 9t find him. Hmm, these nuts make jolly good radio, don 9t they?<br><br> Must research loud food. A loud food party: stuff that you couldn 9t help making a row with. You invite the most genteel of chums.<br><br> You can imagine celery crisps, crackling, poppadoms& Poppa Dom, wasn 9t he the voodoo dictator of Haiti? Or was it Papiti? No, Papiti is the capital city of Haiti, as well you should know, where Gangrene, the famous French artist, made pornografitti all over the walls of Papiti and officials with whistles and brushes with bristle had to scrub all the places with Gangrene defacèd and they were in their faces in unmentionable places, but later found that the stuff they washed down was worth a small fortune or more.<br><br> [ MUSIC: Shirley Temple 3 Come And Get Your Happiness ] Little Miss Wonderful Shirley Temple, and that brings me to parrots. I got an Amazonian green one for Christmas. He or she is as yet unnamed, but it 9s been called a few things when it manages to nip a finger.<br><br> It seems to spend most of its time puffing up and threatening or just lazing around listening to records. Here 9s one I wrote and dedicated to my friend Rodney Rhino Slater, who used to play sax and horns in the old Dog band. Rod started keeping parrots about ten years ago.<br><br> The main vocal is by yours smarmily, and parrotry 3 that 9s a real word, you can look it up 3 by Mr. Slater. [ MUSIC: Bonzo Dog Band 3 Mr.<br><br> Slater 9s Parrot ] Eee, that takes me back. I wonder& I remember those endless hours stuffed in the back of a transit and the wonderful hospitality of the hoteliers: "Breakfast at 7.30 or 8.30?" What? We didn 9t get in till four in the morning.<br><br> "That 9s [mumbles:] errgerrwerger tea and biscuits." My Aunt and Uncle went out to Kenya when I was 10. Immediately I bought myself "Teach Yourself Swahili", and began collecting Africana. My room bristled with spears, bedazzled with beadwork and masks.<br><br> Then one day I heard a Tommy Steele record, I think it was "Rock [With] The Cavemen" or "Butterfingers" or something. Anyway, the next thing I take all my beautiful carvèd ceremonial paddles, ostrich egg-shell bead-bags, bracelets, necklets, kabasas and knobkerries round to the local junk shop and swap the lot for the worst finger-biting guitar in the world. I must have been mental.<br><br> I learnt Donna and [croons:] "When you find your sweetheart&" Er, Arms, er, whatever that 9s called 3 it 9s four chords and a snifty one. From that I became a rock and roll star. None the less, the urge to explore the dark continent never left me.<br><br> [ MUSIC: Groucho Marx 3 Hello, I Must Be Going. After a couple of false endings record 17 with Groucho saying "Ha, fooled you that time, didn 9t I?" ] Nope, nobody fools Groucho. A genius, my hero.<br><br> And it 9s good to play a record in its entirety for once. But back to Africa. I 9m hoping to nip off to Nigeria after the series, so here 9s some jolly Ghanaian high-life music from Oscar More Al Furè.<br><br> Oscar got his name from people shouting "Oscar, more, more," etc. This song is conveniently called "Ta Ta", so, till next week, cheerio. [ MUSIC: Oscar More 3 Ta Ta ] If It 9s Wednesday It Must Be episode guide Resident cast who appeared in every show (apart from the last one, see below): Kenneth Robinson (host) Kenny Everett Vivian Stanshall Guests: Ivor Cutler [IC], Jeffery Bernard [JB], Ron Geesin [RG], The Credibility Gap [CG], Lady June Campbell-Cramer [LJ], Benny Green [BG], Anne Nightingale [AN], Miles Kingston [MK] Producer for all three series: Richard Gilbert.<br><br> Every programme was broadcast at 9.35-10.15 AM during the school holidays Summer 1972 to Spring 1973. Appearances are noted here in square brackets as they were billed in Radio Times . SERIES 1: 28-6-72 [IC RG BG]; 5-7-72 [IC CG]; 12-7-72 [IC CG]; 19-7-72 [IC CG]; 26-7-72 [IC BG RG]; 2-8-72 [IC JB]; 9-8-72 [IC BG CG]; 16-8-72 [IC JB]; 23-8-72 [IC RG CG]; 30-8-72 [IC JB BG]; 6-9-72 [IC CG]; 13-9-72 [IC CG JB] SERIES 2: 8-12-72 [LJ CG]; 13-12-72 [RG AN]; 20-12-72 [LJ MK]; 27-12-72 [BG CG]; 3-1-73 [LJ CG]; 10-1-73 [RG] Note: Everett made EVERETT ON EVERETT during this time (BBC Radio 4 26-12-72 9.15-10.00 PM) also produced by Richard Gilbert.<br><br> The show featured Everett only. SERIES 3: 4-4-73 [RG IC]; 11-4-73 [RG LJ IC]; 18-4-73 [RG]; 25-4-73 [T he final show was called IF IT 9S WEDNESDAY IT MUST BE AMERICA, which Kenneth Robinson hosted from New York. The show featured none of the other resident cast, and had guests The Credibility Gap and Monty Modyn ] 18 "He was just sitting there.<br><br> He couldn't speak. I couldn't ask him to speak. It's a talking therapy for crying out loud." We were in the pub, The Social Influence, across the street from the hospital and I was telling him.<br><br> He laughed and sipped his beer. "So what did you do?" "I gave him The First Session spiel and managed to spin that out for a while but that only took around quarter of an hour." "Then?" "I just sat there and listened to him plinking." "Beethoven?" "Plinking Beethoven." "Language. You'll get us barred." "They can only do it once." "So, it isn't just his mouth?" "Apparently not.<br><br> From what the notes say. There was supposed to be pictures in the file but they forgot. They say I'll have them in time for the next session.<br><br> Going by his mouth I'm not sure I want them." Paul, my pal, rubbed the three day growth on his jaw. " I would. I'm fed up with my warring couples.<br><br> They'd be alright if they did some full-on arguing to keep me entertained, a bit of aggro for me to mp3 up and put on my site. But it's like pairs of... weakened puppies.<br><br> Whinging and crying and looking at me like I'm eating a big steak. Or hoping I'll drown the other one in a lake." "You're envious of my freaks?" "I am. I've got freak envy." "Pinhead envy," I said with mild triumph.<br><br> "Oh, Jesus. That's awful. That doesn't even work.<br><br> That's worse than the time you said tree-nis envy to that botany student. This doesn't even work." "There's pinheads in the film Freaks." "There is a point to all of this I take it?" "Yes, it's above their faces. I'm not talking about like what Americans call 'pinhead', like 'stupid'.<br><br> I'm talking about actual named 'pinheads', like a human species. They've got tapered heads that go up to a point and they all require urgent dental care. And this isn't made up either, that's how they really are." "In the film?" "It's an old film and all the freaks are real life freaks." He frowned and sipped.<br><br> "I think I heard about that." I nod. "They should come and film my one." "In Dolby. For accurate reproduction of the string section in his gob.<br><br> What's his name again?" "Joe Raimi. 10am tomorrow. Another?" I can normally do them with a hangover.<br><br> I set the particularly needy ones, the unassertive ones, up with morning appointments. They're happy to go on 19 THE MENTAL HEALTH ACT A Story By Graeme Payne talking and I can drift off a bit. They've got quite low, quiet, soothing voices some of them.<br><br> Although, within that subset, within that particular area of the Venn diagram, there are some you have to be very careful of. Careful you don't find yourself taking too much of it in. Really distressing shit about what their parents did to them and all that.<br><br> Sometimes I have to get two large Jack Daniel's down me before I can even face my sandwich. "Dr.?" "Please continue talking about that. I want you to explore that emotion without too much input from me." "It makes me feel..." This one, Jenny, is pure gold.<br><br> Instant karma. A voice like whale song but without having to explain all your good lifestyle choices and taste afterwards to counter balance the incredible mass you just placed on the other side of the scales. Her problems are currently with her husband.<br><br> History of abusive relationships. She won't change. She needs a listening ear, though, to continue to function at the level of employee.<br><br> Without me she'd probably lose her job. The government pays me to keep these borderline economic burdens in play. If only she knew what she had in her voice.<br><br> If it went public address... people in bustling train stations struck motionless and serenely unaware of where or when to get their train, putting down their briefcases to use as a pillow on the concourse. I inhale deeply, eyes closed and am about to let out a satisfied sigh when my mobile silently spasms in my pocket - the alarm I set to indicate 'time up'.<br><br> "...and he said that if I ever spoke to him like that again he'd kill me and my parents. So, I feel absolutely desperate like I might do something..." "Hum... I'm afraid that's all the time we have for this week.<br><br> I want you to use the focussing techniques we went through a few sessions ago and apply them to what we've gone through today. I'll see you next week." Well trained, she gathers herself, her things and heads off. As the door closes her healing presence leaves too.<br><br> I feel shut out, like a cat scratching at a door. The hangover kicks back in with a monotonous rolling beat. Ten minutes until Beethoven turns up.<br><br> I fantasise briefly about killing Morton, another doctor down the corridor, with a leather bootlace. I picture my masterful defence speech and I'm acquitted because every right thinking being on the planet understands that it was the only solution. I have a complete moral and psychological justification and everybody understands this.<br><br> But it isn't helping the head ache. The buzzer goes signalling the patient has arrived and my face stiffens into its routine neutrality. A face designed to instil a sense of security in the patient.<br><br> Too stern and a patient will find it difficult to open up. This will mean I have to work very hard to reach the stage where the patient can monologue their hour away. Too happy and generous and a patient may tend to assume that I am not a serious professional.<br><br> It may also lead to attempts to form a relationship beyond the doctor/ patient one. Some notable headline makers have cultivated sexual desires in their patients and been rewarded with a varied sexual life. A paper recently appeared in The Lobe showing that 40 percent of male 20 practitioners struck off for 'really getting into the patient's head' eventually confessed their behaviour to their superiors.<br><br> They said they did this to escape the incredibly complicated logistics of having extra-marital affairs with several people who, in themselves, are several people. "There were seven of us in my marriage," said one doctor's wife "and three of them were Mandy." I am somewhat sceptical of The Lobe's findings because most patients are not nearly interesting enough to have multiple personalities. Most of them struggle to achieve one .<br><br> Although, when I put this to Steve in the bar, he said "No, it's quite possible. Because if you're shot down in flames the first time, if you're persistent you've got a chance of getting off with one of the other personalities that's in there. They're over-represented precisely because there's so many of them - despite the fact that there are also very few." Lazily mulling this over isn't helping my headache.<br><br> And then he steps in. Joe Raimi. I catch his eye.<br><br> His round wide eyes. This is a mistake I promised myself I wouldn't repeat. Like many people with deep, deep problems he has deep, deep eyes.<br><br> The lids are large and heavy, puffed and bloated. The cumulative ballast from years of powerful and unwanted emotion. If you look into most people's eyes you either see an ugly absence or the monotonous easy focus, like a flashing cursor, of someone going about their work or habitual manoeuvres.<br><br> The majority of people I see also have deeply ingrained habits but they are the habits of someone who has been living alone on a remote island. Still fighting World War II. They've lived, for a year, entirely on a diet of Golden Nuggets.<br><br> Or they have been kicked down the stairs by their husband every weekend for a decade and now throw themselves down them if he doesn't come home. They believe that the world will be sucked into a black hole if they do not accurately index their VHS tapes. They have a wank every time they see CCTV footage of a building society being turned over.<br><br> And then, when they emerge into a world that doesn't understand their behaviour, they get scared. Their eyes open wide with a suspicion that the entire world knows what they do and that they think it is wrong and that they should be got rid of. The intense pain of being compelled to face a world that neither understands or cares brings tears to their eyes and confirms their belief that they are safest on their island.<br><br> Anybody could be the enemy. Wet, round, scared eyes. Beckoning mermaids that say cI'm letting you on my island.<br><br> It is all I have. Please do not take it away from me. d Well, frankly, fuck that - we've got an hour to try and kick you back into the economy. You might have been away a long time but pretend these shopping trolleys are like firewood.<br><br> You go out and find and then bring them back here. See? No.<br><br> No, don't set them on fire. Remote islands are for the rich. Only Randolph Hearst could afford to be Randolph Hirst.<br><br> No man is an island until he can put down the deposit. Fifteen minutes later, after I explain that the photographs have still not arrived but without asking him to do so; he undresses before me. Jesus.<br><br> Where has he been? END OF PART ONE 21 By Matthew Coniam and Richard Larcombe On Monday 24th June, 2002, the London Evening Standard reported on the memorial service held that day in London in honour of a humourist and writer often cited as the most important British comedian of the twentieth century, Spike Milligan. By an interesting coincidence, a few pages later in the same edition a much smaller piece reported on another ceremony held the same day in Dundee.<br><br> Here, a walkway had been unveiled in memory of a nineteenth-century Scottish writer often cited as the worst poet of all time, William McGonagall. Nobody would have been more delighted than Milligan himself by this symbolic joining in death of his name with that of the ill-fated Scottish weaver turned 8poet and tragedian 9. For McGonagall 9s life and verse had long been an obsession of Milligan 9s, finding frequent (and frequently irrelevant) expression in his published works, as well as taking centre stage in two full-length novels and one remarkable film.<br><br> This is the story of that film. With a body of work as generally undiscussed, misrepresented and rarely seen as Milligan 9s, it may seem perverse to label The Great McGonagall (1974) as his 8lost masterpiece 9. After all, what is the Q series if not a masterpiece and (thanks to BBC neglect) to all intents and purposes lost?<br><br> McGonagall , however, is buried treasure even by Milligan standards: little seen, both on release and subsequently, it is usually subject to critical derision when not ignored altogether. Financed by producers who envisaged it largely as a tax-dodge it received only a token release, and until we contacted them, even two of its principal stars, John Bluthal and Victor Spinetti, had never seen it. Most contemporary reviews were negative.<br><br> When it is mentioned today, it tends to be as a footnote in studies of Peter Sellers, who contributes a cameo appearance as Queen Victoria. Often it is cited as yet another disastrous Sellers project from the era of Where Does It Hurt? and The Ghost in the Noonday Sun , or worse: as a failed off-shoot of the Goons.<br><br> Certainly, Sellers 9s prominence in the credits (and in the film 9s minimal promotion) can be seen as a deliberate, perhaps backfiring, attempt to lure audiences to the film. (Bluthal "just 22 The Great McGonagall Spike Milligan 9s Lost Masterpiece couldn 9t believe how much Spike was in awe of Peter.") This has resulted in most reviewers writing about Sellers 9s few minutes of screen-time and little else. Variety 9s scribe goes so far as to claim that Sellers 9s scenes ("as a randy monarch") are "chopped up and distributed haphazardly throughout the pic in a vain attempt to keep interest from flagging." (In fact, he appears in two distinct, un- chopped up sequences.) This is wrong, and lazy, and has helped obscure for over twenty-five years the fact that The Great McGonagall is one of the strangest, most genuinely unique and fascinating British films ever made.<br><br> Though a representative (if extreme) example of Milligan 9s mature comic style (made shortly before Q6 and distinguished from The Goon Show by its more uncompromising sense of iconoclastic absurdism) the film is at the same time distinct from his surrounding. At this point it may be useful to digress briefly and confirm exactly what we mean when we talk of Milligan 9s mature style, since even this fundamental matter has, surprisingly, received virtually no serious critical analysis. We all know how the Goons revolutionised British comedy with their healthily irreverent childishness, absurd sound effects and funny noises, but how often are we told that Milligan progressed from this template, producing comedy through the sixties and seventies that was deeper, denser, further refined, cleverer, stranger, more intense, better and significantly different?<br><br> In a revealing (mid-eighties) interview (for the television programme Famous Last Words ), 23 Milligan claimed that he had to reign-in his comic imagination to suit the specific market he was catering to and that "when I really write comedy nobody understands it, it 9s like Finnegan 9s Wake ." Re-listening to the Goons it is clear that what seemed daringly anarchic at the time is in fact Milligan at one-tenth force, and riddled with retained radio comedy conventions. All would gradually be dispensed with in the years that followed, and in his subsequent work in theatre (notably Son of Oblomov ), television (notably the sublime Q6 , 7 and 8 ) and this one film we see the natural evolution of a comic style defined above all else by its restlessness and inability to adhere statically to formalised conventions. (Even, that is, when those conventions were formalised by Milligan himself, and about as far from both formality and conventionality as can be imagined.) Compare any episode of Q8 with The Goon Show (or for that matter with Monty Python 9s Flying Circus ) and you will instantly concede Milligan 9s point about the sheer idiosyncratic depth of his comic imagination.<br><br> But if what you 9re after is the full Finnegan 9s Wake , you really need The Great McGonagall ; the only 8pure 9 example of Milligan cinema in existence. He is properly dominant and at liberty, neither pocketed into cameos and guest spots nor straitjacketed by the demands of conventional narrative and characterisation as in, for example, Postman 9s Knock (1961), a bona-fide star vehicle with nothing to offer Milligan devotees whatsoever. Goon Show fans may be able to extract a smile or two from Down Among The Z-Men (1952), but Q -lovers in search of bizarre visual ideas, wild mangling of everyday English, characters in blackface, tailor 9s dummies, boxing gloves, cornflake-box crowns and people dressed as Hitler have only one option.<br><br> The idea for the film came from its director Joe McGrath, one of the most significant creative figures in post-war British comedy, whose work as writer, producer and director encompasses Not Only But Also , The Bliss of Mrs Blossom (1968), bits of the notorious Casino Royale (1967), Sellers 9s best film The Magic Christian (1969), the sweet Dudley Moore vehicle Thirty Is A Dangerous Age, Cynthia (1968) and Morecambe and Wise 9s peculiar swansong Night Train To Murder (1985). Like Milligan and Sellers, McGrath was (and is) a huge fan of McGonagall, whose contrived rhymes and inability to adhere to even the simplest conventions of rhythm and scansion lends his work a comic effect so pronounced that it is easy to forget that the poet 9s intentions were always deadly serious. The three would regularly meet at the Dorchester on McGonagall 9s birthday for a celebration incorporating grandiose recitations of his work, and McGrath recalls that, while Milligan would doggedly continue to a poem 9s conclusion, Sellers would invariably surrender to hysterical laughter part-way through (a telling example of the important differences between the two men).<br><br> McGonagall was not just a figure of fun to Milligan. However hilarious he found his 8poetic gems 9 there can be no doubt that Milligan was as much fascinated and moved by the story 24 of the poet 9s life as he was amused by what John Bluthal termed his "terrible, crap, twelfth- grade poetry". McGrath has confirmed that the film 9s interpretation of this rather pathetic historical figure is in large measure a Milligan self-portrait, and more broadly that the latter 9s obsession with McGonagall is a reflection of a deep and sincere empathy with an eccentric creative talent who pursued his personal vision in the face of both apathy and antipathy.<br><br> McGonagall was an extraordinary individual who, struck by the muse at the age of 52, abruptly gave up his job to devote himself to an art at which he had not the vaguest talent but with which he persevered in the face of insult, mockery and even parody. His public recitations of his works invariably ended with his being pelted with rotten eggs, and often he would secure a spot on theatre bills by paying the owner. (He was also notorious for his performances from Shakespearean tragedies, including a celebrated Macbeth , recreated in the film with Milligan 9s customary self-defeating refusal to stick to the point.) His decision to persevere, and to interpret this constant rejection as jealousy or ignorance rather than an honest verdict on verse that was clearly inept, is almost impossible to understand.<br><br> And it is these pretensions that continually undermine the essential tragedy of his story. There is both sadness and pomposity, for instance, in the manner in which he courted the approval of the aristocracy and other writers. Broadsheet versions of some of his poems proclaim him Patronised by Her Majesty and Lord Wolseley of Cairo, HRH the Duke of Cambridge, the Right Hon W E Gladstone and General Graham; also the nobilty and gentry etc , before going on to reproduce form replies to unsolicited poems as if they were official praise from their intended recipients.<br><br> One is headed Copy Of Letter From The Right Hon W E Gladstone and reads simply: 8 Mr Gladstone desires me to acknowledge with thanks the receipt of the two poems which you kindly sent him. Your obedient servant, George Spence Littleton . 9 In perhaps his most celebrated gesture of self-delusion he journeyed by foot to Balmoral to read his works to the Queen, only to be turned away at the gates. Yet despite the steep difference in their levels of acclaim and neglect (and talent, of course) it is not hard to see parallels between the two men in their sense of themselves, and their single-mindedness in the face of disinterest and misunderstanding.<br><br> Despite his high critical reputation and generally favourable standing with the public, Milligan tended always to emphasise the disappointments and frustrations of his career; for instance in his failure to achieve true international recognition and his perceived ill-treatment by the BBC. It seems clear that he saw in McGonagall a fellow-sufferer, condemned to his personal and uncompromising form of creative expression, a man ahead of his time, and, most of all, a supreme individual. It was his first attempt in over twenty years as a professional writer to tell a true story other than his own.<br><br> In previous work, a slender and ultimately disposable plot would be 25 used as context for a range of obsessions, diversions and whims, always subservient to his almost obsessive need to stray from the narrative path and pursue peculiar tangents, often at dominating length. In his West End success Son of Oblomov he had found success by radically departing from the original script and thus asserting the ultimate irrelevance of plot. Here, however, he has a definite story to tell, and which he wants to tell, and the resultant conflict between his narrative and comic instincts is central to the effect of the film.<br><br> Still, the best way to appreciate the film is in the light of Milligan 9s more ambitious post- Goon Show projects in the theatre. In the early sixties, in collaboration with playwright John Antrobus, he had written The Bed-Sitting Room , a broadly satirical stage success in which techniques developed in light entertainment were applied to the creation of a vibrant British form of absurdist theatre. The play also introduced many elements of Milligan 9s visual vocabulary, in particular the false noses, signs, ragged costumes, scattered props and portable doors that would inform the look of Q.<br><br> By the time he triumphed again in Son of Oblomov no less a figure than Peter Brook was writing (in his 1968 book The Empty Space ) of "Spike Milligan 9s theatre, in which the imagination flies like a wild bat in and out of every possible shape and style", before summing-up his work as "a pointer to what may become a powerful English tradition." The wild bats were also circling over Allen Eyles, whose contemporaneous The Marx Brothers: Their World of Comedy nominates Milligan as the only fitting heir to their theatrical kingdom. For Spike, one imagines, there could be no higher praise. Indeed, this sense that his comedy was essentially theatrical never left Milligan.<br><br> It permeates Q , in which Milligan frequently makes asides and in-jokes not to the watching tv audience but to the audience in the studio ("those free tickets paid off"). And it reaches its apotheosis in McGonagall , a film best understood as an extension of these theatrical endeavours. ( Cinema/TV Today 9s Marjorie Bilbow observed, in what could well be the only positive review the film received, that it will appeal to "the sizeable minority that is switched on to the now-you-get-it-now-you-don 9t comedy of the absurd", adding that it should do best at cinemas "in the vicinity of universities".) So, when embarking on the film, Milligan could look back on a career that had seemingly been most successful when he had been most free to do as he wished.<br><br> From The Goon Show , which apparently greatly vexed the BBC hierarchy of the time, to his irreverent deconstructions of theatrical convention, his wildest inventions had been met with acclaim and success. It would seem he genuinely believed that McGonagall would establish him in cinema as Oblomov had on stage, and the double blow of its cynically limited release and cr