An Appreciation of the late Spike Milligan

Dave Evans

This is written, and in brief, just after news of Spike's death at 83, but may be a while before it appears online. No matter.

London Evening Standard Headline: "Charles mourns Spike's death" . As in Prince Charles. As in the Prince Charles who (a wine-filled) Milligan called a groveller at an awards ceremony recently. Let's rapidly pass by and ignore any Royal grief here shall we?

Much has also been made in TV and newspaper tributes about how there would be no Monty Python or 'alternative' comedy without the trail blazed by Milligan and his fellow Goons in the 1950s. Robin Williams was particularly intense about this on TV recently. So why talk about him on an ostensibly 'occult' web page? Apart from the fact that I grew up at a time when the Goons and Python were on radio and TV and am thus inextricably linked into that mindset of what seems funny, there is some relevance to occultism:

What is less well-discussed than what his work allowed to emerge is the role Milligan played as archetypal clown, in the Sufi mystical sense of the word, and his many books of prose and poetry which often gave a less than comedic, but intense and profound effect. He was diagnosed with manic depression in the 1950s, and seemed to have had a very rough treatment from the health service. Better than some though, and he was perhaps lucky to be in the UK. Elsewhere, similarly bright and controversial figures fared much worse: the poet Ezra Pound was institutionalised in the USA, among his mental health "symptoms" noted by his keeprs, oops, sorry, Doctors, were his politics and habitual writing of poems. The artist, poet, clown or visionary can often be seen as a social barometer of consciousness, as dangerous to the social norm or labelled as a mental case: " I am the defense early warning radar system....I see nothing but bombs" (1)

Joke: a man goes into a shop and asks the owner "have you ever seen me before?"
The owner says "no, sir"
So the man says: "then how do you know it IS me?"

This is not a Milligan joke, it comes from a collection of Sufi stories from a thousand years earlier(2) , but shows the same formula of a humour that goes beyond the 'traditional' sources, of laughing at a pie in the face, a fart joke, a scapegoat, or an event purely because it isn't happening to you, and displacing that relief into laughter.

Milligan and his colleagues took British comedy into a new, higher and more challenging dimension, which echoes many of the humourous sides of Sufism, a humour that is used as a mystical teaching device. The moment of complete immersion in amusement allows for a temporary suspension of 'normal' consciousness, and gives space for small fragments of enlightenment to occur, or to be planted by a wise teacher. Spike's ability to ad-lib and ask the bizarre, but in retrospect, blindingly obvious questions marked him out as a natural adept at this.

Overall he can be seen as a situationist, naturally gifted chaos magician or discordian Sufi Saint, with a word, a posture, or a piece of slapstick being used to effect real changes in consciousness.

Spike Milligan; 1918-2002, and the last of the Goons to pass over.

Respect and gratitude. Banish this grief with laughter.


1 - Ginsberg, A. Kaddish and other poems. New York: City Light, 1961, p 44
2 - Shah, I. The Sufis. London. Doubleday. 1964.