Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Oh Christ, the cook is dead

In February of 1977, a well-meaning teacher named Stephen Gard wrote to Spike Milligan after reading Monty, the third installment of Spike’s memoirs which focused on his life as a soldier in World War II, and asked some questions about the book. Says Stephen:
“My letter was written as a fan, but it did ask a lot of questions; questions that a lifetime of Goon-show listening had raised in my mind. The one that obviously annoyed Spike was, 'Why do so many Goon Shows, e.g. Tales of Men's Shirts, harp on the theme of military cowardice? After the line 'The prison camp was filled with British Officers who'd sworn to DIE rather than be captured,' [audience laughter] why did you come to the mike and say 'Thank you, fellow cowards!' Is it because you yourself were accused of this?”
Spike replied with the following letter.

(This letter, along with 124 other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, Letters of Note. For more info, visit Books of Note.)

28th February, 1977

Dear Stephen,

Questions, questions, questions. If you are disappointed in my book 'MONTY', so am I. I must be more disappointed than you because I spent a year collecting material for it, and it was a choice of having it made into a suit or a book.

There are lots of one liners in the book, but then when the German Army are throwing bloody great lumps of hot iron at you, one only has time for one liners. In fact, the book should really consist of the following:

"Oh fuck"
"Look out"
"Christ here's another"
"Where did that fall?"
"My lorry's on fire"
"Oh Christ, the cook is dead"

You realise a book just consisting of those would just be the end, so my one liners are extensions of these brevities.

Then you are worried because as yet I have not mentioned my meeting with Secombe and later Sellers. Well by the end of the Monty book I had as yet not met either Secombe or Sellers. I met Secombe in Italy, which will be in vol 4, and I am arranging to meet Peter Sellers on page 78 of vol 5 in London. I'm sorry I can't put back the clock to meet Secombe in 1941, to alleviate your disappointment — hope springs anew with the information I have given you.

Another thing that bothers you is "cowardice in the face of the enemy". Well, the point is I suffered from cowardice in the face of the enemy throughout the war — in the face of the enemy, also in the legs, the elbows, and the wrists; in fact, after two years in the front line a mortar bomb exploded by my head (or was it my head exploded by a mortar bomb), and it so frightened me, I put on a tremendous act of stammering, stuttering, and shivering. This mixed with cries of "mother" and a free flow of dysentery enabled me to be taken out of the line and down-graded to B2. But for that brilliant performance, this letter would be coming to you from a grave in Italy.

Any more questions from you and our friendship is at an end.

Spike Milligan