In the days before television gained its grip on popular culture, British families would gather around their wireless sets and listen to programmes such as The Goon Show; it is said that even Prince Charles was an avid fan. Now, well over half a century later, a new version of that show has just been launched and is about to embark on a 32-venue United Kingdom tour. The Reviews Hub’s Stephen Bates went along to the launch at the Museum of Comedy in London to find out more.
The 263 episodes of The Goon Show ran between 1951 and 1961, spanning an era of bleak post-war austerity during which laughter was a much-valued commodity. John Osborne was writing serious plays about Britain’s crumbling class system and its dying empire, but against the same backdrop, the Goons were turning out vintage comedy that would lighten the gloom and influence succeeding generations. Their distinctive brand of anarchic, surreal humour struck a chord with listeners in the era in which it originated, but strong traces of it can be detected in Monty Python and other landmark comedies since.
The touring show is made up of three classic episodes, using original scripts written by Spike Milligan – who was also one of the three main original performers. Norma Farnes, Milligan’s assistant for 36 years and this production’s Producer, spoke movingly of him at the launch and related anecdotes about the show’s origins. She had compiled a short list of what she believed to be Milligan’s favourite Goon Show episodes and director Julian Howard McDowell chose his personal favourites, coming up with remarkably similar results. This made the choice of episodes for the show an easy one.
Like Milligan, other Goon Show stars were to become national treasures. The jocular Welshman Harry Secombe will be played by Clive Greenwood and Peter Sellers, the great film comedy actor who was perfecting his craft before being lured away to Hollywood, will be played by the director, McDowell, himself. Colin Elmer is taking on the role of Milligan, with Farnes claiming she was moved to tears when she first heard his rendition. Tom Capper will play the lesser known Wallace Greenslade and musical interludes on the tour will be provided by the duo Java Jive.
Although the show will not deviate from the original scripts, McDowell is keen to stress that he aims to make it a unique theatrical experience, transporting the audience back to the Camden Theatre, from which the original shows were aired. He will be adding a strong visual element, based upon stories from the day and will be finding much fun from the bizarre sound effects, such as the famous sock full of custard. The tour promises to provide a trip down memory lane for the older generation and a hilarious eye-opener for the rest.
Tour begins at Salisbury Playhouse on 4 September 2018. For tickets and info please visit the Apollo Theatre Company website.
Stephen Bates | Image: Contributed