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Celebrating the genius of Spike

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Spike Milligan was born 95 years ago today. His father, Leo Alphonso Milligan, hailed from Holborn St in Sligo town, where his grandfather also lived.

Spike Milligan was born 95 years ago today. His father, Leo Alphonso Milligan, hailed from Holborn St in Sligo town, where his grandfather also lived.

Spike Milligan was born 95 years ago today. His father, Leo Alphonso Milligan, hailed from Holborn St in Sligo town, where his grandfather also lived.

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This column appears on the birthdate of a true hero of mine, Terence Alan Patrick Sean Milligan, better know as 'Spike' Milligan. He was born in India on April 16th 1918.

Asked how he came to be born in India he said he wanted to be close to his mother.

This genius for ad-libs that turn the obvious on its head is what I love about Spike Milligan's comedy.

As when the hero of his novel Puckoon tumbles off his bicycle but says he's okay, the ground broke his fall. Or his proposal that a sure cure for seasickness is to sit under a tree.

Spike Milligan developed this topsy-turvy kind of comedy into a high artform, first in his scripts for BBC Radio's The Goon Show, then in his novels, comic verse for children, war memoirs, plays and screenplays.

He was also a talented trumpet and guitar player and a vehement environmentalist.

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Though on religion, when a priest asks his alter-ego Milligan in the novel Puckoon, "When was the last time you were in church?" he says, "I don't know Father but the date is on my baptismal cert".

He was fearlessly anti-establishment.

In 1994, while being given a British Comedy Award for Lifetime Achievement he interrupted a tribute from Prince Charles on live TV to call him, "A little grovelling b*****d".

Later, he faxed the Prince to say "I suppose a Knighthood is out of the question?"

In 2000 he was made a Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE) categorised as an 'honorary award' because Spike had officially become an Irish citizen after being declared stateless by the British authorities on the grounds that he was born in India and his father was an Irishman.

In fact, Spike's father was Leo Alphonso Milligan of 5 Holborn Street in Sligo town, where Spike's grandfather, Sergeant William Milligan of the Sligo Artillery had also lived.

Spike himself became 'Gunner' Milligan with the Royal Artillery during World War II. In training he said the gun crews had to shout bang in unison as they had no shells.

He was later wounded in action in the Battle of Monte Cassino and hospitalised in Italy; a fact that may have inspired the Milligan character in Puckoon to say as he runs away from trouble, "I'm a hero with coward's legs".

Milligan's genius was to make craziness permissible. And he once quipped that "My father was a big influence on me – he was a lunatic".

His comedy is one of liberation and inspiration; it derails the obvious from its intended destination. It frees something in us by showing us how things can be other than we first take them to be.

Sadly, Spike Milligan had to be hospitalised early in his career and was diagnosed bi-polar.

He would suffer throughout his life from crippling bouts of depression which he said, "were like another person taking over".

Those familiar with the first card in the Tarot pack will know it's called The Fool. An archetypal figure whose mind isn't closed to unusual experiences as he steps off the edge chasing the butterfly of intuition.

On his 62nd birthday Spike said that any man can be 62 but it takes a bus to be 62A.

He lived to be 83 and died in 2002. At his funeral his coffin was draped with an Irish tricolour and he requested that the epitaph on his headstone say: "I told you I was ill".

The Chichester diocese refused permission. So a compromise was reached with an Irish translation: "Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite". It also says, "Love, light, peace".


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