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Wednesday 22 January 2020

Spike Milligan's dad was a friend of famed writer George Orwell

Comedian Spike Milligan
Comedian Spike Milligan

Lynne Kelleher

Unheard tapes of Spike Milligan, set to air to mark his 100th birthday, revealed how his Irish father was friends with George Orwell.

In a new BBC documentary, Inside Out, Milligan's daughter Jane and his pal, Michael Palin, talk fondly of their memories of the comic, known as one of the most influential humorists of the last century, to mark the centenary of his birth.

His daughter, who was gifted hundreds of audio tapes of her father taken by his biographer in the 1980s, said the recordings contained new information about the friendship between her Irish grandfather, Leo Milligan, who was born in Sligo, and the Animal Farm author, when they were both stationed in Burma when Spike Milligan was a child in the 1920s.

"I know my Dad's history but did not know when his Dad was stationed in Burma that my grandfather was friends with George Orwell, who was in the Burmese police," said Jane Milligan.

In the tapes, Spike Milligan recalled meeting Orwell, as well, as a child when the literary giant used to travel to his family home in Burma around the time he was writing his novel, Burmese Days.

"I didn't know who he was, I have a certain feeling in the back of my head, that he brought the manuscript to talk with my father about it because my father was very knowledgeable about the military law affairs in India," he said in the tapes.

"Orwell hadn't been out there that long in the Burmese police.

"He used to come at the weekend. He used to catch the bus from Rangoon. Orwell would get off and he would say: 'Are you in, Milly?'"

Spike Milligan is known as the grandfather of modern comedy, but his struggle to get his first break are captured in the new BBC documentary in tapes of previously unheard interviews recorded between 1980 and 1985.

He may have been friends with the Beatles and Prince Charles, but The Goon Show star, who held an Irish passport, said in the tapes that he didn't have natural confidence like many of the comics of his generation.

"I had no confidence. I didn't have what (Peter) Sellers, (Harry) Secombe and (Michael) Bentine had - complete and utter confidence that they were the best.

"I was brought up with a mother and father who said don't make trouble.

"Well, in this profession if you don't make trouble you don't get the best for your art form," he said.

His daughter Jane said she decided to release the tapes recorded by his biographer Pauline Scudamore on the day which would have marked his 100th birthday.

'Spike Milligan: Inside Out' is on BBC Radio 4 tomorrow , at 11.30am

Sunday Independent

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