Sunday 25 August 2019

'Tis the season to share wisdom of funnyman Spike

Spike Milligan coping strategy for his sadness was writing
Spike Milligan coping strategy for his sadness was writing

Fiona O'Connell

'Tis the season to be jolly," so the chirpy carol goes. Making Christmas especially challenging for those with crosses to bear. A season celebrating a birth doesn't exactly help when burdened with bereavement - or if battling the blues.

Yet where is the spirituality behind the Christmas spirit to provide solace for such broken hearts? Shouldn't the Good News make bad times feel better? What can the gospel give Christians who grieve, beyond advising them to put their best foot forward in this vale of tears? Why can't light-heartedness accompany the way and the truth and the life?

So believed the "funniest person of the last 1,000 years" as a BBC poll once voted Spike Milligan, who wrote how "during this period when my faith was fading, I wished that somehow, somewhere, I'd come across something humorous - a comment or an incident - in my prayer book or Bible. Just one line like "And lo, Jesus laugheth heartily", or "Jesus sayeth 'Come unto me and I will tell you a joke'. But no such luck." He went on to say: "Why? Why? I wonder. I suspect Christ peppered his teachings and parables with wit and repartee. He was a 'whole' man. And surely the message of religion is that we find happiness in it?"

For "the great God of all" modern British comedy, as John Cleese hailed the born-in-India son of an Irish father and English mother, whose coffin was draped in the Irish flag, suffered with severe depression. So it seems fitting to remember him during this sometimes stressful season. Especially since the genius behind The Goon Show deeply respected Jesus. "I still don't know what it's all about," Milligan admitted, "but all the world has to do is enact the teachings of Christ."

Especially the ones practised by Saint Francis in whose honour our current Pope is named. Indeed, Milligan wrote to Pope Paul VI in 1976, telling him that he had decided to withdraw from the Roman Catholic Church and become a Buddhist because he wouldn't excommunicate an American vivisectionist. Milligan also once marched in to the Food Hall at Harrods and tried to stuff 28lb of spaghetti down the manager's throat, "to give him some idea of how a goose feels being force-fed maize to make foie gras".

Milligan's daughter, Laura, says her father's love of animals and life-long passion as an animal rights activist were born in India. "He was incredibly sensitive and he witnessed terrible cruelty to animals by the soldiers over there."

Fortunately for us, Milligan's coping strategy for his sadness was writing. One suitably seasonal poem that also encapsulates his convictions is Rage In Heaven: "If a robin redbreast in a cage/Puts all heaven in a rage/How feels heaven when/Dies the millionth battery hen?

Milligan's Jesus was not to be found pontificating from behind pearly gates, as reflected in his poignant poem, Entertaining Angels Unawares: "I thought I saw Jesus/On a tram./I said 'Are you Jesus?'/He replied 'Yes I am."

Sunday Independent

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